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Sons of Anarchy, S4: Potentially unsatisfying year promises great things to come

Sons of Anarchy, S4: Potentially unsatisfying year promises great things to come

Sons of Anarchy, Season 4 Recap
Created by Kurt Sutter
Airs on FX

If getting out was that easy, this would simply be a different show; so while highly predictable, this season‘s ending brought the Shakespearean step-father-son relationship finally to the peak season one had already laid out: Jax stepping up to the gavel. Hopefully this resolution will lead to another season of borderline morals, complex intertwined narrative, manipulation, surreal shoot-outs, and sharp dialogues, preferably in the well composed way season one and two worked out.

So this is where it‘s at now: hospitalized Clay (Ron Perlman) was stepped down and Jax (Charlie Hunnam) forced to step up, finally fulfilling his Teller fate. Tara (Maggie Siff) is devastated but understanding, and of course backing her man; Gemma‘s (Katey Sagal) master plan finally worked out as the club‘s dynasty is carried on by her son – maybe not fully in the way she initially intended, but still. SAMCRO is at the ultimate changing point these past four seasons have built up to. But before jumping ahead too quickly, let‘s do a quick rewind and open that closet of corpses, or bag of sex toys for the matter, of season four‘s finale.

Over the past three years there has been quite a bit of development, even if some might feel that the narrative is in a loop. A brief summary of what happened from season one to three will provide the basics necessary to see where this show started and how it’s developed, allowing us to then dig a little deeper into where season four went.

Season one established the vast majority of the central serial conflict that’s carried the show over its seasons so far: the family drama, mainly defined by a familiar father-son conflict unraveling in unfamiliar ways. With Sons of Anarchy, creator Kurt Sutter has taken this commonly used set-up to more complex levels through numerous twists to the well-known formula. Season one laid out the ground rules of the club and introduced the characters and their dynamics. At its core (excellently played by Charlie Hunnam)- Jax Teller, conflicted about which fathers‘ footsteps to follow, unsure about where SAMCRO should go, where it got off track, what its initial ideals were, and where he wants his own place to be. So much for the original set-up.

Season two brought a great deal of character development, especially for Gemma, a character one surprisingly learned to love. Sutter delivered a brilliantly strong second season that ended with the slightly far-fetched baby-stealing incident that dominated the narrative of season three. While season one and two seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine, the third was a bit at odds. The story line constantly shifted between Belfast, Gemma on the run, and the noose slowly tightening on SAMCRO; it was a bit too scattered and detached, lacking cohesiveness and the idea of a whole that made the preceding seasons stand so strongly. It did, however conclude with necessary character growth and much needed change in Charming.

Season four brought the show back to stabler ground, if still a little shaky at times. Sutter tied things back to Charming while laying out the fundamental ground work for a potentially drama-charged season five. This season started off with most of the club members returning from prison to Charming, where a new deputy sheriff, Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar), is once again trying to keep the outlaws in check. Truly in command. and acting in secret, we have U.S. Attorney Lincoln `Linc´ Potter (Ray McKinnon) who‘s trying to get a grip on things and attempting to bring the really bad guys down by putting the screws on Juice (Theo Rossi). Jax is pulling all strings to get Tara, the boys and himself out of SAMCRO and Charming. Gemma is pursuing her own master plan, while Tara is trying get her family out according to her own set of rules. Clay, mainly concerned with staying in power and keeping all dark secrets neatly hidden, is busy scheming, with always his own interest at heart, if he even has one. And though this quick summary may read a bit lax, this season kept up the standards seasons one and two established.

Some developments felt a bit rushed, and the new-found prospects don‘t quite manage to live up to half-sack‘s (Johnny Lewis) legacy, yet it still seems that this season might just get Sons of Anarchy back to its brilliant peaks. If only taking into account some of the rushed events of the split finale you might come to different conclusions, but considering the status quo at the end, there is some great potential for the seasons to follow. Admittedly, the surprise CIA intervention, strengthening one cartel to gain control over them all, was a bit of a last minute twist that would have been better set up over a longer timeframe. However it establishes a great antagonistic force for the upcoming season, implemented in both cartel and state ranks and hopefully with Ray McKinnon returning to take what the CIA snatched right form under his nose.

While it may be upsetting for some that Clay once again got away with no real consequences for his actions (at least he is still bed-bound and barely breathing this time), just look forward to the dynamics this set-up can take on, now that power has finally shifted. To be honest, at what point during the show have there ever been true ramifications? This is nothing new to Sons of Anarchy; ultimately this season stays true to its deeply rooted idea of the bad guys getting their way, however unrealistic it might seem. Clay‘s death might just be a pleasure deferred and it goes well in line with the show‘s idea that the bullet will hit at the right moment of narrative time, not when the gun is aimed at the chest from five feet away.

Though it feels like many of this season’s story lines conclude at their starting points, on second view the events of season four do tremendous things for the characters. Juice returns without being found out, yet with some sort of estranged connection with the deputy sheriff, which not only ensures Rockmond Dunbar an important role but also guarantees that Theo Rossi’s Juice remains central to the story line. Gemma pulls off her plan, but leaves neither Clay nor her son in the places she intended for them. Jax‘s failed attempt to get out and subsequent rise to power will surely lead to Jax once again shining as the ingenious good-bad-guy that has been part of the glue to this show. It could have been interesting to see Jax and Tara on their own, but ultimately that would have run too contrary to what his long-intended fate. On top of everything, Charming’s lack of development should prompt the writers to come up with some new great ideas for where the town can grow.

The characters and arcs may not have taken the turns expected, but they led to the ultimate shift of power. Perhaps this optimistic take on season five’s prospects is a bit tinted by season two nostalgia, but it is undeniable that this season followed through and has led to a long intended point with great potential for what is to follow. Some of the developments were a bit rushed and can‘t quite keep up with the well composed first seasons, but season four went back to beloved and charming grounds, creating the perfect set-up for season five.

Merle Fischer