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Total Eclipse of the Heart

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 30, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 30, 2010 |

The second we saw Hal Holbrook appear onscreen in this, the third season of “Sons of Anarchy,” most of us had a fairly decent idea of where that plotline was heading. My first thought was, “So, this is how Kurt Sutter plans to get Katey Sagal that Emmy nomination she so deserved for last season’s rape story arc.” There would be sadness and there would be heartbreak. You didn’t know exactly when, or what the circumstances would be, but the end result was predictable.

But it proves, once again, how important character development is. Look: On paper, it sounds ridiculous to the point of implausible: The old lady of the head of a motorcycle gang, on the lam after being framed by an FBI agent for a murder she didn’t commit, then commits an actual murder, disposes of the body (with the help of one, Stephen King), puts her father — who has Alzheimer’s — in a nursing home, discovers her grandson has been abducted by the IRA, and goes into sudden cardiac arrest. That sounds balls-out frog dumb, the stuff of amped-up daytime soap operas. But this is “Sons of Anarchy.” Kurt Sutter laid the foundation, he developed the characters, and somehow, Katey Sagal sold it. She sold it hard. She took a somewhat predictable, melodramatic plotline, and she made us feel her goddamn pain. And when she fell to the ground, we didn’t roll our eyes and sigh exasperatingly. We fell down with her.

Pardon my perspective — I’ve seen way too much television these last two weeks — but it’s amazing to me how character development, solid acting, and a decent backstory can separate plot contrivance from heartbreaking narrative turn. And after watching so many shows that I can’t even remember the name of half of them already, it’s refreshing as hell to return to “Sons of Anarchy,” and to be able to give in to a character, a story, and a performance.

If you’re reading this “Sons of Anarchy” post, then I don’t have to tell you this, but it’s worth mentioning anyway: Katey Sagal, along with Connie Britton, are the best actresses on television right now, and Sagal is definitely the most underrated.

The rest of this week’s “Sons of Anarchy” is something of a blur in the wake of Gemma’s turn, but in short, here’s what happened: Gemma had to put Nate in a nursing home. Tara, in an effort to earn her way into a trip to Vancouver to help find Abel, revealed to Jax that she and Gemma killed the caretaker. Jax was a complete and total doucheswallow to her. Meanwhile, in Ireland, the Church — and Father Ashby — turned on Jimmy O, and in a twist I didn’t see coming, Ashby has decided to use Abel as leverage to ally with SAMCRO and turn them against Jimmy — who he now considers a gangster thug — while using Maureen to help manipulate the situation. Meanwhile, the rest of SAMCRO help a pharmaceutical lady out of a jam with a bunch of hophead hillbilly hippies with guns, a plot turn there to remind us, less ambiguously than much of the rest of this season, that the members of SAMCRO are the good guys. Or, at least their intentions are noble. Oh, and Gemma called Agent Stahl with the intention of turning herself in, but that was before she found out that Abel had been kidnapped,and before she had her heart attack.

Great episode.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.