I have to be completely honest; I did not know if my heart was ready for Mayans M.C. I remember watching the very first episode of Sons of Anarchyback in 2008. Times were simpler then. The stock market was crashing; the value of my house was plummeting. All I had left was the joy of my FIOS connection and the glorious network television it brought me. Like most fans of Kurt Sutter, I was swept away by the concept of Sons, a modern reimaging of Hamletled by the iconic Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and a supporting cast of powerful character actors like Dayton Callie, Kim Coates, and Tommy Flanagan.
And what a show! I laughed, I cried, I felt a deep and likely creepy love for Tig. The show peaked and peaked and peaked. And then, to be frank, it crapped out. Collapsing into itself, not so much like a dying star, but exploding under the weight of its own self-importance.
But who cared? By then I was excitedly waiting for the premiere of The Bastard Executioner. Who doesn’t love Stephen Moyer, right? Okay, yes, best just not to talk about that fart in the wind (the show, not Moyer).
As a twice disappointed Sutter fan, I was not sure my heart could take the strain of a third let down. With that in mind, I girded my pulmonary muscles (and my loins) and braced myself for the season premiere of Mayans M.C. Holy shit, it did not disappoint.
While Sons eventually got swamped in the morass of an Oedipal complex gone really, really, wrong, Mayans seems to be firmly locked in the present. Unless you have lived under a rock for the past ten years, you are likely aware that in 2006, when Mexico’s then President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels, things in that country went sideways and quickly. Since that time, Mexico has experienced an unprecedented spike in drug related crimes including trafficking, murder and kidnapping. The fallout of this ongoing disaster, coupled with the current conservative political climate in the U.S. provides fertile ground for storytelling. What we loved about Sons, the complex characters and scathing social commentary, we find in Mayans. Nothing here is what it seems and the show, from its opening credits on, is a clear exploration of duality.
In the pilot, beautifully directed by Norberto Barba, symbolism is everywhere as we are introduced to a California/Mexico border town, endlessly divided by walls and fences. Even as the characters descend into the underground tunnels of the local cartel, the subterranean border between the U.S. and Mexico is marked on one side by a huge picture of Washington’s face and on the other the Virgin Mary. Greed and religion, wealth and poverty, crime and – well, this is a show about an outlaw biker gang so maybe crime and well-intentioned crime? Let’s not get carried away.
Nowhere is that duality more evident than with our protagonist, and super sexy man-crier, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes (thank god I girded those loins). The one-time Stanford alum whose golden future apparently spun out of control eight years earlier and landed him in prison, now finds himself struggling with what it means to be a Prospect in his brother’s M.C. Clearly this new lifestyle is miles away from the clean-cut jock/academic who wanted nothing more than to escape that cartel-controlled town with his high school girlfriend. We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that EZ’s deep intelligence, dedication to his father (played by the incomparable Edward James Olmos), and attachment to his childhood sweetheart echo all the things we once loved about Jax Teller. However, I’d like to let the show get its legs before casting dispersions. After all, one can assume EZ’s moral compass was never skewed by a lifetime of club politics and, well, Gemma.
Club politics do come out with a quickness as we learn that the Mayans are working hand in hand with a Mexican cartel to run heroin across the border. In the U.S. they must contend with rival gangs and D.E.A. agents, while in Mexico there is a corrupt police force and a rebel faction intent on bringing the cartel down by any means necessary. The show sings with a familiar high tension (though not the break-neck pace that marked the last few seasons of Sons) as the Mayans try to navigate these obstacles while staying alive and remaining true to their own motivations. And nothing fucks up a good plan like your own well-intentioned teammate.
At first glance, the show is a good mix of what you would expect from a Sons spin-off. The “good guys” (law enforcement) are dirty and suspect, the “bad guys” (the M.C. and rebels) are deeply humanized and committed to family and a higher moral calling. But Mayans asks us to kindly check our preconceived notions at the door in the first half hour, as we watch a self-proclaimed “L.A. Mexican” receive free medical care from a trained physician on the far side of the cartel tunnel, where he can only speak one word of Spanish: Hola.
Where see a small boy stealing food from a cart, you later realize he was orphaned by the cartel and has had to learn to steal to survive, having lost his family.
Sutter and Barba ask us to take a momentary break from the screaming rhetoric on social media and remember that “these people” are, in fact, people. Something that Sutter did so wonderfully in Sons, by creating characters based on the people living in the margins and putting their traits, good and evil, on full display. No one here is purely shit. People do shit things for a reason. Namely to protect and support the people they love.
Unless you are a smarmy cartel boss who wears a bright yellow raincoat to protect your expensive suit while watching a rival get tortured. Then you are just a douche.
And as invested as I am in character development and astute cultural commentary, I would still be happy to watch every week, waiting in glee for the day Mr. Raincoat gets messily dispatched. Because sometimes, I enjoy being a shit, too.