I really, really wanted to write another glowing review of last night's Sons of Anarchy episode. The first three episodes of the season were so stellar, my hopes had gotten up too high, I think. And so, I set myself up for last night's disappointment.
Don't get me wrong--episode 4 wasn't bad, it just wasn't as good as the previous ones. The pacing that I've been enjoying so much just wasn't there. I think because the bulk of the episode took place with the Sons in one location (Arizona) and the supporters (Gemma, Tara, etc.) in another, it reminded me of last year's Ireland split, which was difficult to pace. For some reason, part of the strength of the show is how it mostly takes place in Charming. It seems always to lose a bit when there is a location change.
The episode's major thematic arc, using the SAMTAZ club and their decision to sell drugs and the events surrounding it as a way to highlight the danger zone SAMCRO is in, didn't really work for me, and I still can't quite figure out why. It could be that it was all just done a bit too neatly. It could be that SAMTAZ are brand new characters, never heard of before, and I couldn't make myself care about their Club dynamics at all. Either way, it felt a little bit forced, and not feeling forced is one of the things I generally really love about the show.
There were, however, a few things I liked a lot about last night's episode. One was the cinematography of the road shots--the way the light was filtered, the camera angles, everything was just beautifully shot. This isn't something I typically notice, as I'm very wrapped up in character and story and less in tune to how things look, but I noticed it several times last night.
Another thing that impressed me was Piney. I don't think that William Lucking has often been used to his full potential in the show, and he is beginning to be in this story line. To have him be the one who pushes Tara to expose the letters, or pushes Jax back against Clay, fascinates me. It's one of the things I am most looking forward to seeing play out this season.
I also really enjoyed the interaction between Gemma and the new police chief's wife, Rita. Once again, I was struck by the balance between truth (Gemma does, I think, really care about saving the park in Charming) and manipulation. I've been hearing some murmurs of displeasure at seeing the "softer" side of Gemma this season, but so far it works for me--I think the mix between real feeling and power struggle in Gemma is part of what makes her so great as a character, and being able to convey it so clearly is part of what makes Katey Sagal so impressive in the role.
I'm still on the fence about the story arc concerning Juice's race. Once again, other members of the Club (this time SAMTAZ's president, Armando, played by Lobo Sebastian) give a pretty strong impression of being mixed race. How does that jive with Juice being so worried about SAMCRO finding out his father is Black? I'm not writing it off completely yet, but it still seems pretty strange. I'm curious and a bit concerned about how it's going to play out.
Finally, I have to say a word about Tara. She's...growing on me. I still think she and Jax have the worst chemistry in the world, but I liked her scenes with Piney a lot. I am beginning to wonder, if it all comes down to it, if Tara really wants out of the life. Even if she won't admit it, she seems to be increasingly comfortable with it, and I wonder if that's going to factor in to whatever big club-splitting drama is coming down the pike.