Fox // 2010 // 591 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // September 15th, 2011
"It's gonna be another fun-filled day in the six counties"
Although I was a latecomer to Kurt Sutter's gritty biker drama Sons of Anarchy, when I finally started watching the series, I rocketed through the first two seasons so quickly, and with such a disregard for sleep and personal hygiene, that I actually came down with the flu. It was totally worth it. That sick day meant I had more time to finish Season Two all the way through the finale's jaw-dropping cliffhanger. With the fate of the club, and several main characters, up in the air, I had no idea how everything would come together for the third season. And after watching the first few episodes of Season Three, I suspect Sutter didn't either.
Sons of Anarchy: Season Three is a slow burn. While the first couple seasons hit the ground running, this latest starts from a dead stop. Once things warm up, though, it's a thrilling ride to the finish.
Sons of Anarchy: Season Three has all 13 episodes across four discs:
* "Turning and Turning"
* "The Push"
* "Widening Gyre"
* "Lochan Mor"
* "June Wedding"*
* extended episode
[Although I will refrain from any major spoilers, the following includes general plot points from Seasons One, Two, and Three]
Sons of Anarchy is part of FX's stellar stable of mature serial dramas, although like the good outlaws they are, the Sons push the limits of what you can show, say, and do on basic cable. This gritty gearhead epic is part Shakespearean tragedy and part gangster film, set in the world of criminal "Motorcyle Clubs" (or MCs). Season One established the characters, loyalties, codes, and political struggles of SAMCRO ("Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original") as viewed through the eyes of its young VP, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam, Undeclared). Jax's faith in the club is shaken when he finds a memoir left behind by his deceased father -- a founding member of the MC -- condemning the club's illegal activities. Teller's determination to enact his father's change of plans for the Sons puts him in direct conflict with president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman, Hellboy), his father's best friend, and also Jax's stepfather. Their battle comes to a head in an even stronger second season, which ends with the club unified in the face of several outside threats, including a neo-Nazi businessman, increased ATF heat, and a splinter group of the IRA.
Season Two's explosive finale capped off with Jax's son, Abel, being kidnapped, and his mother, Gemma on the lam for a murder she didn't commit. Season Three begins with the club divided, and in emotional tatters. It's an awkward energy for a series built on machismo and swift violence, and the first few episodes struggle as a result. With the exception of a shocking twist at the end of the season premiere, Sons is left spinning its wheels for nearly four full episodes. As great as Charlie Hunnam is as Jax, even he can't make Teller's brooding interesting. Meanwhile, Gemma (played by series stand-out Katey Sagal) gets stuck in an annoying subplot involving a visit to her ailing father that, besides some minor character development, does little more than keep her on ice until the plot really gets going.
When Season Three hits its stride, though, it comes close to the dramatic heights of the first two seasons. SAMCRO's search for Abel takes them overseas, into the heart of IRA territory in Belfast. Although the shift in location leaves the club divided once again, the main Northern Irish storyline is a blast -- expanding the scope and mythology of the Sons, especially Jax's family connections to the Emerald Isle. In addition to more fine work from Titus Welliver (Lost) as villainous gunrunner Jimmy, the season gets a major boost in the form of James Cosmo (Braveheart) as a Priest/IRA insider who pits himself against Jax in a battle for Abel's future.
The California side of the show also manages to be compelling, giving deserving characters like Tig (Kim Coates, Prison Break), Piney (William Lucking, Erin Brockovich), and Chief Unser (Dayton Callie, Deadwood) time in the spotlight, while setting up mayoral hopeful Jacob Hale (Jeff Kober, China Beach) as the club's new nemesis. There's a little too much melodrama centered around Jax's "old lady" Tara (Maggie Siff, Mad Men) midway through, but unlike the early side-stories, the stakes are high enough to propel the season forward.
Sons of Anarchy is known for killer finales, and Season Three's is no exception. All the plans, secrets, and character arcs come together for an ending that's supremely satisfying, even if things are wrapped up a little too easily. The final run of episodes are so good they more than make up for the lousy opening third of the season -- so good, in fact, that I have no problem recommending Sons of Anarchy: Season Three in spite of its problems. Stick with it and your patience will be rewarded.
This latest season hits DVD with a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer that, unfortunately, doesn't match the quality of the show itself. Outdoor sequences are filled with solid color reproduction and detail -- especially the lush, Northern Irish countryside -- but the visuals go downhill in darker scenes. Muddy textures and noise abound. It's not enough to spoil the experience, but if you have access to the Blu-ray release (which earned praise from DVD Verdict's Judge David Johnson), you should probably get that version instead. The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround mix is strong and well-balanced, leaving room for dialogue while providing plenty of oomph for sound effects and music -- including, for a few episodes, a Celtic version of the show's theme song. Musical montages can be tricky, but Kurt Sutter has found a way to make them a key part of his storytelling process. Songs like Joan Armatrading's "This Charming Life" and covers of Herman's Hermits' "No Milk Today" and Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" set the emotional tone for their episodes, while giving the writers a chance to convey a lot of information simply and effectively. The best combination of music and imagery comes in the episode "Bainne," as Sun Kil Moon's "Alesund" raises the season's most heartbreaking sequence to tearjerker status (you'll know it when you see it, believe me).
The bonus features on Sons of Anarchy: Season Three may not be exhaustive, but there's plenty for fans to dig into:
* Audio Commentaries for "SO" (with Kurt Sutter and the show's writers), "Firinne" (with Sutter, Charlie Hunnam, Katey Segal, Maggie Siff, and Tommy Flanagan), and "NS" (with Sutter, Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Flanagan, Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst, and Dayton Callie). From the writers' semi-serious discussion during the season premiere, to the frat party that breaks out during the finale, the commentaries strike a balance between informational and rowdy fun. I only wish there were more of them.
* "The Future Begins Now" (9:44): Four short scenes that tease what's coming in Season Four.
* "Writer's Roundtable" (18:13): This nuts-and-bolts roundtable features Kurt Sutter and his writing team answering surprisingly thoughtful Twitter questions. They discuss their writing process, going as far back as the beginning of the series.
* "Custom Bike Build" (15:45): To raise money for a charity called the Wounded Warrior Project, Kurt Sutter hired the folks at Illustration Cycles to build a custom Sons of Anarchy-inspired bike. This in-depth piece covers its design and creation in a way that speaks directly to motorcycle enthusiasts, which is probably why I only understood about 15 percent of it.
* "Directing the Finale" with Kurt Sutter (5:32): Sutter makes it a point to direct his show's season finales. In this featurette, he discusses the way he approaches the writing, production, and directing process.
* "NS" Table Read (43:48): Perfect for the superfan who wants yet another way to watch the finale, this full cast table read is presented with the finished video as an insert in the lower right corner of the screen.
* Gag Reel (2:03): Proving that even hardened bikers sometimes flub their lines.
* Deleted Scenes: Nearly half an hour's worth of excised scenes, divided across all four discs.
* "Fox Movie Channel presents the Sons of Anarchy: Season Three World Premiere" (5:13): A red carpet promo for the season, with interviews and clips.
Maybe Season Two's over-the-top finale left things in such disarray that Kurt Sutter had trouble deciding what to do in Season Three. Maybe he wanted to take the show in a new direction. By the time I hit the mid-point of the season, I didn't care. Sons of Anarchy: Season Three stumbles early, but once it finds its footing, it's just as addictive as ever. Sutter may not have created a perfect season of television, but I admire his willingness to risk it all for the sake of his vision for the show. Now that's what I call a rebel.
Not guilty, brother!
Review content copyright © 2011 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 591 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site