Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, "Albification": I hate California Nazis.

I reviewed the new season of "Sons of Anarchy" in yesterday's column, and I'll have some quick spoiler thoughts on the premiere coming up just as soon as I either join in or get out...
"What the hell is wrong with you?" -Me to Kurt Sutter, a few hours after I watched this episode
It was clear from Kurt's reaction that this was far from the first time someone had asked the question in regards to "Albification." (Nor would it be the last; someone would ask it the next morning at the "Sons" press tour session.) And it's hard not to have that reaction when you know that Sutter's married to Katey Sagal, and that he wrote a storyline where his wife would play a woman who's kidnapped and brutally raped.

But Sutter, who has never been shy about defending all those sick and twisted things he pitched on "The Shield" (including a similar story for David Aceveda), said he thought it would be a good storyline for Sagal to play (not just the crime, but its aftermath). And Sagal - who has, after all, been married to this guy for a while now and is familiar with how his mind works - seemed just fine with the material.

So if we take concern for the state of their marriage out of the equation and just focus on its role within the show, then the attack on Gemma tells us two things: 1)That Ethan Zobelle and The League of American Nationalists represent a particularly twisted brand of evil, and will be tough opponents for Samcro, and 2)That in terms of intensity and confidence of storytelling, season two is picking up right where season one left off.

"Albification" (the title means "the act or process of making white") brings in Zobelle and his gang of Nazi thugs, but even as Gemma is being attacked, it's clear that the problems within Samcro are just as rough as the dangers coming from without. Clay resents this newly assertive and rebellious Jax, Piney and Opie both want vengeance (but only one of them knows who really killed Donna), Tig's ready to kill anybody who looks at him funny, and Bobby's out of prison, having been given an earful from Agent Stahl at the end of last season about what went down.

The League is going to be a big, big problem, but the way things are going, Samcro might very well destroy itself before Ethan and his tattooed buddy AJ have to do much more.

Some other thoughts:

• Sutter continues peppering the show with new covers of '60s/'70s songs (which he discussed at the tail end of my interview with him for the season one finale), as the episode opens with Anvil (of the documentary "Anvil! The Story of Anvil") tackling "Slip Kid" by The Who. There's also a cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country" by Lions.

• As Sutter told me last year, Ryan Hurst is now a regular as Opie, and it's great to still have the guy around. He's so big, and so intense, that his presence in any scene involving the men who know what really happened to Donna dramatically ratchets up the tension level. If/when Opie (who, don't forget, is also the club's demolitions expert) finds out the truth, hellfire is going to rain down on somebody. Maybe everybody.

• So what do you make of Agent Stahl's attitude in this one? Resigned to letting Samcro go as penance for her role in Donna's death? Or is she just biding her time, trying to seem more detached, even as she goes at the club in a new way?

• The blood squib flying at the camera lens when Opie kills the Mayan reminded me of the climactic tracking shot in "Children of Men," where they couldn't afford to stop filming despite blood on the lens because it would be too difficult to shoot more than once. (This was, of course, a much briefer shot, but I imagine Sutter or director Guy Ferland just liked the way it looked.)

• I've seen the first five episodes, and it wasn't until the third ep that I noticed Adam Arkin occasionally speaking in an odd, vaguely Eastern European, accent. (Primarily when he's speaking with strangers and trying to seem respectable.) Was that at all apparent here and I missed it?

What did everybody else think?


joy said...

Fanfreakin'tastic episode.

And, yes, I heard Arkin's faint accent, and had to rewind to hear it again.

Also, Agent Stahl totally wants Clay. Totally.

Chip said...

Jesus that was hard to watch. I love Gemma. I called what would happen as soon as I read your season review but goddamn. This has me more disturbed than a Wire episode. Henry Rollins needs to get the agent Kohn treatmen x10

Phil Freeman said...

Off to a very strong start. As an aging punk rocker, I find it funny that the tattoo that's used to ID Henry Rollins as one of Gemma's attackers is the only one they had to paint on him - all the others are real.

Chris Littmann said...

I'd read somewhere else that A.J.'s crew was up to some really awful stuff in the first episode, and when I saw her being strung up I feared the worst -- that she'd be killed -- but my roommate pointed out rape was more likely. Oof. That was tough to watch, and those creepy ass Jobawockeez or whatever they're called whiteface masks don't help matters! The intensity really did pick right up, and I don't think there's going to be any concern about a slow burn that builds this season.

