Sons Of Anarchy is brought to us by Kurt Sutter, executive producer of The Shield, and follows a motorcycle gang led by Clay (Ron Perlman), but mainly seen from the point of view of his stepson and young gang member Jax (short for Jackson, played with enthusiasm by Charlie Hunnam (dropping his Geordie accent for a decent American accent).
Early on, Jax finds a journal written by his father, the founder of the Sons, that shows him how the Sons ‘lost their way’ and thus begins Jax’s disillusionment with the organisation.
We start with a bang as the Sons of Anarchy’s weapons store is destroyed by a rival gang and from this the series very rarely lets up. The weapons store is how the Sons fund their club, and through this keep the little fictional town of Charming clean of drugs and bad influences (aside from themselves, of course).
Left with no choice but to seek revenge and also clean up the business that would have come through the weapons store, the Sons spend the whole of season one dealing with other gangs, getting together money to settle deals, child rapists, chronic masturbation, hiding past transgressions, covering up for each other, and federal investigation. Throw into that marital issues, babies, community support and family life, and you’ve got a really powerful series that is dramatic and tense, whilst still remaining funny and contemporary.
“If you’re a man with convictions, violence is inevitable,” is just one example of Sutter’s double-edge writing style. Each episode plays hard and fast with the idea of law and order, authority and respect. Having said that, for the Sons, there are clear cut rules for all of their activities, legal and otherwise. When these rules are broken, the penalties are harsh and usually quite violent: an ex-member not removing his tattoo is a disturbing case in point. Morality is an interesting concept in Sons Of Anarchy. All the characters are working to do what they see as the right thing, be it the police, the Sons, or the peripheral characters. Sutter’s writing reflects this incredibly well, with equal measures of drama and humour, coupled with a real sense of danger.
Aside from the sprawling and, occasionally, complex biker gang storyline, we have the relationship that Jax has with his ex-wife, Wendy, a drug addict who gives birth to their baby prematurely. Coupled with all the issues of premature birth, the baby also has a ‘family flaw,’ a heart defect, which claimed Jax’s brother. As if that wasn’t complicated enough for him, he’s got an on-off relationship with his high school sweetheart and local nurse, Tara. Neither is particularly liked by Jax’s mother, who is extremely protective of her son, the biker gang and Charming.
The first half of the series is a slow burner, setting up the various plotlines and establishing the characters (as you would expect from a series). However, none of it feels like ‘filler’ or ‘padding.’ The various plotlines come together half way through the series, with a confrontation with the Nords and Mayans trying to bring the Sons down and the ongoing tension between Clay and Jax, the possibility of betrayal from within, the three women in Jax’s life all vying for his attention, a dangerous ex and the conclusion of the ATF investigation.
Series one ends with the Sons more fractured than when we first met them, Jax in a dangerous position, a family struggling to keep it together and far too many bridges in need of repairing. There are definitely enough threads to continue into the second (already showing in the US) series and the very end of the episode works better for what is not said than the few words spoken. It is, indeed “time for a change”.
Sons Of Anarchy is part of a recent trend to darker, harder TV drama that requires more than just gripping storylines. It definitely has that, but it also requires a cast able to portray each character realistically. We’ve definitely got that here!
Katey Sagal is breathtaking as Jax’s mother, Gemma. If you’re used to seeing her as the mother in Married With Children or 8 Simple Rules, you’re in for a revelation. Once again cast as a loving mother, wife and pillar of the community, she is unexpectedly manipulative and quite nasty, knowing exactly what is right for the Sons and only wanting to ensure they get it at any cost, whilst not revealing her true nature to her son. Sagal plays the role with relish, bringing an almost Shakespearean aspect to the role. hink Lady Macbeth or Hamlet‘s Gertrude, and you’ve got someone close.
Ron Perlman turns in a hugely understated performance as Clay, the ageing leader of the Sons. He knows his days as leader are numbered, but will do anything to keep hold of his power. With every scene, he burns up the screen with his intensity, but can turn on the charm and humour.
