While “Sons of Anarchy” closed season two with a compelling cliffhanger involving (DVD spoiler alert) the kidnapping of the central character’s infant son, by chasing that thread, the third season sputters out of the starting gate. This dark biker-gang drama certainly has its share of fans, but held up against the larger pantheon of cable dramas — including some of FX’s recent and upcoming additions — “Sons” emulates its ride: Plenty noisy, but a relatively low-octane vehicle.
After a tense battle with white supremacists steered season two, these latest episodes focus too squarely on Jax (Charlie Hunnam), the taciturn biker who flirted with breaking from SAMCRO, the motorcycle gang led by his ruthless stepfather Clay (the ever-glowering Ron Perlman).
Tormented by his child’s abduction, Jax risks losing his cool and, Clay warns, his comrades’ respect. Meanwhile, Jax’s mom Gemma (Katey Sagal) is on the lam from the authorities, using her time apart from Clay to reconnect with her father (Hal Holbrook), who is suffering from dementia, yielding what feels like a time-wasting detour.
In the larger scheme of things, the gang’s nefarious activities in the town of Charming face new threats, but those occupy a back seat initially to the leftover storylines.
Series creator Kurt Sutter certainly delivers a dense and textured world, populated by gruff, bruising men and (with the exception of the fierce Gemma) women who provide gratuitous if fleeting glimpses of nudity.
As Jax, Hunnam is perhaps the least effective snarler in the bunch, and he does a lot of it in the early going. His evolving relationship with g.f. Tara (Maggie Siff) is also burdened by clunky dialogue like (her), “We don’t know who we are till we’re connected to someone else,” or (him), “It’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.”
On the plus side, there are some welcome additions to the already sizable cast, including Paula Malcomson and Kenny Johnson, though where they fit into the story still remains unclear.
Loyalists have heralded “Sons” as a great crime drama, offering a window into a world much like the Mafia in its arcane rules, code of honor and ever-present threat (particularly last season) of grisly violence.
While I can see those parallels — and despite respecting some of those critics — after several tries, I simply can’t enroll in that club.