22nd Nov2013

‘Sons of Anarchy: Season Five’ DVD Review

by Nathan Smith

5×05 – Orca Shrugged

It’s a hell of a life being President of SAMCRO. Jax Teller spends all his days and nights trying to clear the thickness of the gun deals and drugrunners and gangsters, that his laser precision focus on partnering with new ally Nero Padilla is totally understandable. He’s running in vain to clear the woods and his struggle to get free of all the nightmarish business that Clay has dragged the club into. There is a moment at the end of ‘Orca Shrugged’ where Jax Teller arrives home after a hellishly long day and finds a cooler filled with a female breast and a thumb, part of the agreement he made with the gangbangers last episode, to save the prostitute from a fate way worse than death. He reclines back in his chair, his face bruised from a fist fight earlier in the day, and sighs. It’s an ending that fits perfectly for all the proceedings thus far.

It makes perfect sense that SAMCRO would have to partner with the mayor Jacob Hale, even as he tried in vain to destroy the town with his new Charming Heights proposal. We haven’t seen him since last season’s finale when Lincoln Potter threw a giant monkey wrench into his plans. Now, he’s still puttering around trying to keep his plans for the Heights going. And when Jax approaches him with the new proposal to start a legitimate business, he’s guarded. So, naturally they figure out a way to blackmail him using an associate and Hale caves signing over the lease to one of his buildings. It shows that Jax is having to figure out that you have to acquiesce, when he gives in to help Hale go forward with Charming Heights. I also enjoyed the cameo apperance of “Justified” actor, Walton Goggins as a transgendered prostitute, Venus Van Damme. It’s a throwback to fans of Kurt Sutter’s (and Goggins’) old stomping grounds, “The Shield.” The cameo totally works and fits in with the show perfectly. I also love that true to Tig’s character, they’ve kept him as a good old sexual deviant. Who else would have an erection while getting a bite on his bottom stitched up?

They also have to start tying up the loose storyline threads of the deal between the Irish and the Galindo/CIA. There was the awkward fight between Galen and Jax that went on during the meet. I get why Jax would want to fight him, because he’s causing him to feel like a caged animal. Galen wanted Clay alive to finish the deal and if there’s no deal, the CIA take SAMCRO down. So, if Jax can’t control the situation, he can at least let him know how he feels by going a couple of rounds. I imagine that SAMCRO want Galen dead after he tests his big machine gun by shooting up the Sons’ bikes up. I hope they wrap up this storyline soon, because if they want to continue on with Jax’s business proposal and Damon Pope trying to shoehorn in, it’s best to wrap up a storyline that’s been lingering since season one.

This was also the first episode in quite a while where Gemma wasn’t the single most annoying character in the show. It’s mostly because they’ve dropped the annoying battle of her trying to take Abel and Thomas away from Tara. That’s a storyline that doesn’t fit in, in the grander scheme of things. I feel slightly bad for Gemma when she confronts Nero and he pushes her away. This is the one thing, the one certainty in her life that could actually work for her betterment. But, her being opted out of the business is for the best. She’s a meddler and will drag them down big time. The scenes at the end of the episode where Gemma apologizes to Tara were nice. It’s best when they don’t act like crazy bickering housewives. If they dial Gemma back, it’ll be for the best. I did love when Jax finally gave her whatfor. She stomps around throwing her hat into everyone’s ring, and it’s high time someone dialed her back a peg. But, for the most part, this is the shade of Gemma I like.

The storyline I’m not over the moon about is the home invasion storyline. Yes, there was some moving forward but the show still feels stuck in neutral. I don’t enjoy the new members of the Sons because they just feel like they show up, complain about Jax’s new business proposals and then look shifty when the home invasions are mentioned. I wish they’d at least explain why they’re happening or what their motives are. Obviously, they know enough to pawn the stolen items off on other bangers, but it’s a storyline that needs filling out. And I realize that some storylines are slow burn, but this one just takes the longest to get off the ground. It’s also tying the most compelling character to the background, Sheriff Roosevelt. He was great last season, a character mired in shades of gray. Now, he’s stuck wallowing in a spinning storyline. And hands up, if anyone else predicted that once Roosevelt’s wife was found out to be pregnant, she’d lose the baby at some point. Yes, maybe this will fuel his fire but halfway into the season, I’m hoping this isn’t a major point in the back half. Also, how did Roosevelt know to check under her fingernails for skin? Did she tell him? Maybe I missed it.

