I had found the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy to be pretty good, though there seemed to be some groans of dissent about the season, in that some hard choices needed to be made, and ultimately were not. The show's creator and Executive Producer Kurt Sutter seemed to hear some of that criticism and used it when it came to the Fifth Season, which aired in 2012 and the Blu-rays of that season appear on store shelves in time for the Sixth Season premiere.
Note: Some mild plot points may be disclosed, so proceed according to your preference.
Season Five found the charismatic and exceedingly attractive Jax (Charlie Hunnam, Children of Men) at the head of the table of the Sons' motorcycle club, after he learned about the plans that Clay (Ron Perlman, Hellboy II) had to thwart his ascension. And as President of the club, he works to extricate them from a constricting business deal that involves weapons from the IRA and drugs from Mexican cartels, and may also include Federal double agents to boot. An ill-performed killing of a young girl in Season Four by Tig (Kim Coates, Goon) brings the vengeance of the girl's father to Season Five in the form of wealthy, well-connected and criminal businessman, played by Harold Perrineau (Lost). This forces Jax into an uncomfortable situation that he has to work himself out of, at an eventual price to friends such as Opie (Ryan Hurst, Rango) or to his family, like his doctor girlfriend Tara (Maggie Siff, Michael Clayton). Meanwhile, Jax' mother Gemma (Katey Sagal, Married with Children) is dealing with Tara's resistance to being around Tara's kids/her grandkids, while dealing with feelings between her husband Clay and a new beau, a pimp named Nero (Jimmy Smits, Mother And Child).
The introduction of veteran actors like Smits and Perrineau helps the existing Sons cast elevate their game in various ways. The interactions between Perrineau's Damon Pope with Jax, and seeing Jax gradually transform from a leader who is young and full of eagerness to restore the club to ideals held by his late father (Clay is his stepdad), into a guy who is precise, conniving and willing to bruise feelings to do it is fascinating to see, full marks to Hunnam for the work. And Nero, while running a business based on sex for money, is a guy who seems to be doing it as a means to a wholly admirable end, a guy who does not like the life he leads and wants out. Gemma seems to see that and wants to be with him, despite being pulled in different directions by Clay, Gemma, Tara and Jax. Sagal's performance this season may be her best work since the second season.
For those who watched the show in Season Five when it first aired or watched it in various means before its video release, the loss of a significant member to the cast was something that friends of mine seem to be citing as a thing that may lead to an ultimately unsatisfying last couple of seasons for the show. That said, the loss of that member, while emotional, proved to be a necessary step for the show to move forward. Other supporting cast members got an opportunity to step their game up and they did, and it helped remind the viewers that these decisions helped reinforce the assertion that actions do, in fact, have consequences. Of note, Perlman, who was shot in Season Four, undergoes a remarkable transformation in Season Five, starting as a frail old male before slowly, eventually, returning to form and as a threat to Jax's power.
Having watched the show both when it aired and then again for this review, something that struck me about it was how it felt kinetic or even transitional. Whether it was due to a lazy writing moment or to help reinforce the point, more than one story mechanism ‘had a lot of moving pieces to it' when it was presented to a character. In addition, compared to Perrineau's introduction in Season Five as the main protagonist, the introduction of Donal Logue (The Tao Of Steve) late in the season as a retired yet vengeful U.S. Marshall hell bent on disrupting the club could be considered an intrusion, despite the pleasant surprise Logue's appearance generally provides. In a way, this makes Season Five is hard to judge because of what seems to be set in motion for Season Six (it should be noted that both Logue and Smits will return, with Smits added to the ensemble for the year).
Where some folks may have grumbled about the lack of bold choices in the fourth season of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter took the challenge in the fifth season and pulled it off, making sure the proverbial tree was pulled out at the roots and the ground was salted, impacting a lot of heartstrings in the process. And while the stories through the season were decent, it felt to an extent like moving pieces around in preparation for the final salvo. The broad strokes that Sutter illustrates are there and we appreciate the thought put into them, we just have to see more of the painting to make a better decision.
The Blu-Ray Discs:
The show's 13 episode allotment covers three discs and all episodes are presented in 1.78:1 widescreen using the AVC codec, not unlike previous seasons. And unlike previous seasons, the discs all look good. Image detail is abundant in the foreground and background, colors are replicated accurately from the show broadcasts and are generally devoid of noise or other artifacts. In darker scenes, the black levels are consistent with little concern over crushing or pixilation, and flesh tones appear as natural as can be. The discs appear as the shows did during the broadcast run, which is perfectly fine with me.
DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless surround for all episodes, also nothing to fret over as the sound quality is excellent as well. The low end rumble of the motorcycles allows the subwoofer to fire when necessary, and bikes leaving the Sons' clubhouse and going out to Charming (and points outside the city) allow for additional moments of channel panning. Gunfire allows for bullets to ring out through the theater with ample opportunity for directional effects, and in quieter more dialogue-driven moments, words sound clear and well-balanced in the front of the soundstage. Continued good work on the show in the audio department.
Sutter appears to be a very fan-friendly creator or at the very least, seems to have the fan in mind when putting together these season sets, which makes this release particularly disappointing as the extras continue to diminish as the seasons unfold. Disc One has a commentary on the first episode ("Sovereign") with Sutter, the episode director and show Executive Producer Paris Barclay, Sagal, Siff and Dayton Callie, who plays Unser on the show. The track is fun and includes some teasing of the present cast members and their scenes, and thoughts on the cast in season and raving on a scene or two. It is a nice but fairly uninformative track. Five deleted scenes (4:59) are good but not essential. Disc Two has six deleted scenes (5:40) which also fall into this category.
Disc Three has a commentary on Episode 12 ("Darthy") with the director Peter Weller, and he talks about his approach to directing the show and his thoughts on the bigger things in the season and various character/story arcs. There is a bit of watching but this track is also okay but nothing special. Three deleted scenes are next (4:04) along with a gag reel (4:51) that is bland, save for the last moment. "Opie Winston" (6:48) is a look at the character from the cast and from Hurst, while "Creating Anarchy" (3:41) is where Sutter explains his process. Sutter held a concert at the club house for some lucky fans, some of which is included here (19:29) as a nice gesture to his audience and the last extra in the set.
Looking at things from an athletic perspective, the fifth season of Sons of Anarchy does a good job of both taking a breath before putting its head down and going into the final kick that runners talk about, and moving things forward and keeping the chase pack going. The stories are mostly good, the performances as much so, save for specific praise to Hunnam, Sagal and Perlman. Technically the discs are good, though the gradual decline of bonus material as the seasons go by is somewhat troubling. But definitely worth a binge viewing ahead of Season Six to remind the viewer of where things are.