Fox // 2009 // 583 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // September 9th, 2010
"Change won't happen quick, or without blood, but it'll happen. It has to." -- Jax Teller
FX is on quite the roll. With HBO out of the picture as the premiere network for original programming (all they've really got now is True Blood, though Boardwalk Empire shows a whole lot of promise) and AMC still on the rise (two brilliant shows does not a powerhouse make), FX might be in the top slot right now. They brought us The Shield and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They brought us the first few seasons of Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me (they actually brought us all of the seasons, but I'm trying to focus on the good here). Most recently, they brought us the Timothy Olyphant-starring, Elmore Leonard-penned Justified. But my favorite show on FX -- and the best, as far as I'm concerned -- is the under-appreciated motorcycle club drama Sons of Anarchy.
Now, Sons of Anarchy: Season Two rolls onto Blu-ray courtesy of Fox, and it's not just as good as the show's dynamite first season -- it's better.
BEWARE OF SPOILERS FOR SEASONS ONE AND TWO
As Season Two of Sons of Anarchy begins, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) is still reeling from the murder of Opie's wife, Donna, and the rift between the club's two presidents, Clay (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) and Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam, Green Street Hooligans) continues to grow wider. Making matters worse is that there's a new group setting up shop in Charming -- a crew of white supremacists called the League of American Nationalists, led by seemingly upfront businessman Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin, A Serious Man) and his enforcer, A.J. Weston (Henry Rollins, Heat). Their plan is to break up the Sons of Anarchy and control the heroin business in Charming, and they immediately set about tearing the club apart.
One way they go about doing that is through an attack on Gemma (Katey Sagal, Married With Children), Jax's mom/Clay's wife and the club matriarch. As she tries to keep the attack a secret from Jax and Clay, her bond with Clay's girlfriend Tara (Maggie Siff, Funny People) grows stronger. At the same time, an imprisoned former member of the club asks that they help out his "old lady," which leads the Sons to partner in a porn business and come into conflict with porn king Georgie Caruso (Tom Arnold, Exit Wounds). The Sons, who are falling apart fast thanks to mounting tension between the co-presidents, also face opposition from Federal Agent Stahl (Ally Walker, Universal Soldier) who continues to pursue charges against them, as well as a band of ira gunrunners who have a history with chibs (tommy flanagan, the scar-faced scot from Smokin' Aces). It's going to take all the strength the club has to withstand all of these attacks, but, unfortunately, that's strength the club no longer has.
Has the FX drama Sons of Anarchy quietly become of the most compelling series on all of television? While it doesn't get the attention of some critical darlings like Mad Men or True Blood -- or even competent network product like The Good Wife (it wasn't nominated for a single Emmy, a fact that will make me never stop throwing up in my mouth) -- it puts most current network shows to shame. It's the show that fills the void left by both The Shield (on which the show's creator, Kurt Sutter, got his start) and The Sopranos. I know the show has a significant cult following and that its one of the highest-rated shows on FX, but I must be living in a bubble because the people around me aren't watching it despite the best efforts of my wife and me to convince them to do so. That's a fact that fills me with rage. It's a great show, and deserving of all kinds of attention.
The only limitation Sons of Anarchy has versus more critically recognized shows such as, say, Mad Men or Breaking Bad (probably the only two dramas on TV better than Sons), is that it's rarely about more than it's about. That's not a criticism; merely a description. Sons of Anarchy has a tendency towards pulp, and that's ok -- particularly when its incredibly compelling, unbelievably well-acted pulp. At its best, Sons approaches something downright Shakespearean -- no easy feat for a basic cable series. Whereas the first season laid a lot of the groundwork for the series, mapping out the growing struggle for leadership between Jax and Clay and sowing the seeds that would eventually threaten to tear the club apart, Season Two expands those conflicts and, as a result, the show's universe. Introducing an outside antagonist (Ethan Zobelle, a white supremacist business very easy to hate) at the same time that the club is threatening to implode from within is the season's masterstroke, forcing SAMCRO to face challenges from all sides. As certain relationships within the club are torn apart (once specific revelations are brought to light; if you've seen the first season, you've got a good idea of what I'm talking about), others grow closer -- particularly Jax and outsider Tara, who provides an inroad for the audience into the club. As she is drawn more and more into the club, so are we.
While it's easy to get caught up in the violent and twisting story lines of Sons of Anarchy, none of it would mean anything without the show's performances. They're some of the best on TV -- particularly Katey Sagal, who has a challenging and incredibly dark arc to play this season. She is a force of nature to watch, and creates not just the best female character on TV right now but one of the best of the last 20 years. Her performance is nothing short of brilliant, and the fact that she wasn't even nominated for an Emmy this year tells you exactly how much stock to put in awards shows. Nearly every bit her equal are the men in her life, played by Ron Perlman and Charlie Hunnam. We already know Perlman can be growly and great; it's Hunnam who is the real revelation on the show. His work on the underrated Undeclared suggested he was charming and cute (and British) and not much else, but his work as Jax Teller is 100% brooding intensity and focused intelligence. He's Hamlet, only not crippled by inaction. Hunnam's Jax knows when act and when to lay back and wait, and the actor does a nice job of portraying the pain of letting things build up inside as violence threatens to bubble to the surface. The supporting cast is great, too, made up of excellent and recognizable character actors like Kim Coates (Battlefield Earth), Tommy Flanagan and Mark Boone Junior (2009's Halloween II). Any story is only as good as its villain, though, and Season Two sees first-rate work from a surprisingly effective Adam Arkin as the evil Zobelle and Henry Rollins as his Aryan muscle.
The 13 episodes making up Sons of Anarchy: Season Two ride onto Blu-ray in a three-disc set courtesy of Fox. Like the HD release of Season One, the technical aspects of the collection are outstanding: the 1080p, AVC-encoded image is as warm and sun-soaked as the desert highways of Charming, with deep, strong blacks, incredible skin and facial detail (that's important on a series where weathered faces tell such stories) and heaping amounts of swirling, dirty grain. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is almost as impressive, presenting the dialogue clearly in the center channel while rounding out the sonic palette with roaring motorcycle engines and thundering gunfights. In the extras department, the set is a bit of a letdown, offering only commentaries by cast and crew on select episodes, a standard EPK-style featurette called "The Moral Code of Sons of Anarchy and a roundtable discussion on the series and the season. Devoted fans may want to partake, but there's not a lot of substance there and certainly not what we've come to expect from season-length TV sets.
If you're not already watching Sons of Anarchy, it's not too late. Season Three has just kicked off on FX, so you can start recording it on your DVR and buy Seasons One and Two (using DVD Verdict's Amazon links, of course) to get caught up. Don't miss out on the one of the best shows on television.
Review content copyright © 2010 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 583 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Official Site