As I noted yesterday, Sons of Anarchy returned last night for its third season, and by the end of the episode, I was already desperate for next week’s installment. The first episode of season two ended with Gemma’s rape, an act which spurred much of the action in the rest of the season and immediately jolted the viewer into emotional investment. Kurt Sutter clearly has a taste for kicking things off with a bang, because the end of “So” performed a similarly impressive feat of emotional heightening. After the long, slow burn of Jax’s nearly affect-less despair throughout the episode, the sight of him turning berserk in front of the entire SoA and the Charming police force was enough to make you gasp. It would have been a sufficient gesture for the episode’s end, but then capping everything off with the image of Hale’s brains spattered across the road – and it’s obvious that the props and makeup people did everything in their power to telegraph that Hale is absolutely, thoroughly dead – felt like the final knife twist I didn’t realize I was anticipating.
It was a strong episode all around, but particular praise has to go to Charlie Hunnam and Maggie Siff, who both completely sold their grief and fury at Abel’s kidnapping. Jax makes the journey from comatose on his son’s nursery floor all the way to enraged Angel of Vengeance in just under an hour, and it was mesmerizing. The episode built several emotional marker points along the way – Jax gripping his son’s blue SoA hat, the moment when Jax’s grief actually diffuses a nascent gang war, his alienation from and then return to Tara – and they were all accompanied by some really lovely cinematography that movingly conveyed his increasing isolation from the club. There were so many great shots of Jax alone, but the classic for this episode has to be Jax slumped in front of his father’s tombstone, with the first of his “SO” “NS” pair of rings perched in focus behind him. It’s an elegant little bit of familial patterning. A dead father who fell apart when he lost his son, the remaining son now on the verge of collapse after his own son is kidnapped, all three of them damaged by their association with the Sons; a pair of rings that together spell SONS, but the first one by itself only spells the empty, rudderless word “So,” which is also, of course, the episode’s title.
My only complaint about the setup for season three is that much as I love Gemma and Hal Holbrook playing out Gemma’s own familial drama (and of course, it makes so much sense that Gemma’s father would be a minister), I worry that she’ll be absent from the club for too long. All of these sons and fathers are much better, more balanced, more interesting people in the presence of their mothers and daughters, and Gemma’s too crucial to the show’s balance to be missing the action. On the other hand, Gemma’s grandson has been kidnapped and no one told her? I am almost looking forward to the rage that will no doubt rain down from the heavens. Please let it be sooner rather than later.