Thoughtful & Abstract: Sons of Anarchy: Season 3

In which Shawn (@genx13) and Kim (@kimfreakinb) reminisce about Season Three of Sons of Anarchy. Shawn just started watching the show this Summer and Kim has been watching for years. As the Final Season rides into the heart of their last season, here are some thoughts about the show’s episodes from the Fall of 2010.

Shawn: Talk about not knowing where to start my comments. I need you to focus me here. We start with Gemma on the run and Abel in Ireland. By the time we get back with baby Abel, Tara has been kidnapped, and Jax has to free her. The season ends with the family reunited, a baby on the way, and Gemma clear of her murder charges. The season is one long revenge burn for open wounds left after the first couple seasons. Chibs gets his revenge on Jimmy O, Stahl pays for what she did to Opie (and the rest of SAMCRO), and we leave a season with our boys laughing for once on their way to jail.

Let’s talk about the good first. I was touched by the acting of Hal Holbrook as Gemma’s dad. It was a very realistic story that almost seemed out of place here. It took place in a different town in a house that looked out of place from what we’ve seen up to that point. And here we get Gemma as a daughter – maybe the only time that she doesn’t seem completely in control. Her dad shooting Tig is a funny scene but it’s played against his very real fear of what he might do without knowing it. I’m still emotional thinking about his pain as they take him into the Senior Home.

This season has this big hole right in the middle of it. I slammed through the episodes because I knew where it would end up and knew I just had to hang in there. It was that damn trip to Ireland. How wrong was this? They changed the damn theme song to something completely annoying for those episodes. It reminded me of when a sitcom travels to Hawaii for a few episodes and doesn’t seem like itself. The Irish camerawork was distracting and they don’t seem to have many working light bulbs in Ireland. We’ll get to your Luke Skywalker moment. The plot became too convoluted and introduced characters I knew I didn’t need to worry about. Ultimately, it was a time waste to get us to the point where we can bring back Abel.

Deputy Hale’s death in the beginning was shocking and seemed too convenient. But I’ll tell you what it did, it freed up the Unser character to become one of the most interesting. He is being pushed out by San Joaquin Police Department and moves closer to SAMCRO despite pulling a gun on them at one point. I look forward to seeing how that develops over the next season.

Did you get anything out of Ireland? I don’t know that we had the same development of characters that I felt in the first couple seasons. Am I missing something? What are your big takeaways from this season.

Kim: I think that the entire saga with Gemma’s father was necessary to give her character a little bit of likability. She hasn’t done much by way of humanistic deeds to make you give a crap about her at all. You see her, you see meddling and trouble, somewhat of a spoiled brat. This arc gave us a reason to find something human in her. I think throughout the length of the series we’re given reasons to like the main characters in spite of their flaws. This is just one of those. It did seem out of place, but I believe it served a purpose, because for those moments when I saw her struggling with a father with Alzheimer’s, I wanted to wrap her up in a blanket, give her coffee and donuts and let her know it was all going to be OK.

Moving on to Ireland. Was the purpose to show how convoluted the Sons’ relationship with the Irish was? Was it to have women across the country screaming, “No, dude! She’s your sister!”? Was it because we needed Jax away from Gemma to really ponder what might be best for his son? Was it so I could hear a ton of accents from fairly unattractive men? Was it to show that Clay will do anything to protect his vision of the club? Was it so we could see a shirtless Jax doing something other than having sex? Thank you for that fight scene, Kurt Sutter. Mad props! Did it really need to take up that many episodes? I didn’t give a shit about any of the characters I learned about in Ireland. It didn’t further my understanding of the relationship between the Sons and the Irish. Everyone who needed to die over there did so, we get Abel back and that’s that. Having seen the rest of the series, I realize the importance of Maureen Ashby and what’s going to ultimately come from this visit. But we wait a really long time to get that payoff and by the time we do, I don’t know that it really matters anymore.

I remember the final episode of the season so clearly. The shock of thinking Stahl set up Jax, the production value of the arrest, and everyone getting loaded into the van with Jax as the rat. As I watched the rest of it play out, I felt a sense of justice when Opie pulled the trigger with his “this is what she felt”. It was extremely powerful for me because he didn’t just walk up to her and shoot her in the face, which she probably deserved. You don’t set up the Winston family, get the wife killed, frame Gemma, kill your partner, screw over Jax Teller, and live to talk about it. I knew she was going to die when Unser offered her the joint. Nothing good comes from anyone in that show suddenly being kind to their antagonists. And our beloved Opie. In the back seat, seemingly calm, ready to avenge his wife and cement his place in the club.

