22nd Nov2013

‘Sons of Anarchy: Season Five’ DVD Review

by Nathan Smith

5×09 – Andare Pescare

There’s always a great deal of wheel spinning to be expected of a show like Sons of Anarchy, especially one that has a seven season long-plotted arc. Sometimes things need to be stretched unduly to keep things going, sometimes they don’t. It’s really all dependent on the writers and how they choose to map out everything on its course. So, that’s why it can be simultaneously frustrating and rewarding waiting for a long arc to pay off, and right now, we’re nine episodes in and I can see where my simultaneous frustration and sense of accomplishment stands. It’s right smack dab in the middle.

The frustration lies with Frankie Diamonds’ character. I never really liked the character from jump street, and it was clear from the beginning that no one was supposed to. So, we sat around and waited to see exactly why and what he was doing these home invasions for. Then, they revealed it was Clay, (back in full mustache twirling form) trying to upheave Jax from his presidents’ throne. Of course, Frankie was going to die. I mean, why wouldn’t he? If it wasn’t Clay doing the gunning down, it had to have been someone else. Frankie couldn’t tell anyone what Clay was up to, or be handed over to Roosevelt for his trade secrets about Juice being the rat. There lies the problem, the story could go two ways and maybe the path they chose was the more complicated of the two, but it just seemed too damned easy to gun Frankie down because of some mobster’s childish anger.

I’m still frustrated ever so long with Jax’s inability to do anything to Clay. Why does he need some needless machinations to kill Clay? It would be a darker path for him if he killed Clay and passed it off the same way Clay did when he killed Piney. But, because they need to drag it out ever so longer. On that same token, when Jax delivers Frankie’s dead body to Roosevelt, the sheriff instantly turns on a dime and becomes sick at the thought of a man he wishes death upon to actually be dead. It’s quite a bit of nice pathos. But, when Jax deduces that Juice is the rat, it takes him no time to go forward and move forward to attempt to kill Juice as we see at the episode’s end. Or, at least make plans to do so. It’s frustrating that he’ll “kill” Juice but allow Clay to live and get by. Juice has only been manipulated by both good guys and bad, so for Jax to do something like kill him off, is no good especially in light of all the other men in the club that have done just the same. And why would Bobby threaten Clay like that? Bobby seems to be the only sane person in SAMCRO at this point. Didn’t Piney do the same? And isn’t Piney dead now? It seems a bit unwise for him to do that.

There were some nice character moments amongst the other players in the episode. For one, Gemma had some nice quiet moments with Nero, visiting his physically disabled son, and placing the ashes down of his half-sister, who was a better person when she was talked about rather than actually seen. No, the moments where they sat in Nero’s family crypt and quietly talked or, the scene where she struggled to tell Nero about her indiscretions she’s about to commit with her former old man, Clay. I really actually felt for her in that moment rather than contempt for her. Yes, I realize she’s put herself in this situation BUT it’s not easy to see her giving herself over to Clay similarly to Joan Holloway selling herself out to land a gig on ‘Mad Men.’ It’s actually quite heartbreaking and if they play to the internal struggle that Gemma goes through, it could serve as a damn fine bit of retconning.

Elsewhere, Tara had a great bit of character driven business by finally wrangling Otto into a place where he finally cracked and gave in, or at least that’s the idea. She’s growing stronger and much more independent as an “old lady,” and to see her utilize Luann’s perfume as a nostalgic type of sensory manipulation. Not only is it amazing to see Maggie Siff get to wrangle with such an emotional arc, it’s also great to see Kurt Sutter have a nice, broken moment. It was very subdued and actually, very literally kind of touching. I’m not sure what to make of Tara’s self-gratification at the end of the episode after putting on Luann’s perfume. Was that to mean that she was turned on by the smell, or turned on by touching Otto and being physically close to him while he did the same thing? It was very different for sure, but altogether it was another nice bit of drama in a loaded episode. My only qualm: Can Tara’s boss change her marital status without her knowledge? And it was done just to have more trouble with Jax’s felonious charges and that Tara will have trouble down the line? That’s my only quibble in an otherwise fantastic episode.

