Monday, April 30, 2012

HISHE: Sons of Anarchy Season 3...

... or where I brazenly, and perhaps foolishly, re-write season three of Sons of Anarchy

I just finished watching seasons 1-3 of Sons of Anarchy.  It's now one of my favorite shows and I'm looking forward to watching Season 4.  Season 1 starts of wobbly and, as far as a crime fiction story goes, a little conventional.  It finds its legs after a couple of episodes and gets stronger by the end of the season.  Season 2 builds on the strengths of season 1 and gives the viewer a great season of television. None of this is to say that the first two seasons are perfect, but they are damn good. 

Then there is season 3.  There are a lot of viewers who dislike season 3 for various reasons.  More on that in a minute.

A couple of thought trains collided for me.  First,  I enjoy the pieces that How It Should Have Ended do, some more then others to be fair, but they are a fun extension of my middle school arguments about whether Bruce Lee could beat Darth Vader and what would happen if you used a nuclear bomb on a vampire.  Second, I liked the ideas that Belated Media put forth about The Phantom Menace and how it could have been streamlined to make a better movie.  Not all of the ideas work but overall I appreciate what they did. 

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Third, after exchanging some editorial notes one of the Snubnose authors thanked me but in truth I was just connecting some dots based on what was already there. It just needed a fresh pair of eyes to get that final polish. 

I want to explore the disconnect between the season 3 that I watched and the season 3 in my mind.  I don't know what you would call this: a review, a re-write, a critique, a polish, editorial notes, fan fiction.  But I'm going to do it anyway. 

Here's what I would have done with season 3 of Sons of Anarchy to make it better.  I tried as much as possible to use what was there.  I also haven't seen season 4 but I have looked at some of the information on it. 

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-No Lem (or Kozik, or whatever the hell his name is) - I wouldn't have introduced this character.  First, he doesn't look like a biker.  He looks too pretty (even with that neck tat) standing among that grisly cast.  You wanted to throw a Shield alum some work, great, but not this part.  The feud between Lem and Tig is kind of stupid when you finally learn its origins. He ultimately drags down the existing cast that we have come to love.

-Hale - Hale shouldn't have died.  The Hale/Tara/Jax triangle was a great mirror with the Unser/Gemma/Clay triangle.  They complimented each other nicely.  Especially since we started to see Hale work with Jax and the club on a limited basis.  Seeing Hale slowly come to grips with the "devil you know" component of town life and law enforcement was interesting.  There was more to be done with this character, his relationships with other characters, and his relationship with the town.

-Opie - I think over the course of the third season it's time for Opie's role to be more defined.  He's a quiet character and I'm not suggesting that he suddenly become more verbose and the center of action.  But, it's just a matter of connecting some of the dots.  He is Jax's oldest friend; his quiet nature makes him an observer; he is there for Jax.  Right now I would say that he should be one part Bobby and one part Tig for Jax.  The get shit done guy and the one who sees clearly for Jax when Jax can't.  Moving forward Jax will need that and there's no one in the club who he trusts more. 

-Tara: Here's the bottom line with Tara.  Even though the internal timeline of the show up to this point is shorter then the external timeline of the air dates and the viewer watching the episodes the external timeline is perhaps more important.  So with the third season of the show it's time to treat Tara differently as a character and mark her movement into the club life and some of their affairs.  The next couple of sections will be about Tara.

-Tara and Tara and Jax- I'm not a big fan of the break up then get back together aspect of Jax and Tara's relationship this season.  On one hand he's hurting and pushing people away from him but on the other Tara has proven she's in at this point so it's time for everyone (including herself) to stop treating her like a fence-sitter.  Again, it's just a matter of connecting the dots that are already there.  When the club comes to get Jax from the house early in the season Clay has nothing but good words for her ("You really stepped up").  In season 2 when she was treating Bobby he said he was "in good hands".  Also, and this may sound trite and obvious, but she has a nickname (Doc). A lot of the club members have nicknames (Tig, Happy, Opie, Half Sack, Piney, Chibs) or go by shortened versions of their names (Clay, Jax).  It's just one of the many ways that club members self identify and identify one another so it is no small thing that Tara has a nickname too.      

