I loved Sons of Anarchy. When I heard that Kurt Sutter was creating a new television show in the SOA universe, this time centered around the Hispanic motorcycle club, the Mayans, I knew that I would watch it.
Having Edward James Olmos on board was a bonus. I was a fan of Olmos even before he was Adama on the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Even before he was standing and delivering as Jaime Escalante. Yes, my personal fandom for Olmos goes back to the days he was Castillo on Miami Vice. I mean, Castillo was a ninja! Having Olmos on board any series gives it some extra weight, some added potential. His presence is no different on this show.
There is a serious temptation to compare this series to SOA. I want to refrain from doing so, but when you’re operating in the same fictional universe, a few years after the conclusion of the other series, this is a difficult task. There are certain parallels that must be mentioned.
Charming, California, is no longer our setting. Instead, we’re in the town of Santo Padre, which shares a southern border with Mexico itself. Mexican mythology and motifs abound here, but I feel pretty confident that all allusions to Shakespeare have been left behind. As we see a dead crow run over by a Mayan motorcycle in the opening scene, it seems that we’re being told that SAMCRO is being left behind as well. That turns out to not be entirely true.
The “Jax” character of Mayans MC, our central protagonist, seems to be Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes during the series opener. This role is played by JD Pardo, who used to be on the terrific show Revolution, which was apparently watched by me and six other people. We learn through flashbacks that EZ was once a successful college-bound student, but something happened that landed him in prison. Through his secret meetings with a DEA agent, we learn that he once killed a cop and cut a deal to gather info on the Galindo cartel by joining up with the Mayans, his older brother Angel’s club. During the first episode, EZ is still a prospect, paying his dues and doing all the dirty work.
The object of EZ’s secret agent mission in the club is gathering intel on the cartel. He doesn’t want anything touching the Mayans or his brother. EZ’s father is Filipe Reyes (Edward James Olmos), who runs a butcher shop and seems to have little to do with the world of the Mayans, even though both of his sons are in the club. He also knows about EZ’s arrangement with the DEA and serves as a go-between. In the premiere, it seems that EZ is the favorite son, with more of an intellectual bent like Felipe. Angel seems aware of this fact as well.
EZ’s character goal as the story opens is to fulfill the conditions of his bargain with the DEA by ratting out the cartel, so that he can leave the club, the town and the DEA behind and get on with his life. We’ll see how this goal changes along with the character as the story continues.
The Galindo cartel is a major player in the story. The Mayans are muling heroin for the cartel inside Quinceanera dresses in this episode. A shipment is hijacked by a rival gang, a Samoan club that was actually hired by a Mexican resistance movement made up of victims of the cartel. This resistance, the Los Olvidados, is a third major group of players, it seems. There are a lot of children in Los Olvidados, and the rebels seem to like wearing ragtag animal masks that come off as a little creepy and horror-movie-like.
The head of the Galindo cartel is the suave and fashionable Miguel Galindo, who sees the Mayans as little more than his personal errand boys. Miguel oversees the torture of the Samoan gang member in order to discover that Los Olvidados was behind the hijacking, and he demonstrates that, in spite of his polished persona, he is ruthless and perhaps a bit evil. Galindo is played by Danny Pino, who was in at least one of the twelve Law & Orders, I believe.
To add some seemingly unlikely coincidence to this already heady brew, we discover through flashbacks that Galindo’s current wife used to be EZ’s girlfriend before his fall from grace. During a prison visitation flashback we find out that she was pregnant with his child at the time, eight years ago. That child doesn’t seem to be in the present-day story, as far as we know, even though she has a new baby with Miguel Galindo. This seems like a rich source for future stories, of course. Did she lose the baby or have an abortion? Did she put it up for adoption? I’m sure we’ll discover more as the story progresses.
Not only do we get open conflict in this first episode, in the form of a truck hijacking, a shoot-out in a cemetery and a torture interrogation scene complete with some judicious use of a machete, but the groundwork is also being laid for future conflict and drama. It’s all over the place. Sutter and team are smart in how they develop their characters and let the drama flow from them. I don’t know the Mayans the way I grew to know SAMCRO, but that knowledge will come in time. We’ll have our Chibs, Bobby, Opie and, hopefully, Tig as the series unfolds.
In what is almost a dramatic overload, we discover that EZ’s brother Angel and a few other members of club have allied themselves with Los Olvidados, behind the backs of the cartel and the rest of the club leadership. This promises to ratchet up the violence sooner rather than later. In effect, this makes EZ’s position even more precarious as his brother invites him into the Mayans’ secret and traitorous inner circle. He’s already a rat inside the MC; this makes him a double-rat.
As the episode ends, it seems that Los Olvidados is about to visit some revenge against the cartel on EZ’s former girlfriend and Galindo’s current wife. It will be interesting to see how that plays out as well.
Do I like this show as much as I liked Sons of Anarchy? No, not yet. It’s much too soon. I may like it about as much as I liked SOA after watching the first episode, though. I do miss certain things. Even though SOA was testosterone-driven as well, there seemed to be more of a feminine presence through Gemma and Tara. The women of this series haven’t really been fleshed out yet.
We did get a couple of cameos from familiar faces in this premiere. Gemma Teller appeared in EZ’s prison visitation flashback. Marcus Alvarez, president of the Oakland charter of the Mayans, visits with the Santo Padre chapter. Les Packer (Robert Patrick), the president of the San Bernardino charter of Sons of Anarchy MC, also makes an appearance after Mayans club president Obispo “Bishop” Losa calls in outside reinforcements for the cemetery showdown. These types of cameos are a potent reminder that we’re in a connected universe. I hope they continue.
If you watched Sons of Anarchy, you know what to expect. The violence and bad language are over-the-top. There’s a lot of drugs around. The abundance of assault weapons and the ever-present border wall seems to invite some political commentary, but you’re getting none from me. I’m here to be entertained, and this episode certainly did that.
I’m going to continue watching this series to see if it can fulfill the promise I think it just made to me.