This was a major improvement from the last episode and it’s clear that Opie’s death has caused reverberations through SAMCRO and in Jax especially. We’re nearly halfway through the season and I hope that it’ll be this continually burning flame getting hotter and hotter and I welcome the boiling point.

5×06 – Small World

Sometimes it can be a little frustrating watching a long running television series. Often times, the show can stall out and leave you waiting impatiently for the storyline to pick up. That sagging can often leave people wallowing in the dust. I really wasn’t too attached to this season in the beginning. But, once they started dropping some of the storylines that didn’t matter, like Gemma’s pathetic attempts to wrangle Jax’s children from Tara, it started dragging me back in. And now as we’re halfway through the season, I find myself getting deeply invested in the story and wondering where it’ll go from here.

On one front, “Small World,” is asking us to be invested in a storyline, the home invasions, that we’ve only seen very little part of here and there. That’s the part I’m not too enamored with. I mean, it’s strange that they only added the three new members just to have them come into play for the home invasion story. If they’d only revealed the new members after the fact, there might have been some sort of suspense to it, but as it is, it’s a very clumsy storyline. Even more so, they’re asking us to invest in who when we already know who. Rather, we should be saying why. And with the closing minutes revealing that Clay is in fact the mastermind behind the bikers breaking in to homes, leaves us with some sort of movement on a story, that like I said early has felt like a massive stall game and not the slow burn story it could’ve been. I’ll admit that I didn’t think Clay would’ve been behind it, but they started dropping hints throughout the episode, like Clay feigning his illness as far worse than it is and his sudden investment in it.

It also asks us to sympathize for a character we knew little to nothing about. We knew Carla had some sort of relation to Nero but it was kept vague. Her outright unlikeableness caused me to just flat out not care about anything that happened to her. When she attacked Gemma and Nero for the most part, I cared less about her and more about the characters she was holding at gunpoint. There’s no way you’re able to grieve for a character that we barely knew but as a lightly sketched out antagonist. I thought they might even have her kill Nero but instead when she turns the gun on herself, I felt no sympathy. Why should I? I only find out who she was after she died. It was mishandled but at least it’s a partial storyline we can put to rest.

The part that gives me pause is Jax getting into business with Damon Pope so soon after he made it a point to try and get out of the drug muling business. Why would he think it’s in his best interest to partner up with the man who had previously made it his personal agenda to kill members of his club. Maybe it makes for good money and he’s securing his finances for the potential endgame he’s setting up with Nero? If he’s giving up the plan with Nero, then all of the stuff he went through to secure the building for DIOSA is just pointless in hindsight. I also didn’t enjoy the brutality of the revenge storyline with the prison guard and his wife. It felt cruel even when you take into account that he didn’t kill Opie, he only set him up to die. Even more so, I don’t get why Tig felt comforted after killing the wife. It felt like a pointless exercise in cruelty for me. But it’s a minor feeling I had.

Roosevelt’s depression of the death of his wife was a much more palpable feeling and at least had you sympathizing with him. His blind path towards destroying the MC may have brutal consequences down the line but we’ll see. Elsewhere, we have Tara now lying to Jax after her failure to get Otto to sway in his unflinching decision to scorch the earth in regards to the club. I don’t get why she’s lying now but again, it’s something we’ll have wait and see just how it’s handled. I also enjoyed Unser’s words with Gemma. He’s been conspicously absent this season and his words cut deep and have obviously affected Gemma at the episode’s end.

So, we find ourselves with seven episodes left in the season. We’ve got Clay behind the home invasions, Roosevelt on the warpath with the club, and Jax doing business with Damon Pope. That’s a loaded gun waiting to go off at any moment.