It’s taken time but this season has built to a nice crescendo, and damnit, I hope they continue the awesomeness that the show has been radiating thus far. They’re building up threads and making sure they coalesce nicely. Sutter and company are wrapping up a middling season with a strong finish.

5×10 – Crucifixed

There’s this sense of internal rot that’s been permeating this season of Sons of Anarchy. It’s all about SAMCRO, a unit usually able to hold their own against foes more powerful or much more well-connected than they. But, now that their men are dropping like flies and turning on each other like rats in a cage, they’re falling apart. They don’t trust each other. They go off on their own motivations, when usually they bring it to the club for approval. That’s what this season has been about. A storm change. A big, fat hurricane ripping at everyone in Charming. And at the center of this mess, is Jax Teller.

The leader of The Grim Bastards says it best to Jax. “Who are you?” Look, Jax’s transition into the darkness has been a pretty slow burning one, but one that was a long time coming. He’s never been one to shy away from the wet-work, but now he’s crueler inside. He’s learning that balancing the light and the dark as he reigns in his Presidency. First, he’s dealing with the men who swung the killing blows against his friend, Opie. I thought that it would’ve been nice that he didn’t actually kill the man who battered Opie with the pipe. Well, I guess he didn’t. Chibs did. They destroyed allegiance with their pals, The Grim Bastards and further pushed away the one sane member of SAMCRO, Bobby.

He’s also doing his great business deal with Jacob Hale, which went from terrible idea, to endgame idea. I personally hope this angle works out because it’s something that will end up a better deal than if he were to continue drug-running. Also, a nice surprise was that Damon Pope, former villain is actually a willing business partner. This has been a nice and rather unpredictable development in the season thus far. I’m glad they’re dragging Unser back into this because he’s such a good character and well put upon but now that he’s got this fiery passion to take down Clay, he’s been quite invigorated.

Then, there’s the major issue of ferreting out that Juice is the rat. I was glad that they didn’t kill off Juice because he’s pretty much the only character with any sense of redemption in the lot. I will say that was a damned lousy bit of faux suspense making us think that Jax would kill Juice, but it leads to bigger and better things overall. It affords Juice the opportunity to be a stealthy mole with Clay, and receive those ultra important documents that Clay had the Nomads steal previously. Now, that’s fantastic movement on one front. On the other front, it gives a big dividing line in this season. Clay or Juice. If Juice louts it up, he’ll die and Clay lives to crab up another day. And crabbing it up, he is. He’s trying to worm up the RICO case with the Feds, and it seems that he’s doing pretty good doing so. It’s easily the most confusing part of the episode and really digs us back in heavier with easily the most knotted up plot of the season. Gemma got a kind of short shrift this episode but she’s going straight into her deal with Jax and is now allowing Clay to move back into her home. Which I do begin to feel bad for her, because rock bottom is a hell of a thing and it can’t be easy dealing with the afterglow. But, it’ll pay off soon enough because now with Clay gone from his home, Juice is free to ravage the digs for the documents.

Tara’s dealing with heavy stuff for the most part as we dip into the last episodes of the season. It was nice to give her something to do, and having her be the one to break through with Otto, was a nice bit of business. She was the one that could help out by getting him to rescind his testimony. And after last episode’s strange encounter their moments together seemed a little more grounded. It all seemed much more innocent, until he asked for Luann’s ornate crucifix for a last happy moment. Yeah, I figured that it wanted it for something insidious. And, boy oh boy, was I right. He offered to rescind by murdering the prison doctor quite viciously in front of Tara. It was a way for Otto to go out his way, and help SAMCRO, but at a darker cost. Tara’s now an accessory to murder, and right now, it’s looking very bad for her.

