22nd Nov2013

‘Sons of Anarchy: Season Five’ DVD Review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Ron Perlman, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst | Created by Kurt Sutter

[Editors Note: With the DVD of Sons of Anarchy: Season Five set for a UK DVD and Blu-ray release next week (on November 25th to be precise), Nerdly reviewer and SOA super-fan Nathan takes a look at the DVD boxset – breaking down the cult show’s fifth season episode by episode]

soa-s5

5×01 – Sovereign

When Sons of Anarchy ended last season, I was a little disappointed. It’s not that I hated it; I was just left with the feeling of longing for more. All throughout the season, we’ve seen our men in SAMCRO crushed by seemingly impossible odds, without any chance for escape. If there’s one thing that Kurt Sutter and company do best, it’s dropping the men into a hole and watching them try and escape. And the best part of this is the more they try to escape, the worse their situation gets. That’s why it was a bit of a disappointment when at the end of the season, they seemingly pulled the plug and left things out to dry. I mean, Clay Morrow was built up to be the villain of the show, and by the end of the season he would surely be pining for the fjords. And yet, he lived at season’s end. Everything that was constructed as tight as a drum, suddenly loosened up. It all felt constructed to buy some time, whether keeping Jax in Charming or even keep Clay alive. I kind rattled my head around and walked away. I was waiting to see where this new season would take us.

So, I sit here a year later, and think about the season as a whole. I liked the character of Lincoln Potter, and found myself missing him. He brought a sense of insanity to the good guys, which added a spice that Sutter wanted. I enjoyed the Clay storyline and the wrapping up of something that’s been kicking around since the end of season three. I feel monumentally different about the finale. I really have much more fonder thoughts about it as a whole. I like the looser structure that “To Be, Parts One and Two” adopted. Sutter always has a quiet way about his direction, and I realize that all the machinations at the end of the finale were ultimately there for the greater good. When you have a seven year plan in mind like Sutter does, you have to do a bit of wheel spinning and fortunately for him, it pays off handsomely in the premiere.

If there’s a mission statement that starts off the season premiere of Sons of Anarchy, it’s a new world order.

First, you have Jax is settling in comfortably, or maybe not so much as President of SAMCRO and having to juggle all the balls in the air. He’s got to keep Clay in the loop or the IRA will walk away, and that kills any safety his crew has. He also has to deal with the retaliation of local gang The Niners, who have a hate-on for SAMCRO, since notorious hothead ‘Tig’ accidentally killed the girlfriend of Laroy, gang leader and daughter of local impresario Damon Pope. He’s trapped in this town with seemingly no way of escape. He’s dragged himself into this situation and he’s trying to get himself out before his love, Tara and their children end up in a fate worse than death. I enjoy seeing Tara butt heads with Gemma. She’s always been the walked upon one, and Gemma always been mean mother hen, and her getting taken down a peg by Tara and rightfully so, was a moment that has been worth the wait. Her transition has been a slow burn story over five seasons and the premiere is when you start to see her arc take flight. I also enjoy Ryan Hurst as Opie, and while he didn’t have a lot to do or say in the episode, his actions and movements speak far louder than words. Hurst is just too damn good all of the time.

Then, you’ve got Clay Morrow exiled as he rightfully should be. He murdered Jax’s father way before the beginning of time and spent almost all of last season wreaking bloody havoc to keep it quiet. He nearly had Tara killed and murdered poor gentle giant Opie’s father, Piney, in cold blood. He had stepped right into the abyss and there was no way for him to come back. He’s moving slowly after Opie shot him and it’s interesting to see the villain beaten and broken. He can’t even mount up on his bike. As a matter of fact, he has shades of Piney, and even sits in his spot at the table.  It was very interesting to see Clay confess to murdering Piney before the rest of the gang. There wasn’t really any repercussions for this act, yet. But I’m certain as we move along; this is going to have greater and bigger consequences in the end. There was just no time to address this issue in the episode proper.

