Sons of Anarchy Review: Getting Schooled

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Sons of Anarchy Season 6 did not start off with a bang.

Instead, "Straw" ended with a bang-bang-bang that will likely be debated and discussed, by supporters and critics, above all else from the episode. So let's start there, shall we?

Kim Dickens on Sons of Anarchy

It's intriguing to think about where this school shooting storyline will go:

The boy that pulled the trigger is the child of a woman who is dating someone in Nero's crew. He got the weapon from SAMCRO. And the club will clearly be drawn into this dire town situation, either tangibly through the authorities or philosophically through a new ambivalence over its gun-running ways.

Think about Jax for a moment. This is a man constantly torn over the direction in which to take his club. Down a more straight and narrow path, akin to the one espoused by his late father? Or a more dangerous one, as pushed for by his incarcerated stepfather when Clay was in charge?

We opened the episode, as is so often the case, with yet another diary entry, with Jax expressing concern for Abel and Thomas, with him offering life advice, focused on their well-being. Jax wants to think of himself as a father first and a President second, but it's impossible for his latter title not to influence the former. So how will he react when he learns that he indirectly supplied the weapon which took the lives of innocent kids?

It's John Teller's worst nightmare come true and it will be impossible for Jax to shed the guilt of the role his club played in this tragedy. What will this mean for his conscience? His actions? SAMCRO's relationship with the Irish and other groups in its circle?

There's clearly a lot of material to mine here. But does that make it acceptable to use a school shooting as a jumping off point for a season? I really don't know, but my first reaction is negative.

Sons of Anarchy isn't The Wire. Viewers haven't been asked to reflect on society and any kind of real-life consequences throughout its run. Kurt Sutter has even said at various points that the violence on his series is often cartoonish, asking viewers to suspend disbelief over how SAMCRO can speed down the highway while firing bullets at its enemy without there being some serious ramifications...

... and now he's asking us to process a storyline centered around a truly horrific act, something that has happened far too often over recent years and which hits as close to home as possible for far too many parents across the country.

Yes, it's realistic. But is Sons of Anarchy the sort of show that aims at realism? That we want to aim at realism? We're invested in these characters and their complicated, well-layered relationships, but we also tune in each week aware that the world in which Jax, Juice and company reside isn't reflective of our own. It's wild and entertaining and violent and just... out there. It's grounded in terrific characters, but they live in a fantasy land.

Now this same show is set to tell a tale based on an eerily life-like event - and while I'll reserve full judgment until seeing where this goes, my gut says this doesn't feel right. It's just seems, for lack of a far better word, icky.

And it also overshadowed what was otherwise a very strong opener. It's unlikely anyone will even be able to focus on the many developments that preceded the shooting, but let's rundown all that went down:

  • Jax mixed business and pleasure. Tara is locked away and Jax most definitely played. The introduction of Kim Dickens as a Madame was handled smoothly and, although she may have come on to him a little too strong, Jax's straying here opens up many storylines doors, from tension with Tara on the personal side to issues with Nero on the business side.
  • Speaking of Nero... What a tremendous additional Jimmy Smits' reluctant gang leader has been. His relationship with Gemma is - dare I say it? - sweet, while you can see his struggle to balance parenthood with criminal activity when he leaves an important meeting to spend time with his son.
  • And speaking of tremendous additions... Donal Logue, everybody! Lee Toric may have some kind of drug problem, but that's nothing compared to the problems he's causing for SAMCRO. He's pressuring Clay to flip. He's putting the squeeze on Tara. He's waking Otto up with inmate anal rape and... yeah. Let's just move on.
  • The past is prologue. Jax is still afraid of what Clay might do and Tig is still being requested as payment for the killing of Damon's Pope daughter. We've been here and we've done this, haven't we? As two of the main takeaways from the premiere, there's a feeling of repetitiveness to these storylines.
  • Acting Tarable. Look out, Gemma. If Tara ever gets out of prison, she's been practicing her left cross and her right hook and your role in her arrest may result in a couple black eyes.

So there are certainly many balls being juggled in the air over Charming, but so much reaction to the premiere will likely center around the school shooting. What did you think of it?

Straw Review

Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.8 / 5.0 (128 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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