Hoosier Paul said...

You know, when I watched last season, I kind of got the feeling that Deputy Chief Hale was going to play roughly the same role that Aceveda played on The Shield. But after re-watching Season One and seeing this episode, I think he's more like a slightly less likable and more flawed version of Claudette Wyms.

He seems to be the only character on the show who consistently tries to do the right thing for the right reason. It'll be very interesting to see how his character develops.

Kimmy said...

For any good show, much like Chase, the writers have to drop clues on where the season is going. I believe Kurt Sutter and the brilliant team, has given us so much for future episodes.

Anyone remember Stahl talking to Bobby Elvis about how she set up Opie to be a rat? Clay and Tig don't think he knows.

It was gruesome, the blood. Hubby loved it though!

Stahl is a role this season. Not sure how. Will her heart grow towarded SOA?

I am really speechless on Gemma. I wasn't expecting it. Katey Sagal is as fantastic as ever.

I will watch a few more times. I know I will catch more!

jim treacher said...

I think Kurt Sutter is a sick, twisted motherf***er. And I think I like it.

For all the murder and rape and so forth, I think my favorite scene was Gemma and Chief Unser sitting in front of the hospital smoking a joint. That pretty much tells the story of this town.

Mo Ryan said...

The title Albification makes me think of Flight of the Conchords' song "Albie the Racist Dragon." First and last time SOA will be mentioned in the same breath as Bret and Jemaine, I'm thinking.

Feel free to remove my blog pimping if you find it crosses a line, Alan, but I'll be posting an interview with Katey Sagal about the events of Albification on my site tomorrow.

greentara said...

Damn. I think the "separatists" are going to wish they had killed Gemma after this. Her rage is going to make Agent Stahl's (from last season) look like mild annoyance. Even if she keeps it at a cold burn, she is going to make sure they are incinerated, painfully.

Other than that? Donna's death will continue being the undercurrent that rips the club apart. Wonder how long they can keep Opie in the dark?

Bobby Elvis at "Mount Bush?" Ew. Sutter is one sick SOB just for showing us that, never mind what came later.

Nice use of titles once again, Alan!

Unknown said...

One heck of a start to the year. I cringed at the end, because Katey just rocks, but that was a good start and it really ratchets up the tension. Nothing felt overplayed, although they sort of rushed through Jax getting people to not tell Opie the truth. That seemed like it could have some emotional impact, but it seemed a bit rushed. That said, with all the things they had to cover, understandable.

I'm fascinated by the Maggie Siff character. I think she does really underrated work (I remember her brief role on Life on Mars). That's the character that really intrigues me in regards to trying to orient her moral compass and living in the gray. The sort of impact Jax has on her, and vice versa, is the stuff that draws me - the dynamic between people trying to find a place in society (granted, at a much more extreme level than norm, but still, there's some, for lack of a better word, believability to her search for the "truth", and Jax's search for balance).

I completely missed out on the tattoo ID'ing Henry Rollins as the rapist. I thought it was quite eerie when he apologized to Gemma when they showed up at the club.

Just a very good, albeit, twisted, start to what looks to be an exciting year. And I think there's ways to make the Hamlet allusions come back without dropping off in intensity.

Unknown said...

Say what you will about the tenants of California Nazi rapists, dude, but at least its an ethos.

cgeye said...

THANK THE SWEET BIKER BABY JESUS THAT GEMMA != JOAN HOLLOWAY. There. I said it, and I feel pretty good.

One blessing about SOA is that it's so balls-out different that MM that it's freeing to pick up their stories one day to the next. Both document an ongoing class war, one genteely, one fatally. Both feature women in the balance as full participants. Neither are masculinist nor feminist tracts. And they're damn good television.

If SOA didn't leave Gemma for dead, then I've got no worries. She never retreats unless tactically and I'd never ever bet against her in a fight. In the SOA world of soldiers and whores, Gemma's a soldier, as is Tara, even if she's still deciding. Even Agent Stahl, who must have gotten her own assault by the Feds by just how badly she fucked up her own investigation, has an interesting journey.

I'm not saying these broads are tough, so they can take it; I'm saying their working out of their problems won't happen over a cup of tea. They will fight for their lives, messily, sometimes unwisely -- a canvas only soap opera divas get, without standards-and-practices restraints.

