I can speak only for myself. I don’t know what the appeal of Sons of Anarchy was for anyone else, although I could extrapolate that knowledge from my own thoughts on the subject. Is it wrong to assume that fans of a certain thing share some traits in common?
SOA covered seven seasons and 92 episodes. Someday, I will launch an all-out rewatch from beginning to end. But, it won’t be the same as my first run-through because all of the twists and shocks will have been disarmed.
When I tried to get my wife interested in the series, she bailed just minutes into the first episode. Her reasons were valid. She was turned off by the depiction of casual drug use between a mother—Gemma Morrow—and her son, Jax Teller. She couldn’t watch any series where this was presented as being an acceptable thing. I respect her opinions on this and admire her principles. I, too, don’t think this sort of behavior is acceptable, or “normal”—whatever that word means.
But, that was part of the appeal of the series for me. I don’t want acceptable or normal in an crime-adventure-drama. I am a mild-mannered postal clerk by day, by Jiminy Christmas. I am full up to my eyeballs in acceptable and normal behavior. When I seek out entertainment, I want something different. Bizarre, antiestablishment, violent, criminal, sexy, dangerous—nothing is off the table, really. It’s all a form of escapism.
Sharon likes those Hallmark Christmas movies, while I’m pretty sure they were all shot from the same script. Her form of escapism may be a little more grounded in reality than mine is. Perhaps more acceptable and normal as well.
I will never be a superhero who wears tights and fights criminals. Not even a decidedly non-”super” hero like Batman. Nor will I ever be a genius sleuth solving crimes, a kilt-wearing Jacobite fighting the British at the battle of Culloden in 1746, or a member of the White House staff working for Martin Sheen (who we all know is really the Illusive Man). Never, it seems, is an important component of my choices for escapism.
Watching SOA didn’t mean that I condoned what was happening on-screen. I am not a member of a criminal outlaw motorcycle club, running drugs or guns or whatever shenanigans they got up to in the series, but the milieu of the series was deftly-drawn and—within the confines of the fictional story—realistic. Or, realistic enough. Take away the premise and the setting, and the series was a family drama at heart. The crime and violence, the fantasy “never” of the show, served to make the series more interesting, to raise the stakes to levels that viewers clamor for but would never wish to see in their own workaday lives.
Critics of the first season of Mayans MC accused Kurt Sutter of merely trying to recreate Sons of Anarchy in Latino form.
SOA fans wanted that, the same way we wanted The Bastard Executioner to recreate SOA in medieval fantasy form (spoiler: it didn’t). Mayans comes closer to the mark of recapturing that old feeling. There’s a certain familiarity to the settings—i.e., the clubhouse, which includes Chucky (Michael Ornstein)—and the club hierarchy and social dynamic. The crime, the violence . . . you know, the usual.
In the beginning, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (JD Pardo) seems to be working to undermine the club from within, the same way Jax Teller seemed to be doing at first, but, again like Jax, EZ becomes a loyal club member. In fact (and this is no more a spoiler than the fact that Dick Grayson must eventually become Nightwing on Titans), EZ is promoted from prospect to full-fledged charter member in the Season 2 finale.
There’s some family dynamics here that are similar, although EZ’s blood-ties within the club are to his brother Angel (Clayton Cardenas), not a mother and dead father the way Jax’s were. EZ and Angel’s father Felipe (Edward James Olmos) is a butcher with a secret past. Olmos brings a gravitas to the role that would have been missed if anyone else had played the part. But, the family dynamic becomes increasingly more complicated in this series, as EZ’s former girlfriend Emily (Sarah Bolger) is married to the head of the Galindo cartel, Miguel (Danny Pino), and, it seems, Felipe Reyes has a secret past with Dita Galindo (Ada Maris), Miguel’s mother. Plus, Angel is in bed, literally, with Mexican rebel leader Adelita (Carla Baratta), with whom he has a baby (perhaps, unless Potter was lying). Add to that fact that EZ and Angel learn who was responsible for the murder of their mom, Happy Lowman (David Labrava), a member of SAMCRO, and that he was hired by . . .
Okay, I’m not telling everything here. The plot of the show has been compared, unfavorably, to a telenovela, which I’m told is a type of Latin American soap opera. I can’t attest to the veracity of this claim. On the surface, it seems a bit racist to me because we’re talking about a Latino motorcycle club here. But, the truth is that the show does seem very much like a soap opera to me. I’m comparing it to American soap operas here. The story twists and turns, loves cliffhangers, and is sometimes hand-wringingly over-dramatic.
Guess what? I kinda love that about the show. It’s like all of the emotions are dialed all the way up to 10. Is it manipulative and unrealistic at times? Sure. I don’t think anyone begins watching this series thinking it’s going to be an HBO documentary about Latino motorcycle clubs. This is an ultra-violent, macho soap opera with guns and motorcycles.
Somehow, it seems more acceptable for me to admit that I like a soap opera as long as I add that it has guns and motorcycles. Plus, it’s teaching me more Spanish words.
Aside from Chucky and Happy (which, ironically, sounds like a great name for a Nickelodeon kiddie show), we get other appearances from shared SOA universe characters. Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera) becomes a part of the Galindo organization. Chibs Telford (Tommy Flanagan) appears in an episode. Les Packer (Robert Patrick) makes a couple of appearances. I’m certain there are other walk-ons I’m forgetting to namedrop here, but a big carry-over is Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon), who is a member of some US Government agency (I’m not sure which one now) and continues the weird schtick he began in the previous series. He seems to be a more important player in Mayans, and McKinnon is eccentrically great in the role.
Much of the end of this season was overshadowed by Kurt Sutter being fired by FX. Sutter seems to relish his persona as a Hollywood bad boy, and as being someone difficult to work with, so his termination comes as no surprise. Elgin James, the co-creator of the series, will continue on as sole showrunner. The fact that we’re getting a Season 3 is good news, since this season ended up on a bit of a cliffhanger, as Bishop (Michael Irby) committed the Mayans to an all-out gang war. Which SAMCRO member was gunned down in the finale? Stay tuned to find out.
I like this series. Is it just like Sons of Anarchy? No, not really. It shares some important traits in common with that series, but it breaks some new ground as well. The Miguel/Emily side of the equation is, in many important ways, given equal weight to the outlaw motorcycle club side, which gives the series a bit more breadth, if not depth, than SOA. In my opinion (he didn’t need to add).
If you liked that other show, however, or others of its ilk—such as The Shield, The Wire, Justified, The Sopranos, to name a few—you’ll find plenty to like here as well.
If Hallmark Christmas shows are more your thing—
Firewater’s 2000-Forgotten-Soldiers-Waiting-for-a-Devil-to-Lead-Them Report Card: A
No surprise here. This show is great, melodramatic, over-the-top macho fun.