Tag Archives: Piney

Prodigal Sons Return

Come along for the ride

I”m sad to see summer end, and with it a few very enjoyable shows, none more than the off-the-charts comedy Louie. But the sounding of September’s bells also brings the return of the “regular season” shows, those that arc in the familiar Fall time frame. Near the top of my list is the biker drama Sons of Anarchy, which I previously wrote about as the perfect hybrid of a Shakespeare play and a Western.

Last season’s plot featured the dynamic performances of Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins playing against the main cast (strong in its own right with a mix of seasoned veterans and intriguing lesser known actors); frankly it will be hard to top. Creator Kurt Sutter hints that there will be some time spent in Belfast as the Sons pursue the fleeing IRA gun runner, which hopefully means more appearances by his boss, played by the wonderful Titus Welliver. Tonight’s opening salvo also indicated we might get to see more of Jeff Kober (China Beach) whose career has shown he can play twisted as well as anyone.

Even the small subtle parts of this show are top-notch. What other show could sell a version of a Herman’s Hermits hit (“No Milk Today”) as the score for a dramatic montage? But like the best shows (Homicide, The Shield) the use of music has always been a strong suit for SOA; hearing Richard Thompson during the closing scene was icing on the cake.

During tonight’s episode I had a fleeting thought that this was going to be a season where damaged, weepy Jax became a neutered man (hinted at even in the scene where he hesitates when the Sons are headed to the boat launch; Clay asks “Are you with us?”). That chance was crushed like a skull at the end of the show in a shocking and violent scene.

Revenge is a powerful dramatic motivator, as is desperation. When a man feels he has nothing left to lose, who is he? Does he become his purest essence, good or bad? Or does he become merely a vessel for his dominant emotion?

Sutter has just dealt the cards, and once again I’m all in.

Sons of Anarchy official website

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All My Sons

They'll be back

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.  

S*M*A*S*H

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.  

Queen Bee

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.  

Sons of Anarchy

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