Sons of Anarchy: Season 5: a review

I originally stopped watching Sons of Anarchy early in the fourth season.

I’m not really sure why. I always liked the show. I do know that I wasn’t over-the-moon about the third season and all the stuff about Jax’s kid getting kidnapped by the IRA, but there was still plenty of stuff that I liked a lot.

The series was still on the air when I stopped watching the DVDs that came to me in their little red envelopes from Netflix (this was before the show was available on NF’s streaming services). Maybe I saw something shiny and my attention was diverted, as can happen. Anyway, I always intended to continue watching SOA. I just never did, not until several years had passed.

Earlier this year, I picked up where I left off in the fourth season, and fell in love with the series once again. Just this morning, I finished watching Season 5, and I was blown away. With only two seasons remaining, I’m two-thirds of the way through the series now and don’t intend to stop until I’m through watching it all. My plan is to have the last twenty-six episodes under my belt before the fall television season begins.

Let’s talk about Season 5. If you were ever an SOA fan, I don’t suppose any of this will be spoiler territory for you. If you’re like me and intend to finish watching the show some day, don’t read ahead. Big things happen this season, and, if it’s even possible during the Internet Age, you need to be surprised. Since I waited so long to continue watching the series, some of these things had already been spoiled for me and I’d forgotten them, just as I’m still trying to forget some of the things I know are coming up.

As the season begins, in the wake of Lincoln Potter’s failed machinations in the fourth season, a new regime is in place at SAMCRO (that’s Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original, to the uninitiated). Clay Morrow is out as president. Jax Teller, the heir-apparent, is the new president, with Bobby Elvis as his vice-president. Jax wants to get out from under the thumb of the Galindo Cartel. SAMCRO is about guns and girls, not drugs; that business may be profitable, but it gets too messy. But, Jax inherits all the problems of the old regime, of course.

This becomes obvious in the Season 5 opener. Tig Trager had accidentally killed gangster Damon Pope’s daughter in an attempt on a rival gang’s leader (whom he thought had shot Clay—long story) at the end of Season 4. In episode one of this season, Damon Pope exacts his revenge by burning one of Tig’s daughters alive in front of him. Brutal stuff, and a heavy introduction of Harold Perrineau (from Lost) as Pope. I never thought the guy who played Michael could pull off a role as a strong, self-confident Big Bad, but I was impressed by Perrineau’s performance this season. He is a seemingly respectable, tailored suit-wearing businessman gangster who is also a ruthless, cold-blooded killer.

Pope’s idea of revenge doesn’t stop at eye-for-an-eye (or daughter-for-a-daughter, if you will). His behind-the-scenes manipulation also ends up getting Opie, Jax’s best friend, brutally beaten to death with a lead pipe while several members of SAMCRO are in jail. The death of Tig’s daughter, someone we really don’t know, was bad enough, but Opie’s been around since the beginning. His death really wasn’t that big a shock to me after both his wife and father were killed by Clay, but it was still a shock. And it is easy to see how this affected Jax, whose fundamental character began to change immediately.

I’m not going to discuss every plot point of this season. You don’t realize how intricately plotted this drama is until to attempt to describe it to someone. After watching the last episode of the season this morning, I find myself amazed at just how much was packed into just thirteen episodes. Excellent storytelling.

The overarching stories of the season are Jax’s attempt to escape the RICO case hanging over the club’s heads, while simultaneously getting out from under the Galindo Cartel. Also, Jax wants revenge on Clay, and on Pope, and, at the end, he finds a way to achieve all three.

Not that things end on a happy note. They most certainly do not.

In addition to Perrineau’s all-star performance in these thirteen episodes, I also applaud the addition of Jimmy Smits as Latino gangster (former gangster in the beginning) Nero Padilla. He becomes Gemma’s new love interest, and a mentor to Jax, a role he shares, oddly, with Damon Pope this season. Two gangsters to replace Clay. Nero’s goal is similar to the one Jax claims: he wants to get out of the life. He says he’s saving money to by a farm where he and his handicapped son can “retire.” How can you not empathize with the guy? Of course, before the season is over, he is fully back in gangster-beast mode, and I love this side of Jimmy Smits, too. Kurt Sutter and the other brains behind this series don’t believe in making things easy for their characters.

Jax’s moves during the season are Machiavellian and ruthless. In the final episode of the season, he kills Damon Pope and frames Clay for the murder. Thanks to Tara’s moves with Otto, in prison, the club is no longer under RICO indictment. This didn’t happen the way Tara wanted it to, however, and in the last episode she is arrested as an accomplice to the murder of a nurse, a murder committed brutally by the already-doomed Otto. She was about to take the surgeon job in Oregon anyway, so I think it’s safe to assume that Gemma may have had a hand in her arrest. Complicated, I know.

Talking about the nurse reminds me that Donal Logue also joined the cast toward the end of the season, as the dead nurse’s former-U.S. Marshal brother, who intends to exact his own brand of revenge. I’m hoping we see much more of him in the sixth season.

During the beginning of this season, Clay continues doing the things that made us grow to hate him during at least the past two seasons. But, by the end, I was beginning to feel sorry for him. He was voted out of the club, all of his reaper-related tattoos were inked over, and he was betrayed by Gemma and arrested for the murder of Pope.

My opinion of Jax took the opposite path. As he sinks deeper and deeper into his role as club president and chief puppetmaster, I began to like him less and less. He is becoming Clay. Charlie Hunnan is an incredible actor. I’ll just put that out there right now. This has always been his story, and Jax Teller is a tragic hero for the ages. A lot can happen in twenty-six more episodes, though. Maybe I’ll like him again when this is all over.

Theo Rossi, as Juice, who wins the award as the weakest member of SAMCRO, is also teaching a Master-level acting class here. I expected Juice to be one of the bodies on the floor at the end of this season. Everyone knows that he was leaking information to the Feds. Even Clay knows that he was working with Jax to prove that Clay was behind the break-ins committed by the former Nomads who joined the club. But, Juice is still standing after the credits roll. I find myself feeling sorry for the character, and rooting for his survival, while hating his weakness at the same time. It takes acting talent to pull that off.

Similarly, I find myself liking Gemma less as the show goes on as well. She is manipulative and selfish, and also, as she proves, treacherous.

Come to think of it, there are no “good” guys in this show. There’s something to dislike about every character, I think, excepting Jax’s kids, I suppose, even though I don’t like the looks of that Abel (just kidding).

This is great, landmark television here, folks. And, I’m back on board to the end. Even the bitter end, if it comes to that.

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