After watching Season Two of Sons of Anarchy last year, I was looking forward to what show runner Kurt Sutter had in store for the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, a.k.a. Samcro, in its third season. The second season left things on a cliffhanger of sorts after a story arc that was both superb in its writing and execution, so how could they top things, or was that question even feasible?
Note: Spoilers from the Season about to be discussed. Abandon ye those who have not seen it yet.
To start with, the fictitious town of Charming, California is a bit scattered at this point, with Abel, the infant son of Jax (Charlie Hunnam, Children of Men) being abducted and taken to Ireland. Meanwhile, Jax' mother Gemma (Katey Sagal, Married with Children) is being hidden from Charming by her husband and Sons' President Clay (Ron Perlman, Hellboy II) to avoid a murder charge. While the Sons vanquished the skinheads, there still remains the backlash of the town, particularly after a drive-by shooting at a funeral for a Sons member subsequently kills the town Deputy sheriff, forcing longtime officer, the Sons-friendly Unser (Dayton Callie, Halloween II) back in charge. Upon finding out hints of where Abel is, Jimmy O (Titus Welliver, The Town), already in a tough position of reconciling the relationship between the Sons and IRA because of the weapons dealings the two groups have, tries to help the Sons find Abel while preserving the best interests of the IRA. Many of the Sons go to Ireland to retrieve Abel where they also meet up with the Belfast chapter of the Sons (and Chibs (Tommy Flanagan, Sin City) gets a chance to reunite with his estranged wife and daughter). The group gets a chance to learn about the lives of their Irish brethren and in Jax/Gemma/Clay's case about their family in the process.
This isn't to say that things are all milk and honey back in Charming. The Mexican gang, who are still stung by the murder of a business partner in the second season, are hot on the heels of the Sons until a deal brokered by Clay just before he leaves cools things off. But the temperature slowly rises when an outcast member of that gang begins to wreak havoc on the town and specifically Tara. He does some of this business with the approval of Jacob Hale (Jeff Kober, The Hills Have Eyes II), the brother of the fallen sheriff who is against the work of the Sons and wants to force them out while trying to hold a monopoly on a potential business renewal in Charming. Through all of this, ATF agent Stahl (Ally Walker, Profiler) still wants to bring the Sons to justice for their weapons dealings, no matter the cost.
Note: Spoilers gone, resume reading.
One of the things I heard on the supplemental material after the fact in this season is Sutter alluding to the fact that for those who stuck with the season were ultimately rewarded with a satisfying finale. And perhaps that's the case, or perhaps there would be a letdown of sorts after what was a supremely enthralling second season. Yet I can't help but feel that after that season, Sutter and the cast and crew looked up, saw the kind of following that was around them after that season, and felt a little unsure of themselves with Season Three. The reception the second season got presumably allowed them to get some assets to the third season they may not have gotten otherwise, most notably Hal Holbrook (Into The Wild) in a small guest starring role as Gemma's dementia-stricken father. And while there was a brief moment of emotion that made his performance a bit poignant, Holbrook's story arc in the show was symbolic of the season in that it overstayed its welcome despite some fleeting moments of brilliance, containing an end that was both welcomed and telegraphed.
For starters, the subplot with Ireland was something that was far far too long. We saw the key players in Ireland and had to spend time learning and/or appreciating their cruelty before the Sons came over there, as if kidnapping a child wasn't bad enough apparently. Once the Sons did get over there, there was even more time spent over there before the job of getting Abel back was completed. It was as if The Others from Lost had motorcycles and had lilts in their throats. Back in Charming, the actions that were transpiring were predictable for the most part and tenuous at best. The only aspect that was any good was the friction between Tig (Kim Coates, Resident Evil: Afterlife) and Kozik (Kenny Johnson, Blade), a Sons member from another chapter looking to transfer. That has the potential to be one of the better story arcs for the coming season, a season that would appear to go into the mythology of the Sons a little more and the relationship between Jax' late father, his mom and stepfather (Gemma and Clay, respectively). If those things happen, count me as a happy fan.
It would be nice as Season Three of Sons was as underwhelming as it was. The performances were decent, but the stories were unclear in terms of purpose and motivation, and the finale produced two things that most of us wanted anyway. The third season was less a step up and more a sideways one, and hopefully the footing is regained as the fourth season is about to air.
