Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Live Blog (Part 4)- Season One: Episode Three- "Fun Town"

          With only a few minutes remaining in the episode, the drama has picked up substantially. The daughter revealed to SAMCRO that her assailant was....the clown from the dunk tank! I have to admit that I did not see that one coming, although I'm assuming that 30 seconds that SAMCRO dunked his head under water will probably pale in comparsion to what they (or the victim's father) will do to him. As the episode continues, SAMCRO heads out to the carnival where they are confronted by the carnival workers, who are cooperating with the SAMCRO "investigation." In case you were also wondering, a brawl between a biker gang and carnival workers is about as entertaining as you can imagine. Also as you would probably assume, the biker gang won the fight pretty handily and left the workers bloodied and battered at the carnival grounds.  Maybe it might be time for them to consider a new profession?

        SAMCRO kidnaps the clown (who thankfully is not dressed in his costume) and delivers him to the father of his victim. The father is holding a tool that is used for "removing testicles from farm animals." I'm not an expert, but that has to be the most painful form of torture for a man, right? If it isn't, please I don't even want to know what else is out there that could be worse then "removing testicles." Moving on, the father is holding that device and staring right into the eyes of the person that raped his daughter. What is he going to do? Is he going to use the device to remove the testicles? Is he just going to stab him with the device? Is he going to punch him? Once again--- what would you do?? Well......the father did nothing. He just dropped the device and is walking away. I'm honestly in a state of shock. On one hand, I have to respect the restraint that the man had. He was someone with dignity, honesty, respect and wealth before the incident with his daughter occurred. Clearly, he did not want to lose all that or he just did not have it inside of himself to seek revenge the way he wanted to originally- through violence. This shows the discrepancy between this father and SAMCRO. SAMCRO participates in violent actions and illegal activities on the daily without as much as batting an eyelash. However, a father literally experiences one of the worst things that a father possibly could, and THAT does not even push him to those extrememes that SAMCRO embodies. I have to admit- I don't think I would have showed that same amount of restraint if I was a father in that situation. Hopefully I- or none of you- will have to be.

       Further encompassing the difference between the father and SAMCRO, Clay just picked up the device to remove animal testicles that the father dropped when he walked away. And guess what--- he just used it. The camera shows the excruitating pain on the face of the rapist and the screams that accompany it, before flashing down to the ground where we actually see the testicles. Clay had no issue with picking up where the father left off, and finishing the job that the father could not. I actually am happy that the rapist got what he deserved, especially for such a horrific crime. However, I am also wondering if there is a boundary that can stop SAMCRO from getting what they want- whatever that may be. I guess I'll just have to wait and see...

Live Blog (Part 3)- Season One: Episode Three- "Fun Town"

        The direction of the episode is now changing to "who can find out who is responsible for the sexual assault." There are a couple interesting things that are happening right now that we have not seen in previous episodes. For one, SAMCRO is showing compassion and care for the members of the Charming community and the family affected by this instance. The previous two episodes have shown SAMCRO as seemingly only caring about automatic weapons, their warehouses, or their control over the law enforcement to assist their agenda. However, this episode showcases SAMCRO as trying to protect the community. Clay mentions "this stuff does not happen in our town" and the feeling is showcased that SAMCRO does in fact view Charming as a "home" instead of simply a location that houses their illegal operations. I'm not saying that their logic if noble, especially considering they are hunting a potential rapist so that another person can get revenge, but the overlying tone of this episode is providing viewers an inside into the fatherly persona that SAMCRO is trying to portray in the town. The other interesting aspect in this episode is that for the first time there seems to be a unified front throughout Charming in the sense that everyone is looking for potential suspects. With that said, Hale and SAMCRO may both be looking for the same person, but they are obviously approaching the situation different. Hale is hoping to bring the rapist in for questioning and allow the law to handle the case, whereas SAMCRO would like to take the law into their own hands. Two different tactics with the hope of coming to the same result- catching the man responsible for raping a little girl.