Charlie Hunnam is captivating as Jax. It would have been easy to have cast him as a good looking, blond haired heart throb, but Hunnam’s character has depth and emotion that he manages to carry off well, in the face of stiff competition. He may not be the tallest, broadest or most intimidating Son, but he has presence. He’s not cruising through in this role, giving some fantastically tense performances with more conviction than his turn in the misjudged Green Street.
Other characters are just as well crafted and convincingly acted. There are very few weak points in the series, in casting or writing. There are also many faces that you’ll recognise from other series playing supporting roles – Mitch Pileggi as the racist leader of The Nords, is one that stands out.
As a series, it’s well written, well acted and well executed. If you like The Sopranos and The Shield, you’ll definitely enjoy this. There’s a fair degree of racial tension, adult language and sex. It’s never overdone or out of place, as would be seen in some less intelligent TV offerings. There’s also the politics of handling the various gangs and relationships; and it’s here that the programme really shines. Dialogue moves quickly and you really have to pay attention to keep up; things happen and sometimes it really takes you by surprise.
From a technical standpoint, the DVDs are presented in exceptional Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound, and it really comes into its own during gun fights and when the bikes are on the move and still sounding good with dialogue. The picture, in an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, is constantly sharp, crisp and colourful, as you would expect from a modern TV series.
There are commentaries for three episodes (Pilot, The Pull and The Revelator.) Featuring cast and crew, including the director and writers, the commentaries are definitely packed with people (eleven in the final episode), but remain relatively easy to follow, funny, informative (the amount of research and passion that goes into each episode is staggering in places.) The final commentary is a raucous affair, with various pot shots taken at each actor and themselves, but it’s all good natured and light hearted.
The Making of Sons of Anarchy Season 1 is nine minutes long and features the cast and creators talking about their work on the series, their research and influences. The tour of the set is really interesting, as are the comments of the cast. However, it does feel like a glorified trailer for the programme in places. Discussion about a key plot point does mean that you can’t really watch this before the series itself.
The Ink is a four minute and fifty second extra looking at the patches, insignia and tattoos, (particularly the main Sons symbol designed by Freddy Corbin.) There’s the odd nuggets of interest; hearing Corbin comment that the symbol and lettering couldn’t look like anything that already existed, but, disappointing, that he wouldn’t go into more detail, Mark Boone Junior, who plays Bobby Elvis, designed his own tattoos, and that the decals used for the tattoos last for four days.
The Bikes is a seven minute extra with the cast discussing their bikes and biking. Each Harley Davidson Dynaglide (Dynas, for short) is customised for the character, with the main actors doing their own riding. There’s a bit of technical talk, which went over my head. Despite my lack of knowledge about biking, it was still interesting as it afforded us the opportunity to see the bikes up close.
Casting Sons of Anarchy runs for just under fifteen minutes. The casting director, Wendy O’Brien, discusses the various aspects of casting, matching Kurt Sutter’s scripts with the abilities of the actors that were eventually cast. O’Brien takes us through each of the main characters, using clips of audition footage, explaining how and why each actor was chosen, usually through a combination of skills, ability and appearance.
Deleted Scenes can be played individually or played as a 35 minute compilation of deleted, extended and alternate scenes. Some of the scenes are cut for timing, but do reveal more about the characters. It’s a shame that they were not available as part of the relevant episode as it’s sometimes hard to put them into the context of the series.
Anarchy on Set is a seven minute extra that begins with a compilation of some of the more violent moments before turning into a gag reel.
It would have been nice if the Making Of had been longer or if there had been a documentary on biker gangs to help put it all into context, but I guess these may come in a future series. All in all, the extras made a worthwhile, if occasionally lightweight, addition to the boxset.
Sons Of Anarchy Season One DVDs will be released on February 22 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.