The reason there was just no time, is that we find ourselves introduced to two new characters in the world. Firstly, and most impactfully we have Damon Pope. The way he’s introduced is almost as a specter, a person that people cower from by just a name’s mention. Pope quickly and quietly dismisses any issues that the Niners have with the Sons by cutting through the ranks. It simultaneously erases a lot of storyline fat because this is going to be a loaded season. I especially love one of the later episodes when Pope steps out of the shadows to confront Tig and call him out on his reckless actions. I wasn’t over the moon with the bringing in of Rachel Miner specifically to kill in the pit, but as for deep character actions, it worked overall. Kim Coates is a fantastically underrated actor and he plays Tig in five thousand shades of gray. He sold the hell out of the scene where he watches his daughter die before his eyes, as he struggles against his restraints like a feral animal. Fantastic work. He’s killed and much worse for Clay and it’s finally hoisting him out to dry. I can’t wait to see just how this breaks Tig and how this affects the club overall. I’m simultaneously excited to learn more about Damon Pope, because he has to have a lot of pull in the town – he clearly has cops on the take – and how he can be a bigger enemy for the Sons overall. He’s got Jax, Tig and Chibs fingered for the highway shootings, and the death of his daughter. He knows how to make them hurt big time.

We were ahem, memorably introduced to Jimmy Smits’ new character Nero Padilla, in a manner befitting Sons of Anarchy. He’s having him way with Clay’s former old lady (and Jax’s mother) Gemma. She’s clearly fallen out of touch with who she is while not betraying who she is. Of course, she lies to him about her name, and maybe he has too. He’s obviously got some money to throw around and I’m very interested to see how he fits with Gemma and how he fits into the world of Charming. I’ve liked Jimmy Smits on other programs, but I was never an NYPD Blue convert. I hope we learn more about him, especially since it looks as if he’ll be providing safe harbor to our three fugitives.

The thing I wasn’t particularly over the moon about in the premiere was the shoehorning in of the new members of the Sons. They were part of the Nomads and they’re showing up to fill the ranks. It just feels random to me. It’s interesting to see Chuck Zito as one of the new additions, especially since he was a member of real-life notorious biker gang, Hell’s Angels. I didn’t enjoy the abrupt introduction, in the timespan that we were gone. I also hope that this storyline about him and the other two guys pulling off home invasions, all people involved with SAMCRO in one way or another, has a fruitful payoff. Even with all the stuff involving the CIA/Galindo cartel, it felt too easy to get Bobby out of prison, especially in light of the depth and gravitas that happened when prison Otto sold him down the river. Again, a storyline that may come to a head as we move along. Even on the flip side, I’m glad they ditched the Juice storyline, except for the whole deal of him communicating with the aforementioned Potter and new sheriff in town, Eli Roosevelt. Roosevelt will provide another foilble for the crew even as they deal with the dark clouds of Damon Pope on the horizon.

It feels like all the quiet of the finale has revved into overdrive almost instantaneously. They’ve found a way to loosen up the reins and still let the story breathe. The machinations are making more and more sense and it feels like the wheel spinning is about to have a fruitful payoff.

5×02 – Authority Vested

As our men in Charming have progressed over the past few years, they’ve faced many a great adversary. But to me, the worst of the worst, was Ethan Zobelle. He was the Everyman, the guy that was well-respected in the community, and yet hidden behind that façade was a hateful neo-Nazi hell bent on filling the bucolic California town with dirty drugs. He very nearly tore SAMCRO apart and after hat it seemed like they would never be the same again. And after last episode when we were introduced  to Damon Pope, I’m getting that feeling again. He’s already done more damage to the group then heir former adversary, June Stahl ever caused over the course of three seasons. He’s got them under his thumb and for these guys, that’s the worst place to be.

Look at how he affected Tig towards the end the last episode. He killed Tig’s daughter, Dawn in a befitting eye for an eye trade off. He then threatened to do the same to Tig’s other daughter Fawn. The thing that I love about this arc is how Kim Coates sells the hell out of Tig’s anguish. First, there’s the scene where he holds his daughter’s charred body and rocks back and forth. It’s very heart wrenching.  Then, there’s the scene when he locates his daughter and wordlessly informs his other daughter about their recent loss. It’s all in his eyes and he knocks it out of the park. Even when you take the cheap moment where they descend on the house while seeking out his daughter. Yes, it sounds like she’s in agony but no, she’s role playing a strange sexual fantasy with her boyfriend. It’s reminiscent of something The Shield would pull in their day, but it was a cheap pull frankly. Still, it’s a minor moment that nagged at me.

