Note: Full spoilers for the Sons of Anarchy: Season 5 premiere follow.
Sons of Anarchy returned with its usual complex storylines and characters intact, introduced new twists and turns, and added intriguing new recurring cast members in Jimmy Smits (Dexter) and Harold Perrineau (Lost). As SAMRCO’s reigning President, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) had to deal with threats on various fronts, from the business side of things to the personal. So, in other words, just a typical day for SAMCRO.
There was plenty of plot to go around between the deal with the cartel, Roosevelt still snooping around, the battle with the Niners, home invasions in Charming and the new danger from revenge-seeking Damon Pope. Add to that all the interpersonal drama after the fallout from the power shakeup in the last season, and you’ve got a packed episode that didn’t have any trouble filling up the extra time it had for the season premier. The confrontational scenes – Jax and Opie, Gemma and Tara, Roosevelt and Juice, to name a few – were given enough time to help us keep the various threads in mind, and none bogged down the episode’s momentum.
After the events of last season, Clay (Ron Perlman) appeared to be a broken man, both physically and emotionally. But if you thought that losing his position of power would make Clay less dangerous, that was a mistake. Using a trick I wouldn’t have guessed Clay had in his arsenal, he played a version of the sympathy card. Feeding the club partial truths, he managed to spill enough facts to potentially be let off several hooks. That all of this happened under Jax’s disbelieving glare from the other side of the table made for a great scene. It will be interesting to see what happens next between these two perpetually sparring opponents.
With an introductory scene that was memorable, to say the least, Smits joined the cast as Nero Padilla, who humorously described himself as a “companionator,” rather than the more mundane term of pimp. So far, Smits was a breath of fresh air, with his smooth talk and immediate affection for Gemma. And it was somewhat amusing that on this show the pimp character was the one portrayed as carefree and (comparatively) above-the-law.
Gemma’s state of mind was troubling, especially seeing the tough former queen of the club so confused about how she ended up at Nero’s. Gemma’s behavior was paralleled nicely with Tara’s situation. Tara may appear to be dealing with things, but the quick shot of her at the end of the episode contradicted that. Both Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff continued their excellent performances of two strong women navigating the tricky waters of SAMCRO, trying to control their situations the best they can, while things continued to unravel for both of them.
With a less flashy intro than Smits, Perrineau also made his first appearance count as Damon Pope, father of the girl Tig killed last season. Pope’s quietly powerful demeanor was convincingly menacing, even before he set in motion the object lesson for Jax and SAMCRO where the new head of the Niners was murdered in front of them. His ruthlessness combined with his desire to appear to be an upstanding member of the community was a bit reminiscent of Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring, one of the more frightening villains TV has given us recently. If there was any question that Pope is a force to be reckoned with this season, the horrific scene with Tig and his daughter should put that to rest.
With all the above in play this season, I almost laughed out loud at Tara’s exasperated, “Now what?” when the phone call came in that the police were looking to arrest Jax, Chibs and Tig. She should know by now that there is always going to be something going terribly wrong with this group of guys. If previous seasons are any indication, the mess SAMCRO is in so far is just the tip of the iceberg.
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