It’s taken a while for Sons of Anarchy creator and overseer Kurt Sutter to get the show back on track. Its third season starts with the shocking and ultimately contrived death of a regular cast member; for Sutter, character motivation is secondary in importance to getting a rise out of his audience. Though he’s done an otherwise commendable job of turning his biker-gang protags into flesh-and-blood characters, he often runs Sons of Anarchy the way a carnival barker might. Sutter’s motorcycle-riding barbarian thugs are pretty much what they look like, though they are noticeably more calculating and/or considerate than they initially seem. These bikers do in fact puff out their chests while considering how to chauvinistically protect their women and/or families. The Sons of Anarchy are sideshow attractions that only look human after you’ve spent enough time watching them vigorously screw both their allies and their girlfriends.
Season three operates with that staid understanding of the Sons while finally realigning the show’s focus back to season one’s central question: Is this the life that lead protagonist Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam) wants? Jax spends all of season one poring over his dead father’s journal entries, considering whether the Sons of Anarchy are now what his father originally wanted them to be and finds that they aren’t. The first season ended with the understanding that Jax was getting ready to wrest control of the gang away from his stepfather, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), a close friend of Jax’s now-dead father and the man currently boffing Jax’s mom, Gemma (Katey Sagal). Jax’s need to question Clay’s authority was forgotten in season two and has only been remembered in season three.
Hunnam’s ripped pretty-boy biker only reclaims his role as the thinking man’s Neanderthal on the show after his baby boy Abel is kidnapped. Since family means a lot to the Sons, it makes sense that this abduction makes Jax go from a nigh-catatonic state to a towering rage in a matter of moments during season three’s premiere. According to other concerned members of the club, Jax needs to do something to get his mind right again. Pummeling members of the Mayans, a sometimes-rival and sometimes-friendly biker gang, is apparently that something. The dark place that Jax goes to at the beginning of season three is maddeningly treated like a therapeutic necessary evil. He cheats on Tara (Maggie Siff), but that’s okay because both Tara and the Sons innately understand that Jax is just mindlessly lashing out at the people he loves. There are no repercussions for his whiplash-inducing infidelity because Jax is just an alpha male doing what an alpha male does best: thinking with his dick.
The mistakes that family members make are forgivable in the Sons’ eyes while everyone else’s mistakes aren’t. This is an interesting double standard considering that the show’s main concern was originally Jax’s fear that Clay isn’t only steering the club in the wrong direction but also probably murdered his father. If only Sutter had remembered to retain that kind of tension in season three instead of just making it resurface during the last few moments of the season finale.
Sons of Anarchy‘s third season is ultimately only a bit better than its second season because the most crucial developments to Sutter’s characters and world are all still just peripheral subplots. For example, Tara’s relationship with her concerned hospital boss Margaret (McNally Sagal) is interesting, though it wraps up with the hackneyed revelation that Margaret is interested in Tara’s well-being because she doesn’t want Tara to live the dangerous life that she herself has put behind her. Still, Tara’s mistrust of Margaret is a more thoughtful and convincing evocation of the show’s original preoccupation with choosing your family members based on their politics, not what they do for you on a case-by-case basis.
Similarly, Jax’s deal with the evil and now desperate F.B.I. Agent Stahl (Ally Walker) is the best part of season three. It suggests that the show is finally going to be about something more than just putting down the latest rival gang and/or traitor in the Sons’s midst. In fact, the show may now finally be about deciding what family really means to the Sons. Here’s hoping that Sutter retained the more high-minded parts of season three and downplays everything else when he sketched out the plot for Sons of Anarchy‘s upcoming fourth season.
The video transfer is noticeably interlaced, especially during the show's action where the show's characters are indiscriminately surrounded by halos of shimmering action lines. The soundtrack is solid, though the show's diegetic music is mixed significantly higher than dialogue or background sound effects.
The extended scenes that were shot but never aired for certain episodes are thankfully integrated into each episode so you don't have to watch them separately. You can, however, watch some of them separately if you want, though none of them are essential viewing. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter provides the most entertaining of the featured commentaries. The rest of the supplementary special features, including four clips that use scenes from the last three seasons of the show to give viewers an idea of what will happen in the upcoming fourth season, are inessential.
Sons of Anarchy's third season puts one of FX's most unsung dramas back on track, though the series is still not everything that its promising first season suggested it could be.