Things haven’t really gotten easier for new president Jax Teller. He’s got even more things on his plate and it’s sooner rather than later going to come to a head. He’s still got that situation with the CIA and the RICO case. Romeo and Luis keeps holding the IRA deal over him and they don’t even care if he gets killed by Pope. They’ll have a Plan B when they need it. That’s the problem with Jax, for all the swagger and brute force he exudes, he rarely ever sees the forest for the trees. They want to use him to build the case but when he tries to get them to drop the local charges, they won’t budge. He’s also got the  case against Bobby to worry about because while prison Otto dropped the line on Bobby for history, they discovered they have someone dropping the line in the present. And we know by know this is blowback from the events of last season, when current Sherriff Roosevelt was squeezing Juice to be the inside man. So with all this craziness on his plate, Jax decides to marry Tara. He wants her to know that he means business when he says he loves her. This leads to the oddly touching scene where they unite in holy matrimony. Hell, even Chibs is uncharacteristically poetic when he speaks out.

Jax also has a new friendship of sorts with “companionator” Nero Padilla. He steps in and helps out Jax when the Niners try to attack him on the street. Nero is an ex-junkie who found a different tack in life after prison. He takes care of his child afflicted with spina bifida. It turns out that his girlfriend was using when she was pregnant. This ingratiates him with Jax as he had the same issue with his wife Wendy in season one.  Nero is a different kind of person in Jax’s life and one I think that could be very interesting to have around. If his behavior doesn’t turn on a dime. And clearly Gemma is falling for him, as we see in the closing montage, she asks to stay with him in his room. Maybe it’ll be nice for her to have a relationship where her man isn’t a violent, gun-running sociopath. Or things could turn for the worse, who knows?

Clay continues to be struck impotent by his loss of power. He appears only briefly in the episode, but the scenes are powerful nonetheless. He tries to appeal to Gemma while sifting through the aftermath of the home invasion the previous episode. He doesn’t get heard as he should, because he doesn’t deserve a single word edgewise. He’s pathetic and wheezing and Gemma just cuts him down to size. It’s fantastic payback for all his villainy last season. Then, he confronts Opie and lets him know that for all that Opie’s going through, the MC needs him.  And this is where the turning point hits us. Yes, it’s strange to think that Opie of all people would hear Clay out but something sticks with him. Whether it’s the fact that Jax is ready to turn himself and the other two men in, or the fact that you can take the man out of the club – well, you know the rest.

It’s also interesting to see former Sheriff Wayne Unser struggle with his loss of power. He was once the law in Charming but now he’s lost all of his power, and he’s ended up frustrated and slowly becoming more and more crippled by the cancer. He was a big part of the machinations last season with the letters from John Teller. However, this season he’s moving within the wings. When Roosevelt snips that Clay sent him in reference to the break-in, Unser bites back. he was always in dutch with the Sons, but he’s still his own man and he’s still got his wits about him. He can see that these break-ins aren’t Niners blowback, they’re something else.

Last episode, Opie mentioned that he was worried that he would turn into Jax. That had to hurt pretty bad. This is not the life that Jax wants. He’s been trying to push his way out and keeps getting pulled back in. And I guess you can say the same for Opie. He’s lost his wife at the hands of one of his comrades and very nearly lost his children being sent away to prison. So, when he put his For Sale sign on his motorcycle,  it appeared he would be walking away for good. But, as Roosevelt took his gang away in chains, he showed up and socked our sheriff in the jaw. This is him becoming Jax. Because you can’ t take the club out of the man.

Lastly, we deal with the three new SOA guys from the Nomads. Frankie Diamonds, Greg the Peg, and Gogo. We saw them break into Clay’s house, and we see that they stole his safe. We only see a glimmer of what they stole, a marriage license and other documents. It could very well be a very interesting development and quite possibly a storyline that has very impactful, very crushing results.

I’m only curious how Damon Pope will affect our men in SAMCRO. He doesn’t even need to leave his office to do irreversible damage. We’ll see what Pope gets up to as we move along, I’m loving the conflict so far.

