Embrace the Anarchy: Sons of Anarchy – Season 1

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As the final season of Sons of Anarchy airs, I’m watching an episode a day to catch up in time for the series finale in December. I will be sharing some thoughts as I finish each season. This isn’t meant to be any great analysis, nor is it really on par with any Dead Series Discussions you may have seen here. These are just my brief observations on the cast, story, ups and downs of the series as it goes.

This installment covers season one of Sons of Anarchy, which aired in the fall of 2008.

Spoilers for the entire first season follow.

Ridin’ Through This World…
For the uninitiated, Sons of Anarchy is about the titular motorcycle club in the fictional California town of Charming. The Sons run the town, run guns and generally keep the peace while also creating problems for the local law enforcement (some of whom are “on payroll”). The series opens with Jackson “Jax” Teller finding a novel manuscript written by his deceased father, John. It details “How the Sons of Anarchy Lost Their Way,” and outlines John’s plans to take the club from outlaw criminals into a legit organization. As Vice President of the club, Jax is in a position to change things, but he has to answer to his uncle Clay, who happens to be married to his mother, Gemma (yeah, it’s Hamlet-y).

Watching the first season, I often felt like the show was made by a bunch of dudes just hanging out. With Clay, Jax, Tig, Chibs, Bobby, Juice, Opie, Piney and Half-Sack, there wasn’t always something for everyone to do, yet everyone showed up in most every episode, just kind of chilling. It suits the show and their characters. The female characters (of which there are really only two) are underserved, and their roles are decidedly man-centric. However, Katey Sagal’s Gemma is a powerhouse as the real strength behind Clay.

Even though Jax is trying to change things for the club, I couldn’t help but realize that I probably shouldn’t be rooting for the Sons of Anarchy. They’re not really loveable guys, and the things they do are pretty awful. While I’d like to see Jax make a difference, I know this show goes on for six more seasons. So, I’ve thrown my support to Deputy Chief Hale, who seems like he may be Charming’s “one good man.”

Major storylines in Season one include:

  • The burning of one of the Sons’ gun warehouses, and the subsequent ATF investigation
  • The birth of Jax’s son, and the love triangle between Jax, his junkie wife, Wendy, and his ex-flame Tara, who has a stalker of her own
  • Jax butting heads with Clay and trying to take the club in new direction while Clay (and Gemma) try to reign him in and make sure he doesn’t find out some secret truth about the death of his father
  • The Sons’ committing a murder on behalf of the IRA which results in suspicions that one of their own might be a rat for the ATF.

Arrivals…
Most of the regular and recurring cast are recognizable from other television or film projects. You have: Charlie Hunnam (Undeclared), Katey Sagal (Married with Children), Mark Boone Junior (Memento), Kim Coates (Black Hawk Down), Tommy Flanagan (lots of stuff), Johnny Lewis (who I sadly only know from this, and his demise), Maggie Siff (Mad Men), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Dayton Callie (Deadwood), Ryan Hurst (Remember the Titans), Sprague Grayden (24), Jay Karnes (The Shield) and Drea de Matteo (The Sopranos).

…and Departures
For a show that killed 20+ people in its first season, all of the main cast survived. The only major casualties were Agent Josh Kohn (killed by Jax at Tara’s house) and Donna Winston (mistakenly killed by Tig who thought he was shooting Opie).

Fancy Meeting You Here
Apart from the recognizable main cast, several other notable actors fill smaller roles:

  • Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) as neo-Nazi Darby
  • Nicholas Guest (brother of Christopher Guest) as the voice of John Teller
  • Tory Kittles (True Detective) as Laroy Wayne, leader of the One-Niners
  • Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black) as Half-Sack’s squeeze Cherry/Rita
  • Tom Everett Scott (That Thing You Do!) as the Sons’ lawyer, Rosen
  • Kurt Sutter (creator of Sons of Anarchy, not that you’d recognize him) as Otto
  • Brian Van Holt (Cougar Town) as Kyle, an ex-Son
  • Kevin Alejandro (Southland) as Esai
  • Francis Capra (Veronica Mars) as Mayan Hitman

Only in Charming
The Sons spend an entire episode trying to acquire and and destroy the dead bodies of two women who swallowed some of Tig’s “DNA evidence” which would trace him to the burned warehouse. Clay castrates and kills a child rapist and then sends the guy’s balls to the father of the victim as proof that justice was done. The Sons deal with a guy named Chuck who has Compulsive Masturbation Disorder, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Nitpicks

  • John Teller’s manuscript never feels as important as the show wants it to.
  • I spent the whole season believing that Tara was a strong, independent woman who could do better than Jax, but then they add some bit about her being crazy/obsessive. It’s not that bad, but maybe I just think Maggie Siff needs a nice guy.
  • I find it hard to believe that Tara and Jax would have sex just seconds after Jax executed Kohn. Not only is it strange that she would do this after Kohn just sexually assaulted her, but Kohn’s body is still in the room, mere feet away, leaking fluids and gases and whatnot.
  • Bobby is a terrible Elvis impersonator, but I think that’s the joke.
  • The Nevada shootout between the Mayans and the Sons in “Patch Over” is ridiculous. Everyone is all double-guns-a-blazing and I think only one guy gets hit in the shoulder or something.
  • How can the Sons be sure they took out all of those survivalist weirdos with the exploding AK-47s in “AK-51?”

High Points

  • Ally Walker as Agent Stahl. She’s weird, she’s ruthless and she can hold her own against the Sons. Too bad she’s a little unscrupulous in her tactics.
  • All of the machinations that lead to Donna’s death. Sure “you know what, let me take the truck” is a little convenient, but everything else is well set up, and the fallout should be fun.
  • Jay Karnes. I loved him on The Shield and he’s appropriately creepy here, especially in his scenes with Maggie Siff.
  • Katey Sagal.
  • The feeling of camaraderie among all of these guys. I can’t say I’ve spent any time among biker gangs, but these guys feel pretty real, or at least like a real “family.”
  • The montages in “The Sleep of Babies” are pretty good, as is the season-ending scene set to “John the Revelator.”

Best Episode
Episode 8, “The Pull.” This is based almost entirely on the penultimate act of the episode. Apart from Tara calling Jax in the final seconds, it’s all a lengthy scene between Tara and Kohn. I’m a sucker for shows that give characters time to converse and give scenes room to breathe. This one was a standout.

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