FX’s dark and dirty drama about renegade Motorcycle Club The Sons of Anarchy roared back onto UK screens this February, and if the opening episodes of Season Five are anything to go by, the end is nigh for Charming town. After four seasons in the back seat, season five sees Jax finally taking the gavel as President of SAMCRO – no small task given the chaos upon which season four closed. The threat of mutiny hangs heavy in the air as truths and half truths about Clay’s murder of fellow member, Piney, continue to fester, and internal tensions are only exacerbated by the club’s imbroglio with the sinister Damon Pope, and rival gang the One-Niners. If Season Four was (as series creator Kurt Sutter has suggested) act two for the club, then Season Five marks the beginning of its third and final phase, and the threat of imminent destruction is one that simmers ominously throughout these opening episodes.
Things begin innocently enough: Jax muses, as ever, on his tempestuous relationship with the club, but his comments about holding onto “the simple moments…there aren’t many of them left” seem bleakly prophetic, and sure enough, the Sons are locked into a fatal shootout within moments. It’s a violent start to an episode which, even by Sons standards, is particularly brutal, and while this kind of intense, adrenalised action undoubtedly makes for compelling viewing, one can’t help but wonder if the Sons of Anarchy have got a little lost. Recent series have tended to forego the sense of camaraderie and brotherhood that made SAMCRO such an appealing prospect – not only for its members, but for audiences, too – replacing it instead with increasingly convoluted storylines that have seen the club disintegrate as the body count accumulates. It’s a dramatic formula that is beginning to drag as the show rumbles on, and as Jax continues to spout the same lines about “saving” SAMCRO, one finds oneself doubting whether there is, after all, that much worth saving.
This, though, is a criticism that is quickly dispatched with the introduction of the Sons’ new nemesis, Damon Pope, a supervillain on the offensive after the accidental murder of his daughter. Bent on bloody revenge and smart enough to get it, Pope is a baddie after the old school, and the queasy pragmatism with which he dispatches and ordains the new leader(s) of the One-Niners is provocatively juxtaposed against the Sons’ democratic voting in of new members, making SAMCRO seem idyllic by comparison. Paradise it ain’t, though, and the drama comes thick and fast in these early episodes. The season premiere comes to an extremely sickening climax in a scene which packs real emotional punch, as Pope exacts vengeance on Tig – though it relies more on sheer horror for pathos than Kim Coates’s slightly too understated performance. Elsewhere, Tara and Gemma continue to lock horns, and it’s nice to see Tara developing into a more dynamic character as she takes on the club matriarch. The conflict, then, doesn’t seem likely to let up, but as long as the temptation to resolve all with ‘get out of jail free’ reprieves from the CIA – as has been the case in earlier seasons – is avoided, it could make for some genuinely interesting drama, and a strong fifth season for The Sons of Anarchy.