5×03 – Laying Pipe

It’s not very wise to throw around the word “game-changer, ” especially when most people wouldn’t have the guts to follow through with it. The last time this was warned about “Sons of Anarchy,” we got the magnificent episode, ‘Hands.’  Hell, almost all of season four was a transistional phase, the midway point in Kurt Sutter’s planned seven year series arc. Now, he’s promised a game-changer again, and he’s done this in the biggest way possible: he’s unleashed Damon Pope, and Pope is gnashing his teeth. In the first two episodes of this season, Damon Pope clung to the shadows, while seeking his revenge on Tig for the death of his daughter, by killing Tig’s daughter. There wasn’t much to be made of him, except that he’s got the erudite businessman role down to a tee.

Our boys from SAMCRO find themselves in a situation that they’ve found themselves in before. They’ve gone the prison route a few times, and this time is much worse. They’ve landed behind the bars with targets on their backs and just like that famous predator, the shark – they’ve got to swim or die. Pope shows up to present his bargain, the only bargain really. He wants in on their profits, and he wants a Son dead. Plain and simple. Pope wants Tig behind bars for life, and he’ll let the guys go. And again, we find Jax’s hand getting forced by the sway of outsiders. And as he gets locked up inside solitary with his good friend, Opie, he finds himself choosing who will be pining for the fjords. And damnit, it was Opie. Poor sweet Opie, who wanted nothing more of this life but found himself dragged in like Michael Corleone even as he wants out. And that heartwrenching moment where Jax is screaming his brains out behind the observational glass as Opie gets beaten to death with a pipe. And that moment where Opie smiles at him right before the killing blow. That hurt like hell, man. It’s hurt me in a way that Sons has never hurt before. Not to mention that Charlie Hunnam sold the hell out of that moment, as he’s been doing all season thus far. But thinking back over it, it makes sense. Jax laid it all out on the line to Opie. He told all the big secrets, all the CIA deals, the letters, the reason why Clay killed his father. It was locking Opie in to die. But, I just didn’t see it yet. I don’t want to sell the impact of his death short at all, but it makes sense in hindsight. Opie wanted to die and for his character to go out on his terms, was a magnificent death, even as his father’s was a sadder affair.

Elsewhere, and far less heartbreaking was Gemma’s continuing machinations in trying to wrangle Abel from Tara’s motherly embrace. I get where Gemma is coming from, she’s finally free of Clay’s abusive and very violent mitts but this incessant acting out is just going in insane spirals. It’s a character in need of retconning immediately. And bringing Wendy in, just to manipulate her and try to turn her against Tara was another moment where Gemma slips down on my radar. I wish they would’ve utilized Drea De Matteo a little more than a brief-ish appearance. Look, I’ve never always had problems with Gemma. Her arc in season two was fantastic, and the stuff with Hal Holbrook as her father in season three was just as aces.  I even get her need to try and push back now that she’s been usurped as Jax’s queen if you will but she can come off as annoying, and that scene where Tara finally bites back and lets her know exactly what lengths she would go to just to have Gemma stop meddling was absolutely priceless. Another bizarre moment for Gemma was beating up the prostitute that Clay left with after he abruptly showed up with Juice at Nero’s companionator business. Why would she give two salts about Clay, the man who beat her down, enough to beat an innocent person down? She’s done it before but as she’s been sleeping with Nero, isn’t that a bit of the pot calling the kettle black? I do enjoy her relationship with Nero and hope that gives her something to do rather than needlessly meddle, so here’s hoping to that. And even as I’m assuming that Clay had to be behind that bust at Nero’s, things don’t look to good for Gemma at the episode’s end.

Sutter is clearly trying to shake up the status quo and I like that. I thrive on that, not only someone who reviews the show but as someone who is a fan of the show. I like that Jax is frustrated and broken. This isn’t that same Jax we’ve grown with over the past five years. He’s done caring, and as he gives Pope everything he wants, he subsequently lays Tig’s head on the chopping block for whenever the time comes. He even sharply cuts Tig down to size and lets him know his place. It’s interesting to see how Pope has broken the club, in a very damaging and very irreversible way. He’s getting revenge and doing it well. But what he doesn’t realize is that he’s poking the bear and sooner rather than later, the bear is going to bite back. Damn good episode, and a great hour of suspense at that.

