The FX network continues to be the network of the post-western, contemporary tales that evoke the classic stories of the Old West in modern settings. Sometimes those settings are the contemporary West, or, like the series Justified, even in Kentucky. The third season of Sons of Anarchy, which aired last night, is another contemporary western, set as it is in California. At times, the plots are so close to classic westerns that you could substitute the Sons motorcycles for horses and have a traditional oater.
Last season focused on a rape and revenge story (an extended version of Haddie Caulder, perhaps). This season takes another classic western topic–captivity–as its central story. The infant son of lead character Jax has been kidnapped–and, well, let The Searchers begin!
As the season begins, Gemma, wife of Clay (leader of the SAMCRO gang), is on the lam, in part as a result of her revenge against the members of the rival gang that raped her, and, in part, because of the machinations of my favorite federal agent, Agent Stahl (wonderfully portrayed by Ally Walker). Jax, in despair over the disappearance of his son, is a wreck. He’s spending a lot of time in this episode hanging around in a graveyard.
(On a side note, blogging as I’m watching the episode, Sons of Anarchy seems to be jointly sponsored by Harley Davidson motorcycles and Subway sandwich shops, an interesting combination to say the least).
Searching for clues to the whereabouts of the man who kidnapped Abel, the SAMCRO boys end up in a pretty good motorcycles and car chase. These chase scenes, which occur with some frequency in the series, remind me in style of the classic western outlaws on horseback robbing a stagecoach scenes.
Jax notes that he’s having trouble finding a balance between his allegiance to the club and his responsibility to his family. Maybe one key difference between the outlaw of the classic western and the contemporary western outlaw is that the contemporary outlaw has family issues to work through. Butch and Sundance never had to worry about having a son kidnapped—not to mention dealing with the kind of issues that Jax has with his father (deceased), his mother (Gemma), and his step-father Clay.
Ally Walker’s Agent Stahl is back! She does a great job of leaning menacingly against a wall during an interrogation. Stahl is part of the reason Gemma is on the run. Stahl may have a “black heart” as Clay tells her, but she’s my favorite part of the show.
The best part of this episode: Hal Holbrook’s cameo as Gemma’s father, barely a minute on screen, but very moving, both in his emotional response to seeing his daughter (who he doesn’t recognize at first) and in his then calling for his wife (who’s been dead for six months) to come see her daughter. And, in a nice western allusion, we see father and daughter watching a black and white western on television (looks to involve some version of the shootout at the OK Corral—and not to give away too much about the end of the episode, but one might call that clip a bit of foreshadowing).
From this point on, SPOILERS FOLLOW, so proceed with caution:
Thinking back to the end of “So,” it was a very effective conclusion to the episode, which erupted into the burst of violence that seemed just beneath the surface of much of the episode. The choice of Richard Thompson’s “Dad’s Gonna Kill Me” as the background music was also inspired, as the choice resonates in multiple ways in the final scenes. The “Dad” of Thompson’s song is ‘Dad, short for Baghdad, and the “I” of the song is a soldier during the war in Iraq, lamenting the various dangers he is facing (Baghdad’s gonna kill me). The violence that erupts at Epps’s funeral, a drive-by shooting, combined with the song, suggests that Charming, California, has become a war zone, one where combatants and non-combatants alike are endangered, where a child can be caught in the crossfire. Also, by the coffin, we see a photograph of the “prospect” (Epps, who has been throughout the series a prospective SAMCRO member) who has been killed, and the photo shows him in military garb. ‘Dad didn’t kill him. He survived the war in Iraq, but he couldn’t survive his association with SAMCRO.
And the repeated refrain “Dad’s gonna kill me” might just as well be about Dad as Baghdad, as we’re left to wonder whether Abel’s dad Jax is ultimately going to get him killed. And step-dad Clay’s advice to Jax at the coffin may very well get him killed as well. The main characters in Sons of Anarchy all have their Daddy issues to work through, and the saving grace may be as Gemma states to “hold on to family,” but family is also what’s most likely to get them killed.
See Motorcycle Westerns for an earlier post on Sons of Anarchy.