Additionally, most women in and around the club fall into two categories: the crow eater and the old lady.  Tara is an old lady but she also has another role within the club, she is their doctor.  She can have doubts sometimes, she can have moments of clarity about her life ("I'm your old lady") but lets stop pretending she's not a part of the club.  Her being a woman but not just an old lady flips the script on pre-defined gender roles in the club and lets her have more power and respect above and beyond even that of her mentor, Gemma.

Since Jax is still hurting he can still push her away but have her stand her ground, in words and in action, by fighting for her family, her man and her life.  When Jax tells her she should go she tells him no, she's not leaving her home.  When Jax is away in Ireland she holds the fort down with Tig because she understands her responsibility to the club.  This also plays into larger show themes that protecting the club is the most important thing.

Before going to Ireland Jax breaks up with Tara one last time, doesn't go home that night, and fucks Ima the porn star.  The next morning Tara goes to the clubhouse and walk in on the two of them.  Tara leaves in a huff. Ima thinks she's won.  Jax kicks Ima out.  Lyla confronts and slaps Ima and Tara sees this.  With what I've said about how Tara should be above here's how the scene should have went down. 

Tara goes to the clubhouse and walks in on Ima and Jax. Instead of storming out Tara walks over to where Ima is standing and punches her in the gut. Ima doubles over, Tara grabs her by the hair and drags Ima out of the room, down the hall, and through the clubhouse with Jax shouting after her the whole time.  Lyla and Opie see this.  Opie makes an attempt to stop Tara and momentarily succeeds.  But Lyla joins in and puts the boots to Ima and drags her to the clubhouse door.  Tara breaks free of Opie and re-enters the fray.  Both Lyla and Tara drag Ima out of the clubhouse, down the driveway and kicks her into the street with a final kicking and spitting.  You end the scene with Jax getting in Tara's face and saying "what the hell did you do that for" and Tara responding calmly "you aren't getting rid of me that easy" then walking to her car, getting in and driving away.

Again, it's all about connecting the dots that are already there.  Tara shooting up Ima's car foreshadows this act of violence and Gemma attacking Cherry with the skateboard foreshadows this violence.  Additionally, there is a hierarchy to the women.  Think about it, Gemma is in the number one spot and Tara is in the number two spot (and being groomed for the top spot).  But no other club member has an old lady so Lyla, by default, is number three.  Even this is foreshadowed earlier in the series.  When the club gathers all the loved ones at the clubhouse before going to war it's Gemma, Tara and Lyla, arms around each other, that make the visual tableau as the men ride off.  Even though it's never explicitly stated, Lyla knows she is the number three old lady.  With Gemma out of pocket both Tara and Lyla step up and get shit done.

From what I understand of Ima's appearance in season 4 it would need some tweaking but not much.  This theoretical season 3 beat down could have dovetailed nicely with the Ima events in season 4.

-Tig & Tara - While the club is away Tig is the main club member left behind.  It should be up to Tig & Tara to hold down the home front.  While doing so they could have some nice interactions where they talk about her increased role in the club.  Tig is protective of Gemma but it also wouldn't be a stretch to say that he is protective of some of the other old lady's, IE: Tara.  Imagine a scene where the two of them are out, Tig leaves momentarily and some strange dude comes up to her and is hitting on her and won't leave her alone.  Tig comes back and Tara tells him to take care of this asshole and he does. This would further solidify her place in the club and show her comfort level in getting one of the guys to do something for her.  Further, Tig actually doing it would be his acknowledgement  of her place in the club. 

-Tara's kidnapping - A couple of things should happen with this sub-plot.  First, in my season 3 Hale is still alive.  I'd like to see more of a collaborative effort between the club and Hale and Unser in trying to find her.  I believe that the club consists of men of action so the whole elaborate plan to try and meet the kidnapper's demands by arranging Alvarez's "death" for 24 hours is a bit ludicrous.  These guys would be beating the streets looking for her.  Their blind and wild action would also add an element of danger because Tara and her kidnappers could be anywhere and would counter balance the more considered approach that Hale and Unser would take. 

