Sons of Anarchy returned last night with an hour-and-a-half season premiere that saw Kurt Sutter pick up on some loose threads from last season, and lay out the rivalries for the fifth season. Say what you want about Sutter, but he doesn’t pull punches, as last night’s episode contained one of the more grisly killings in television history, plus Jimmy Smits’ ass, Clay’s oxygen tank, and maybe the closest thing to Gus Fring television will provide us for a while (unless, of course, Gus Fring himself returns). Let’s get right to it, shall we?
1. The One Niners have been something of a secondary rivalry for SAMCRO up until now. Tig’s hasty decision to kill Veronica Pope in a drive by at the end of last season changes all that. The war with the Niners looks to be the main focus of the season, and while it’s still early, they may end up being the most menacing of all of SAMCRO’s rival factions.
2. Speaking of the Niners, Harold Perrineau’s Damon Pope does not f*** around. He’s certainly in keeping with Kurt Sutter’s affinity for the quiet, cool, and collected big bads (see also Adam Arkin’s Ethan Zobelle). The way he exacted revenge on Tig for his murder of Veronica — throwing Tig’s daughter into a pit of corpses, then setting her on fire while Tig watched — may have been the most violently upsetting death on the series so far. I’m actually glad we barely knew Dawn, as that death would’ve been much more difficult to handle if we’d actually been attached to the character. It was cold, but I love that afterward, Damon Pope had some ice cream with the kids.
Meanwhile, I think Tig may be broken.
3. Pope certainly has echoes of Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring — a cool businessman who wants to distance himself from the criminal activity — and if Pope is Fring, that would make his henchman, played by Billy Brown (who we’ve seen a lot of lately in Dexter and FX’s Lights Out) his Mike Ehrmentraut. I think he’s going to be a very effective Ehrmentraut, too. Poor Darnell got a bullet in the head for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We hardly knew you, Darnell.
4. The rivalry between Clay and Jax obviously hasn’t gone away. In the showdown between the two after Clay revealed that he’d killed Piney, Sutter returned to some familiar SAMCRO dialogue: “What’s your play?” “What’s your play?” I don’t know what Clay is up to, yet, but my guess is that he’s trying to court alliances within SAMCRO. If Jax stumbles, Clay will be at the ready to take back control. What’s for certain is that Bobby — who has taken on the role of SAMCRO’s VP — isn’t about to side with Clay. Tig is Clay’s best chance at a power play.
5. Danny Trejo and the Galindo cartel still feel extraneous, something narratively only necessary to keep Clay in the club. So far, they’ve only served to remind us of the too-easy resolution to the end of last season. (I still can’t see Trejo without seeing his head on a turtle).