Sons of Anarchy – Season Six, Episode 1

I’ll cop to the fact that I didn’t want to like this show. Like a lot of people I suspect, the thought of watching a motorcycle club misbehave on television seemed like watching the Rolling Stones concert movie Gimme Shelter, specifically to see the stabbing. The chief difference being, Sons Of Anarchy is fiction…and not actually a snuff film like Gimme Shelter.

At the suggestion of a colleague, I watched the pilot episode a couple years ago. By the third episode, I was hooked. After binging on the first four seasons, I was emotionally invested and seriously committed enough to actually be excited for last years fifth season. SOA has just the right amount of dysfunction, crime, murder, mayhem, sex and substance abuse to make for some good television. It helps that the actors are all great and series creator Kurt Sutter is a gifted story teller.

I would defy anyone to find a better ensemble cast than Sutter has assembled here. The performances are all simply great. The writing and directing is almost always flawless. It begs the question why the show is continually ignored by the awards community. I suspect it has to do with societal stigma’s surrounding motorcycle clubs. When you look at performances, tone, structure, writing and directing, SOA is just as well crafted and diabolical as any of the current critics darlings.

Suffice it to say, I was eagerly awaiting last nights season six premiere.

Last nights episode reminded me of the first day of high school sometime around your junior year. You know, the day where you walk around saying “Hi” to all the people you hadn’t seen in a few months, popping in and out of class. Same principle in last nights episode, we saw all of the main characters enough to say “Hi” and all the secondary characters. And we popped in and out of story lines. A lot of story lines.

Virtually every major character was given a potentially substantive and juicy set up. Certainly enough plot lines were introduced to carry the show through to its conclusion next year, after a seventh season. Hopefully, that is the case. To try and blow through them all in one season seems crazy.

It’s pointless to talk about the acting. As the show has proven time and time again, it is amazing. Singling out any one actor for excellence seems unfair, but I will. Katey Segal’s portrayal of SOA matriarch Gemma Morrow is nothing short of brilliant. Segal’s Gemma is consistently exciting to watch. She commands every scene and is easily as manipulative as Edie Falco’s Carmello Soprano; certainly Segal deserves the same amount of recognition. Hell, any recognition.

Does it help or hurt she is Sutter’s wife? In this case, I might argue that it helps because either she has raised the bar for herself because her hubby is the show runner or he is pushing her. Or the two are just the perfect storm of talent in the perfect boat. Any way you shake a stick at it, it works brilliantly and we are the beneficiary.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is Dave Navarro. A brilliant guitar player (Janes Addiction), a passable reality show host (Ink Master) but an absolutely abysmal actor. Seriously. Awful.

The season five addition of Donal Logue was a great touch. He is truly one of the finest character actors working and I would watch him read a phone book…provided anyone still had a phone book. Last night his Lee Toric character channeled Martin Sheen in the opening of Apocalypse Now. Epic fail. It was both silly and structurally superfluous. We already know he’s a crazy junkie.

And now I have seen Donal Logue’s butt. I can never “unsee” that.

Peter Weller is a nice addition. Another brilliant casting decision. However, it would seem as though he has been seeing the same plastic surgeon as Mickey Rourke.

Season five opened with Katey Segal’s Gemma on all fours. Season six opens with Kurt Sutter’s incarcerated character Otto in a similar position. But where Gemma was having consensual sex with Nero (Jimmy Smits), Otto is being gang raped at the behest of Lee Toric (Donal Logue). Is this foreshadowing? Hmmm. I hope so because otherwise it is just a gratuitous prison rape scene.

Last night Sutter and company also tried tricking us to think we were going to get a Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) flashback when a dissolve was used to reveal a young Jax Teller doppelganger. This was also a miss for me. But since the smartly dressed young boy kept popping up throughout the episode and crossing paths with various characters, one has to wonder if he is a harbinger of death. Especially, given how the episode ends. I say yes.

Speaking of the ending, I am very curious to see how, or even if, that story line unfolds. It is a HUGE topic to just toss in at the very end. A bold move.

As solid as the performances were in last nights 90 minute episode, it was a very messy and uneven 90 minutes for me. Which I attribute to introducing the myriad of story lines. In fact, it would seem to me the only character who did NOT have a story introduced last night was Jax Teller. I am guessing it has to do with Jax’s voice over about leadership in the beginning.

Well played Mr. Sutter, well played.

There were some serious cinematic tropes used in last nights episode. At times a little heavy handed, but all very well done. But bringing all the stories together is going to be a challenge and I sincerely hope Sutter and his writers are up for it.

However disappointing it may be, the fact that the show has basically flown under the awards radar for six years now is probably an advantage because it has allowed everyone to focus on the story. After last night, story is even more critical than it has been in order to tie up SOA.

As messy and uneven as last nights episode was, I’m pretty optimistic that the Sons of Anarchy team is gonna come out just fine. It seems unlikely that a show with this much talent, in front and behind the camera, would implode now or make some erratic rush towards the end.

Sons Of Anarchy, Tuesdays, 10p on FX.