Thursday, September 22, 2011

"Sons of Anarchy" - "Dorylus"

Spoilers for the latest "Sons of Anarchy" after the jump:

"Sons of Anarchy's" fourth season is seemingly intent on returning to the show to its season two form. And when I say form, I don't mean it in terms of quality. I mean it in terms of the show returning to what (in most critics' and fans' estimations) made it great: namely, SAMCRO being ripped apart from within while at the same time dealing with external problems from other outlaw organizations as well as law enforcement. Season three had the club working together to get to Ireland and rescue Abel, and the internal issues between its members were set aside in favor of that goal. Prison, however, has seemingly brought back many of those issues as well as created some new ones.

One of the problems I have with "Dorylus" (arguably the weakest individual episode the show's done in over a season) is that I don't entirely buy a lot of the changes in the characters that have led to these new issues. In last season's finale, Jax wrote a note to Gemma stating that he'd never betray his club or his family. And yet now he's doing just that to the former in favor of the latter. It's understandable, but at this point I haven't seen enough to make me completely believe it. The same goes for Clay roughing Gemma up. Clay's a violent man, but we've never seen him do something like that to her. As such, it feels like a slightly artificial attempt to create drama at the expense of character.

That's a problem, and it's compounded by the fact that many other aspects of the episode aren't particularly interesting. It spends a lot of time on the club trying to get back some weapons stolen from Kozik: a storyline that's distracting and unnecessary. Since "SOA" is pretty much a fully serialized show, this self-contained plot appears to be there just to fill time. While this is something that most shows do to some extent, it's successful only when it's not completely obvious about it. "Dorylus" was, and to make matters worse the story was also boring . I'm not too worried about this going forward (since the show rarely uses its occasional self-contained missions as a crutch the way it did here), but it's another reason why the episode didn't really work for me.

All that said, this is still "Sons of Anarchy". As such, in spite of the artificial attempts at drama and the problematic "case of the week" aspect... the episode still manages to be very compelling for the most part. Particularly praiseworthy is the scene with Tara and Gemma, which could be an Emmy tape for Katey Sagal if she gets nominated next year. She's always phenomenal, but scenes where she lets a bit of vulnerability shine through Gemma's usually unflappable exterior tend to take her performance to another level. Now whether that vulnerability is faked is another matter. There's sincerity there, but I definitely suspect there's more to the story of how John Teller died than she's letting on.

Tara meanwhile is kind of lost right now: trapped between her love for Jax and her apparent desire to escape life as a SAMCRO "old lady". I believe Kurt Sutter has stated a few times that the series is loosely based on Hamlet, and indeed it's often easy to see the influence Shakespeare's play has on this show. Only in this case Tara's the one running in place while "the prince" (Jax) tries his best to get them out. It's compelling stuff, and when "Sons" focuses on things like this is often when it's at its best. As such, I'm hopeful the things that were problematic in "Dorylus" will be fixed soon enough. For now, though, it's impossible to call this one of "SOA's" best hours: even as it remains a pretty solid episode of TV overall.

Other Thoughts

- Welcome to my first ever "Sons of Anarchy" review. I caught up with the series over the summer, and look forward to sharing my thoughts on a weekly basis.

- Another thing that really bothered me was the entire scene with the ants. It didn't add anything to the story, and seemed to be thrown in there just to shock and disgust  I have no patience for stuff like that, particularly from a creative team that should know better.

- Roosevelt (at Potter's suggestion) is going after Juice using his family history. It'll be interesting to see where this goes. Quite enjoying these two new law-enforcement characters, who unlike Stahl are actually worth rooting for.

- Apparently the club has a new member: Miles. I'm pretty sure he was one of the prospects, but I'm actually not sure.

- Just for fun, grades for the first two episodes: "Out" (A) and "Booster" (A-). So this was a bit of a drop in quality. As I said above, hopefully it won't last long.

Grade: B

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