I've had it up to here with MM and L&O:SVU showing me women as victims, then cowed vengeful criminals. In this world, SOA will explore the full cost of vengeance, and it will hurt more people than we know, yet. I'll never get on a hog, but I'm on a heck of a ride, right now. It was worth staying up late for the marathons last month.

Hatfield said...

So good. The acting by everyone has really come together from the beginning of last season, and of course we know these people now. Right away this feels like exponentially more dangerous territory for the club, with Zoebelle and Weston being greater adversaries even without the club's inner problems. Loved Arkin--why has no one cast him as evil before?

Also loved the Hale stuff, and the way he and Jax seem to have developed a better working relationship.

Interesting tidbit: unless I'm grossly mistaken, those were Michael Myers masks with the hair torn off that Weston and company wore in the rape scene, a mask Arkin's character in Halloween: H20 got all too familiar with when Michael skewered him but good.

PS Best italicized quote yet

Otto Man said...

Great start to the season.

In addition to the other complications, don't forget the likelihood that the Mayans and Niners are going to have trouble now in the wake of the Samcro hit -- especially once Jax shot out Opie's "A" from the victim's chest and staged the corpse flashing a "9" sign.

Those two are going to go to war, and they're going to need more guns. From Samcro. Not sure how long they'll be able to keep low profile, which means the ATF could quickly be back in this.

Kevin said...

I thought it was interesting that they did the same thing they did with Donna last year. The penultimate episode where she is shot is the first episode where she’s not nagging Opie about money or his dealings with the club. In fact, it was the first time all season that we saw her embracing the club, and even the reason why she switches cars with Opie is so she can help Gemma with the dishes.

This went the same way. We saw the usually hard-edged Gemma being caring to Unser, babysitting Abel without complaints, giving Clay some afternoon delight, and probably had her nicest interaction with Tara ever.

It’s like Sutter has to hurry up and show you the good side of the female character before lowering the boom on her in the last five minutes.

Ian Timothy said...

The ending shots of Gemma, it looked like the fire was going out of her eyes.

However Samcro retaliates, it will just be sad to see Gemma a broken woman in the subsequent episodes.

Dan Coyle said...

The fire's going out of her eyes? No, she's thinking about AJ's chest tattoo, and committing it to memory. She'll be broken for a bit, but Gemma's already planning. She doesn't do long term sad.

Farm Girl Pink... said...

Of all things that could have happen... I never thought about Gemma being hurt.

It has been made clear that Clay is crazy about her.... so I expect a few men to loose their life... one protruding body part at a time.

Opie is a little frightening right now. And does not look like a man that is satisfied with the death of the Mayan.

However... I was surprise to see Agent Stahl is back. Got to love woman who received a beat down and comes back for more.

Was it ever explained last year that Hale was so involved in the core of the city history? I am stunned his brother is so chummy with the little Nazi group. I actually understand Hale helping out Samcro before he lets the Nazi's move in willingly.

Kevin said...

The other interesting thing is Henry Rollins telling Darby to cover up his neck tattoo because he doesn't deserve it, and then having HIS neck tattoo be the thing that Gemma will use to figure out who did this to her.

Anonymous said...

Will FX run it online a week late like Rescue Me? Adam Arkin!

JanieJones said...

I thought it was quite way to start S2. I think Opie isn't totally convinced of who killed Donna but I could be off. I know he killed the Mayan but I have my doubts that he is completely convinced.
Jax/Clay - the tension should be interesting and layered to show the intensity.
Katey Sagal's peformance was amazing. I didn't see it as the fire going out of her eyes as much as trying to block out the violence of the gang rape. When someone is subjected to that kind of violence, a defense mechanism tends to kick in as it's happening when that person is powerless. She got in a few good kicks! She took note of that tattoo. I had a bad feeling when the young woman came to her window, I thought Gemma keep your gun with you but her maternal instincts kicked in-seemed to be a bit of theme in this episode. She took care of Abel, kind to Unser, did not snipe at Tara. She will exact her revenge. No one touches the queen and gets away with such brutality.
Arkin was a brilliant cast to contrast that not all neo-nazi's have tattoo's, shaved heads, etc. He is a businessman and a separatist. Rollins is definitely evil and will get his comeuppance. However, I've met Rollins and he is definitely one of the nicest men I've ever met that's in the business (enjoyed his spoken word, talk show).
I was surprised to see Ally Walker back as Stahl. I'll be interested to see what character growth comes this season.
Bobby-didn't really need to see his little homecoming action.
Hale-also interested to see what comes of character in terms of development this season. He didn't seem to pleased about his cousing bringing in the separatists. He is another conflicted person when it comes to his actions.
Much food for thought for an opener! It's certainly going to be an interesting season.

