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Jax - "I'm trying to find some kind of balance..right thing for my family, club. Every time I think maybe I'm headed in the right direction I end up in a place I never even knew could feel this bad."
Piney - "You're loyal, decent, you love the right things…"
The Sons of Anarchy live in a violent world where threats of violence are a way of life and actual force is readily available for those situations where the threats just didn't do the trick. The group doesn't hesitate to take risks in order to accomplish their goals and recognizes that the sacrifice for employing violent means is their members (and families) can often meet violent ends. But that doesn't mean the Sons don't feel pain and in Season Three of Sons of Anarchy we see that behind the black jackets and skull patches is a group of people coming to grips with how their violent lives affect their everyday existence.
This dichotomy of club fearlessness and personal reservation is an extension of series creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter establishing a show that pushes the envelope in a number of different arenas, both violent and self-questioning. Sutter is not afraid to put his characters in increasingly bloody, heartbreaking, and seemingly no-win situations in order to show how the gang effects family and vice versa. It keeps the show in a relative state of upheaval as SAMCRO continues to deal with threats inside and and this season especially, outside of their hometown of Charming, California. Sutter (who actually plays one of SAMCRO's incarcerated members who's met his own violent ends) keeps the viewer on edge as he weaves us through the biker gang culture to tell the story of a bunch of people who value family above all and whose family is much more than those related by blood.
And like Jax and Piney's conversation halfway through the Season Three premiere, Sons of Anarchy is a show about how violent people search for a peaceful existence without having any real way to make it happen. What has worked so well for Sons of Anarchy is Sutter's ability to make the viewer not only feel like we've entered the biker world, but that we're a member of the biker gang itself. And like his previous show The Shield, Sutter plays the anti-hero card perfectly again. So we can watch SAMCRO carry out acts of extreme reproach, but we think, "Well that's okay. I can see why they did that. They did it to help those they love."
When Sons of Anarchy was snubbed for an Emmy nod, a true crime, it solidified an idea that mainstream media wasn't prepared to celebrate a show they deemed strictly about violence. But like the Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy is more an exploration of a culture rather than a high-octane gunfest. That's what makes Sons of Anarchy such a brilliant hour of television. It delves into its motorcycle mafia culture and wraps it so tightly in emotion that we forget we're watching violent criminals go about their business.
Season Three begins literally and figuratively directly where season two ended with Jax's (Charlie Hunman) infant son Abel kidnapped by a rogue IRA agent and Gemma Teller (the brilliant Katey Sagal) on the lam after being framed for murder by an ATF agent. This sets up a Season Three where the gang is battling foes on a number of different fronts (including significant time spent in Ireland). They've got beef with the IRA, still haven't nipped the Neo-Nazi thing in the bud when after letting Ethan Zobelle get away, have the ATF breathing down their neck, and a new, non-SAMCRO sympathizing sheriff taking over. So basically, it's business as usual for the gang.
The beauty in the Season Three premiere is that even those who are new to the show can appreciate what they're seeing on screen and I challenge a new viewer by the end of the first hour, to not be fully invested in the club, its inner workings and the pain of Jax Teller. From the beginning, we see Jax as a shell of his former self, devastated over the loss of Abel and reacting in a very un-SAMCRO like fashion, just giving up. We see a character realizing his choices in life have now caused his family pain.
With Jax's torturous free fall into oblivion, we see Charlie Hunnam continue his slow evolution into one of the better drama actors on television. Where during the first season he was working out the kinks and last year began coming into his own, season three marks a move into the elite as he plays a father devastated over the disappearance of his son while also seated as the heir to the SAMCRO thrown. It's a delicate balancing act where he's simultaneously the tough and the depressed. And Hunnam handles is brilliantly.
Similarly Sagal, the true star of the show, is separated from her matriarchal role as club protector and this season sees her exploring Gemma Teller's past while avoiding the law. Having her removed from her comfort zone gives us a chance to see Gemma as something other than a stabilizing force and this season sees her begin to face her past. Hal Holbrook has a story arc as her estranged and father and Gemma quickly becomes a daughter again.
Season Three of Sons of Anarchy continues its exceptional look at the bonds that bind family and it weaves the emotional aspect of violence and corruption so well into its various layers that we almost miss the subtlety of the "why" when we're watching the "what." And just when we find ourselves wrapped up so much in the layers, we realize that peeling them off one by one reveals a much deeper understanding of what it truly means to be part of something bigger than just one person. We see a balancing act, of family and club, and people trying to do right by both.
Sons of Anarchy Season 3 premieres Tuesday, September 7 at 10 PM e/p on FX.