If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I've been championing this surprise hit since day one (or at least since day one after I got sent the first season Blu-Ray set), even though much like everyone else, I was taken aback that a show about Harley biker gangs could be so, well, downright Shakespearian. I mean, sure, in a considerably less florid sense, but Shakespeare knew how to give audiences of the time what they wanted as well: love, lust, murder, betrayals, loyalty, conspiracies, and lots and lots of macho posturing. Yeah, you see it now, dont'cha? "These violent delights have violent ends, and in their triumph die, like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume".
Season three, which became the F/X channel's most watched program ever, continues with the trials and tribulations of the SAMCRO motorcycle club, now on high alert after at the end of last season when one of their own is murdered and club vice-president Jax's (Charlie Hunnam) infant child is abducted. This was done as retribution for ATF agent Stahl's (Ally Walker) murder of an IRA member, but mistakenly so, as Stahl framed Gemma, the matriarch of the family played so unforgettably by Katey Sagal, for the crime, putting her on the run from both sides of the law.
The premiere for this season was incredibly tense and a real direction-changer, as a funeral for their dead SAMCRO member is punctuated and perforated by bullets from a drive-by instituted by peoples unknown. This leads to the town beginning for the first time to turn away from the club's presence, and the death of a primary character (no telling!). Even with everything else on their plates, keeping their hometown of Charming from turning into a warzone is a dominant priority for the Sons, who are caught intolerably between their desire for vengeance, and the need to keep the local law in the hands of the friendly Chief Wayne Unser (Dayton Collie), thus not coming under the aegis of a larger county Sheriff's department who would have considerably less tolerance for the Sons' behavior. This means making peace with long-time enemies, The Mayans, and, more specifically, not pissing off the IRA. Easier said than done.
Despite expectations to the contrary, the larger part of season 3 operates on a slow simmer, as Jax, his step-father and club president Clay (Ron Perlman), and the rest of the biker boys, try to track down Jax's son Abel, which means for half of them, taking a trip to the emerald isle to sort things out with the testy Irish folks. Nothing's ever easy, of course, and they end up caught up in the middle of a battle between their old contact Jimmy O (Titus Welliver) and the IRA proper, who are both using the Sons, and Jax's son specifically, as pawns in their conflict.
Everything in Season 3 always feels like it's about to blow the fuck up much more than fuck is actually exploding. Does that make sense? Who cares, I like the way it sounds and you get it - things slow down a lot. If that was the worst of "Sons of Anarchy" season three's problems, we'd be on easy street, as these are all such strongly drawn characters that they can handle some down time without too much stress on my part. It's that Shakespeare thing (remember, all the way back in paragraph one?) that ends up getting a bit out of hand. I'll explain.
One of the big appeals of this show was always its dramatic twists and turns, but never being willing to sacrifice realistic characterization for the sake of plot. Season 3 forgets about all that, especially when it comes to Agent Stahl, who has been made laughably villainous; so ridiculously evil that she practically rubs her hands together with glee as she messes about with the boys' lives with no particular good reason other than to be a bitch. All this overwrought silliness is so germain to the overall plot for the season, and the big final twist connected to it rings so false and is so implausible, that it gives the whole proceedings a bad aura. There seems to be a lot of melodramatics this time around where once there were characters making hard and often bloody decisions for believable reasons. Don't get me started on Jax's 'affair' with a stripper. Don't even get me started.
A subplot in Belfast with Maureen Ashby (Paula Malcomson), an ex-fling of Jax's dead dad (and club founder), who reveals that her hottie daughter (somebody get me her phone #) is actually Jax's half-sister, seems to serve only for an uncomfortable incest joke and to set up next season's arc. In fact, much of what goes on in Belfast is confusing, slowly paced, and tangential, and worst of all, despite taking up the larger part of the middle of the season, ends up mainly there to get us to whatever's gonna go down in season four. That being said, that jump-off point brings us back to where the whole show began, with Gemma and Clay's gigantic secret concerning Jax's father that, if revealed, will end in nothing but family blood being shed, and lots of it. Even if we had to take the long way around to get there, I'm glad we're finally back on track. "Truth will come to light, murder cannot be hid long".
I've said much in criticism of this season, but make no mistake: there's still lots to like. As usual, performances are absolutely top-notch across the board, and these actors are pushed to deliver their all in some shocking and truly dramatic sequences that'll test your dedication to them as the heroes of the program. I actually had to at points try and picture them all as knights defending a kingdom by any means necessary rather than ratty bikers in order to keep empathetic after some pretty heinous stuff on their part. Even Jax's girl, Tara (Maggie Siff) finds herself being drawn down the rabbit hole, and her arc this season is one of the most interesting.
Some guest appearances, including Stephen King in a brief but humorous turn as a dour 'cleaner', and interesting new and dangerous characters, promise big things for next season. Despite my misgivings, Season three isn't a shark-jumper, but is definitely a misstep. It certainly looks like Season 4 is going to start out on the right track though, getting back to basics, and adding an interesting new enemy in the Russian mob. Bullets flying, secrets exposing, brotherhood defining, good old SOA fun. "Does it not, think'st thee, stand me now upon— He that hath kill'd my king and whored my mother, Popp'd in between the election and my hopes, Thrown out his angle for my proper life, And with such cozenage—is't not perfect conscience,To quit him with this arm? and is't not to be damn'd,To let this canker of our nature come in further evil?" .... Ok, so I prefer my Shakespeare these days with a bit more of our cultural patois. So sue me.
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