Unknown said...

I like the arc they have set up for Hale - I think we're seeing the process by which a straight-laced, clean cop becomes Wayne Unser. Both are ultimately interested in the overall well-being of Charming, but Unser is long past being comfortable with the corrupt bargain he made with SAMCRO years ago and now actively embraces it, because he knows that the alternative would be far worse. Hale isn't there yet, but I think that the Nazis may push him there. You could also read his story as a parallel narrative to Jax's, depending on how the story turns out - both are going to have to compromise their ideals to the realities of governing.

Kevin Michaels said...

Great start to the season (to get into the flow of the new season we watched the last four episodes of season 1 the day before - what else are you going to do on Labor day?). Most of the other posts have covered the highlights - like the tension/conflict between Jax and Clay, especially as Jax becomes a more dominant voice in Samcro's operations and direction, the arc with Hale and the relationship with Jax (wonder if there is a parallel to Clay/Unser in how the relationship started and where it went), and some great casting (A. Arkin and H. Rollins were great additions, but I think Jeff Kober as Hale's brother was another one of those subtle moves by Kurt Sutter. I'm also curious and excited to see how the battlelines are drawn between Jax and Clay, and who winds up on each side......and finally, the rape of Gemma was brutal but each week shows how good of an actress Katy Sagal is and it will be great to watch her go through this (as well as follow the repurcussions that will come.....I mean really, does anyone think she will take this passively?)

BTW- loved the dialogue between Gemma and Tara ("a wife-beater onesie"!), but really sealed it for me was the kiss she gave Tara and Tara's stunned reaction (identical to the one Wendy had last year when Gemma did the same to her).

The best show on TV right now.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Just thought I'd mention that the season premiere was up NINETY-FOUR PERCENT over the demo rating from the premiere a year ago. To compare, "The Shield" began season two with only a 3 percent increase over its season premiere, while "Nip/Tuck" came back to a 33 percent increase.

Anybody want to set the over/under on a season three renewal announcement? This evening? This afternoon? Yesterday?

Alan Sepinwall said...

And, yes, I heard Arkin's faint accent, and had to rewind to hear it again.

Out of curiosity, when did you hear it, Joy? Again, my impression (after I started to notice it) is that he was only using it when trying to act like a humble cigar store owner with outsiders, but it could just be that Arkin was inconsistent with it.

Chip said...

Also I wanna say that I hated Hale when the series first started but around the Kohn-punching agent stahl's boy out when Donna died moments he became a really likeable character and continues to be so

millie said...

I love Adam Arkin, but I find him an odd choice for this new character. As a member of "the tribe" myself, he always reads Jewish to me. I guess he classifies himself as a separatist, as opposed to a Neo Nazi, but it's just...odd.

Alan Sepinwall said...

One of the things Sutter and I have talked about is that there's actually a history of Jews who join Aryan groups in prison to protect themselves, some of whom have actually risen to relative positions of prominence in these groups. He didn't want to commit to Zobelle being a self-hating Jew, but he was very much aware of Arkin's look and how it would read in this character.

Anonymous said...

I think casting Arkin as a white separatist is a nice F-you to actual neo-Nazis/white supremacists/etc, and while I doubt that Mr. Sutter had that in mind, it's still pretty damn cool. Another reminder that 1945 was a long time ago and Goebbels has been dead since then.

Hatfield said...

Wow, great news about the ratings! Hopefully that renewal announcement comes soon so I can look forward to next year.

I forgot to respond to jim treacher's comment above, but I also loved that scene between Gemma and Unser outside the hospital. It reminded me a little bit of her chatting Darby up last year, though that was obviously for different reasons. She's definitely a woman who makes a point of knowing her town and the people in it, and while she may be dangerous when crossed or if she just doesn't like you, most people seem to respond to her.

And about Unser, it bums me out that they may be pushing his cancer along, as I love Dayton Callie. In the commentary for the season 1 finale, Sutter says that Callie's always reminding him that people can live for years with cancer. Speaking of the DVDs, if you haven't checked them out, there are some interesting deleted scenes, particularly between Hale and Unser. I recommend them.

Chip said...

That rape is still haunting me man...easily one of the most horrific things I've seen on TV. Maybe it's cuz I like Gemma so much. Maybe it's cuz Crazy Kurt actually showed a bit too much for my taste. Damn

Anonymous said...

