I stopped taking “Sons of Anarchy” seriously a couple of seasons ago. There’s just too much heartache — and too many headaches — to expect anything more than the “adrenalized soap opera” and “bloody pulp fiction” Kurt Sutter himself declared the show to be back in 2011. That worked fine for awhile. But now I’m worried that Sutter really needs us to take this show seriously again, and it could be too late to turn back.
Peppering a premiere with prison rape, literal torture porn and a man drowning in a bathtub full of piss are all in keeping with the blood-soaked and button-pushing fantasy world he’s created. A mentally unbalanced kid pulling out a gun, walking into a school and opening fire? That’s something else (even if we don’t actually see the shooting). Can we view it as just another chapter in this “bloody pulp fiction”? I’m not so sure.
That nightmarish act overshadowed the rest of the season premiere, which otherwise established a new status quo after last season’s finale turned everything upside down. Picking up only a week later, “Straw” used one of those patented “Sons” montages to quickly get us up to speed on the key players: Tara and Clay are adjusting to life in prison, Gemma is helping out Jax with the boys (as are various members of the club), Chibs has been appointed SAMCRO VP (with Happy taking over as Sgt.-at-Arms instead of Tig) and Nero is back in business as a gang leader.
He didn’t make the montage, but former US Marshal Lee Toric is still around and making life very miserable for Otto (also still around despite biting off his own tongue last season). Sutter, who plays Otto and also wrote this episode, reintroduces his character while he’s being raped by one of Toric’s goons in solitary. (I guess that’s what you call “adrenalized soap opera”?) Compared to that, the mind games Toric plays with both Clay and Tara seem tame. He’s hoping one, or both, of them will rat on SAMCRO and has better luck with nothing-to-lose Clay than the still defiant Tara. Clay doesn’t have much choice if he wants to avoid the certain death sentence he faces for Pope’s murder (as long as he cooperates with Toric, he can stay out of general population and away from the inmates eager to get their promised payday for avenging Pope’s death).
I don’t know if the plan is to make Toric a season-long Big Bad for Jax and company to defeat, or — if the show is truly nearing its grand finale next season — he actually has a shot at succeeding where others have failed with his by-any-means-necessary methods. Either way, Donal Logue’s performance was one of the episode’s strengths, so I’m glad he’s back on board for the season. Judging by the freaky naked drug trip he finished off with, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this guy.
Much of the episode dealt with the fallout from Lyla (yeah, she’s still around too) getting wrapped up in a “torture porn” (and not the kind Eli Roth makes). After she turns up at Nero’s brothel bloody and beaten, a crew composed of Jax, Chibs, Tig, Nero and his guys descend on a warehouse at “the port” where Persian pornographers have fashioned their scummy studio. The chain of events involves the introduction of crooked former cop Charlie Barosky (Peter Weller), who runs the area with an iron fist, and aspiring madam Colette Jane (Kim Dickens), who immediately latches on to Jax. It also leads to Tig’s bathtub drowning of one of the Persians. (“I hope you watch our movies and see your daughter raped” was a particularly poor choice of insult to direct at Tig, who watched his daughter get burned alive in last season’s premiere. Ah, memories.) Even though Tig disposed of the body, the fact that this wasn’t sanctioned by Barosky seems likely to become a problem. (Pope’s former right hand man August Marks already wants Tig for other reasons, how long can Jax possibly protect this loose canon from himself?)
And, finally, we got around to the queasy payoff for the mysterious blonde boy who kept popping up throughout the episode. In a handful of brief cryptic scenes, he was directly linked to Arcadio (Dave Navarro) — a member of Nero’s crew — and more loosely connected to Jax, Tig and Barosky. While we now understand his significance in the episode as the school shooter, we don’t yet know what the ramifications of the shooting will be on the club. Or why Sutter chose this specific storyline to include in his biker soap opera. Are we in for another season of tawdry melodrama, or is Sutter hoping to elevate the biker soap with grander social statements?
I’m equal parts curious and terrified to find out. How about you?
Odds and ends:
– Obviously this episode was filmed long before Charlie Hunnam landed the lead in the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie, but ending on a scene of Jax vigorously bedding Colette seemed like a perfect nod to the news.
– Speaking of Colette, I certainly hope that Kim Dickens gets to share at least one scene this season with Robin Weigert (who plays SAMCRO’s attorney Ally Lowen) — Sutter can’t blow the chance to reunite “Deadwood’s” Joanie and Jane, can he? — and another with Dayton Callie (Charlie Utter on “Deadwood” and Unser on “Sons”).
– And speaking of Unser, he made it clear to Gemma that he’s still there for her no matter what. Her romance with Nero is going strong (for now), but how long can that last?
– Especially since Nero still seems to be the most level-headed character on the show, even if he did decide to get back into the business. When Gemma presents Nero’s disable son Lucius with the gift of a water pistol, Nero sarcastically observes, “Yep, a gun. Awesome.”
– I don’t really buy Wendy backing off from trying to get her son back, even though Jax is a monstrous adversary and Drea de Matteo is just a guest star.
– That was Samaire Armstrong (of “The OC,” “Entourage” and “Dirty Sexy Money”) in two dialogue-free scenes as the blonde boy’s mother (and possibly Primo’s Old Lady?). I’m guessing we’ll see more of her as this all unfolds.