Sons of Anarchy, Season 6: Episode 1 – “Straw”
Written by Kurt Sutter
Directed by Paris Barclay
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on FX
While Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter tends to favor the music montage sequence for beginnings and/or ends of episodes, this season six premiere – “Straw,” which may also be the penultimate season premiere for this series, since it is only planned to run through seven seasons – opens with a montage set to Jax’s narration as he reads from a journal entry he is writing for his sons. This would normally be an unremarkable reintroduction to the Sons of Anarchy world, as it continues the long-running trend of tying Jax to his father John, who left behind a memoir as his legacy for his son. But the first shot we see is of a young boy – a stranger in this series – as he, too, writes something in a notebook. At first, it could be just as easy to think that we are seeing a young John Teller or a young Jax before it’s confirmed later in the episode that this kid is actually a person in present-day Charming. What that first shot implies, though, is that the child is connected in some way to Jax even though the two are unacquainted with one another. That connection is, without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of “Straw,” but it may not be the most meaningful to Sons of Anarchy diehards.
The intrigue comes in the later stages of the episode when the camera sticks with the boy longer than just the few seconds he sporadically gets in earlier scenes as we see him enter the grounds of a school, roll up his sleeves (to reveal cuts on one arm), pull out an automatic gun and enter a building to shoot and kill several people (there are children amongst the victims, presumably, though the shooting is filmed from outside the building). Just before this happens, the camera zooms in on the boy’s notebook, which the breeze helps to shuffle and reveal dozens of pages of disturbing drawings. The scene is familiar and the details are downright cliche. And even though the most immediate reaction to the scene could appropriately be eye-rolling for the shock-baiting that Sutter is doing by evoking recent school shootings, intentionally or not, there is something more important at work here in Charming. Finally, we are seeing the Sons’ influence on the town trickle down into some of its more vulnerable spots. Sure, the writing almost certainly has no intention of addressing this – it just isn’t Sons of Anarchy‘s style to be asking the bigger questions, and it shouldn’t be criticized for that since it’s been that kind of show since the beginning. The fact that we finally see the influential repercussions of pervasive outlaw violence on the townsfolk, however, is enough. That is awareness, which is something most violent series are lacking in.
Why the school shooting part of “Straw” might not be the most meaningful for longtime fans of the show, though, is because it sets off yet another series of machinations that focus more on plot intricacies than character study. Sons of Anarchy is often negatively called a soap opera, and while that classification is just utterly incorrect (Sons, along with most TV dramas, has soap opera characteristics, but being a soap opera is an entirely different thing), the series is always at its best when it’s closest to being a soap. The juiciest moments are never the action set pieces, although those are mostly loads of fun. The most memorable aspects of Sons usually happen when characters are able to release their stresses – sometimes with words, sometimes with fists. Before touching on some of the new things going on this year, it’s worth pointing out those character moments that remind fans of the show why they keep watching. Tig gets the first of these when he ends up killing a man for insulting Tig’s daughter. The guy doesn’t know that Tig has a daughter. Unfortunately for him, Tig does. Tig actually had two, and one of them was burned alive in front of his eyes in last season’s premiere (Sons of Anarchy is a family-friendly show, in case you didn’t know). Kim Coates does wonders here without having many lines in the script. Tig’s demons are barely being contained under the surface of his skin, and we can only stare on in a combination of pity and sympathy as Tig bursts into song after he disposes of the body.
Chibs and Juice share the other great character-based scene as Chibs gets to pound Juice’s face in for all of the despicable-but-understandable things Juice has done in the past couple seasons. It’s hard to say who is “good” or “noble” in this cast of characters and who isn’t (this series, unlike Breaking Bad, isn’t too concerned with “right” and “wrong”; “family” has always been Sons of Anarchy‘s calling card). What’s easier is to know when characters are acting the way they should and when they aren’t. And for a while there, Juice wasn’t. So, it’s not just Chibs making peace with Juice by releasing his anger on the guy’s face – it’s also the audience making peace with Juice for his relative lapses in judgment.
Lapses in judgment, after all, are what we expect from someone like Clay, which brings us to the rest of this premiere: status quo. Clay is still a bastard, and Ron Perlman is still fantastic at acting like a bastard. The cast gets some new characters played by great guest performers, most notably Kim Dickens as a new escort and potential love interest/distraction for Jax. And, speaking of Jax, his and Tara’s relationship just gets more and more messed up. Maggie Siff, despite being in an unfamiliar place for her character (behind bars), gets some good material to work with, and Charlie Hunnam gets to be naked in preparation for Fifty Shades of Grey. Welcome back to Charming.
– Sean Colletti