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The Resurrection of the Romantic Criminal in 'Sons of Anarchy'

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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012
Viewers who were disappointed by the shaky storyline in season four of Sons of Anarchy still have time to tune in as the new season gets under way. In a departure from past seasons, creator Kurt Sutter has chosen to minimize the 20 twists-and-turns per episode formula that he favors.
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Sons of Anarchy

Season 5, Episode 5 "Orca Shrugged"
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 10 pm

(FX; US: 9 Oct 2012)

“When I look at my day, I realize that most of it is spent cleaning up the damage of the day before… all I have is distraction. And remorse.” Jax Teller’s moody voiceovers and Emma Goldmanesque sentiments have become an anchor for Sons of Anarchy. The fifth season of the popular biker drama has been heavy with the gloominess that Jax voices as episode five, “Orca Shrugged”, kicks off.


Despite heady promises to boycott the drama after the graphic death of fan favorite Opie in episode three, the show’s viewership jumped by roughly half-a-million households for episodes four and five. No doubt this is thanks to the irresistible pull of romantic criminal extraordinaire Jax Teller and his gang of lovable—if not always ethical—biker brothers.
  
Viewers who were disappointed by the shaky storyline in season four still have time to tune in as the new season gets under way. In a departure from past seasons, creator Kurt Sutter has chosen to minimize the 20 twists-and-turns per episode formula that he favors. A string of home invasions presents the show’s only real mystery. The SAMCRO boys are trying to figure out who’s behind the invasions, but Sutter has let the viewers in on the big secret.


Faithful viewers will recall that the same device was used in season three, when the TV audience knew that Jax’s son was in Northern Ireland well before he did. Thankfully this season’s dirty little secret hasn’t ruined the show’s overall sense of suspense as did the disclosure in season three.


While Sutter and crew are working hard to resurrect the romantic criminal par excellence in the new season, viewers are presented with contradictions that just can’t be dismissed. Viewers are increasingly forced to adopt cognitive dissonance as a means of loving a central character who they would be scared of in real life. Fans also face a shifting nexus of emotions created by the sudden personality change of Tara, the new old lady supreme. But perhaps the most stunning contradiction was teased out at the end of “Orca Shrugged” when Sheriff Eli Roosevelt’s wife was shot during a home invasion.


The episode ended—as Sutter favors—with a great deal left up in the air. It’s not at all clear if Rita Roosevelt will live to see the next episode, yet fans who flood onto the show’s social networking profiles to dish about the episodes immediately after they air have said nary a word about Rita. It seems a particularly troubling contradiction given that thousands of fans wrote rambling comments about the death of Opie. Though a well-loved character, Opie was hardly innocent of all wrongdoing. Sutter deserves praise for presenting bikers at their baddest, though he might be accused of offsetting shocking violence with his overall storytelling style. 


Has Sons of Anarchy created an unwarranted sympathy with men who are sometimes mercilessly violent at the cost of a character who has generally been kind, just and well received? That remains to be seen. Viewers who continue to tune into season five will no doubt be treated to a full host of contradictions.


If past seasons are any indication, viewers are also in for heart-wrenching realizations about how they navigate and respond to those contradictions. Despite what might be called problematic characterizations, Sons of Anarchy continues to provide viewers with plenty of opportunities to analyze how images of criminality in the media at large are changing.


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"Orca Shrugged" Promo
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