I'm also unsure how such an engaging show has flown under the radar of mass appeal. It is not without its flaws: the female characters, particularly Tara, have suffered from uneven writing - you are either Gemma or you are nobody. (I'm hoping, given what I've seen so far of this season, that Tara finds her own way out of Gemma's shadow). Then there was the trip to Belfast … an unwieldy set of episodes that ended, thankfully, with a fantastic Season Three finale. The Real IRA connection is an important one within the Sons organization, and I understand the motivation to head to Belfast in order to help uncover certain truths about the club's past, as well as to confirm an alliance with RIRA and the club's gunrunning that has been a motivator and shadow over previous seasons. But it also took us far, far away from the heart of why we watch. Still, few shows run without complaint, and my nitpicking of "Sons" shouldn't detract from the fact that it is, at the end of the day, a fresh and fantastic incarnation of the Wild West, and the gunslinging outlaws who run it.
The premiere of this new season was one of the most satisfying I may have ever seen in a series. We are introduced to two new foes for SAMCRO: Assistant U.S. Attorney Lincoln Potter, a chain smoking, long-haired and charmingly off-kilter personality (played by Georgia native Ray MicKinnon) who is already a welcomed relief from crazed, obsessive, sharp-breath-intaker Agent Stahl. Linc immediately brings Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar - what a name!), a San Joaquin County Sheriff for whom Charming is a new jurisdiction, into the fold. He reveals to Eli a kind of war room that will remind fans of "The Wire" of Season 2, where boards were filled with not only players and associates within the Baltimore-based Barksdale organization, but also reaching out to "The Greek," and other international drug traders. So too have Linc and his alphabetical soup team (the FBI, ATF) put together a comprehensive map of SAMCRO and their alliances with RIRA and the Russians. Unlike in the past, the Sons are not the end game here - they just happen to be a helpful local connection in bagging much bigger bad guys. Linc shares with Eli that they have a plant high within the Russian's organization that will help bring down the whole house of cards. But "Sons" being what it is, the premiere gives us an unexpected bloodbath (a "Red Wedding," anyone?) that takes out all of the Russians, including the FBI's man, and presumably moves the club up from being a mere player in the game to a major target.
Playing Cops and Robbers is no fun if one group too far outshines the other. Finally we are rid of pushovers like Unser (who I like, but was no man for justice) and are in his stead getting a smart and capable lawman in Eli Roosevelt, who reminds me a great deal of David Hale. I still mourn the character of Hale (who was sent off quickly and unceremoniously in Season Three after the actor wanted off the show), because he was an interesting foil for Jax. He was a lawman through and through, and would never become a payroll cop like Unser. But at the same time he could see a place in Charming for the MC as an MC … and not a gang of thugs who can have RICO thrown at them. This, too, was John Teller's dream for the club, one that Clay changed. "It's not about love and brotherhood anymore, it's about fear and greed," Jax tells Tara as the two plot to finally escape the grip of SAMCRO. Tara has read John's letters that Maureen gave Jax (and presumably discussed them with Piney, a known ally), and she knows how far the club has gotten away from its intended purpose. The show cleverly tied in a number of arcs that will be a joy to see unfold over the course of the season - Jax has a planned "release" date, based on the payday from RIRA as well as Clay's worsening hand tremors. Clay too is hoping to get his money and get out of the gun trade ... eventually. And of course, the feds are hoping to bring them all down, for good, before any of them can escape the fold. It is a proverbial race against time … and the field is wide open.
I will cover more of the delightful stray moments of this episode below, but for now I will once again reiterate how stunned, pleased and excited I am about the direction the show appears to be taking this season: looking not so much out towards external foes, but focusing on breaks and cracks within the club. Even as a long-time viewer, I can't be sure how some of the club members will react to the upcoming crisis of power. And if Jax has a chance to bring the club back to its roots … would that cause him to stay? At what price?
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Was there anything more gloriously cringeworthy than every Otto scene in this episode? Show creator Kurt Sutter certainly gives himself some of the best scenes - Otto is a great quiet character, and clearly an intensely devoted member of the club. After presumably committing suicide, we see Otto not only surviving but finding the time to take another sharp instrument and impale it through the ear of the Russian who shived Jax. Through his ear!!!.
— I loved so many things about the Jax and Tara scenes in this episode - their easy countenance with each other, the proposal, the realistic discussion that followed. Jax talking about how he was "an ok mechanic with a GED" summed up the club so well. What else would these men do? They have made this choice and there are few ways for them to get out of it now.
— Continuing with the beginning of that scene, I also loved the realism of the two of them strippin' down — no music, a little giggling and a lot of awkwardly quick removal of clothing. An English professor in college said the "zipless fuck" always bothered her in books and film (and now it bothers me, too), but this felt real!
— Tara hitting Jax in the balls after his one-liner was also a very sincere moment.
— Tig seemed particularly manic in this episode - glad he embraced Koscik though. The reveal that those two were fighting over Tig's German Shepard Missy was one of the best moments of last season.
— So Gemma drives a hybrid?
— "Yeah, I bought him some fingers because those shitty little nubs were freaking me out!" - I love how Katey Sagal played that line.
— Gentlemen, having trouble expressing your love? Consider adding, "I promise to treat you as well as my leather, and ride you as much as my Harley!" Just what every woman wants to hear.
— "Don't turn what Juice and I had into something cheap and tawdry!" - Clay, in a rare likable moment. "I'm sure it was pure Puerto Rican magic." - Gemma
— "My new style: retro redneck!" - Poor, poor Unser
— Oh my … Lila's dress. Well she's a porn star, so I guess if she's going to wear white she might as well wear a mini dress with a garter and sparky high-heels! Meanwhile, Tara looked gorgeous in her outfit.
— "… And the freak circle is complete" - Juice after both Happy and Tig claim to love the strip club where the "dead horse meat" perform.
— "I don't know what that means besides a lot of shit and a big ass fan" - Unser, describing the entire series.
— Leaving the bodies at the construction site was a nice touch.
— Some people root for the outlaws, some for the lawmen … but we can all hate the land developers.
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