Surveillance Summer Watch, Sons of Anarchy: Families fall apart, come together

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

It’s really unfortunate that this is the final post in my Surveillance Summer Watch series. Just as it always happens, the summer was much busier than I had expected it to be, with work, trips and currently-airing television taking up all my time. So the fact that I’ll end with only eight posts in the series is exceptionally sucky, but such is life.

However, the good news is that I finally finished off the second season of Sons of Anarchy, which as expected, was fantastic, emotional and thrilling.

My thoughts on the first batch of season one episodes were all centered on the series’ sense of place and family (far from an original thought) and it’s interesting how the second season only pushed those themes further to the foreground. But as the first season set up the family norms and how all the people of SAMCRO act with one another and planted the seeds of strain, season two noticeably watered those seeds and watched them grow into extremely destructive plants. Watching the episodes two or three at a time probably ramped it all up more, but the biggest success of Sons‘ second season is how things between everyone in SAMCRO, not just Clay and Jax, slowly and methodically falls apart, getting worse all the time.

The end of season one suggested that Jax was going to start a revolution of sorts, but I loved that season two didn’t begin there, or really ever get there at all. As everyone knows, families are dysfunctional and at certain points, people have enough and say ridiculous things that they’ll never follow through on. I’m certainly no accusing Jax of being too scared to challenge Clay because he surely does over the season, but relationships between family members, blood or not, are complicated and fragile things. A much lesser series would have started season two with Jax calling for an uprising and pushed the club into a fissure that it could have never realistically repaired. Instead, Kurt Sutter and his staff let the issues fester, let them boil to the top occasionally and oftentimes influence other members of SAMCRO. But never does it feel false or overly dramatic between Clay, Jax and the rest of the club, even when Jax thinks about going nomad. In this way, when the news about Gemma’s rape comes to light and the family feels more united than ever against Zobelle and Weston, it’s not ridiculous or unbelievable. And if the story ever cycles back to the male’s ideological issues, it won’t be then either.

And speaking of Gemma’s news, wow, what a powerful scene. At Comic-Con, Sepinwall said it was his favorite individual scene from the previous season of television, and after watching it, I cannot argue with that assessment. The performances, the writing, the music, it’s all fantastic. But more importantly, that scene is as powerful as it is because of all the groundwork laid before it. The bubbling tensions and emotions between Clay and Jax were just about to take a turn for the worse, so I was chomping at the bit to see how they’d actually react to the news. Would they individually take revenge into their own hands? Would they come together temporarily? In the end, their decision to let all the nonsense (and really, that’s what it is when you’re dealing with people who live in shades of deep grey) go to the wayside is extremely effective because again, that’s what a family would do. You don’t mess with someone’s mother and wife, no matter how tough a broad she is.

I think that’s what I like best about Sons of Anarchy — it’s damn realistic portrayal of family. It’s one thing to push that theme and apply it to your three main characters, but almost every character beat and every story on this series is about some sort of family. Opie’s season two journey is a great example of an unfit father trying to deal with being widowed and trying to figure out how he can respect his dead wife while still finding happiness himself. Sure, it’s with a porn star, but it makes him happy. When Tig and Gemma almost have sex, it’s not about sex. Instead, Gemma’s just trying to make sure that men still find her attractive after the rape and I think that in his own way, Tig’s initial acceptance to her come ons is an attempt at comfort. Tig is one evil son of a bitch in a lot of situations, but he’s smart enough to realize what’s wrong with one of his best friends and even smarter to know that he can’t mess up the relationship he has with her and her significant other. Again, a lesser series would have had the two of them start a torrid affair that Clay would uncover at the wrong time and someone would end up dead.

There has been talk about why the series didn’t get any Emmy love and it’s just obvious that the subject matter will always get in the way and cloud the judgment of voters. But for me, I think it’s even more impressive that Sutter and co. can tell their glorious, heartfelt and real stories about family through this lens. It’s one thing to create a series about a motorcycle gang and say it’s all about family. It’s a completely different thing to execute what is one of the most complicated (in a good way) representations of family using murderers, porn stars, gun runners and more. I’m not saying the series deserves extra praise because it has a few more hurdles to jump before people actually see what it is about, but…well, actually that is what I’m saying. If you’re not watching this series, catch up fast and be ready for September 7. I know I am.

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