5×04 – Stolen Huffy

When a fairly major character dies or gets killed off on a long running show, especially one such as Sons of Anarchy, there usually isn’t time for grieving. Instead, ‘Stolen Huffy,’ for the most part focuses its gaze on other plot prospects, namely tying up the loose ends of the storyline involving Nero and his brothel getting shut down. That part of the story interests me the most because it opens up the potential endgame for Jax and the gang for SAMCRO. It’ll be quite a journey getting there because the gang has so much blood and pain in their wake that getting the clear of this hellish mess that they’re in now just isn’t going to be as easy as Jax forsees. I wondered when Nero and Jax’s paths would intersect story-wise, because before all this they were only involved in a very cursory manner.

Jax’s business proposal makes sense because with all the girls from their failed CaraCara porn business, they were bound to revisit it, even after the ensuing violence that occurred way back when. As an avid “Breaking Bad” fan, I can only see trouble for Jax trying to quit the drug runs but hey, you never know. My only problem with Jax’s new business proposal is that it came out of nowhere. I mean, first he was just talking with Opie’s now widowed wife, Lyla and then, he hops up and meets with Nero. I think it’s nice if her woes about taking care of his children and hers, inspired him to explore a new path for SAMCRO. Also, on that note, did she get custody of his children now that Opie died. Wouldn’t they go to Donna’s mother? The episode doesn’t really make that clear.

Another problem that the episode has, is that it focuses way too much on whomever called the police down on Nero’s brothel. Could it possibly been Emma Jean, the prostitute who was on the recieving end of Gemma’s super uncalled for beating? The episode doesn’t quite make that clear but that for some reason Nero calls down two unrelenting gang-bangers to kill Emma Jean, who is now AWOL. Nero, instead of calling off the two killers gets Jax and Chibs to find the girl first. Why he wouldn’t stop the two bad guys first is beyond me, other than creating drama and a reason for the two bikers to get in a chase and stir up some action. And the role of Emma Jean could’ve been played by anyone, casting Ashley Tisdale was nice for a shock but it’s a role that could’ve literally been played by anyone, even if she does good work. The sub-plot felt shoehorned in and very out of place for me. It also asks us to be invested in whether we care about Nero’s business that’s only been kicking around for a couple of episodes now and puts us face-to-face again with a character that annoys me just as much as Gemma, Nero’s assistant, Carla. She calls the gang members down on Chibs and Jax, so surely she had to have retribution coming her way.

You see, as much as I dislike what Gemma’s become of as a character, I like her as the violent mentor to Tara. Even when Gemma becomes this meddlesome monster trying to pull her grandchildren from Tara, she is just unlikeable. Why would she try to pull machinations on Tara and get custody to Wendy, the ex-junkie whom she had tried to kill previously? It’s just strange to me. But as someone who guides Tara and brings out this sociopathic side in Tara? I love it. And watching Tara dig into her violent place and beat Carla down was a great moment of victory. This is the place that Gemma needs to be, and Katey Sagal still continues to do excellent work with the character. You feel her anguish in what is becoming of the club, and it’s hopeful to see where they’ll take her as the season goes on. I also love that Jax wisely asks Nero to part ways with Gemma because he doesn’t want her to needlessly meddle in the new business, because she’s just as much trouble. I did feel a pang of sadness as she watched Nero walk away, because that’s one relationship that wasn’t as screwed as her relationship with Clay was.

But, sadly for me, it just feels like the episode all but forgot Opie, at least until the last act of the episode. The whole wake was a somber affair and really showed just how the death of Opie will affect every one involved. And yet, I wish the whole episode could’ve focused on their grieving, and not treated Opie as an afterthought. But this isn’t that show.  Maybe in the ensuing episodes things will be handled differently, but as of now, I’m a little disappointed. I’m also disappointed that they keep the lingering storyline of the home invasions going, I’m ready to see how this will affect the season-long arc instead of just briefly teasing it. This was also the first episode that Pope doesn’t appear in, he’s only briefly mentioned, but sometimes the club’s sense of smugness could get them killed. Why do they question Jax’s authority when clearly it’s the best route to take? It seems that once Opie died, the last lingering sense of sanity left the room, although Bobby does kind of fill the gap of logical Son.

I just can’t wait to see how the show escalates and see just what may happen to our men towards the end of this season. Will there be more blood? Oh, I’m so certain.

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