      A few minutes ago, Gemma approached the mother of the rape victim. The mother has previously not allowed anyone (including law enforcement) to speak with her daughter, citing the emotional damage that had been done to her and the fact that she "doesn't remember anything that happened". However, Gemma deduces that the daughter does remember the incident, and that the mother is simply trying to keep her away from anyone else so she does not have to relive the situation occasion. This is an interesting development right now. What would you do? On one hand, there is a mother who is trying to protect her daughter by lying on her behalf. On the other hand, by lying the mother is pretty much stalling any investigation (both by police and SAMCRO) and thus limiting the opportunity to catch the rapist. My first reaction is to be upset at the mother- why would you keep the police from doing their job? Don't you want to find who did this? But then again- the mother clearly wants her daughter to not have to relive such a traumatic experience. Can you blame her?

       This has been a great episode to live blog, because of the fact that it does not simply address a topic such as gang warfare, illegal smuggling, drugs, etc like the previous episodes. It is tugging at my heart because of the subject matter and the fact that the victim is not someone who participates in any of the activities that SAMCRO does. The victim is not someone that I can just say "oh well...she deserved it when she got into this line of work."

The emotion and developments just lead me to say- I hope they catch this person!

Live Blog (Part 2)- Season One: Episode Three- "Fun Town"

       Well I am officially in shock, but I'm not sure why I should be considering the nature of Sons of Anarchy and the fact it revolves around a motorcycle gang. However, the issue of childhood rape is considered fairly taboo in society so I'm surprised this was a subject that the producers decided to cover. Keep in mind that this is a review of "Season One" and so many high-profile cases regarding childhood abuse, such as the Penn State scandal, had not yet come to fruition when this episode was created. One has to wonder if this would still be a plot had this idea been conceptualized in 2013.

         Another interesting aspect of this scene is the graphic portrayal of the girl in the woods. As I mentioned last post, she was found unconscious in a wooded area with her pants near her ankles. While the viewers cannot see any genitalia or anything of that nature, the visual of a helpless girl with her pants literally forced down may be an unbearable sight for some viewers. Again, I'm not sure if the producer or director was doing this for emphasis or wanted to keep with the rugged and borderline violent nature of the show that has drawn in viewers, but whatever the reason this scene has definitely brought out feelings of both anger and sadness in me. Quite an impact from a fictional show, but it just goes to show what kind of impact certain incidents can have, even when viewers know the scene is staged.

       As the episode continues, word about the rape has spread throughout the city of Charming. The father of the victim has chosen to approach SAMCRO about finding the individual responsible for this crime. The interesting aspect is obviously that the father has chosen to approach SAMCRO about this incident, as opposed to working directly with the police. While the police- including Hale- are working on the case as well, the father wants revenge and believes that SAMCRO can deliver it for him. The interactions between the father and SAMCRO are fascinating to watch, and showcase great acting. Viewers can see the pure emotion of a father who has just watched something terrible happen to his "baby girl." Anyone who has a child, niece, cousin, etc can try and feel/cope with what this man is going through. I just briefly reflected on what I would do if I was in a similar situation. Obviously good reasoning tells you to remove emotion from the situation and contact the proper authorities, but how can you remove emotion if something like that happened to you or a loved one? I don't think there is anyone watching that could blame the father for attempting to extract revenge and enlisting SAMCRO. Actually, not only do I think anyone could blame him, but I think most viewers WANT him to get that opportunity for revenge. I know I do....

Live Blog (Part 1)- Season One: Episode Three- "Fun Town"

        This week I'm going to do a special post for all of the Sons of Anarchy fans who have been visiting the blog over the past few weeks. I'm live blogging the next episode in the series- "Fun Town"- to allow all readers to witness my emotions, reactions and feelings towards the episode in real time. Let's get started!

        The episode opens with SAMCRO visiting a carnival. The dominance that SAMCRO has in the town is immediately shown by the way they act while visiting the carnival. In a place typically associated with children and having fun, Gema and Clay are discussing ways they can "interact" in the Fun House. Remind me to never go into a Fun House again. On second thought, remind me to never go to the carnival again, especially if they look like they one in this episode with decrepit rides and creepy carnies. Moving on, Jax tries his luck at the carnival games by trying to throw a ball and hit a target to knock a clown into the dunk tank. The clown- in an attempt to raise tempers and also cash income- is mocking all those that try and dunk him including Jax. Apparently joining a biker gang and bearing feared, revered or loathed by an entire city is not enough of a self-confidence boost for Jax. After the clown mocks him, Jax and SAMCRO run up to the dunk tank and manually push the button to dunk the clown, while also holding his head under water for an extended period of time. On one hand, I feel for this clown simply trying to earn a living. But then another part of me remembered that clowns creeeeeeeeep me out, so that feeling of remorse is gone. Nevertheless, the lesson as always- don't cross SAMCRO regardless of whether you are involved in a gang war or an innocent bystander working at a country fair.

