Surveillance Summer Watch, Sons of Anarchy: A family affair

If you’d like to check out previous posts in this series, visit the Surveillance Summer Watch page.

After I finished up the first season of The West Wing I was ready for something else to occupy my television viewing time, if only for a little bit. I sent out a tweet asking followers if I should dive into Sons of Anarchy or Deadwood. The response was tilted heavily towards Sons of Anarchy since it’s still on and watching now would allow me to catch up by the third season’s premiere in September. Thus, I began watching the FX series with really no prior knowledge except for that it was about a biker crew and was shepherded by Shield writer Kurt Sutter.

After watching the first six episodes of Sons‘ first season, I gotta say, I really love it. As I watched, I went back and read some older recaps from Sepinwall and his notion about the series being a little uneven at the start is true. But when there is a world that is so unique and different from what we’re used to seeing on television or in real life, there’s a need to throw a lot of information and world-building at the viewer in hopes of getting the actual story moving. The early episodes of Sons certainly do that, but I actually found myself totally invested in the characters and standalone stories, more so than I thought I would.

A few things I’ve read called out Jax for being too passive, but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. He’s a young man who is surrounded by people that he knows are supposed to be his family, but he doesn’t quite fit in with how they want to live their lives. He sticks by the ideas of SAMCRO because the men in it are his family and because he’s been raised with them, but just as he finds his father’s journal, he becomes a father himself. Simply reading the journal from his dad would probably be enough to change a son’s mind about what he’s doing with his life, but to then have to figure out how he is going to be a father is a lot to handle for Jax. He’s struggling with finding the balance between honoring his father, being the SAMCRO bad-ass everyone wants him to be and learning how to be a good dad to Abel.

The aforementioned world building is also a success in these first six episodes. I’m always a sucker for a series that drops me into a world that I would never actually want to visit or be a part of in real life, and violent, powerful motorcycle club definitely falls into that category. But the series is very good at creating the world of Charming, CA, SAMCRO and all its connected or rival groups. Through just six episodes, the series already has this wonderful scope that feels ever-growing and constantly wider, but at the same time, keeps that suffocating, small-town, tight-nit group community feel to it.

I’ve lauded Justified for being able to tell stories about coming home, dealing with people from the past and how that drains a person and I think that Sons of Anarchy has elements of that in its story as well. There’s an indication that SAMCRO mostly runs the town of Charming, but despite that, everyone isn’t getting along. And when they don’t, I can feel the years of history weighing down the conflicts and making them more “real” without having to spend lots of time within the story telling me that “hey, these people go way back.” There is also that feeling of suffocation within your home, because even when Jax disagrees with something or wants to get away from SAMCRO for a while, it never happens in that way. The history will always be there and it shapes every decision made, every word spoken and that’s felt throughout Sons of Anarchy.

At the same time, the outside threats of the ATF or Mayans or whomever bring the dysfunctional family together so damn quickly. Many stories attempt to use the crooked honor type of community, but this series pulls it off. The sequence where the group forces their excommunicated member played by Brian Van Holt to choose how he wants them to remove the back tat (knife or fire) and he begrudgingly picks fire was fantastically gruesome. The stuff with the young girls who exist solely to please members and eventually shack up with one is similarly uncomfortable, but still intriguing because it gives us another view into the wide world of the crew.

I’ll have more to say in the coming days, probably when I finish the first season, but if anyone is on the fence about picking up this series on DVD or through, ahem, other avenues, I would say do it, because it’s worth the hype.

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