Three episodes to go and it’s been quite the ride. A proverbial rollercoaster if you will. Ups and downs are always a part of a long-running show but they seem to have it working out for them. There’s a lot of blood in these last few episodes and if everyone doesn’t make it out alive, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s been quite unpredictable.

5×11 – To Thine Own Self

And thus the noose tightens…

It seems that everyone in this episode is in a perpetual state of struggling. They’re painted into corners that seem almost inescapable, and judging by the way this back end of the season is going, they aren’t going to be making it out. The ticking clock element that Sons of Anarchy usually employs has never been so present, so demanding this season until now. First, they removed two major hurdles for our President of SAMCRO. Finally, with Otto quashing his testimony by killing that nurse, the RICO case being held over the club is finally dwindling. This has been such a long running storyline that it’s finally nice for it be handled with such precision. It’s almost silly how easy they were able to appease everyone and walk away clean. Everyone fulfills a slot of product the Sons have been giving over, and the Sons can finally move towards legitimate-esque business practices. As Bobby mentions later in the episode, this is big. The club has been stuck in this rut for so long because Clay has been pushing them further and further in the hole.

But, and there’s a major but, Jax is still unable to let go of his vengeance against Clay. I get it, everything that has happened in one way or another, is Clay’s doing. He killed his father, and abused his mother. But, as they’ve been teaching this whole season: violence begets violence. Jax could kill Clay, and if he does then that will take the next season to a whole new realm of possibilities. But, as we see at the episode’s end, Bobby isn’t going to let that happen. At first, I was upset. I mean, Bobby practically accused him of all his wrongdoings and now, he’s saving that bad, bad man. And then, I thought about after words. It makes sense. Bobby has never been one to shy away from violence, but he’s trying to stop the killing because it seems to be the very thing that is aiming to take the club down. They’re losing themselves in the violence and the only way to stop … is to stop. I thought Jax would’ve killed Juice, but no he spared him in this round. But, that’s why Bobby is telling Jax to cut bait. You’ve taken down the white whale, why keep going?

One element of the episode that’s left to be ambiguous is whether or not Tara cares if Jax leaves with her when she takes the new job she’s accepted in the episode. She gives him a rousing speech at the beginning of the episode about getting out while the getting is good and ready, but he’s still looking at the club through rose colored glasses. He isn’t seeing it like she is. So, I take her accepting the job, as a way of severing ties, or at least thinking about it very, very hard. And isn’t it a smart move to take the job? She has children to worry about, and all this club is going to do is drag her down in the undertow. Tara’s wisely assessing her situation and seeing that with her husband stuck in a perpetual stall, it’s best to cut ties and move on to a better situation. Now, maybe I’m seeing it wrong, but this is what I’m gleaning from the episode, and it makes a whole lot of sense. And her scene with Unser was a nice, subdued moment in an episode full of strife, internal and external. It allowed for a breather in an otherwise tightly wound episode.

One of the many benefits of a ninety minute episode is that it allows everything to settle down. Take for instance, the scene with Clay and Tig just shooting the breeze over a couple of beers. In any other case, the scene would’ve been dropped. But, as it is, we’re allowed to soak in the real emotional resonance behind it. Clay’s still trying to sway Tig back into his ‘Emperor Palpatine’ – esque mitts and Tig’s refusing. It’s a far cry from where the show used to be when Clay was calling the shots and obedient Tig would follow. Now, Jax is forcing him to heed every word and Tig looks back in hindsight to see that following Clay leads down a very, very bad road. It’s a brief scene in hindsight, but a mightily important one.