        The tone of the episode has just quickly changed. A few scenes ago, Jax and Clay ran into a family with a young (probably 12 or 13 year old) daughter. Without learning a great deal of background information, it is clear that the father has worked with SAMCRO or had some prior dealings with them. The girl asks if she can ride one of the rides, and Jax gives her carnival tickets so that she does not have to worry about paying. As the girl heads off by herself, the men stand around and chat. It is clear that the father is an honest and hardworking individual who does not cross into illegal businesses, despite his affiliation and knowledge of Clay, Jax, and the rest of SAMCRO. This is an interesting turn of events, since it seems as though this man and Sheriff Hale as the only two people in Charming who may not be corrupt!

Moving on, I mentioned that the tone of the episode has changed. From the fun-loving family environment of a carnival, the cameras shift to a scene with the daughter in the woods and unconscious with her pants pulled down. The shift in tone, as well as the changing music, signifies how seriously the mood of the episode is about to change. Obviously the implication here is that the daughter was raped, which now completely changes the dynamic of the episode.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Character Analysis: Gemma Teller Morrow

Gemma and Clay
       Since I started reviewing Sons of Anarchy as part of this blog, there has been one issue that has consistently tugged at me deep down inside. How did Katy Sagal get casted to play the role of Gemma Teller Morrow, the unofficial "First Lady" for the Sons of Anarchy? To provide a brief backdrop that hasn't been covered in full detail in my previous blogs, Gemma is Jax's mother and was previously married to the founder of SAMCRO, John Teller (Jax's father). Sometime after John passed away, Gemma began dating Clay who is the current leader of SAMCRO and with whom she is still in a romantic relationship. Through the first two episodes, Gemma's dislike for Jax's ex-wife (Wendy), who had just given birth to her grandchild in the first episode, has been the focal point of her plot involvement in the series. She has also had other smaller roles thus far, but nothing that affected the plot substantially enough to be highlighted in my previous blogs. 

        So why am I now writing a blog solely on Katy Sagal and her portrayal of Gemma? For one, I get the sense that Gemma will become a much more mainstream and important character as the season progresses, and want to shed light on this before it happens. But secondly- and more importantly in my mind- I wanted to discuss how/why Katy Sagal may have been chosen for this role. Don't get me wrong- I have nothing against Katy Segal as an actress and so far I don't have any negative comments regarding her portrayal of Gemma. I just find her to be an interesting choice based on some of her previous shows. Her most famous role is arguably her portrayal of Peggy Bundy in Married with Children, where she portrayed a family woman with a sarcastic sense of humor and an 80s sense of fashion. 

       One of Katy Sagal's other most prominent roles was in 8 Simple Rules for Dating Your Teenage Daughter, where she once again portrayed the ultimate mother figure. She was a caring, sympathetic and understanding wife (to the late John Ritter) and mother (to two children, one of whom was Kaley Cuoco of Big Bang Theory fame) that left most viewers envious of her handling of such a hectic household.

        Now obviously many actors and actresses have depth in their abilities, and its not unusual to hear about someone undertaking a role that the general public would never anticipate and then proceeding to flourish (i.e. Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight). However, the transition from motherly figure in the two shows mentioned above to a character that is cut-throat, vulgar and pompous is a shocking turn of events in my estimation. Once again, I still do not have any qualms with her portrayal of Gemma, yet I often find myself almost unwilling to believe that this is the same actress: 

WARNING: Contains Strong Language 

        There is one other connection that may explain why Katy Sagal was tapped for the role of Gemma. In 2004, Katy Sagal married Kurt Sutter. Sutter is famous for creating and producing The Shield on FX in 2002, and in 2008 he created and produced a show on FX entitled.....Sons of Anarchy. Was Sutter's marriage a factor in tabbing Sagal to play the lead female role in Sons of Anarchy? Only the cast and crew may know for sure, but it is a worthy thought considering how the role differs from her previous acting portrayals.   

