'Sons of Anarchy's' Battle for Control

Sons of Anarchy actually lives and dies on its dialogue-heavy scenes, rather than its action sequences. Season four premieres tonight.

Sons of Anarchy

Airtime: Tuesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Katey Segal, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking, Theo Rossi, Maggie Siff, Ron Perlman
Subtitle: Season Four Premiere
Network: FX
Director: Paris Barclay
Air date: 2011-09-06

For a little while, back in 2009, Sons of Anarchy looked like it had made the leap to being one of the best dramas on television. The show’s second season was a triumph that delivered every week, and finished with a cliffhanger that portended ominous things for Season Three.

As great as that plot turn was, it turned out to be an anchor that dragged the next year down. The entire season turned on when the titular motorcycle club would go to Belfast to find ostensible main character Jax’s kidnapped baby. But the show didn’t make its way across the Atlantic until after the halfway point of the season. Famously independent-minded creator Kurt Sutter made the curious decision to let the audience know the baby was in Northern Ireland long before the Sons themselves discovered this crucial piece of information. This had the effect of making every other storyline seem a delaying tactic to keep the Sons in Charming until it was time to finish the baby plot.

The show didn’t suddenly go from excellent to bad during Season Three. But its pace and detail didn't measure up to those of the previous year. The season ended by wrapping up many long-running subplots while sending most of the club members to prison for 14 months.

This allows Season Four to start more or less fresh, picking up on the day the Sons are released. As they ride back into Charming, the new sheriff in town (Rockmond Dunbar) stops them. The Sons’ cuts (sleeveless leather jackets), he says, are considered gang colors, and if he sees any of them wearing them in town again, he’ll confiscate them. Also new to town is Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon), an Assistant U.S. Attorney who has been working up an organized crime case involving the Sons, the IRA, and the Russian Mafia. Potter is a bit of an oddball, quiet and contemplative. He favors leather jackets and long hair over typical attorney attire. But he knows his stuff, and fancies that he knows how the Sons think. As he brings Sheriff Roosevelt into his investigation, he reveals to him (and the viewers) that he’s worked out the complex chain of events that ultimately landed the Sons in jail, and what he expects to happen next, now that they’re out.

It doesn’t go down quite the way he imagines, of course. The Sons are nursing grudges and have payback on their minds, especially concerning their Russian partners. And the club’s old enemy Jacob Hale (Jeff Kober) has moved forward with his plans to build a new, expensive development full of McMansions in town. Sleazy and underhanded and responsible for a lot of bad things, Hale wants to run Charming his way and make a lot of money in the process.

Really, this doesn’t make him all that different from the Sons. They see themselves as protectors of a small-town way of life, as they keep Charming safe from things like big box stores and fast food chains. But mostly what they want is to keep running things the way they have for the past three decades. That was easier to do when they had the chief of police in their pocket and the richest man in town owing them a debt. Now that Hale is the mayor of Charming and the sheriff is a straight shooter, the town isn’t quite as accommodating to the local motorcycle club.

That’s a lot of plot to deliver in one episode, which is why the season premiere is 90 minutes long and very talky. But Sons of Anarchy -- much like its spiritual predecessors The Shield and Deadwood -- actually lives and dies on its dialogue-heavy scenes, rather than its action sequences. With Sutter scripting the season premiere, that dialogue is compelling throughout the extended running time.

The battle for control of Charming looks to be the new season’s main thrust, which puts Sons of Anarchy back on firm, albeit familiar, ground. Also back on the table is the issue of the club's future, as Clay’s (Ron Perlman) arthritic hands continue to deteriorate. When he can no longer ride, he’ll have to step down. Jax has been waiting years for the opportunity to take over the Sons and run things his way, but that year-plus in prison has changed his priorities. Being away from his two small children and steady girlfriend Tara (Maggie Siff) has clarified what’s most important to him, and it’s no longer the club. This is an interesting direction change for the show itself, too, as it was originally set up as a battle between Jax and Clay for the soul of the Sons of Anarchy.

Now Jax tells Tara that he has a plan for getting out. We all know how well the “I’ll just pull one last job for a big score and then I’m out” strategy works for criminals in the movies and on TV. The show presents Jax’s attitude as simultaneously intelligent and misguided. Jax admits he has no real skills, that at best he’s “an okay mechanic.” But his pride won’t let him just go and live off of Tara’s income for a while, despite the fact that she’s a surgeon. Jax just can’t wrap his head around the idea of letting his woman support the family, so he’s going for the big money instead.

Jax’s plan threatened by the Mexican drug cartel the Sons have taken on as their new clients. Selling them guns is lucrative, but the Mexicans want all of the Sons’ weapons supply and worse, they want the club to mule drugs for them as well. The motorcycle club has always drawn a fine distinction between their criminal activities. Arms dealing is fine, that’s what they do, but many of them draw the line at drug trafficking: this causes a significant ideological divide among the members.

The inclusion of the Mexicans in the show feels topical and organic. It makes sense that the Sons, on the verge of becoming major players in the gun-running business, would end up making contacts in that world. It helps too that Danny Trejo plays the cartel's representative in northern California, as he brings to bear his well known combination of affability and menace.

The series seems set on keeping the Sons in and around Charming. Hale’s land development plan has been in the works since Season Two, and it’s time for the show to address it head on. Having a black sheriff in town is already paying off in the storyline by forcing the Sons to face some uncomfortable truths. Roosevelt is using the fact that the Sons have apparently never had any African American members to his advantage. So far, there’s no indication that there’s enough brewing here to measure up to Season Two, but the show seems to be solidly back on track after the problems of Season Three.






'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.


Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.


3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".


'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.