Season premiere review: Sons of Anarchy ‘Sovereign’ – Scars of a Feather

Somewhere in the cross-continental journey of season 3, Sons of Anarchy became less of a gritty Hamlet,and a lot more like a self-indulgent, pulpy soap opera. I don’t care how much of a rabid Sons fan you are, the many off-screen machinations at hand in the last two finales were enough for me to throw my hands up in defeat. But the interesting repositioning of power in the Teller-Morrow and SAMCRO families had me intrigued for season 5, if not just to see how Sutter is going to occupy his time until Sons reaches the planned 7th and final season looming in 2014. If ‘Sovereign’ is any indication of what I’m going to see moving forward, it’s clear this is going to be a difficult journey to make it through.

The season opens with a voice over of Jax’s writings in a journal (just like Daddy Teller, except with hipster glasses) talking about some mumbo jumbo about family and keeping it all together. Tara is dressing like Gemma, and Gemma’s out getting wasted and handing out her phone number to a “spic pimp” she bangs named Nero. One thing is clear, even in the season’s unusually upbeat opening montage: Jax is smiling too much, and there is some brutal shit clearly waiting for him around the corner. It quickly materializes in the form of a burning truck fill of cartel guns and drugs, the culmination of the season’s opening action sequence (thankfully, one that’s over fairly quickly – there’s no driving for miles along parked cars or 46 shots of long hair flowing in the wind while riding).

This act of vandalism brings about the introduction of this season’s antagonist: David Pope, an Oakland drug lord who is the father of the One Niner girl Tig shot last season (while under the impression Opie’s gun shots to Clay’s stomach were really from a black guy wearing purple colors). He’s articulate, dresses well, moves in a very careful, practiced matter – not to mention brutal enough to have people murdered on a whim (AKA a two-dimensional Gus Fring clone). He steps in and solves the One Niner/SoA problem that’s been brewing for three weeks (the time between seasons) with two swift acts: he kills Laroy and most of his crew, and then lights their bodies on fire in a pit that’s also holding Tig’s living daughter.

Of course, he manages to get Tig there in handcuffs (luring him out to the middle of nowhere by a fake police call, something that still makes absolutely no sense to me) to watch the scene. We’re supposed to feel bad for Tig and be scared of Pope, but Kim Coates can’t do much but make crazy face and scream unconvincingly, so the emotional factor is a bit lost in the scene. The shock factor is also a bit muted: does anybody really care about Tig’s daughter that much? Beyond that, Tig’s done so much shit, from killing Opie’s wife to Pope’s daughter, it’s hard to feel like Tig is a victim, even when the show is going to great lengths to establish Pope as a one-dimensional psycho who will be completely impenetrable by the Sons and their attempts to thwart him – that is, until the tables eventually turn and the “good guys” get an upper hand.

Elsewhere, Chibs is around to say unintelligible things, and the many background faces (save for ol’ chubby face with glasses) from the recently-closed nomad crew and other new members give the big church scene a very alien feel. When Clay revealed how and why he killed Piney (with a few close-ups of Angry Jax Face to remind us of the real truth without), the reactions of many faces in the room were hard to analyze, mainly because we don’t know half the damn people. The scene is then cut off from there, without a mention except a character saying that nobody will vote him out, even after admitting to killing an Original Nine (that makes three for him total, correct?).

We all know its a matter of time before Clay is back in the thick of things, something Jax voices for the audience when he asks “What’s your play?” With Clay in full Piney mode, hunched over in chairs, drinking too much with tubes up his nose, he’s now the one asking questions and poking around Jax’s sudden enthusiasm of the cartel deal. Nobody else seems to question it, of course, but Clay has to have something to hold over Jax to continue their power struggle (the real conflict at the heart of the show) or there would just be no reason to have Clay around at all (although Juice’s new found loyalty to Clay is so touching to Juice for some reason, he chokes up multiple times in the episode).

There are about a dozen other plot threads I could detail, but they’re all operating on the same redundant storytelling Sutter’s been using since his days on The Shield: put the main characters into a box with no doors or windows, and then at the last minute, saw out a hole in the floor for them to escape from. And he’s doing it without all the edge and well-written characters that made The Shield so good. Nobody on Sons of Anarchy can commit to any feelings, with all the plot twists, and the mental hoops characters have to jump through to fit into those many, many contrivances only makes every decision and reaction contradictory to the last.

I think what bothered me most about ‘Sovereign’ was the combination of large, traumatic events that really do nothing to move forward any really important plot threads at the show’s core. It’s all flash and brutality, without the sensibility and strong core that made the first few seasons so strong. The more SAMCRO splinters, the less cohesive the show’s plots seem to be, and with people all over the map at the end of the episode, it’s not really a good sign for the show moving forward. But hey, whoever had ‘Jax goes on the run and becomes a federal fugitive for the 4,647th time’ in the office pool can go collect some cash, so at least somebody wins.

Grade: C-

Other thoughts/observations:

– I just went back and watched a few scenes and noticed something: the nomad who puts his fake leg on Phil’s shoulder was one the guys involved with beating down Unser. Looks like the nomad chapter “closing” is going to be one of our mini-threads this season.

– are we really supposed to believe that Jax has some kind of leverage over the mexican cartel/FBI agents? The explanation certainly wasn’t cutting it.

– There are so many characters that just feel like they don’t belong anymore. Opie’s been wasted since about halfway through season 3, Tig is a dead man walking, and I still don’t know why Eli Roosevelt is on the show – although I’m guessing he’s in Pope’s pocket somehow, being from Oakland.

– “I’m not a pimp, I’m a companionator.” The sudden change of heart Gemma has for Nero was predictable, but one thing isn’t: what is Nero’s importance to the seasonal arc? We may not find out until there is five minutes left in the season, but I’m sure he’s not just a little, women-respecting pimp.

– what happened to all the Russians Jax had killed back at the beginning of last season? Were those all the Russain mobsters left on SoA Earth?

– Apparently, Nero’s life’s ambition was “not to be a dick.” Don’t aim too high!

– Tig laughing and shooting the crime scene guy hardly looks like a “man gone mental”. This is a man willing to have sex with dead people, I don’t care, nor do I feel sorry for anything that happens to him.

– “I’m going to cut your ugly black head off.” Let’s just not head down the race road, Sons. Just don’t.

– The sheriff has a typical Sons of Anarchy conversation with Juice: “I’m not going to burn you, but I’m going to burn you (until I stop burning you to burn something else, or I get killed).” Maybe I just hate his sniveling little powerless character strutting around Teller-Morrow.

– “I ain’t no Spider-Man, nigga.” Apparently not: that Spidey sense never really had a chance to kick in.

– can two women ever get along for two seconds on this show? Ever? Tara and Gemma need to hug that shit out, SAMCRO style.

– speaking of man love, good to see Bobby get the VP spot. He’s going to become the mouthpiece of reason as we move through this season, and Jax’s willingness to listen (or decision to ignore) Bobby could prove to be an interesting thread.

what did you think of ‘Sovereign’? Feel free to ask questions, leave your thoughts, and discuss the episode below!


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