Inside the house Tara would still shank her one kidnapper. The administrator would be allowed to go but she would be instructed to go to Teller Morrow to tell the club where Tara is at.  Salazar and Tara would be in a tense stand-off and at some point he would get the upper hand and put the boots to her.  Tig, Hale and Unser would find her bleeding out. She would be taken to the hospital and would have a threatened miscarriage. 

The change would do a couple of things.  It would allow the action to be more streamlined, action packed, suspenseful and tense.  Also it would shave off the part of the existing sub-plot that don't make sense (letting the administrator go but staying behind) and are in place only to serve later reveals. 

-Ireland - I'm not a big fan of the Ireland portion of the season.  It wasn't bad it just wasn't great.  Also, we knew the boys were going to wind up there so the constant plot machinations to keep them from getting there felt artificial and external and you could see the beams of the story.  For example Bobby's previously unheard of ex-wife who just happens to be married to a bounty hunter who can give them intel on Abel's location that turns out to be false anyway.  Plot wise it's a giant cul-de-sac with new characters and Sutter and crew are better then that.  With that said I'm going to mostly leave that arc in place. 

But. I think there is a better way to handle keeping the Sons from reaching Ireland until a certain point in the series arc.

The bounty hunter guy should feed the intel to the Sons much sooner about Cameron and Abel being in Vancouver and the Sons SHOULD ACTUALLY GO THERE. 

Here's the deal Motorcycle gangs are HUGE in Canada.  They are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, organized crime group in Canada.  To not send the boys there and utilize all of that history was, in my opinion, a huge missed opportunity. 

Instead of having artificial reasons to prevent the Sons from leaving for Ireland have them go to Vancouver instead and get involved in an ongoing conflict/war instead. It is a plot development that could last a few episodes and wouldn't feel forced because the Sons would feel/be obligated to support their Canadian brothers.  Then they get fed the Irish intel then they go to Ireland. 

As a side note, in the off chance there are some plans for future story arcs to take the club to Canada and someone associated with the show reads this, there is a crime writer whose wheelhouse is organized crime in Canada including biker gangs who has screenwriting experience as well.  His name in <a href="">John McFetridge</a>. Hire him.

-The double cross - The double cross at the end leaves the viewer feeling a little cheated. On one hand it's a little thrilling wondering just what in the hell is going on but there isn't single hint of a scene where Jax tells the club his plan.  This weakens the plot development.  Especially since re-watching the season doesn't answer the question.  So one little scene would work.

-Unser - The biggest change I would have made to the double cross plot is Unser's role.  Clay gave him what felt like a final send off. The removal of his badge and service weapon and the picking up of his personal weapon felt like final acts.  Instead of catching a punch he should have eaten his gun on the side of the road. It would have made the whole thing more plausible.  I love the Unser character  and Dayton Callie but with his cancer eating away at him anyway and the way of life that he worked so hard to protect slipping away and the enormity of the actions that he was allowing to happen in that moment  it would have been an epic end of third season death that would have been rivaled only by Stringer Bell's.  The story demanded a pound of flesh and he should have paid it.  Imagine how heartbreaking the scene would have been if Unser said his goodbyes, told Opie to tell Gemma he said goodbye and then shot himself with Opie and Piney watching.  There is an certain over-the-top quality to the way the double cross unfolds. This scene would have given the whole affair a beating heart. 


So that's it.  My thoughts on making the third season of Sons of Anarchy tighter and stronger.  I'm not the only one who thought the season was problematic so sound off and tell me what you think  of SoA, of my plan for the 3rd season, and what changes you would have made.  Or did you love it just the way it is (after all it does have a 4 1/2 star out of 5 rating with 180 reviews over at Amazon).

[And yes, I realize that this was a fairly geeky thing to do.]

Currently Reading: Submissions; Dime Detective by Randy Chandler

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