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Sons of Anarchy S06E01: "Straw"

Ed. note: We're trying something a little different this season with our Sons of Anarchy reviews. Instead of having one person compose his or her thoughts for you each week, we've decided it would be more fun to tag-team SOA in a conversation-style review. So each week we'll discuss the episode and all the violence Kurt Sutter feels we deserve, while still bringing you coverage of TV's most violent drama.

TIM: It's always good to have Sons of Anarchy back on television, if only to remind us that most shows are total wimps by comparison. But I'll admit that with each passing season, I'm becoming more and more inclined to dismiss the series as frivolous fun rather than award-worthy drama. It's become absolutely ludicrous, which is part of the appeal, but it's also veering further and further away from being legitimately good television and more toward being a hairy soap opera. So I'm going into Season 6 excited to see what insanity awaits, but I'm not really concerned with putting the show on a pedestal or anything. I'm just here for the fun, not the Hamlet comparisons. How are you feeling going into Season 6?

KAITLIN: I think that with the exception of Season 2, Sons of Anarchy has existed just outside the realm of great drama. One of its problems, what's kept it away from the big kids' table for drama, is that it often has great ideas, but fails to follow through on them. SOA knows how to build up the tension as a season progresses, but it usually shies away from fully committing at the last second.

All throughout Season 4, we thought there was absolutely no way Clay would make it out of Charming alive, but then Kurt Sutter pulled a couple strings and here we are heading in to Season 6 with Clay alive and in prison. And while I'm sure we'll get some great stuff out of that storyline because the show never went there, it'll never be able to regain the promise it once had. So while I'm excited to see whatever Sutter has planned, but I'm watching for the thrill of the fights, and not to compare SOA to all the great anti-hero dramas out there. Oh, and Chibs.

TIM: I think Clay's fate is being saved for the final season, whenever that is, and what happens in the meantime will mostly focus on the burden of running SAMCRO and pushing Jax toward the path Clay already rolled down (again). And with that said, let's talk about the premiere, "Straw." 

Every time SOA returns I get a headache from trying to remember what happened in the previous season. Heck, I can barely remember half the names of the characters, let alone how they reacted to the constant flux in club politics. We'll get to Jax, Bobby, and whatshisname (see?), but first, WHO THE F WAS THAT KID WHO SHOT UP THE SCHOOL? I figured he was the son of that woman who was with Dave Navarro's character (also, LOL @ Navarro being on this show), but who the hell is that woman, and is Navarro's character suddenly important now? And why would they match-cut the kid onto Jax in the opening montage if we didn't know who he was? Is it some clunky metaphor for how both of them have fallen from grace?

KAITLIN: Honestly, when the episode opened with the typical Jax Teller voiceover and we saw the kid, I thought we were seeing a young Jax, a Jax without the burden of SAMCRO on his back. And then when no one except Dave Navarro—who I will probably just call Dave Navarro for as long as he appears on SOA—addressed the kid, I was half-convinced he really was a ghost from Jax's past. He seemed to be everywhere our characters went, and then Jax had that meaningful stare without him outside of RoboCop's Donut Shop. I still don't know what it all means. I don't know who Samaire Armstrong (Navarro's lady friend and presumably the mother of the kid) is playing. All I know is that the kid had some serious issues, from the obvious scars on his wrists to the fact that he committed a school shooting. But I have to say, I felt a bit of a Gus Fring-type attitude coming off him. The way he took off his jacket and folded it up. The way he rolled up his sleeves before entering the school. Very methodical. Very crazy.

TIM: Obviously there's a lot more to that story, but for now I'll assume the kid didn't make it and it will somehow ripple back to the club. I wonder how many people will have issues with SOA taking on a school shooting, given that it's about the most controversial topic any series or movie can portray. Personally, I don't mind—I'm on the side of the debate that doesn't think violence on TV causes violence in real life—but even I'm not sure SOA should have gone there. If SOA starts going for political messages, things could get messy. A lot of the violence we've seen on the show in the past has been almost comical or poetic; the school shooting felt like SOA was poking worried mothers with a stick. I'd rather it stick with the torture porn and bathtubs full of lukewarm piss, SOA

KAITLIN: I think I have to agree. If Sutter wanted to make a statement or shock viewers, this probably not the best way to do it. I think we'll see a lot of actual, "WTF, Sutter?" reactions in the aftermath of that scene. It's bad enough when other shows tackle the topic, but to do it on SOA, a show that often glorifies violence? I'm really glad I don't work at FX today.