5×07 – Toad’s Wild Ride

It seems the noose is tightening around most of our major players… First things, they kicked the home invasion storyline into high gear in a short, heavy burst. They spill almost all the major beans of Clay’s plot to overthrow Jax at the throne before Act One. It seemed a little too exposition-y for my tastes but then again, I was complaining about the lack of story for this plot, I just didn’t expect infodump. I mean, it makes sense for Clay to back this kind of play, as he spent almost all of last season as a mustache twirling supervillain. I felt a little tension when Clay visited Unser in his trailer and they had a standoff without guns, but with words. Of course, Clay was going to root the flunkies in and get them killed. Why wouldn’t he? We barely know who they are at this point and now they’re dead. They were just chess pieces with flesh and had little to no characterization. They’re the equivalent of that character in a video game that pops up and talks when the mission deems it necessary. I’m interested to see long term how this plays out with everyone around the club, but it’s too little too late to care about the men Clay put literally in the line of fire. It’s going to be a titanic struggle between Jax and Clay over the home invasion stuff, and I hope they find a way to end this without the contrivance of last year’s finale.

And dammit, they’ve brought Wayne Unser back into the fold and he’s on top of his game for it. Unser’s gotten the short shrift pretty badly so far this season and maybe it’s because he’s been waiting in the wings, calculating and figuring out what is up with the invasions in Charming. My only qualm is that he handled his vetting of the two bikers rather clumsily. If you think this men are capable of murder, do you show up and just chat them up? Maybe so, but it just seemed like he should’ve known better. I also enjoyed seeing Dayton Callie play off of Ron Perlman in the aforementioned trailer scene. It was thick tension and very well done.

There wasn’t much on the other men of SAMCRO front, as most of it was tied up with either the home invasion storyline or Gemma’s storyline which involved her getting robbed by her one-night fling. It was a nice cameo, briefly done by Joel Mchale. I just feel that it was something serviceable to pass the time in between the invasion stuff. My only problem is that Jax was going to kill him, when he could’ve just beat him up like Nero did at the end of the episode. Doesn’t Jax comprehend that violence begets violence. It’s like the men of SAMCRO have “eye for an eye” permanently engrained in their brains. The problem here, is that we begin to slip out of the shade of gray that Sons of Anarchy attempts to tread each and every episode. It’s dull watching a show about sociopaths after a certain amount of time. I mean, in the beginning Jax was capable of violence but did it to protect people. Now, he’s standing idly by while Tig executes a woman in cold blood. It’s slipping further and further towards a doomed inescapability. I don’t have a problem with the death and chaos on the show, but it’s almost as if they don’t want blurred lines between good and evil, and if the bad guys aren’t discernible from the good, then where do we attach ourselves? But, dammit, Charlie Hunnam sells it so well. It’s a fascinating arc and I love it but I don’t know how I feel about his dis-attachment. And Nero, well, it just doesn’t make sense that he would attack Mchale’s character. He was told that Gemma would only lead him down this path of trouble and yet, he finds himself standing there defending her honor. I get where he’s coming from but jeez, man, the lady is bad news. He’s got the new digs for DIOSA, so cut bait and cut it now. That’s gonna be a problem down the line.

They’ve toned back Gemma’s almost crazed behavior from the almost intolerable heights they were aiming for. I don’t favor the Lifetime-esque storylines of custody battles in my violent pulp opera. But, they’ve given Gemma an arc where she seems to want to destroy herself in lieu of any favorable alternative. It’s good for the bottoming out of some characters and there can be a whole lot mined from it. I mean, the character who always seemed to be powerful and had her shit together is now slipping down the slope at an increasingly speedy rate. It’s believable that someone would lose after all this time, all the violence and all the drugs would take its toll. Gemma’s gone through some heavy stuff in the past, like the rape and Clay’s violent beating but this is bottoming out. She’s regained her trust with Tara but with her almost certainly endangering the children after crashing the car with them in it, this may be her final destination.

They also seem to have some sort of deal with Tara trying to ingratiate herself with Otto in prison. I’m not sure how they’re tying this in at this point, but her sifting through club history has to have a point somewhere in her quest to prevent Otto from going forward with the RICO case. We’ll see where this goes. What do we also make of the men who shot at Jax and Chibs towards the end of the episode? One of the men was killed and unmasked, and was revealed to be black. Is this retaliation from the Niners, or Damon Pope? My other speculation is, did they actually shoot either Chibs and Jax? It sure looked like they did. These two mini-plots tie in to the story, but Tara has a much more tenuous link to the arc of the season proper.

