Lest those “Fifty Shades of Grey” protestors forget Charlie Hunnam’s day job, “Sons of Anarchy” returns, so big and boisterous even the customary episodic length can’t contain it. Each of three previewed episodes runs long, one of the luxuries associated with producing for FX. As for the content, “Sons” remains bleak and grim as ever, as series creator Kurt Sutter plunges into a world of moral decay, where those ostensibly enforcing the law are every bit as nasty as the outlaws. Having resourcefully kept its wheels spinning this long, it’ll be interesting to see where this wild ride winds up.
For those keeping track, the SAMCRO motorcycle club is now under the stewardship of Jax (Hunnam), who conspired with his mother (Katey Sagal) to help put away his stepfather, Clay (Ron Perlman). Of course, Clay isn’t the only one in prison, with Jax’s wife (Maggie Siff) also locked up, as well as Sutter’s character of Otto, whose murder of a nurse has brought the wrath of a former U.S. Marshall (Donal Logue) down upon the club. (Otto’s conspicuous suffering, as Sutter has noted, not-so-subtly demonstrates his psyche regarding the lot of writers in Hollywood.)
Nobody is really good in “Sons’” grimy landscape of prostitution and gun running, and one chooses sides based on varying levels of badness. The unrelenting tone, in fact, is one of the program’s principal drawbacks, as well as the heft (or in places lack thereof) Hunnam brings to Jax, a role steeped in Shakespearean overtones.
That said, the series remains an immersive experience, and the cast has been gradually upgraded with the addition of players like Jimmy Smits as Sagal’s love interest and now CCH Pounder (like Sutter, a “The Shield” alum) as an ambitious district attorney and Peter Weller as a corrupt ex-cop. Plus, with Kim Dickens turning up as a Madam, the show’s informal “Deadwood” reunion (Dayton Callie, Robin Weigert) keeps growing.
This new batch of episodes also braves some intriguing moral terrain, including the collateral damage triggered by the club’s illicit business endeavors and questions regarding how far Jax and company will go in terms of silencing an inconvenient potential witness.
Like any show that traffics in violence and criminality, “Sons” has danced a delicate line through its five-season run, seeking to create worthy opponents and foster a sense of jeopardy without killing off central characters wholesale. A few well-placed casualties, however, have served as necessary reminders these guys aren’t playing beanbag. (A later episode also demonstrates another use for beer bottles that ought to prompt Budweiser to think twice about advertising here.)
Given that “Sons” has been a solid ratings performer, FX and Sutter deserve credit for recognizing the show was nearing the end of its shelf life and creating the opportunity to exit on its own terms, building toward a planned finale next season.
While that’s unlikely to yield a happy ending, given the perilous road the show has followed, even its most ardent admirers shouldn’t be sad about seeing it reach the finish line.