TIM: The pee-pee drowning, on the other hand, was great. But what does it say about Tig? He's always been a little crazier than everyone else, but lately (since after his daughter Dawn's BBQ last season), he's been an absolute animal. In "Straw," he tossed that Iranian pornographer into the urine dunk tank, then topped him off with some fresh human lemonade, and then threw him in a cage and into the ocean—all because the guy said he hoped Tig saw his daughter in one of the videos. How many more murders will this guy get away with before he becomes a liability to the club? Also, Pope's henchman August still wants Tig dead, and it appears Jax made a deal to hand him over if they take care of Clay (again). I know this was similar to last season, but is Tig on the outs? Is he this year's Opie?

KAITLIN: You had to bring up Opie, didn't you? I don't think Tig is on that same path. If you look at it rationally—and I know this is SOA and nothing is ever done rationally—Tig can't die (yet). Jax said it in this episode: SAMCRO can't lose any more of its members, or the charter folds. I don't think Tig is going to die, nor do I think he's about to join Bobby out in Nevada. I viewed that entire death-by-piss/golden-shower/swimming-with-the-fishes scene as a form of catharsis for Tig. I know he killed Pope last season, but that wasn't enough. The way he broke down after he pushed the cage into the water, and the way he cradled Thomas's head in the ending montage… I think Tig might actually be on the road to redemption this season, as opposed to the other way around. Of course, I could be completely wrong about that.

And speaking of Bobby, what the hell is he doing out in Nevada? I know he was against killing Clay last season, and that he stepped down as VP because he didn't support the Club's decision, but now it looks like he's trying to bring back the Nomad charter. I don't know how the show can carry a separate Bobby storyline in the middle of nowhere and still make it compelling.

TIM: That's one of the things I still really enjoy about this show. For all the brains getting blown out of people's skulls, SOA does character stuff very well. You found it comforting that Tig was cradling Thomas's head, I was waiting for him to bite it off. There's a lot of showing instead of telling, and that leaves it to us to interpret things. As for Bobby, I fear for SAMCRO without his levelheadedness around to keep things in order. And you're absolutely right about structural problems with the storyline. The show needs to find a way to get him back in the clubhouse fast, because he already seems so distant. 

At least with Clay and Tara in jail, their actions can still impact the club. I absolutely loved that scene when Clay was being moved back into the prison "GenPop," saw all those scary black dudes, and decided to take Toric's deal. He can't be the macho intimidating man he was before, he has to play smart if he wants to live—and that was his only play. However, the Tara stuff confused the hell out of me. I still don't know why Toric really wants Jax. What am I missing here?

KAITLIN: I wish I knew. I don't fully understand Toric's reasons for wanting Jax and the club either. I mean, the man isn't even a U.S. Marshal anymore. And you just know that he's lying about being retired. You can't chase fugitives all that well when you're hopped up on heroin. Toric's story is definitely a confusing and convoluted one, but it's probably the one I'm most looking forward to... in a very twisted way. Donal Logue is a great addition to the cast (and I'm not just saying that because I miss Terriers and I'm hoping for Michael Raymond-James to join SOA to create a full-on reunion). I find it interesting the way he can be so cold and calculating with the other characters, and then he goes home and turns out to be a complete wack-job. He's got some shades of Robert Quarles to him, if I may bring yet another FX series in to this.

As for Clay, he's definitely at the mercy of other people now. As you said, he has to be smart about this. But do you think he'll really rat on the club? Or do you think he's going to come up with a brilliant last-minute Hail Mary? And Tara… I don't even know what's going on with her. She wanted so badly to get out at the beginning of the episode, but by the end of it, she was beating bitches up for stealing her blanket. Good luck getting out now, Tara.