        Either way it came to fruition, it looks like Kurt Sutter and his staff made the right call in tabbing his wife for the role of Gemma. After all, you usually don't win Golden Globes (like she did in 2011) for poor acting.

Season One: Episode Two- "Seeds"

        Corruption. Power. Deception.

        These are the themes that I expected to be at the forefront of Sons of Anarchy episodes when I began reviewing the series, and Seeds did not disappoint. While SAMCRO may have "taken care of business" when it came to the Mayans at the conclusion of last episode, the gang's burned down warehouse is still a matter of contention. Sheriff David Hale, an up-and-coming member of the Charming Police Department and potential candidate to be future Chief, approaches Jax and other members of SAMCRO with a warrant to search the property where the warehouse once stood. Hale is not the type of officer that can be bribed or controlled, and his "by the book" attitude towards the law is a concern for SAMCRO. Hale shares many characteristics with other famous small-town sheriff's portrayed in the movies or on television. His concern for the town that he represents and his unwillingness to be manipulated by SAMCRO or any other outside contingency that may harm the inhabitants of his jurisdiction is reminiscent of honorable sheriff's (fictional and non-fictional) such as Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffin Show and  Buford Pusser in (the original) Walking Tall. 

David Hale (portrayed by Taylor Sheridan)

Andy Taylor (portrayed by Andy Griffith)
Bufford Pusser (portrayed by Joe Don Baker)

        Hale's demeanor is contrasted by Wayne Unser, the current Chief of the Charming Police Department. Unser is an elder statesman in the town's law enforcement who has been conducting illegal business and soliciting bribes from SAMCRO for years. Despite his official title as Chief and experience as a sheriff in Charming, Unser is presented to viewers as someone easily manipulated by SAMCRO, with evidence confirming this as the episode progresses (and touched on later in this blog).

       As Hale and his law enforcement team- armed with their warrant- search the warehouse property, they stumble upon two female corpses who viewers learn are illegal immigrants that had been sleeping in the basement of the warehouse (unknowing to the leaders of SAMCRO). The viewers also learn that a member of SAMCRO, known as "Tig", had sexual intercourse with both women and could be linked to them if an autopsy was ever conducted. This situation reflects the attitude and personality that Tig brings to the SAMCRO gang. Already through two episodes, Tig is portrayed to viewers as a brash yet loyal member of the gang who enjoys the violent aspect of the outlaw lifestyle (one short scene in this episode shows Tig participating in a cage fight).  In this instance, Tig seemingly used his position of power and dominance to take advantage of two women in the country illegally and made sexual advances on them. The interesting aspect of this situation is that it can also be viewed as a moment of weakness or cowardliness.  One would think that a member of SAMCRO, which is a well-known and established group in the city of Charming, might not have any problem finding a woman to engage in a relationship with. This is especially true since other members of SAMCRO have significant others that are seemingly understanding of their lifestyle choices. Yet, Tig satisfies his physical desires by practically taking advantage of those seemingly without an alternative due to their current status. It may appear on the surface as an action that showcases dominance, yet deep down it could also show a lack of confidence or self-worth.

       Based on the discovery of the corpses, Hale summons a forensic unit to inspect the bodies. Since Tig's DNA could be found within the corpses, SAMCRO devises a plan to try and derail the investigation. SAMCRO recognizes that the only way a forensic team could be reassigned is if another more urgent crime scene arises in a closer jurisdiction. Clay believes that staging a murder is the only option, but Jax presents the gang with an alternative. Jax reasons that the group could use their connections at the funeral parlor to attain two fresh corpses and stage a crime scene using the two already deceased bodies. This option once again shows Jax's moral compass. Instead of an increase in senseless violence, Jax attempts to limit the amount of blood on SAMCRO's hands while also completing the mission at hand. While Jax's plan also seems to be logistically superior to Clay's, it is also evidence of his conscience and the understanding of his father's words of wisdom (noted in the first episode and analyzed in my previous blog entry). Jax's plan is carried out to perfection, forcing the forensic team to take a detour to the "new crime scene" and allowing SAMCRO enough time to dispose of the two female bodies that were found at the warehouse site and burn them.  