What was the song that played at the end of the episode?

Ian Timothy said...

Hmmm, remember how Unser reacted when Darby was talking about colored people last season. Unser's wife is colored.

I wonder how he is going to feel about a White separatist group running amok in his town.

Is our dear sheriff going to die before the cancer gets him. Is that going to be his act of redemption?

Kim said...

I was very happy overall with this episode, and it's been torture waiting for its return. However, I was disappointed with some continuity issues. How many different hats did they try on Opie? That hat is such a defining part of his look! It seemed to change from scene to scene. Also, why was Gemma at the party when Tara hadn't relieved her yet? Who was with Abel? Why would Gemma have left him with someone, gone to the party for a few minutes, then head back to Abel to be relieved by Tara? It made no sense.

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Ranapia said...

And it's hard not to have that reaction when you know that Sutter's married to Katey Sagal, and that he wrote a storyline where his wife would play a woman who's kidnapped and brutally raped.

Putting the RW relationship to one side, I hope NOBODY would be blase pitching any plot line involving extreme sexual or physical abuse of a woman. There's a lot of very fine judgement calls involved, and very few ways to get it right.

(With reference to a recent thread, I think we could cite 'Rescue Me' as case study in how to EpicFail on every level with a rape storyline.)

Check out the interview with Sagal over at Mo Ryan's place. She was pretty upfront that it was emotionally and physically difficult, but she also felt that the storyline wasn't gratuitous or superficial, and that as an individual she felt safe and respected. Really put me in mind of Tricia Helfer and Grace Park talking about their process, and the environment they were working in, on BSG while making 'Pegasus'.

JanieJones said...

Anonymous 10:18pm
The ending song for ep. 1, S2 is Girl From North Country-Lions (If I'm not mistaken it's a Bob Dylan song). You can go to Itunes and type in Sons of Anarchy, the song will come up.

I was very happy to see the numbers for the season opener. I hope they continue.

Kimmy said...

Chief Unser's wife is of color. I am wondering if the separatists will do something to get the chief out of there quicker than two months.

This will be an emotional season. UGH.. I love a show like this, one that pulls the emotion out week after week.

nfieldr said...

Are the season one episodes available anywhere online? I've checked the FX website and Hulu, but only found "recaps".
I'd like to rewatch Ep 13 from Season 1 if I can find it. TIA.

Unknown said...

What is the name of the song/music playing during the season 1 recap during Albification?

GT Black said...

Late to this thread - only just getting SOA 2 in the UK.

Re. the question of "How could Kurt Sutter put Katey Sagal through the rape storyline/scene?" A reasonable query, but in my opinion, it indicates a huge amount of trust between them as a real-life couple.

Firstly, that he felt able to approach her with the storyline, and that she agreed to it. Her confidence that she was in safe, respectful hands would have allowed her to "let go" and take her performance up to the next level (and how!) And his knowing her so intimately (in the emotional sense) would have allowed him to gauge the exact limit to which he could push the scene. Less of a need to err on the side of caution if you know instinctively when your actor does - and doesn't - need you to call cut.

It must have been tough for him to shoot, as well as for her, but wouldn't it add an extra dimension to the realism? Imagining the things it would most hurt him to see happen to the woman he loves… Then putting them on screen! A tad twisted, but it would work. And to pull that off, he needs an actress who 100% gets where he's coming from and has no ambivalence about his motives for putting her through such an ordeal (no wondering if he was secretly enjoying seeing her suffer, as herself not as a character!)

I'm not suggesting Sutter wouldn't have felt a similar duty of care and respect had another actress been central to this scene, but, to use an old cliché, this time it's personal - and the viewer benefits!

(All purely my own speculation, obviously!)

BTW, really enjoying reading this blog and other people's comments, Alan.

Anonymous said...

Even later to the game...:)

Definitely difficult to watch, especially since Gemma is my favorite character on the show, but at the same time, no doubt this will give Katey Sagal even more material to work with this season, and for that, I am ok.

I do wonder if having white 'separatists' to be Samcro's big bad is tipping the scales too much. Maybe I'm just always uncomfortable with this subject matter (and even though it's nothing 'new', it still always shocks me that in this day and age people are still capable of such repulsive beliefs), but I wonder if it's smart to introduce a new rival gang that is so too unredeemable (and thus, too one sidedly bad - almost cartoony, in a way).