Sons of Anarchy's Season 5 Premiere: Regime Change

By Tim Surette

Sep 12, 2012

Sons of Anarchy S05E01: "Sovereign"

After Season 1 of Sons of Anarchy laid out the backbone of the series in its debut, subsequent season premieres found themselves defined by specific moments. The gang rape of Gemma in Season 2 still stands out as some of the most brutal television I've watched. Season 3's opener took its time before a van full of trigger-happy thugs unloaded on Half Sack's wake and Jax made some dude taste pavement. Last season, a joyous wedding was capped by a shower of bullets in lieu of throwing rice, because that's the kind of stuff that happens at a biker wedding.

There's a common thread to a Sons premiere, and it's marked with considerable violence after many minutes of stage-setting, refamiliarizing the audience with the life of SAMCRO, and attempting to iron out the show's incredibly complex storylines. Tonight's "Sovereign" sticks very close to that model, which is a comforting feeling for longtime fans even if it doesn't offer anything terribly new except for new ways to show people suffering. Yes, an innocent woman being burned alive in a pit full of corpses was comforting. Sons of Anarchy is back, baby!

But before we get to that good stuff we need to look at what happened before. It's now more evident than ever that the Season 4 finale was just as interested in setting things up for Season 5 as it was with closing up Season 4. This year's bad guy* appears to be Damon Pope, played by that guy (Harold Perrineau) whose Lost dialogue was 75-percent "Waaaaaaalt!" The advantage of essentially starting this storyline last season is that we can get right down to the business of burning an innocent woman alive in a pit full of corpses. The disadvantage, well, the Season 4 finale was definitely the lowlight of an otherwise stellar season of Sons of Anarchy.

(* "bad guy" is obviously relative in this series, but if you've made it to Season 5 then you are probably more or less okay with SAMCRO's less-than-legal extracurriculars.)

So it wasn't long before we got an idea of how this Pope fella operates. The way this guy runs things, he makes the other Pope look like a prankster. It was his daughter that was manslaughtered by Tig in what can only be described as a rage-fueled-but-brain-absent decision in last season's finale, and Pope's not going to let that slide. He went after SAMCRO and cleaned up his own staff in the process, murdering Leroy (Tig's intended target) by chopping him into pieces, shooting his lieutenant Darnell in the head pretty much just to send a message (he went to the Gus Fring school of thuggery, apparently), and pouring gasoline on Tig's daughter Dawn (does that mean no more Rachel Miner?) for the aforementioned human BBQ. (If you want to get technical about it, it was actually Pope's right-hand man August Marks that did most of the killing under orders from Pope so Pope can keep his hands clean.)

But aside from his horrible actions, does Pope really give us the bad guy we want in this season? There's no doubt he's dangerous and his crew is a formidable opponent, but Pope himself lacks the charisma of past Sons of Anarchy villains. Lincoln Potter was fascinating because he was a chocolate-milk-drinking weirdo, Ethan Zobelle had the whole super-smart white-power thing going on, but Pope, apart from a penchant for human flambé, seems pretty run of the mill by baddie standards and will need to build a legacy of hatred through vicious actions instead of interesting character quirks and a commanding presence. Pope doesn't seem like a hardcore gangster yet to me, he seems like an actor playing a hardcore gangster. It's not a good start for Pope when I'm more scared of his buddy August than I am of him.

That will likely change when Pope finds out what Tig did. Instead of going quietly off to jail, Tig strangled an Oakland detective on Pope's payroll and killed the cleaner that was there to scrape Dawn off the sides of the pit. This is Tig at his unhinged best. Love this guy, and love Kim Coates' performance through that whole scene.

Elsewhere, the club is in shambles as Jax deals with all sorts of fallout and desperately tries to Scotch tape SAMCRO together. Clay, or the ghost of Clay, is haunting the headquarters looking more like a monster than the ferocious villain he was last season. It's satisfying that he's become the new Piney, burdened with tubes in his nose and unable to ride with the kids, but the guy still deserves a million papercuts and a lemon juice bath. I applaud the effort to repair his broken image, especially his confession at the table and his attempts to talk to Gemma, but after what he did last season, he's beyond repair in my eyes even though I had to reprimand myself for feeling sympathy for him for a millisecond there. He doesn't seem like a threat to Jax at the moment, and I think that makes him especially dangerous. His balls may be cut off, but his claws aren't.

Gemma, meanwhile, was a broken woman from Clay's dickishness and was spiraling down into a world of Jack Daniels for breakfast and drunken sex with strangers for fourth meal. But she still has a long ways to fall because she's holding the biggest secret (her involvement in JT's murder) now that the truth is out about Clay. And if I were her, I wouldn't feel too confident that Clay is holding that secret with her.

There's definitely a feeling of regime change here, with Clay and Gemma shells of their former selves and Jax and Tara doing everything but pose for a photograph in the shape of young Clay and Gemma (like they did at the end of Season 4). Clay's grip on power is non-existent, and Gemma, once a perfect example of strength, is at the weakest point we've ever seen her. It's obvious she and Tara are going to scratch each others' eyes out at some point this season, but the question will be how Clay finds his way back into the swing of things, because there is no way he can be done.

