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'Sons of Anarchy' season premiere review: 'Dad's gonna kill me'

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As if shaking off a series of body-blows, Sons of Anarchy commenced its new season on Tuesday night with deliberation — in a fugue state, almost.

The story picked up where last season left off. Gemma is in the wind, on the lam from a murder-rap frame-up; she doesn’t even know the crucial fact that Jax’s baby son, Abel, had been kidnapped. That kidnapping is now the primary motivation of the new season. Almost the entire SAMCRO crew has been marshaled to help Jax locate the child. (We saw that the child is safe, but far from Jax, in the possession of Cameron.)

As this week’s hour began, Jax and Clay spent some time trying to figure out where they go from here. Another show might have felt the necessity to start things off with a bang, a big action scene, to remind viewers of SOA‘s roots in a violence that can be thrilling to watch, but show creator Kurt Sutter is more subtle and stubborn than that. He knows that giving the audience what it thinks it wants is sometimes the easy way out, and the audience, as much as the show itself, has to earn its pleasure. Sound like work? Turn the channel, is the implied answer.

Given how upset Jax is, it’s agreed that SAMCRO must put aside other immediate business and concentrate on the danger to the baby. (Oh, how some of us wanted someone in the club to hop a plane to Budapest and plug Adam Arkin’s great, creepy Ethan Zobelle, but alas, it is not to be.) Sons of Anarchy never forgets its title, however — even as he wants to placate and genuinely help Jax, Clay has other problems: The running of the club’s various businesses; the safety of his wife. The anarchy of the life Clay has created for SAMCRO used to mean freedom; now that freedom has become a trap. This tension is what gives the series its underlying power.

Gemma reunited with her father, played by Hal Holbrook. Stricken with an early stage of dementia, Gemma’s dad is both poignant and a handful, a difficult, complicated man -– you can see where Gemma gets her stubborn, independent streak, and Sagal and Holbrook played their scenes together beautifully.

For me, the trickiest — and ultimately, most accomplished — moment of the hour was when Jax told Tara to, in effect, get lost for a while. His impulse to shield her from further danger was understandable, but Tara is the one character whose connection to SAMCRO is the most tenuous, high school sweethearts or not. After all, she’s a surgeon who’s basically sacrificing her career with every week she continues to spend with Jax and the club. She has to have a very strong reason to stay with Jax and with a group of people whom a sensible outsider such as herself must occasionally view with, to put it mildly, great dismay. So for Jax to tell her at this point, “You don’t belong here” — that’s taking a risk by which this relationship will be mightily strained.

I can’t imagine what anyone coming upon SOA for the first time might make of the series’ complex hierarchies of social system and moral priorities. Committing to Sons of Anarchy is like undergoing a hazing and coming through it a true believer. I’m believing, feeling, the show — I just hope it can maintain the headlong narrative momentum it had last season, even as it scatters some of its crucial characters into the wind.

Did you watch the season premiere of Sons of Anarchy? What did you think?

Follow: @kentucker

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