I like the back half of the season much better than the first. It’s upping all antes and giving us threads to pull and pull as we move through the episodes and reach the end of the season.

5×08 – Ablation

So much of this season was spent was spent shuffling the deck, passing cards back and forth that waiting for the proper arc was getting a little exhausting. Then, they shifted it all on us. All the perception was skewed thus far. I mean, at the beginning of the season, I would’ve been able to tell you that Damon Pope would’ve been the adversary that SAMCRO battled throughout the season. But, I was wrong. I was dead wrong. Hell, Pope is beginning to show himself as a mentor, albiet a dangerous one, the exact flipside of the coin from Nero Padilla. As the episode progressed, it started to dawn on me who the real villain of the season is.

It’s SAMCRO.

Think about it, everybody in the club or most of them anyways, is in danger of folding in on themselves like a collapsing star. First, you’ve got Clay still shifting gears back and forth trying to overthrow Jax at the throne of the club. He failed miserably with his home invasion scams and now has two dead members and Sheriff Roosevelt’s wife on the slab. After seeing Roosevelt have a meet with Juice at the hospital, Clay starts wheel spinning and practically gets Juice to own up to all of the of the deeds he got up to last season, up to and including the stolen key of cocaine for the Feds. Clay plays like he’s still the czar of the club and gives him a reprieve which pushes Juice into the middle lane of the gray. Clay even owns up to getting the two flunkies killed by himself and Unser. It was quite the shocking revelation and again, I felt rather uneasy during the whole exchange.

I’m really excited to see what happens to Juice as the season progresses because as I said, he’s had a great arc transformation just as Jax has. He went from butt of the joke to a haunted, broken fragment of SAMCRO. Now, he may still be pining for the fjords because as the episode ended, Roosevelt still distraught and torn up over his wife (and unborn child’s) death, offers up the rat, whom we know as Juice. It’s another interesting development because this makes Roosevelt a darker character like those men he actively seeks to lock up. I will admit that after the nth time he mentioned the death of his wife, he started to feel slightly like Harvey Dent in “The Dark Knight.” It’s horrible and inconceivably awful because he was sucked into the damned gravity of this violent club but prattling on about it was getting old at least until he cut the meat of the situation and went straight for the bone. He’s going for the throat and I love it. I still enjoy what Charlie Hunnam does with Jax and his vengeful murder of the hired assassin was a dark moment for the character, as well as the dismemberment of the other gunman. His machinations towards Gemma and Clay at the end of the episode show that he’s settling into the role of President of the club and sadly becoming just the thing he feared he would become. Clay.

It’s also no surprise that Clay lies for Gemma, after all he’s trying to get into her good graces and what better way to do so. It’s a horrible shame that she went along with the lie and I honestly feared for her life when she finally fessed up and told Tara the truth. I thought she would get a whole lot worse than a shunning and a slug to the face. I loathe what they’ve done to her character and what they’ve turned her into his a character that you grin and bear until you move on to the next and better storyline. But, Jax is trying to get Clay to confess all his major misdoings and he’s right to get him and Gemma back together simply because they would fall into the same rhythms as they had earlier. I hate that they’ve turned Nero away from Jax, it’s not really his fault all of this is going on, it’s as if they needed an excuse to break the partnership, after what, three episodes? Nero is a strong character, and they saddle him to a character who is clearly the very same thing he’s trying to avoid.

I don’t like the Frankie Diamonds character because he was usually the major mouthpiece for anti-Jax proposals at the table which in hindsight, makes sense in the light of Clay’s machinations to shove Jax out of the top spot. But, with all his bullish villainisms, they made sure I loathed that Diamonds fellow and I sure did. I mean, what gives him the right and I am so certain that by the end of it, he won’t be alive to see the sun rise. I’m also wondering just who those fellows were in the truck when Diamonds absconded and ran away into the night. I legitimately thought Chibs was going to be killed for the briefest of moments during that scene, I’m not going to lie.

Lots of moving parts in this episode, and frankly I had to have a breather afterwards. I had “Sons of Anarchy,” hangover, where all of it just collided with my brainpan and I just had to breathe for a moment. This is the show I’ve missed. No silly custody storylines. We’re cutting to the meat and potatoes of the storytelling. Let’s stick the landing, and I will be a happy camper.

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