And what of Opie? The gentle giant said he's done with the club, even putting a "For Sale" sign on his Piney's bike. Ouch. But the real dagger came when he told Jax "I'm more afraid I'm going to turn into you." Double ouch! And you know what? He's right. Though Jax had the best for the club in mind, it wasn't the best for his BFF Opie. With Clay, the man who murdered Piney, still at the table because Jax needs him there to keep the CIA partnership going, there's no room for Opie.

It's a good start to Season 5 as the tenuous game of Jenga started at the end of Season 4 continues in Season 5 with all new levels built on top. But everything is one sneeze away from falling down, and when it does come down, it's Jax who is going to get crushed underneath.


– What is up with the new SAMCRO members from Nomad? We were led to believe that they busted into Wayne's apartment at the end there and roughed him up, but why? Is Clay orchestrating something we don't know about and ordered them to beat the crap out of Wayne? Who else would want Wayne beat up?

– I imagine the conversation between Jimmy Smits and Kurt Sutter about casting Smits as Nero Padilla went something like this... Kurt: "Well, when we first see Padilla, he's banging Gemma from behind in a sea of naked escorts, drugs, and booze, and— " Smits: "I'll take it!"

– I'm a big fan of Nero so far ("I'm a companionator. I bring folks together, I'm all about the love."), which obviously means he's going to end up being a huge pain in the ass.

– I'm really glad the CIA storyline wasn't that prominent in the premiere. I'm okay with it being used as a way to keep Clay alive and in the picture, but the more it stays in the background, the better.

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  • bothcats Sep 21, 2012

    Also, some great writing in this episode... the scene where the sheriff is talking to the guys right before Bobby returns and Happy makes the comment "angry pirates" really made me laugh!

  • bothcats Sep 21, 2012

    * The Gus Fring school of thuggery- AWESOME reference and FANTASTIC review Tim!

    I was stoked when I saw Rachel Miner's name come across the screen... and then they killed her off. Disappointed.

    -I also am not so impressed with Pope as the new bad guy this season, the villains of previous season were much more interesting. This guy reminds me of the Leviathans from last season's Supernatural... they may have looked good on paper, but they don't translate that well on screen. I'll give Pope the benefit of the doubt though, seeing as this is only episode one.

    -Tig's performance towards the end was gut wrenching and I REALLY felt for his character... well done Kim Coates!

    -So far, I'm a very big fan of Nero, and besides the 'companionator' line I also really dug :

    Gemma: "Thanks for not being a dick."

    Nero: "My life's ambition."

    This was an excellent premiere and I cannot wait to see what happens this season

  • MightyMad Sep 17, 2012

    Couple of things...

    -Yep, Rachel Miner's done - you just cannot come back from going darker than Tanning Mom. So, unless her sister turns out to be her twin or something... later, Miner.

    - Dawn's death is actually on Pope's hands - he threw that cigar in the pit, didn't he?

    - So far, I do not see Pope as truly villainous, since I completely see where he's coming from. Even if you back SAMCRO in this feud (which I myself do), it's not hard at all to understand the reasons behind any of his actions thus far: he senselessly lost his daughter and the criminals responsible for her demise, criminals he doesn't want to be associate with in any form, now are starting to harass him... So now, he wants to destroy them. I've heard of worse reasons to start a vendetta.

    - I do not, however, underestimate, like you did, Tim, how formidable a foe Pope truly is. Yes, right now he doesn't seem as badass as Zobelle, who came in Charming as a dick and left as a dick, or as Potter, who sees everybody as chess-pieces easily dispensable. He's not at all like those guys, both mentality, financially and connection-wise. You're wrong, Surette, when you compare Pope to Gus Fring. I my book, he's way more like a Michael-Corleone-level Don - so cool, he's actually cold-as-ice, and willing to sacrifice pretty much any human life to get his way. Sounds like a pretty awesome character to me.

    - Another interesting thing about Pope: he got zero satisfaction out of burning Dawn alive. None. Re-watch the scene - he actually look kinda piss that he had to do this. But it HAD to be done, so he did it. Yet, when it was done, he just move on to his next task: to give popsicles to kids. If someone told me he didn't cry at all when he learned his daughter got killed, I would completely believe it. Can't wait to see more of him this season.

    - Jimmy Smith's intro to the show is banging Katey Sagal, and their next scene involved Smith's real-life wife, Wanda de Jesus, showing up to pick up the girls Gemma was 'playing' with... and all this was written by Kurt Sutter. Weird...

    - Another super-weird thing: Chuck Zito is in the show now!? So all you have to do to get a role in "SoA" is sue the show with bogus allegations, and Sutter will write you a part!?!? LMFAO... There's just no lawsuit in Hollywood that cannot be settle with a role in a good show!

    - Kinda sad to see Tara and Gemma on the outs again - I really enjoyed their weird mother/daughter/frenemy/clone relationship. Seeing them going back to be all catty with each other again, yeah, I get where that comes from, but just not down with that. Kiss and make up alright, ladies.