Now, in regards to Nero’s sub-plot, some aspects of it, felt extraneous. I had thought that Jax and Nero weren’t partnering over Diosa anymore. I was wrong. They seem to be in better sorts than they were a few episodes back. The part that felt like it could’ve been missed was everything dealing with Nero’s old gang. The purpose it seemed to serve for me overall, was a) A random action sequence to add some gunfire to the proceedings and b) to show that Nero is capable of doing some dirty work and this is where I began to perk up for the plot. Look, I’ve never had any problems with Jimmy Smits’ work on the show thus far, but he was saddled to an inept storyline. His chemistry with Katey Sagal is so-and-so but the bond they’ve hoisted on Nero with Jax is one of the best things this story has going for it. When Jimmy Smits busted in the door and began shooting up his old gang looking for Jax, I felt deep for him. But when he showed up at Gemma’s doorstep, worried sick that she has moved on to Clay, I felt deeper for the man. I mean, the love between those two has never been something I was over the moon about but as of late, they’ve really began to invest me into it with a fiery passion.

And finally, and most intriguingly to me, they’ve introduced a mysterious character played by Donal Logue and in three small scenes, he’s made quite the impact. From beating Otto Delaney down, (On a side tangent, is this the most that we’ve seen of Otto in any season whatsoever? Maybe last season, but he’s been given lots to do, which isn’t too bad, given the little bits of business he’s been doing), to silently stalking Tara, he’s a character that’s bound to be reckoned with.

Two episodes to go and they’ve been winding up the season in the most major way possible. I was initially let down when it began, but now as they tighten the proverbial noose, I find myself invested so heavily, it hurts.

5×12 – Darthy

There’s barely room in here to breathe. Everything that’s been moving and moving this season seems to be on a reckless collision course with one another. As haphazard as that may sound, it gells so beautifully, it’s so sublime, it’s almost ridiculous how good the pieces fit together. It’s symphonic interlocking. As up and down as this season may have been, credit being due where it’s due, this is THE best episode of the season. Even if it has some low watermarks in regards to some slightly wonky plotting.

At last, they’ve gotten rid of Clay. That he should’ve died when he was layed up in the hospital last season, well that’s a whole ‘nother story. I can’t deny it, the unpredictability. Would I have predicted that Clay would’ve owned up to his mustache twilrling plot to unseat Jax? Maybe, but maybe not. That it was just laid out, bare bones, was pretty unexpected. I had a uneasy feeling when the camera swirled around the table as each member shirked him out into the cold. Of course, we knew Bobby would be the only one to defend him from meeting Mister Mayhem. Bobby’s point of letting Clay live made sense, but Jax just doesn’t see it. He’s too far gone to care. He’s so wrapped up in his own problems that letting the one man who caused him all his misery to live, isn’t something that he can abide. Now, that cold open was gorgeous. It had such a muted tone to it, and the performances from all men, was just damn fine work. The direction by Peter Weller was even more superb. Ron Perlman plays Clay Morrow as such a brute that seeing him break down, after being on the recieving end of a beatdown by Jax, was refreshing and welcome. His stunning dead-on look when he’s getting his tattoos blacked out at the episode’s end. He’s lost it and he knows it.

I feigned a little at the overcooked complications that came about as a result of anything involving the Cartel, the IRA or Damon Pope. Firstly, it couldn’t be easy that they cleared the wreckage that was the pileup of anything Cartel-IRA related. How could it be? But, it’s as if the writers didn’t want it to be easy. And that’s fine, if it weren’t a storyline that’s been dragged on since late season one way back with Cameron Hayes. It would be fine if it didn’t just seem like it needed to happen. Of course, the Cartel needed weapons only the IRA could supply. Of course, the Cartel had to show up and blow the meet that Jax had PERFECTLY under control. That felt eyerolling to me. Now, at least the Cartel are gone, hopefully at least. The IRA promise that hell will follow but all of their issues seemingly get washed over when Jax gets bailout money from Nero’s quick, easy fix.