I was happy to see Chibs’ saga with Jimmy O come to an end, and Chibs’ satisfaction as he returned the Glasgow Smile given to him all those years ago (you’ll get some of that story in Season Seven, so hang tight). But there still doesn’t seem to be a happy ending in sight for Chibs, does there? I mean, the family is out from under Jimmy O, but he’s not going to uproot them, the daughter doesn’t want to leave her home, and he’s certainly not going back to Ireland.

My big take-away from Season Three was that nothing is as it seems and no one can really be trusted. It’s a pretty striking parallel to real life, just in a grandiose fashion. I think the bookends of this season were what held the most interest for me, while the middle had some great moments that seemed really unnecessary. I get it’s telling the story Sutter wants to tell and perhaps a lot of it comes into play in future episodes. Maybe we’ll look back and be grateful for Ireland because we’ll find it answered a lot of questions before we had a reason to ask them. In all honesty, I think it may have been more of a setup for if/when Sutter goes back to do a series for the original nine. We’ll see.

Tara’s kidnapping irritated me almost as much as Ireland. I will say, however, that the bright spot in that was Jose Pablo Cantillo. That man is just beautiful, even when he’s playing an asshole. I could have used a bit more of him, perhaps half naked while mourning his lost girlfriend. In the end, the kidnapping serves to prove, in Tara’s mind, that without Jax she’s vulnerable if she’s in Charming. Maybe that vulnerability will hurt their budding family. Maybe it will cement them as a solid unit. What do you think? Is this heading toward a “Jax & Tara win” story or something more along the lines of the Opie/Donna tragic ending?

Shawn: The Jax and Tara saga took many interesting twists in Season Three. I thought that killing Agent Kohn in Season One was what solidified them as a couple. It was the bathing in blood that bonded them. Season Two let the child that would make them a family slip through her hands. Jax trying to break up with Tara and then sleeping with Ima was important only as a device to make their reuniting later seem that much more momentous. While being slightly annoyed with porn star Ima, I find it hard to fathom that Tara would feel threatened. That whole treatment of women by guys in the club runs a thin line for me. It’s usually in character and I give them a pass, but it certainly makes me uncomfortable.

The whole Jax lets himself be taken hostage so that he can kill Salazar and be the one to save Tara felt too much like it was cribbed from a bad action film. That’s what crazy cops in Lethal Weapon films do, not what the VP of the MC does. That side of the story got lost in the Ireland mess. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know who was mad at Salazar and who’s side he was on by the time he was demanding the money. Then in what should have been the emotional beat of reuniting the family finally, we got Stahl shooting her partner/lover, Tyler. That was a huge break for Gemma and a convenient way to tie up a potential plot hole.

I like to keep you updated on what I’m seeing from the characters as each season progresses. I’m coming around on Wayne Unser. In many ways, he might care for Gemma more than any other character including Clay. He sees her as a woman, not just an “old lady”. I like how they are adding layers to him. He’s getting more entrenched with SAMCRO than we had seen in previous seasons and we’re seeing his conflict. His assistance in the Stahl murder was one of those moments that you saw coming right when he sent the other agents away and I silently applauded. I can’t wait to see where they go with him.

Let’s briefly mention Clay. And I say briefly because that’s how much I felt he meant to this season. He’s becoming the biggest caricature of the show to me. I don’t fear him much. I don’t get his motivation other than just keeping the club together. And he’s doing a shitty job at that. I’d say that Clay loves Clay because he sure as hell doesn’t seem to love anyone else but that might give him too much credit. Jax is dominating the story now, and Clay exists only in how it affects Jax for me.

You mentioned Chibs and I wanted to talk about him this season. I love Chibs and I can’t really get a handle on his role in the Club. I get the tough guys like Tig and Happy. I get the older guys who have experience and “street smarts” like Bobby and Piney. For me, Chibs is kind of in the middle of those groups. I want way more back story. I see we hinted at some and I’m interested in his daughters. I’m interested in his scars. And he just seems a little out of place in Northern California so I want to see part of that journey. I’ll trust you that it’s coming.

Lastly, there are a couple smaller roles that I want to give a shout out. Sonny Barger as Lenny the Pimp was a really cool nod to Hell’s Angels for those of us who have read the books. Jeff Korber is super creepy as Jacob Hale, Jr. The smalltown plot wouldn’t be complete without a corrupt politician running the whole thing. He is obviously being set up for a more major role. I like his combination of California sleaze and Texas greed. Chucky. I shouldn’t have to say more. That cat is a bright ray of sunshine when he’s on the screen. He’s the perfect combination of smart and naive and always nervous.