        The concept of power has appeared throughout this episode, from Tig using his power and status to engage physically with the two (now deceased) women and SAMCRO using its power over workers at a funeral home to receive fresh corpses to stage a crime scene. Towards the conclusion of the episode, SAMCRO also flashes its power and control over Chief Unser. Unser asks SAMCRO to ensure that a shipment of cargo gets delivered to its destination safely and pays SAMCRO to escort the truck carrying the goods. Upon arrival, there's an unexpected twist as SAMCRO steals the goods themselves at a rest stop and provides the goods to one of their allies as a showing of good faith. Clay and SAMCRO's blatant disregard for Unser is another reminder of who owns Charming. SAMCRO knows that David Hale wants to become Chief, and so they threaten Unser into postponing his retirement by making it clear that certain other deliveries could be hijacked as well. 

      This episode dealt mainly with the struggles in authority between the law enforcement and SAMCRO. However, many other questions still exist as the show moves forward. Will the Mayans will reappear with reinforcements? How will Chief Unser postponing his retirement affect SAMCRO and the attitude of David Hale? Will Jax continue to show his true conscience by straying away from unnecessary violence, and will SAMCRO start to become worried about his commitment? Only two episodes in and many more questions than answers....   


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Season One: Episode One- "Pilot"

        If you are reading this blog, chances are you are either a fan of Sons of Anarchy or the show has peaked your interest in some fashion. Those less familiar with the show may have a basic understanding that the plot revolves around a motorcycle gang from California, and may assume that violence and corruption are the major themes in the series. However, the first episode of Sons of Anarchy showed viewers that the series will have depth and character development, in addition to portraying the rebellious antics of a respected and sometimes feared gang.

        Before delving into the content of the first episode, I want to provide readers with a brief history of the “motorcycle gangs” that Sons of Anarchy seemingly embodies. In 1901, George Hendee (a former bicycle-racing champion) and Oscar Hedstrom (a bicycle designer/fabricator) founded the Indian Motorcycle Company and began selling the first motorized bicycles to the general public. Two years later marked the inception of the Harley-Davidson Company, and also the very first motorcycle club- the New York Motorcycle Club. The motorcycle clubs in the early 1900s were concerned with issues such as safe riding and improving road conditions for all riders. It wasn’t until approximately 1945 that “outlaw” motorcycle clubs began to surface. During these years, thousands of young men were returning back to the United States after World War II, and many of them were riddled with after-effects such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In an attempt to find solace with individuals who were engaged in the same catastrophes and horrific experiences, many veterans formed brotherhoods and rode motorcycles as a “leisure” activity to help integrate them back into a “normal” society. However, by law, only motorcyclists and motorcycle clubs registered with the American Motorcycle Association (AMA) could race motorcycles. Many of these war veterans were not registered and had no desire to register, leading the majority to form their own groups and race outside of AMA jurisdiction. Groups such as the “Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington” (POBOB) and the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club were formed, and such groups rejected the charter of the AMA while formulating their own set of rules. 

        After the Vietnam War, the term “one percenters” began to gain traction with motorcycle gangs. The “one percenters” used a diamond-shaped symbol to denote their status and established geographic boundaries- especially in California- where each motorcycle club would operate independently. The concept of “one percenters” allegedly still exists among motorcycle groups today, and has a direct correlation to the fictional gang portrayed in the Sons of Anarchy.

