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With regard to plot alone, the masterfully multilayered, richly complex and emotionally charged third installment of FX’s Shakespeare’s-Hamlet-on-Bikes gritty crime saga Sons of Anarchy is number one with a bullet in terms of masterful storytelling, delivering a season so engrossing that I devoured all thirteen episodes in less than twenty-eight hours.
Timed to coincide with the start of the fourth season on the small screen, Fox’s Blu-ray boxed set offers three extended episodes which not only add to the cinematic feel of Kurt Sutter’s series – complete with carefully edited montages chopped to funky musical covers of rock classics that ingeniously bookend key events – but also showcases the showrunner’s commitment to cast and character.
Maggie Siff’s fascinating, put-upon Ophelia influenced Tara, the frustrated doctor by day/”old lady” by night that’s ever so closer to becoming Gemma with every successive episode is given the opportunity to deliver some of the otherwise male-dominated series’ best dialogue in the very first hour of season three, courtesy of footage that had originally been left on the cutting room floor in order to meet the forty-five minute commercial-free timeslot.
If SOA season one is the equivalent of Coppola’s first Godfather considering the daddy issues and conflicts of family vs. self in terms of the business the men of Charming (as opposed to the Corleone clan) have chosen, by bringing Sutter’s series to Belfast to unveil more of its origin story, season three therefore becomes SAMCRO’s own version of The Godfather Part II.
Although the previous baker’s dozen had greatly entertained, this time around we’re served up a sequence of sinfully seductive events with a richness in flavor we didn’t even know we were missing that’s augmented evermore by a deeply entrenched circular theme of life and death that adds a sense of greater urgency to the plight of Jax (the incomparable Charlie Hunnam) to find his kidnapped son.
While the threat of death has always been just a shot away on Sutter’s drama, from the metaphorical and allegorical decay of Ron Perlman’s arthritic “king” to ever-present ghosts of the past as well, more characters faced with birth, death and issues of mortality (as well as morality).
As always, the seamlessly interwoven Shakespearean element remains, both in overt and occasional nods to dubbing Perlman, Katey Sagal and Hunnam’s leads the king, queen and prince respectively and with regard to structural homage.
Although the interpretation is loose, Shakespeare’s influence is there all the same through foreshadowing and execution of tragic set-ups complete with the bard’s favorite devices, themes and motifs of eavesdropping, manipulation, betrayal, double cross, power plays, star cross’d problems of blood, fate and timing, madness, revenge and the comeuppance of sins executed in the past (whether carried out in kind or by kin).
In fact, Sutter nearly takes his passion for the classics a step too far by leading us into operatic “get to know a relative almost biblically” Godfather III terrain before ultimately backing out of the would-be Belfast booty call altogether to re-center Jax on his journey to hell and back to save his son.
Speaking of hell hath no fury, Ally Walker’s chilling ATF agent June Stahl returns to new diabolical heights as perhaps contemporary television’s most sinister small screen villain since Rich Man, Poor Man’s Falconetti in a role that’s made far more subversive not only because she’s embodied by a beautiful woman in a male run series but also because her very identity lies to us as an alleged “good guy.”
Yet in the gray landscape where Sutter’s show lays its scene amidst all of the exhaust and cigarette smoke that causes viewers to squint their eyes at the deceptively sunny Charming, California skies, it’s the Sons that as Piney informs us during a wild, wild west style shoot-out who are “the good guys” for helping put medication in the hands of those who need it.
An incredibly ambitious season that’s bursting at the seams with plot, the thirteen episodes of Sons 3 benefit considerably from both a second look as well as the opportunity provided by the set to absorb them as part of a consecutive marathon.
Though it threatens to spread itself too thin in terms of concurrent storylines as the season begins with the fine cast unwisely divided into three distinct areas with several compelling (yet mercilessly competing) plots, eventually it all comes together and the women of season three have much more to do than ever before.
Whether they’re holding life and death in their hands, bodies and selves or making some of the show’s most impactful decisions, the ever-changing dynamic between Gemma and Tara is now not only a hallmark of SAMCRO but a highlight.
Furthermore with the Hamlet level foreshadowing that leads us into the fourth season, Sutter’s elaborate series three stories continue to build at such a steady pace that frequently episodes start right back up in the exact same location that had faded to black just moments before in the previous entries, making the underrated SOA one of the sharpest, most addictive basic cable programs around.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.