Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bird on the Wire

Last night's fourth episode of the third season of Sons of Anarchy is the first one I have been able to watch during its original broadcast.  Sons is a show that I only got into this summer on DVD, and I am finally all caught up.  It's hard to say what exactly drew me to this show.  I love the moral relativism of how the characters have to juggle their code of doing right by their families with the often gruesome criminal lifestyle they lead.  Without glamorizing the difficult situations the characters get into, the show somehow conveys the sex appeal of these hairy guys on Harleys in baggy jeans and leather vests.  And a frequently naked Charlie Hunnam doesn't hurt:

(Even if they do give him terrible hair/beard on this show.)
Each season so far has done a great job of building up to a convergence of storylines resulting in spectacular season-bridging arcs, and last night's episode, "Home," was a wonderful example of that same overlapping happening in one episode alone.  If you don't follow the show, a recap won't do you any good, but what last night's episode gave us was one of the show's greatest assets: a shattering performance by Katey Sagal.

Everyone knows that Sagal's been consistently delivering her talent for the past quarter-century, in drama but also mostly in comic roles on Married...With Children and Futurama.  She's also a beautiful singer, and last night's episode closed with a cover of Loenard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire," just one of the songs she's contributed to the show's soundtrack.  Anyone looking for a good example of a strong female character on television need look no further than Gemma Teller Morrow, and "Home" could be her submission for Emmy consideration this year.

Perhaps because Sagal's husband is the showrunner and creator, Kurt Sutter, she is given a lot of great material to work with, but the growing character of Dr. Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff), the antagonist ATF Agent Stahl (Ally Walker), and a handful of interesting supporting characters, shows that this extremely masculine show is not afraid of strong female characters willing to pass the Bechdel Test in every episode.

Gemma has had compelling scenes and story arcs over the past two seasons, but it was the nonstop agony that she went through in last night's episode that left me crying more than once.  She is vulnerable, as a daughter, a wife, a mother, and a grandmother.  She also draws strength from her family, not only the men in her life, but the motorcycle club that she is just as much a part of as her husband and son.  Her relationship with Tara has transformed from butting heads to a motherly mentor situation, and is one of the best female friendships on TV right now.

I'll admit that my only other exposure to guest star Hal Holbrook was in his Oscar-nominated performance in Into the Wild, but his performance as Gemma's Alzheimer's-stricken father has been so heartbreaking that I broke down when she did.  While her collapse at the end of the episode had been clearly telegrammed, Sagal's performance better captured the grief of this show than any of Jax's (Hunnam) physical outbursts.

Some of the gang politics storylines have been moving a bit slow lately, but I could watch the interpersonal relationships on this show all day and not get bored.  If you haven't yet seen it, and you're looking for a show to catch on DVD, Sons of Anarchy is the one.

Sons of Anarchy, Tuesdays at 10pm on FX

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