At least, the only glimmer of hope of anything fruitful comes out of all this mess. Clay’s starting up his own club. This is an idea that has potential. Even if, he should be pining for the fjords long ago. I’m intrigued by it. It feels like something moving forward and not progressing backwards. Now, I like how they’ve turned what the idea of what Damon Pope was on it’s head. Originally, he was made out to be this season’s big bad. Now, he’s a kind of mentor to Jax, when he needs it. Jax is adrift, and with all these people treating him like he’s a literal Stretch Armstrong. Pope wants Tig, that’s something lingering from way earlier in the season. That he’s forcing Jax’s hand even while partnering with him felt a little like handcuffing plot together unnecessarily. It brought back Vietnam-esque flashbacks of last season’s finale. It felt gut-wrenching during the episode that Jax was going to give Tig up, but by episode’s end, he hadn’t. No, something monumental like that is going to be done in the finale.

I also didn’t love the custody stuff early on in the season. But, here it felt better emotionally, it didn’t feel out of place. It makes sense that Tara is going to be looking for someone to take care of the kids if and when she goes away. At least, it was all machinations here. Wendy is a natural choice. But, that she turns on a dime after being held hostage by the IRA, and instantly threatens both Jax and Tara made her a terrfying player in the game. When Jax showed up at her motel room, at the episode’s end, I thought that he was there to kill her. It’s to be expected, given his colder attitude this season. But, he drugged her up nicely, and that felt harsher to me. Jax tells Tara he’s going to make life beautiful for her and the kids, but is their life better? This is something that was briefly touched in season three, when Jax thought to leave Abel behind in Belfast. And now, he thinks that leaving his children in a life full of violence and guns is better? This lack of compassion is honing him, but it’s going to break him apart. He trusted Bobby once upon a time, and now he’s threatening him. This life will turn him into Clay Morrow, whether he likes it or not.

The plot involving Tara has been the sneaky, stealthy awesome arc this season. It’s one of those plots the show does so well. You keep digging and hope you make it out. The problem is, you never hit the bottom, you just keep going. Last episode, we met Donal Logue’s character and this episode, we learned a whole lot more about him. I thought it was quite fitting that he played the brother to the nurse that Otto killed. After all, she was his sister in real life, Karina Logue. He’s a whole lot scarier when he’s not beating people down, and his performance while vetting Tara could give anyone’s willies, the willies. He will be a big problem for the Sons, it’s so very easy to see. He will be big trouble judging by all those guns he has laid out on his bed. He will be a foe worthy of fear. This is a very exciting prospect and one I welcome with open arms.

I know it seems like there were a lot of problems with the episode, but trust me, it was fantastic. It was something fierce, almost feral. It was like a whole different animal was unleashed, and I think the show was better for it. There are so very many stakes set up this episode, and if they stick the landing in the finale, boy howdy it’ll be bombastic. This may have been an uneven season, but in hindsight, it’s so very terrific. The end is nigh, and if anyone makes it out alive, it’ll be a miracle.

5×13 – J’ai Obtenu Cette

Well, it’s all said and done now, isn’t it?

Most of the time, you can give much thought into an episode title and what a fitting one Sutter and company have chosen to end this season five. J’ai Obtenu Cette translates to “I’ve got this.” It’s what Opie Winston says to Jax and his crew right before he meets his own haphazard version of Mister Mayhem. It’s kind of fitting really, because by the end of the season, right here and now, no one has gotten anything. In fact, they’ve gone and lost it. They’ve been caught up in the nuclear swirl of this club and they don’t realize that they’re poisoning themselves in the process. It’s this gaping hole in the club that we’ve never seen happen before. Everyone has been irrovacably changed by the end of the episode and it makes for such beautiful, fantastic drama.

