Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sons of Anarchy Season 4 Review

Before you check out my review, I suggest you go read this in-depth interview Kurt Sutter did with Alan Sepinwall  

Why are fans (including myself) so frustrated with this show after 4 seasons?

[Spoilers for Sons of Anarchy Season 4 ahead]

Sons of Anarchy is a very unique show, which is quite pleasant for a television business that is content to churn out exact replicas of the same successes and failures year in and year out.  It is the most popular Drama on the FX network, but unlike a typical channel flag bearer (**fake cough** DEXTER), this show is not content at all with being the exact show episode to episode, or season to season.  The show does not try to maintain financial success by being creatively repetitive (lazy).  The show is bold in the stories it tells, and how it portrays the "heroes."  The show's creator has acknowledged publicly over and over again that he does not see the show going past seven seasons (if it even gets there).  The show clearly has a vision and is clearly made by passionate people.  As the reward for that boldness, Sons of Anarchy has a passionate fan base with high expectations of the show.

Thus, when you have a passionate fan base, the fans become extremely invested in the outcomes of the characters of the show and the general feeling of the "quality" of the show.  So, when a show sets in motion a series of conflicts at the beginning of the season, the same passionate fans desire a pay off to the conflict by season's end.  Sure, some storylines will be series long or progress over the course of multiple seasons.  But generally, with only 13 hours of programming a year (FX, AMC, HBO, etc are the only networks that seem committed to serialized programming and most the shows have around 13 hours per season), it is often best to wrap up the major conflicts introduced in a season by the season finale.  Not that it's fair to compare any show to The Wire (the greatest television show ever), but it pretty much set the standard for how to balance the satisfaction from completing season long storylines, while maintaining interest and investment in the series long storylines.  This should be the goal for every serialized shows, and Sons of Anarchy clearly desires to achieve that.

What were those two paragraphs building to?  When a show spends 12 episodes specifically building to the confrontation between Jax and Clay, where Jax will need to make the choice as to whether or not to kill his father-in-law, the show should absolutely have Jax make a choice.

When a show spends 12 episodes specifically to Jax deciding whether or not he should stay or leave his poisonous club, the show should absolutely have Jax make a choice.

That is what the viewers watch the show for.  To not only be entertained, but to get invested in the choices the characters they love make hard choices.  But Sons of Anarchy took away Jax's choice.  Instead, less then 10 minutes into the last hour of season 4, the show reveals that that the heads of the Mexican Cartel (Danny Trejo and Benito Martinez) are undercover CIA agents (or drug dealers working for CIA, the show wasn't 100% clear from what I saw), and they are now forcing Jax to keep Clay alive (for even more contrived reasons) and forcing Jax to stay in town.  The main protagonist lost his agency at the expense of contrived plotting, and that is incredibly frustrating to viewers.  Maybe to fans who one day watch all seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy at once on DVD will not be frustrated by this decision.  But the passionate die hard fans who have kept this show on the air are the ones watching it one season a year, and that is why they (myself included) are frustrated.

Episode Rating: 5/10
Season Rating: 7.5/10

Other Thoughts on the Season and Season Finale:

- As my season rating should suggest, I still feel that this season was a very good 14 episodes of entertainment.  There were a lot of great moments and the show's strongest (or at least most consistent) element, the acting, was outstanding at different points.

- So, the Juice storyline ended up being a real dud.  I'm glad Theo Rossi finally got an arc, four seasons into the show, but this pretty much was a waste of time otherwise.

- Pleading ignorance in advanced, but would Bobby really have access to a guitar in lockup?

- Kurt Sutter was tremendous as Otto this year, and I was hoping that we would get more of him here, but I guess his execution will be held off until season five.

- Ryan Hurst has been very underutilized in the last two seasons, but I am definitely looking forward to whatever is in store for his character for the rest of the series.

- This episode left such a sour taste in my mouth, that I am already apathetic to the concept of the new "Big Bad" for next season.  Fan speculation on who will be cast is already running rampant.  I will abstain.

- If the show didn't feel so contrived in so many ways in how it got to that final moment, I would probably be more excited for the possibilities for the clubhouse rearrangements.

- I hate how the show expects us to perfectly understand so many of the basic MC elements, like the meaning of the different patches, seating arrangement, etc.  Downloading an app should not be expected to understand something on a TV show.

- Finally, just to agree with everyone else in the world, that twist with the Cartel is actually the CIA was one of the laziest things I have ever seen.  It was made all the worse that the twist ended up being the thing that removed all the agency from the main protagonist.

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