    - Will Thomas ever grow up? He's been a baby for a while now - more than time to make him an actual toddler...

    - Opie's coming back, that's a certainty, so, when he does, it better be for one hell of a badass reason, something in the ballpark of: "if Ope doesn't help us out here, the whole club is DEAD." Hell, I'm even done with a Opie-centric episode following him outside SAMCRO. The man's such a great character, he can do no wrong in my book. I just wish Sutter would use him more, but I trust he got a great arc for him this season.

    - Will Tig just go completely RENEGADE an d start killing every black folks in a suit he sees in Oakland? Dont laugh - you know he's crazy enough to do just that...

    "SoA"'s back indeed. Yes, watching a girl going completely KFC does kinda feel like going home...

  • bkyle2429 Sep 16, 2012

    Brutal episode just brutal, IMO their is more to Nero, other than a escort service, I do believe Clay is up to something Clay would not be Clay if just rolled over!!! and what was Tig thinking going alone bring back up Tig, I also think the Sheriff (Rock Dunbar drawing a blank on char name) knows something is up!! my conclusion I would tell Tera to take her boys and get out of Charming because the Sons and Charming may not survive

  • D-DawgMan1 Sep 15, 2012

    Definitely one of the best reviews I have read on the show thus far. I definitely respect all of the points made. I think that the show is trying to prove something with Pope, though: Nice time is over. The only funny moment in the premiere was Happy's comment about "Angry pirates blowing up SAMCRO's truck." Things were not as heated when Zobelle was in the picture so they could make him into a charismatic sort of person. Damon Pope comes with the new setting of Sons of Anarchy. Play time is over, and things are going to be shaky from this point forward. Anyone can get hurt, secrets could come out at any time, and things are probably going to get more dangerous, deadly, and diabolical for the rest of the season. Pope is further setting that theme by being cold and calculating. Emotion is not in his realm. And the fact that he seems to have built such a loyal group that will kill anyone on his order shows how much of a threat he is and lets us know that SAMCRO is in for a lot of trouble this season.

  • Shreela Sep 14, 2012

    Even though you think Pope isn't as charismatic as past villains, I find him quite scary because he's opposite of what we'd expect: Business dress, soft spoken, appears pretty educated, then he offs and dismembers his gang leader, offs the next gang leader, burns Tig's daughter, all while maintaining his gentlemanly persona. Gus Fring, but so much worse, and all that in just one show!

    Jax trying to be diplomatic and cunning is driving me crazy! I can't wait to see Clays reaction when he learns of Gemma and Nero, especially now that he's just a husk of his former self.

  • XGalt Sep 14, 2012

    I had the same feeling about Pope. I got the vibe that he's more a cerebral "villain" than past foes of the Sons. He's coming at them head on, sideways, and from behind. At the end when he burns Tig's kid it was just the kind of cold blooded vengeance I'd expect from a guy at the top of his game showing he's not some dime school thug we've seen the Sons take on before.

  • efonsecajr Sep 14, 2012

    Ron Pearlman deserves an Emmy.

    This fixed what was wrong with the season 4 finale, which I didnt like one bit.

    Season 5 season premiere was on point. Jimmy Smits knows how to play a vato.

  • BLacqWyng Sep 14, 2012

    I personally don't think Clay has invited the nomads to trade in their Nomad Rockers for California ones, but they have their own agenda, perhaps they want to make Jax believe he needs the extra manpower to protect the old ladies and families. That Frankie stated they were honored to be at the table and they came to help, after having heard SAMCRO took some hits (like the home invasions etc). In any case they don't seem to they the best in mind for Jax and his chapter. Could be that Clay is behind is, but when and how he would have managed getting them over to his side, he was pretty much incapable of doing anything sofar.

  • klotensen Sep 14, 2012

    I understood that Sutter didn't kill off Clay but I was never happy about it. But now I finally am because of the great intense moment Clay and Jax had at the table. Clay is far from done!

  • DavidJackson8 Sep 14, 2012

    Meh. I didn't like this episode as much as I'd have liked. Maybe, being a top 5 show for me, my expectations are sometimes too high... but whatever... the episode was okay -- kinda cool.

    I like both Harold Perrineau and Jimmy Smits, so I'm glad that they're both on board this season.

    I can understand your dislike for Pope, as he certainly wasn't, uhhh, exciting? Animated? Engaging? Or, as you said, charismatic? Maybe all of the above. And I agree with you that Pope kind of seemed like he was acting like a hardcore gangster. When he first showed up and was talking with Darrell, I had the same thought... he seemed like he was trying to act like a mob boss, rather than actually being one. But I don't attribute that as a negative aspect of Perrineau's acting or Sutter's writing. I like it about the character. SOA has had plenty of charismatic, animated, or engaging bad guys. This conveys a slightly off-kilter character, which is what makes him pretty cool for me. Makes me think Pope's a nerd trying to be a gangster... or a hood thug trying to be sophisticated... or just an odd sociopath. It makes him interesting to me.

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