TIM: A last-minute Hail Mary in Sons of Anarchy? YOU DON'T SAY! Part of me thinks Clay would never rat on the club after last season, but another part of me pictures him with whiskers, nibbling on a bit of cheese, without a problem. At this point, I think that's the most interesting thing about Clay. He's totally unpredictable in jail; he just doesn't want to die. In fact, I don't think Clay is really even Clay anymore. If anything, and this is what Season 5 was all about, Jax is the new Clay. He's making deals for expanding his lady-selling business without consulting people, he's sleeping with the new madame, he's become an unsavory character—and I think this season we'll see him going further and further into the darkness. Season 6 could, and should, be the season where we all hate Jax. This is when he truly breaks bad. Then we spend Season 7 turning him into his real dad.

KAITLIN: It's interesting you say now is when we should hate Jax, because I think last season was the darkest timeline for our SAMCRO president. Perhaps I'm being naive in thinking that we've already hit the nadir of his descent, and that he's going to be on his way back up this season, but that's always been my hope for Season 6. Obviously, that change in Jax is going to take some time, but if he doesn't figure shit out soon, Opie's death in Season 5 will have been for nothing (as great as that scene was, it was pretty much just a way to launch Jax on the last leg of his journey to right SAMCRO's sinking ship).

That being said, WTF JAX? Your old lady is in jail for like five minutes and she doesn't want to see you because she's angry but also ashamed, so you sleep with Kim Dickens? I get that that's always been Jax's M.O. when things get tough, but it seems a bit lazy from a storytelling standpoint... like an easy way to get a shot of Charlie Hunnam's bare ass into the premiere.

TIM: He's got to keep that ass in shape for his big Fifty Shades of Grey role! That scene will be one of the most paused butt shots in history after that movie comes out. Come to think of it, there was a lot of ass stuff in this episode. Lyla talking about her most valuable ASSet, Jax's undulating bottom, Toric dancing in front of the mirror, and Otto taking it up the chimney from Toric's men. I love that Sutter is willing to go all the way with the character he also plays, Otto, and it's ironic that Otto got f'd because I think Sutter may have f'd himself with this premiere. Sutter could have a very uncomfortable week ahead of him with regard to explaining that school-shooting scene, and until we get to Episode 2, we have no idea how it's going to fit into the story. Sutter's always been one to bask in controversy, wielding his two middle fingers all akimbo, and he achieved it here. I'm actually totally fine with it because hey, this is TV, but I think all the Normal Nancys out there might take issue with a scene that depicts a school shooting yet lacks so much context. As for the episode as a whole, it was fine, but not one of SOA's better premieres. What did you think?

KAITLIN: I agree. Not one of the SOA's best. A lot of stuff happened, and a lot of storylines were introduced, but I'm concerned about the show's ability to properly address and deal with all of them in a satisfying way. The premiere probably would have been more successful if the show had saved some of tonight's plots and capped the episode at an hour, instead of expanding it to minutes.


– The scene where Chibs pummeled Juice was pretty sad to watch. I know Juice deserved it for ratting on the Club, stealing from the Club, and then killing Miles to cover up his misdeeds. But look at that face! How can you be mad at that face? And his, "I love you, brother," before Chibs laid him out? I will not cry. I will not cry. I will not cry. (P.S. This item was most definitely written by Tim.) (P.P.S. Kaitlin is lying! I never cry except all the time!)

– Ima returned, much to the displeasure of literally everyone, except Lyla. She did save Lyla from those Iranian guys, but it was her fault Lyla was in the situation in the first place. But as annoying as it was to see Ima return, it was fun to hear Jax call her a stupid whore, and to see Gemma smash her face into the bar just for fun.

– Wendy also returned, but it was pretty much only to tell Gemma that she has no desire to lose her sobriety and get wrapped up in Club shit again. Bye, Wendy! We'll miss you!

– Public Service Announcement: If you need a babysitter, please call Happy and/or Unser, both guys are more than willing to oblige. But what will happen to a child who's essentially being raised by a violent motorcycle club?

– "You know I listen as good as I suck dick." —the new Madame. Good line, great line, or terrible line?

– Tara's new hairdo is so not working. Go see Sophia for a hairdo, Tara! (She's in the same prison as Orange Is the New Black, right?)

