I’ve had a bit of time to digest the final episode of Sons of Anarchy season two. While my initial impressions were positive, I’m even a bit more enthusiastic after looking back upon the story arc that unfolded this year. Sure, there were a couple of blips; like many episodic dramas they rely upon a fair amount of coincidence and synchronicity for events to fall into place. And occasionally there are the “yeah, right” moments…like the final chase scene (or watching someone actually overpower Henry Rollins!).
But consider that Kurt Sutter walked out of one of the best shows of all time (The Shield) and immediately created another world that already has two excellent seasons of SOA in the books. From the very first episode of The Shield it was made clear that these were bad cops, yet by fleshing them out into three-dimensional characters, damned if you weren’t rooting for them to pull it all off and walk away. Sons of Anarchy has already started to tap into that zone. Sure, there’s been some murder and mayhem, but not to the innocent (at least by the Sons). This is frontier justice, twentieth century – SOA style.
Many plot points were established early; seeds planted that have not yet begun to flower. We know there is some mystery in John Teller‘s death, in what Jax was told versus what they will let him find out, in how the original vision of the club has been altered (Piney obviously has a line drawn in the sand and, while loyal to the club, is clearly only willing to go so far.) Many have called the plot arc Shakespearian in design, and indeed what we have seen so far looks like a mash-up of Macbeth and Hamlet…um…and a Western.
Perhaps a subtle difference is the appearance of the cast. These are not pretty boys and hot, fit women; the types that somehow seem to fill an entire ensemble cast on most cop, law and medical dramas. These actors look hard – some even weatherbeaten – and it’s refreshing to see life’s scars figuratively and literally be part of their appearance. Indeed, the show is about family, and whether it was the pain of the dysfunction at the group dinner (think Thanksgiving gone horribly awry) or “going to the mattresses” before the final confrontation, all petty differences and minor disagreements are pushed aside for the common goal. On another level – especially with the territorial nature of the conflicts – it’s almost a patriotic move as much as a familial one.
But above all, it’s the performance of the cast, taking a slice of life that could easily be caricatured and breathing nuance and depth into these characters. Katey Sagal, in particular, has been outstanding this season. Surviving a brutal attack at the outset, her Gemma has gone from pain to fear to abandonment to a reawakening and new strength. Her journey has been cathartic, especially her quiet scene with the priest whereby she looks within and realizes what her purpose and calling should be…and then how she twists that moment to take it way past the line. Much of this was done alone on camera, with little more than the realization coming over her face as only we, the audience, watched unfold. It was one of the best performances on television in 2009, by anyone.
Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins were flat-out amazing this year. Arkin underplayed what could have been a flashy, showy role and in doing so made his character far more sinister. And Rollins, whose image should sit next to the word “intense” in every dictionary, played a twisted soul who was both frightening and vulnerable. His character entered the story as the epitome of despicable, but Rollins was amazingly able to elicit sympathy and respect by the last episode. And a good show always gives its supporting characters great moments. Many got a turn to shine – Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst and Tommy Flanagan were among those who stepped up to the plate. Special kudos to Dayton Callie as life-beaten police Chief Unser, who finds his center and his purpose.
You know the show is special when moments after the final season episode you want the new season to start immediately. SOA nailed that with some resolution, cliffhanger elements (I won’t spoil anything for those still catching up), new roads laid bare and a character who may or may not have died in a fire. (On that last item, some have suggested it was a slip in the plot…I think there’s a reason we don’t know yet). I am itching for season three.
Tune back in when I recap the ten best shows of 2009.