The finale co-written and directed by showrunner Kurt Sutter takes all the cards in play this season and shuffles them together in such a powerful hand that doesn’t feel locked in or contrived. In fact, it feels organic for the most part with a few hiccups along the way. I felt such tension and warmth in the events roiling through the finale. The brotherhood seemingly destroyed by Clay and all the stormy outsiders had a strong bond, after all. It felt fantastic. It felt earned. It was little things throughout the episode, little character beats that wamred my cackles. Like, during that raid on Nero’s rival gang, when Tig saves an injured pit bull from getting killed after losing out in a dogfight. It was a subtle moment, and makes sense when you think about last season’s Kozik feud over the dog. Tig can be cold blooded but he has a heart and I felt a love for him I hadn’t felt in a very long time. Or Gemma naming the parrots Carl and Carla. It’s the little things that add up overall in a long-running finale like this one.

I didn’t care too much about the Nero subplot, but it does continually show that Jimmy Smits is so damn good in this role. He’s allowed to be free in this role. Even as much as I loathe Gemma, it was nice to see them together. And Nero trying to get Jax to give up the ghosts and get out, just as much as he needs to was another in the nice moments throughout the finale.

So, how did Jackson Teller do in his first year as a President? Overall, I think he did pretty damn good considering all things. He did the one thing Clay refused to do, he made an escape hatch and got the club out. But, he had seemingly lost his way on that same front. After Opie died, he was never the same. He had been down a darker path. Because of all this and the way the finale was going, I was all but certain that he really would give Tig over to Damon Pope. He had gone that far. But, there is no more a moment to stand up and cheer when he kills all of Pope’s men and gives the gun over to Tig for revenge. Seeing Kim Coates break down at his friend giving him over was a moment of heartrenching pain only equaled by his performance in the premiere. And then, it was even more of a win when they showed the murder weapon was Clay’s old gun. I like that Roosevelt just let it play because he gets his win by putting away the head of the Nomad break-ins.  Clay Morrow may not be dead, but he’s going to be locked up for a long while at least until the default bounty for Damon Pope gets someone to take him out. All the machinations that usually bog down other episodes, didn’t collapse this episode. It made it stronger.

Frankly, it was all wins around the block this episode.

Well, most of the episode. I like that Tara had started to make plans to get the children and get them out. The club is a poisonous cyclone threatening to suck everyone in. How many people have died since the beginning? Since before the beginning? So, the fact that she’s trying to save her children and get them out makes her a strong person. It’s very upsetting that everyone, save for Wendy, is trying to get in the way. Hell, the mere fact that Wendy and Tara are working together for a common good should tell you that their intentions are the best. That’s not saying that Jax and Gemma both have good intentions but they don’t have the mother instinct that Tara does. I started to feel better about Gemma until she threatened Tara with putting her in prison.

And if Gemma made good on her threats, that has to be the reason why the police arrested Tara at the end of the episode. If that’s the case, I don’t think Gemma will be long for this world. It’s easy to feel rage boil over at Gemma, when it seemed that all this custody garbage was behind her. Now, she’s sending away the one constant in Jax’s life. I realize that this is pure speculation but if this is the case, then this is dark stuff. It couldn’t have been Otto giving over testimony, because he snapped off his tongue in that rather gruesome scene. We also didn’t see much of the ex-U.S Marshal Lee Toric, although we learned a whole lot about him in the interim. He’s not a character to be messed with and he will certainly not be going away anytime soon. This is exciting, this is powerful stuff.

It was a mixed season in the beginning but damnit, they really turned it around in the last half. It became stronger, wilder and much more focused. I’d say that overall this was one of the stronger season out there. It was bumpy, because they had a whole lot of loose ends throughout that went nowhere. It was a long season, five ninety minute episodes overall. It adds to some great television. Season six is going to be a long wait.

The Sons of Anarchy: Season Five DVD boxset is packed with special features including, 4 Creator’s Cut Extended Episodes; Fan Concert at the Clubhouse featurette;  “Opie Winston” interview; Kurt Sutter interview; Deleted Scenes; Gag Reel and Audio commentary on 2 episodes.

Sons of Anarchy: Season Five is released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 25th.

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