[UPDATE FROM TIM] Hey guys! I just wanted to clear the air on a few things. First of all, we love the opinions, keep 'em coming and please try to keep them constructive rather than sending them via wrecking balls with the words "YOU SUCK" written on them in white paint. We read what you say and we care about what you think.

Regarding the format: This conversational, two-person tag-team review is an experiment, and because Kaitlin is also a big fan of the show, we thought Sons of Anarchy would be a great series to try it on. As you can probably tell by the fact that I'm not wearing any pants, we like to keep things casual around here, and we wanted to simulate a relaxed discussion between a few friends talking about an episode they just finished watching. That's also the type of community we're trying to inspire, and we hope it spreads to the comments and forums on TV.com. We haven't made a decision on whether we'll keep the format all season, but—and some of you might not like this—we're at least going to give the dual-review format another shot. Maybe several more shots. Hey, I didn't like Jax's beard at first, but now I love it. Based on the comments so far, it appears some of you like the new format, while some of you want to drown it in a bathtub full of stale piss. I can't say I'm surprised. You Sons of Anarchy fans are some of the most protective and diehard of any show I've written about. I love that. And while we're not opposed to going back to a single-author review format, we did have a lot of fun reviewing the premiere together. So let's see how this works out, and don't be afraid to voice your opinion. TV.com is also your site, and you have a say. But please keep in mind the thing I said about wrecking balls above.

Now the guns! Despite the years and years spent playing Call of Duty, I have a rare disease called gun blindness that prevents me from differentiating gun types from one another beyond their basic classifications (shotgun, SMG, sniper, etc.). Kaitlin is in the same boat. We didn't pick up on the gun being directly linked to SAMCRO (user bfmma37 says it's a KG-9, and that SAMCRO has always sold those, so I trust him/her), so we didin't make that immediate link between the kid shooting up the school and the club. And let's face it, the episode didn't go out of its way to make it clear (I don't think it had a responsibility to, but it would have been nice for those of us who aren't so focused on the technical parts of the show), or to explain who the kid was, or to explain who the mother was. However, I think Kaitlin and I both expressed that we expected the shooting to come back to the club somehow, and that the details would be laid out in subsequent episodes. As Kaitlin explained in the comments, the screeners we watch do not have "Next On..." previews of the next episode, and apparently there was a confirmation that the gun was indeed one of the guns SAMCRO sold. That works for me. 

On that note, let's talk more about the school shooting. My concern was that some viewers would feel the shooting was gratuitous or tacked on because of the lack of obvious (keyword: obvious) context. And maybe that was the point. Confusion and chaos result from every tragedy. But television is a continuing medium and Sons of Anarchy is an open show. To think that the shooting was just added to be a shocking moment is myopic. No dignified showrunner, not even one who's as controversial as Kurt Sutter, would be stupid enough to do that. Of course it has (or will eventually have, if you didn't tie the gun to SAMCRO) context. What the debate really should be about is whether or not SOA's inclusion of a school shooting—society's hottest of hot-button issues—was a wise and responsible decision, and whether Sutter handled it in the right way. Latter first, I think Sutter would have done himself a favor to make it more clear that the gun was tied to the club and that the school shooting will directly impact the club. I know I would have felt more comfortable. It was a smart call to not show the actual shooting, though. We all agree on that, right? As for the wisdom of using a school shooting as the catalyst for change in the club, that's an answer that we won't know for another few episodes. I've now read some post-mortems on the final scene from reviewers who I trust and who have watched the next few episodes, and some of them are disappointed in the way it'll be handled in the weeks to come. I haven't watched future episodes yet, and I won't until we get closer to their airdates. For those of us who haven't looked into the future, we'll just have to live with the uneasy feeling we have today. That's what Sutter would want.  


– HuffPo's Mo Ryan on her disappointment in how the shooting is handled in the next episodes

– Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall with a similar opinion on the use of the shooting and its consequences over the next few episodes

– Kurt Sutter talks to EW about the episode and the shooting

Thanks, guys. Keep being awesome.

What'd you think of the Season 6 premiere? 

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