Problems for the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redmond Original (SAMCRO) and Charming, California as a whole have been snowballing since, well, the beginning of the series. When we last left the Men of Mayhem, Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) had forced his Uncle/Stepfather Clarence "Clay" Morrow (Ron Perlman) to give up the gavel -- to step down as the President of the Sons of Anarchy. It was a long time coming. Anyone who's watched up until this point knows that Clay has made some terrible decisions: last season, he solicited the club as a cocaine muling service to the Galindo Cartel. Oops -- his primary contact (Danny Trejo) ended up being an undercover CIA agent who is currently using a pending RICO case on the Sons over their heads to ensure their cooperation in an investigation on the IRA, which happens to be SAMCRO's biggest business ally. Not only that, Clay conspired to murder John Teller (the former President and Jax's father) due to his plans to get the club out of the gunrunning business. And it gets worse: in order to keep the secret from coming out, he put a shotgun to the chest of one of the original nine founding members, Piedmont "Piney" Winston (William Lucking). After Piney's vengeful son Harry "Opie" (Ryan Hurst) put a few slugs into Clay's chest, Jax took Clay's spot and his gavel, with plans to keep Clay alive only until the RICO storm blows over.
Towards the end of Season Four, Clay framed the Oakland-based One-Niners black street gang for his gunshot wounds. Ever loyal to Clay, an enraged Alex "Tig" Trager (Kim Coates) attempted to run down Niners' leader Laroy Wayne (Tory Kittles). The hit failed, and Laroy's girlfriend Veronica was killed instead. Unfortunately for him (and for SAMCRO), Veronica was the daughter of Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), the kingpin of Oakland. So naturally, this means dire consequences for the club and for Tig. Ultimately, Jax's leadership skills are put through baptism by napalm as he adjusts to his new role. Between all of that and a series of brutal home invasions in Charming, this season is a major turning point for Jax, as he struggles to balance his incredible intelligence with his increasing vengefulness; but ultimately it deals with his almost inevitable transformation into the tyrant that Clay was. And you know what they say about a wounded dog; Clay, equal parts despicable and desperate, continues his scheming, despite his injuries and worsening arthritis.
Season Five starts with a flurry of brutal punches to the gut; some seriously horrifying things happen, and more than a few game-changing moments are dropped with no warning. But each of these events are true to the characters that are involved. If I have one major complaint with regards to this season, it's that some of the narrative feels more than a bit contrived; a clumsy means to a necessary end.
Of course, it's a lot of fun simply watching this closely-knit family interact with each other, and at this point, they're like family to the viewer. Save for those who have departed over the last four seasons, everyone you know and love (or hate to love) is along for the ride. Juan Carlos "Juice" Ortiz (Theo Rossi), now Clay's main caretaker, is as conflicted as ever, thanks in no small part to the enduring pressure from San Joaquin County Sheriff Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar). Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Junior), everyone's favorite Elvis impersonator, has taken Jax's old post as Vice President and hopes to keep the new President from becoming the old President. We also see the return of Filip "Chibs" Telford (Tommy Flanagan), the Scotsman with the badass Glasgow smile and the heart of gold. And of course, everyone's Papa Bear, the cancer-stricken former Sheriff Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie) is still around. However, it's death row inmate (and current SAMCRO traitor) Otto Delaney (Kurt Sutter himself) whose scenes are the most memorable.
Jax's home life has always been a mess; from his son Abel's abduction by the IRA at the end of Season Two, to the manipulative, Lady Macbeth-esque presence of Jax's mother Gemma (Katey Sagal), the reappearance of Jax's now-rehabilitated ex-wife Wendy Case (Drea De Matteo) to the slow healing process of his surgeon fiancée Tara (Maggie Siff)'s crippling hand injury. This season sees it at its ugliest yet; it gets so bad that you'll be agreeing with some of the otherwise horrifying ultimatums that are doled out.
There's an awful lot of darkness in Sons of Anarchy: Season Five, but there's some light. Most of that exists in the form of Nero Padilla (the wonderful Jimmy Smits), a former gangbanger and high-class pimp with (gasp!) good intentions. Wait, excuse me, I believe the word he uses is "companionater." Regardless, his role fits neatly into the drama, whether it's in establishing a new business relationship for SAMCRO or in giving Gemma a new love interest after her marriage to Clay detonated for what might have been the final time. And there's an utterly horrifying cameo from FX alum Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield), which I will not discuss, because my memory repression therapy won't work if I do.
Special Features for this release are a bit light, but they round all the bases you'd expect, plus a little more. You've got your requisite commentaries (including a particularly interesting one from director --and former RoboCop Peter Weller), deleted scenes, and gag reel. Some of the episodes feature the Creator's Cut, which feature extended and deleted scenes. Kurt Sutter: Behind the Anarchy provides some input from the eponymous executive producer as he takes his show into its final two seasons. Fan Concert at the Clubhouse is the longest running of the features is perhaps the most superfluous, though it is true to the series and its crew's relationship with the fans. I've always thought Sons of Anarchy's lengthy musical montages were a bit too self-indulgent for my tastes, but this was a neat thing for Sutter and company to do. !!!SPOILERS BEGIN!!! Opie Winston is a fairly essential feature for this release. It provides the cast and crew with an opportunity to bid farewell to Ryan Hurst, the actor who portrayed Jax's tortured yet loyal best friend until the bitter, brutal end. All told, I'm not completely convinced that killing Opie off at this point was the right thing to do, but Sutter hints that it will pay off in the final two seasons. !!!SPOILERS END!!!
Sons of Anarchy might not be the most high-minded or sophisticated program on television right now, but in terms of sheer entertainment value, it absolutely holds its own alongside the juggernauts. Sons of Anarchy: Season Five is thirteen hours of some of the fastest and most addictive television you will ever watch.