The Blu-Ray Discs:
13 episodes are spread over three BD-50 discs and all of them are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the AVC codec. I was late to Season Three when it first aired, but watching these discs doesn't feel like much of a departure from their broadcasts in high definition. Image detail is pretty good in the foreground and decent in the background, and flesh tones look accurate. Black levels are solid through the episodes and provide a good contrast, and shadow delineation looks fine as well. The show is already shot in high definition as it is, so I was expecting a good transfer to Blu-ray and got one with this.
All of the episodes come with a DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround soundtrack which does right by the show. Continuing with the tactic of using new artists to cover older songs like "Bird on a Wire" and "Hey Hey My My," the songs sound great, using a broad soundstage that utilizes the music. It doesn't stop there though, as the show's abundant din of motorcycles rumble through the speakers with convincing clarity and channel panning that is effective. Environmental sounds come through with equal effectiveness and dialogue sounds good and requires little in the way of compensation. Overall this was about what I expected from lossless audio for this show.
Sutter seems to have the fans in mind when it comes to putting together extras for these DVDs, and this season is no different. The material starts on Disc One with a commentary on
"So" by Sutter and writers Dave Erickson, Chris Collins, Regina Corrado, Liz Sagal and Marco Ramirez. In it the group share their thoughts on the story ideas and get into a little bit of breakdown in them, the impact on their characters and motivations. The track gets a little bit into the production aspects of the show and also shares some raves of the cast in a particular scene or two. Worth listening to if you're a fan. Next up are deleted scenes on three of the four episodes on the disc (9, 10:24). Disc Two has a commentary on "Firinne" with Sutter, Hunnam, Sagal, Flanagan and and (Maggie Siff, who plays Tara) which covers some of the same ground (and includes talk on the famous juicebox that's in the finale) and is a little more loose than the first track, but is a nice listen. Deleted scenes on four of the six episodes from this disc (13, 14:10) are next.
The bulk of the extras are on the third disc, starting with a commentary on "NS" by Sutter and the Sons (Hunnam, Perlman, Flanagan, Coates, Mark Boone, Theo Rossi and Ryan Hurst) along with Callie. Of the three commentaries, this is definitely the most fun of the bunch, but also has some production and location recall, and their thoughts on the story arcs and some of the other characters. It's not the best track, but it's certainly fun. Three deleted scenes from "NS" follow (3:19), along with "The Future Begins Now," which are four scenes designed to serve as a transition from Season Three to Four (9:41). They are certainly interesting to have here, but are only worthwhile if they're used within the context of any future storylines. Sutter continues the roundtables from last season's DVDs, but this time features the writers (18:14). They answer questions sent in from Twitter and talk about what they like about the current process and recall past endings (and lightly cover potential new ones), and their favorite moments from the show so far and thoughts on the stories and characters. A decent piece to be sure. The show hired Illusion Cycles to make a Sons motorcycle for auction to charity, and the stages of making the bike from fabrication to assembly are shown (15:45). "Directing the Finale" (5:32) is a Sutter-hosted piece where he talks about his process of directing and the collaboration he incorporates into it, and following this is a full table read of the "NS" script with the cast and includes some screen comparison footage at times (44:05). A gag reel is next (3:02) and is a little disappointing, along with some red carpet interviews of the cast ahead of its third season premiere (5:12).
It should be noted that there are extended cuts of "So," "Bainne" and "June Wedding" and the discs use a "Season Mode" which when enabled allows you to pick up watching a season at the point where you leave off. There is also a BD-Live extra where Sutter, Hunnam, Sagal and Perlman went to the 2011 Comic-Con and provided some teasers to what is in store for the fourth season (4:57).
There are some fine moments in Season Three of Sons of Anarchy but they are fleeting and hard to discern after a season that feels more transitional than anything else. Technically, the Blu-ray discs are solid and continue in the tradition of providing good fan-friendly extras, but if you're looking for a jumping off point for a new fan, I'd doubt you'll find it here, and would point you to either of the prior two seasons. Worth renting to catch up on things if so desired.