"Sons of Anarchy" gets back to basics in season four

Sons of Anarchy has ridden the combination of bikes, babes and bad-assery to become a favorite of both critics and fans. Entering its fourth season, it looks to get back to basics after a season-long arc that took the California outlaws all the way to Belfast.

It’s an approach that should do the show some good. The fourth season, despite a few impressive sequences, got bogged down in True IRA politics and a convoluted investigation headed by a corrupt sociopath. Left behind was the rich internal drama about the true path of SAMCRO.

When Sons of Anarchy began, it was best described as Hamlet on motorcycles. Jax’s personal struggle with the club’s methods, and therefore with his stepfather Clay, has always served as the show’s dramatic undercurrent. There was no higher point of tension than at the end of the first season, as Jax held both the truth of Donna’s murder and the message of his father’s manuscript in his hands. By the second season, Jax was ready to go nomad, until the truth of Gemma’s assault was revealed, uniting the club against a common enemy. Last season, his single-minded pursuit of Abel was another factor in the club’s coalescence. Now, as the gang finishes their 14-month stretch in the clink, Jax once again returns his focus to his family’s future, especially with a new baby in tow.

In the season premiere, Jax lays out his too-good-to-be-true plan during a predictable yet awkward proposal to Tara (“we should get married” isn’t quite “will you marry me?”). He’ll bide his time, save his money, and wait for Clay’s hands to finally give out, taking Tara, Abel and Thomas far away from the crime and destruction of the Sons. His prison time gave him new clarity on his father, as well. While he knows JT father was right about the club, and about how far it has strayed from its original purpose, he also sees his father as a coward: a man who ran off to Belfast rather than saving his children from the life he chose. Jax is determined not to make the same mistake, setting up an inevitable confrontation with Clay and Gemma.

As for the club, they quickly get back into gun-running in a major way, solidifying some alliances and destroying others. Charming law enforcement has a new face in Sheriff Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar, last seen on Terriers), and there is a strange AUSA in town, Linc Potter (Ray McKinnon), who has his sights set on a major RICO case against the Sons. In a perfect bit of casting, Danny Trejo will appear as a former Mexican military commando, hopefully with shades of Machete. For fans of The Shield, David Rees Snell (formerly Strike Team member Ronnie) and Benito Martinez (formerly David Aceveda) will make appearances as well.

Sons of Anarchy is an over-the-top cocktail of testosterone and adrenaline, and that shouldn’t change this season. But the show can be true to its character without the overwrought story lines that culminated in season three. Season four looks to right the ship and get back to the “sins of fathers” theme that has served it so well in the past. Whatever is in store for SAMCRO, it promises to be one helluva ride.

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