        In the opening scenes of the pilot episode, the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Chapter (hereby referred to as SAMCRO) receives confirmation that their warehouse storing illegal firearms was destroyed by the Mayans, a rival Mexican gang. Immediately, it is clear to viewers that the Mayans “invasion on SAMCRO territory” could be construed as a potential action that solicits a “turf war.” To connect the fiction with the non-fiction for a moment, there is an implication that SAMCRO territory is a known commodity among those in the surrounding areas (including rival gangs) and that specific territory was likely dictated by a higher power (i.e. “one percenters”) in the gang world. The pilot episode does not shed any immediate light on how exactly the city of Charming, California became SAMCRO territory, but the implication is certainly made that no one conducts business in the city without approval from SAMCRO. The theme of territorial control continues throughout the episode when Clay (the leader of SAMCRO) visits with a representative of the 1-9er’s, a gang who was expected to the beneficiary of the illegal weapons before the Mayans purged them. Clay insists that the meeting with the 1-9er’s happens on “their territory”, with the implication that such an action is a "show of good faith" while also keeping the 1-9er’s representative within his comfort zone. Territorial control is a theme through the final sequence of the episode, when SAMCRO discusses ways to invade the Mayans territory and retain their stolen weapons. It is evident that a misstep or leaving trace evidence reverting back to SAMCRO could have the potential to cause a gang war. Despite the feelings of unhappiness and disdain towards the Mayans, this was not a path that SAMCRO wished to walk down. At the conclusion, SAMCRO invades the Mayans warehouse and takes back their weapons, leaving the warehouse torched and killing any Mayan security presence. The destroying of any potential evidence linking SAMCRO to the Mayan warehouse is  a matter of personal protection and territorial protection. Without concrete evidence, one gang is not likely to retaliate against another gang because of the complicated implications that could arise. 

        As I mentioned earlier in the post, viewers who are unfamiliar with Sons of Anarchy may assume that the show is based solely on the outlaw behaviors of a motorcycle gang. However, even the first episode provides insights into family and brotherhood that may even overshadow the violence and corruption as the season continues. Viewers are introduced to Jax, the right-hand man to Clay and son of the deceased John Tulley (who founded SAMCRO). Jax discovers some old materials that belonged to his father, including a memoir that he wrote entitled "The Rise and Fall of SAMCRO." This discovery sets off an internal struggle that viewers are immediately thrust inside of. On one hand, it is evident that Jax wants to embody the motorcycle club that his father helped create, but on the other hand it is also apparent that the club his father founded may have different norms than the present one. It seems as though Jax's father was hoping to establish a club based on 1900s values with brotherhood and togetherness at the forefront. However, the current SAMCRO has more post-Vietnam values in terms of becoming involved with weapons, drugs and smuggling. Jax tips his cap as to which direction he is leaning a couple times in the first episode. The first time is when SAMCRO is heading to the Mayans warehouse, and Jax recommends that Opie (an explosions expert recently released from prison) stay home with his family instead of coming with the group. In that instant, Jax was looking out for his "brother" Opie, whose wife was less than enthralled at Opie's alignment with SAMCRO. Jax chose to give Opie a "get out of jail free card" instead of forcing him on the mission, even though his absence would upset Clay. The second instance where Jax chooses a path less-violent is when SAMCRO is taking back their weapons at the Mayan warehouse. Jax had taken one of the Mayan's prisoner and Clay told Jax to "finish him" by shooting him in the head. Jax hesitates at this request, and only obliges out of reaction once he is shot by another member of the Mayan gang. Jax's values- even after just one episode-appear to be different from some of the other members of SAMCRO, who appear to shed no tears when shedding the blood of others. 

        Throughout the episode, we also learn that Jax has an ex-wife (Wendy) who is pregnant with their child: 

        Wendy is portrayed by Drea de Matteo in the show, and in the first episode the audience learns that Wendy has  a drug problem, including taking drugs while being pregnant with her and Jax's baby. Drea de Matteo portraying a woman married (or in this case- formerly married) to a man involved with organized crime is not a unique roll for her. de Matteo played Adriana La Cerva in The Sopranos where she was the wife of Christopher Moltisanti, the protege of Tony Soprano: 

Just as Christopher Moltisanti was expected to take over the crime operations in The Sopranos once Tony Soprano retired, it is already evident in the first episode that Jax is the heir apparent to SAMCRO once Clay is no longer able to serve the role. It will be fascinating to see how de Matteo's relationship with Jax compares to the marriage she had with Christopher on The Sopranos

As the first episode begins to wrap up, Wendy is brought to the hospital because she is found at home unconscious. The drugs that she has been taking forced the doctors into an emergency operation to remove the baby. While the baby ends up surviving, he (named Abel) is born ten weeks premature and has a deformity in his heart and stomach. The relationships between Jax and Wendy will be something to keep an eye on as the series carries on. Will they reconnect over their new son, or will they continue to remain separate and distant? We will have to wait for episode two and beyond....

* The information regarding the history of motorcycle gangs can be credited to William Dulaney and his article "A Brief History of Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs" in the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies