'Sons of Anarchy' season premiere review: Was this the fall TV season's most intense season premiere?

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Although the year isn’t over, I think we can agree that the Most Original Character Introduction Award of 2012 will have to go to Jimmy Smits in the Tuesday night season premiere of Sons of Anarchy.

That would now serve as your SPOILER ALERT.

Smits’ Nero made his debut positioned behind Katey Sagal’s Gemma, making a vigorous beast with two backs immediately followed by a scene of morning-after, post-orgy disarray (stoned sleepy blonde hookers — they just clutter up a joint, don’t they?). After doing what any sensible SAMCRO woman would do, i.e, pulling a gun on a new character, Gemma looked around and called Nero a pimp, to which he delightfully protested that he should be thought of as “a companionator… I’m all about the love.” Not content to leave well enough alone (does he ever?), show creator Kurt Sutter had Gemma inquire in more blunt language than I’m using whether she had performed oral sex upon Nero, to which he responded in the affirmative. (Sagal being Sutter’s real-life wife, I would imagine homey discussions of upcoming storylines must make for quite lively dinner conversation.)

Smits, whose guest arc on Dexter in 2008 fizzled due to poor writing, positively glows on SOA. Sutter and his staff really know how to write for this charming law-breaker who’s so smooth, he seduces—then proceeds to protect and fawn over—Gemma, who’s not usually susceptible to such blandishments. But, this being Sons of Anarchy, I doubt Nero is merely a pimp with a heart of gold; he must have some blood on his hands.

The other prominent new guest star this season is Lost’s Harold Perrineau. His Damon Pope is a gangster whose daughter was run over and killed by SAMCRO stalwart Tig Trager (the ferocious Kim Coates, turning in a ferociously emotional performance) at the end of last season. Based on the first two episodes I’ve seen, Perrineau’s character isn’t yet as fully formed as Smits’, but the former does a wise thing in a show as majestically melodramatic as SOA: Perrineau lowers his voice and assiduously under-acts, which only makes you want to listen and watch him more closely. And paying close attention to SOA’s array of outlaws makes the series an even more richly detailed portrait of self-righteous villainy.

Pope’s shocking retaliation this night was to kill Tig’s daughter Dawn (Rachel Miner) by setting her on fire and forcing Tig to watch her die. This revenge — a daughter’s life for a daughter’s life — didn’t play as mere shock value, though; it was an outrageously dramatic action rooted in the richly dark, perhaps ultimately hopeless world that SAMCRO inhabits.

In fact, one thing that became clear to me after this episode was over: The rest of the world is closing in on this club. We’ve spent these past seasons getting to know the history of the club, its lore and its scandals. We’ve come to think of the series’ center as the essential tragic-trio: Sagal’s Gemma Teller Morrow, mother to Hunnam’s new SAMCRO president, Charlie Hunnam’s Jax Teller, and currently estranged wife to Ron Perlman’s ex-president Clay Morrow (after Clay put a beating on Gemma from which a lesser soul would have expired). But SOA has widened that circle out exponentially. This week, it seemed as though every major club SAMCRO has had a beef or an alliance with put in an appearance in the premiere, so it’s a measure of how well this series structures itself that few plot-strands feel frayed or weak.

The premiere, which stretched to the 90-minute mark, earned its length. The Jax-Tara marriage; Jax’s talk with the alienated, melancholy Opie; the still strong presence of the drug cartel and the government agents in the form of, among others, the marvelous Danny Trejo; the voting in of the Nomad members, who are bound to bring some good trouble along, and so much more: To Game of Thrones fans who think their admirable series has cornered the market on sprawling, multi-generational, dense storytelling that pays off richly, all I can say is, try bringing a sword to a SAMCRO knife fight, punks.

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: Sons of Anarchy: Kim Coates takes us inside Tig’s emotional season premiere


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