I think that most of us can agree that season three of “Sons of Anarchy” had its moments (a particularly satisfying finale), but overall, it was a misfire. But at least it was an ambitious misfire. Much of the problems with last season can be attributed to Kurt Sutter’s decision to take SAMCRO out of Charming. Sutter simply underestimated the appeal that the city and its characters have. The trip to Ireland to save Abel was an interesting diversion, but it was just that: A diversion, and it should’ve been limited to a two-episode arc and not the majority of season three.
The good news in season four is that, though Sutter ardently denies that there was anything wrong with season three and claims that he’d do the same thing again, he also listened — and perhaps caved — to his fanbase. The broader scale is being pulled back, and the focus again returns to the city of Charming and the Machiavellian machinations inside of SAMCRO.
The new season opens inside of prison; the boys of SAMCRO have been sprung loose 14 months after the events of last year’s finale. On the outside, they’re faced with a new Charming, one now under the control of Eli Roosevelt (“Terriers” Rockmond Dunbar) and the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department. Eli is quick to inform SAMCRO that, as a condition of their probation, they are not allowed wear their cuts. That’s not a good way to get on SAMCRO’s good side.
Turns out, Eli’s not interested in getting on their good side, as he’s also joined forces with an Assistant U.S. District Attorney, Lincoln Parker (“Deadwood’s” Ray McKinnon) in an effort to take down the Sons, the IRA Kings and the Russians supplying the guns. By the end of the episode, at Opie’s wedding to Lila, SAMCRO seems to have taken care of the latter themselves, killing ALL the Russians for their role in having Jax shivved in prison. Naturally, SAMCRO keeps the guns for themselves. What SAMCRO doesn’t know, however, is that one of those Russians was an undercover agent.
Meanwhile, while Opie, Piney, Chibs and the gang have kept the club going in the absence of most of the senior members, the city of Charming itself began to gentrify. Clay wants to put a stop to the Charming Heights development, and enrolls his old pal, Sheriff Unser — who is no longer the Sheriff — to help persuade Mayor Hale to bury the development.
The other major development, and the one that looks to provide the season’s propulsion, is Jax’s decision to marry Tara and to get out of SAMCRO for the benefit of his now two sons, Abel and Thomas. He’s biding his time, waiting for Clay’s arthritis to force him to step down, giving Jax the opening he needs to get out of the club. In the meantime, he has to ride out the money-making opportunities so that he can help support Tara and the kids.
Obviously, it’s too early to say if this season will be a return to the glory of Season 2, but based on the opening 90-minute episode, they’re at least on the right track. The focus is where it should be: On Charming, and on the internal struggles of SAMCRO. More promising, at least from my perspective, is that the tone has lightened ever so slightly, a welcome respite from the grim, humorless season three.