I want to pick your brain on two specific areas. What do you make of Stahl now that it’s all done? I don’t know if she was just there to be a nuisance or if she helped the story along. And was she consistent as a character? The other thing I ponder is the global reach of this little town of Charming. Do you like that we’ve run through the Real IRA and now the Russians are getting involved? I kinda liked the basic three way gang rivalries. Where do you stand on bringing in these great forces?

Kim: What did I make of Stahl? She was trying to make a name for herself and didn’t care who she had to take down to do it. She was consistent in that this was her goal and she played both sides of the coin constantly in order to get what she wanted. Did she help the story along? I think so. I think we needed to see Jax as capable of putting together something so intricate so that he could become a credible leader when it comes time for Clay to step down. Without that, we have this idealistic, dreamy-eyed boy who you don’t believe capable of running the MC. I find very few things a nuisance in this show. There always has to be law enforcement as a thorn in outlaws’ side, right? I mean, otherwise they’re just going to run around, doing whatever they want to whomever they want, and there is no need for this show. We also needed the Stahl ending for Opie to find his place and be able to feel that somehow he avenged Donna’s death. Without that, Opie becomes a whimpering, useless tool for SAMCRO. Now, he’s a force to be reckoned with and I believe his place within the club is not as questionable as it had been since he got out of jail.

Global reach of Charming. This is where Ireland becomes important. Because you’ve got (well, had) a member of the original nine over there, which keeps the ties to the club back in the U.S. You can’t have the Real IRA without the Russians and a global reach of some sort. You don’t have the income from the guns without the Real IRA. You don’t have John Teller’s son trying to pull the MC away from the guns without the Irish connection. You don’t have the whole “what really happened to JT” if he didn’t die and maybe he wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the ties to Ireland and the guns. It really is all connected and you can’t have one piece without the other or you have these gaping holes in the storyline. The local issues will still be there, but the MC’s main income source is the guns, so I think it’s wise that we spend time early on seeing that whole operation, who the players are and how it affects the lives of our beloved MC members.

We can talk about Clay and his motivations all we want. He knows his days are numbered, and at this point he’s just in it to make as much money as he can before he loses that hold on the club. The Jax/Salazar thing was a little kooky, but I think the point was that you don’t mess with Jax’s family or you’ll pay. He’s a conflicted character – be the MC VP bad ass, or be the good family man. That’s a conflict you’ll see continue throughout the remainder of the series as a whole.

Chibs – I’m not sure when he became my favorite character, but he did. We don’t get all of his back-story, but we get information in bits and pieces, if you pay attention to dialogue. I think that with this being a show mainly about the evolution of the Teller family and the MC, we’re not entitled to know all of these things about the other members. We get enough to whet our appetite, but not too much. With a seven-season show, there’s not going to be enough time to cover everything that brought these people to this place. I think Sutter’s writing draws you in, throws you a bone, and lets you chew on it for a while. Then, he’ll distract you with a slab of meat over here and you realize that bone wasn’t all that important to begin with.

One of the most intriguing parts of this show for the past six seasons has always been the small time supporting characters. Lenny the Pimp, Hale, Chucky, and even Otto, and we’ll get more as time goes on. These characters add the bits of realism as well as some dark humor to the show. I view most of them as integral characters and when they keep showing up, it makes me happy to see them and how they all come together to create this incredible tapestry of the MC life as well as Charming.

So, we end Season Three with many of our guys going to jail, ATF is off their ass, and Tara’s knocked up. There’s got to be some fallout from the Russian money scam heading into Season Four. Do you find yourself looking back at Season Two and seeing how little tidbits played out in Season Three? I’m pretty sure it was Season Three into Four that I started thinking ahead about where they would go with stories. I wondered what the Russian response would be, how long would the MC be in jail, how would the MC pull through while their President and VP were both locked up. Have you been able to predict much at all about this show with any accuracy? I’m in Season Seven and I’m consistently surprised, but not shocked. Sutter often says it’s “organic” and I think he’s right. It’s a natural evolution of things according to the happenings in the world they live in. I’m not able to pick out how one event is going to play out and affect the next, because that’s not my life. But when I look back on it, I’m handed enough information to feel like what I see happening in Z is a natural progression from A. Do you see that progression as smooth or choppy?

Shawn: It’s interesting that you ask about progression. I think that it’s a two-headed question. In one way, I think that this season had some events that really didn’t feel organic. What I’m saying is that Jax being the one that is going to sleep with his own sister is convenient. It didn’t feel natural. In fact, most of that Ireland story felt rigged to set us up with some information that will come in handy later and to get us back to the States a few episodes later with a baby in our hands.

The progression that worries me is the convoluted stabbing and backstabbing and deals and non-deals. It’s the Oakland gangs or it’s the Mayans or the Irish or now the Russians. And within each group there are subgroups. These subgroups all have different deals with different members of SAMCRO seemingly. I was so confused by what was happening in the Irish part of the story I just wanted them all shot.

The season was as close to “happy” as the series is probably ever going to get. And as I set out on my journey to Season Four I take some of that with me. There’s been this whole interesting cat-and-mouse game with Jax and Tara that is finally put to bed (literally and figuratively). They wake in bed together and he is the one to finally say “I love you” to her and she to him and then he says it to the baby in her belly. There is the announcement of Opie and Lyla’s wedding and the party around that contains moments I’d like to see a little more. This is a MC and yet other than running guns I don’t see them enjoying riding their motorcycles enough. These lighter moments make it more believable that they have the super-stressed moments in life. Why else would it be worth it? Except for those nights when there are naked women for everyone at the Clubhouse.

I go into the next season sure that this will have to revolve back around to Jax and Clay and Gemma. Gemma lost some control of her role during the season. She was on the run and things were happening that she didn’t make happen. She has lost her influence on both of her men and I see that being a problem. Clay is clutching at straws to keep the Club together. Jax has to decide still if he will follow his father’s ideas. And we need to get back to more of that – I’ve really missed the flow of having those voiceovers. The season ends with our crew going to jail. There will likely be a jump forward to start the next season. Threads have been tied up and they can go in peace. It’s the next step that I fear. The episode ended with a cover of “My, My, Hey, Hey”. Once again a perfect placement of a song into the show. You tell me what I can expect the next 14 episodes. I think that song is my biggest clue . . . “It’s better to burn out / Than to fade away.”

Kim: I think when you’re through Season FIve, you’ll find that Ireland was necessary, even if only in part. I have a feeling Ireland will play an even bigger role if Sutter goes back to do the rumored series on the Original Nine, because you’d go back and see how they got involved with the real IRA in the first place. I think it’s just part and parcel of the overarching message that in this life you really are on your own, and even those you think are your closest allies may not be the ones you should be trusting. We needed Jax to see Abel with that family so he could have a glimpse of what life might be like for his son without all of the shit he himself faces every day. I think it also gave him a look at what his own father may have been thinking with the push to get out of guns so long ago.

I struggled to keep a lot of it straight in Ireland. That did get confusing as there were good Sons, bad Sons, Jimmy O, the priest, You’ll come to find some sort of understanding somewhere in Season Five and it’ll smack you in the face and you’ll be “Oh! I get it now.” Its purpose is a set up for something bigger, much like a lot of things seem to be. I have seen so much of that in this show, and that’s one thing I love about having watched it all. I see the payoffs that occur two seasons down the road, but when I watched it at the time, I was just as confused as you are now and couldn’t foresee how it could possibly play out. As much as I enjoy figuring out a show, I enjoy it much more when I can’t see the consequences of actions, but can look back and remember what put an entire set of events in motion – I think that’s the genius that is Sutter. He’s patient and crafty and it really makes the entire thing exciting to watch. He’s also not worried about timing – he’ll get to it all when he’s ready. He’ll tell the story he wants to tell and I think he’s had this entire series outlined roughly in his head ever since the beginning. A leads to Z, but you’ve got to get through the rest of the alphabet to see how it all works together.

These guys are in it for family, which doesn’t just encompass their blood relatives, but also each other and each others’ families. I think it’s about coming together as a unit and what you do for those you love. How far do you go? Sure, on the surface it’s a show about a bunch of outlaw bikers with hot asses surrounded by porn, guns, and drugs. But deeper in, it’s about a love of brotherhood, community, family, and the human condition. I throw that last one in there because we see it throughout the show, and you’ll continue to see it through the next four seasons as you watch. There will be incredible moments of unbelievable caring and compassion from these “hardened” outlaws and you’ll get to see that through the tough exteriors they’re just people, doing what we all do.

Season Four will be a bit more emotional for you. You’ll see more of what you’ve already seen, plus a little smattering of sheer evil, and that pesky “human condition” thrown in there. John Teller’s voice-overs are notably absent at this point, but you’ll be rewarded for that. This really isn’t his story at all, it’s Jax’s. And there’s really only so much JT could have put in that manuscript anyway. We’ve got the gist of what he was trying to say. Now, we can move forward and see if Jax can pull it together for himself and his family moving forward. I hope you’re still enjoying the ride.

And now we go dark.

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Shawn Bourdo

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