'Hamlet' with motorcycles? Oh hell yes!
At least that should have been my immediate response when 'Sons of Anarchy' first premiered in 2008, but sometimes personal biases get in the way, and this part-time reviewer made a mistake. At the time, I was burnt out on motorcycle gangs. Over the years working for production companies in Los Angeles, my bosses and I had been pitched countless, cliché-ridden biker shows. Given this, I didn't care about this world, didn't think there was anything even close to resembling classical drama about a land filled with thugs.
So I ignored 'Sons of Anarchy', pre-judging material and not giving it the respect to see if the show worked on its own merits. I think we've all done this in various arenas of pop culture, and here I am to say, whoops.
Thankfully the show's creator/showrunner, Kurt Sutter, has a blog. There, I learned about Mr. Sutter, a take-no-prisoners, hard working, trash-talking philosopher who battles his demons with a pen, and openly admits to mistakes as much as he defends his personal convictions. I admired him for his talent as much as I did his personality, and thought if watching his show was anything like reading his blog, I was going to love it. Thank God I went back. I almost missed an epic, high octane, bullets-blazing TV series. Season One was riveting, and on Blu-ray, the series shines. In fact, it's odd to ponder for a moment about what an unusual era it is for the Television Series. On Blu-ray, audiences experience shows in a higher quality than they ever saw during the original broadcast. In fact, the saddest part about finally jumping onto the SOA bandwagon is that one not only have to wait a week between episodes, but the only way to watch is on FX's highly compressed, often murky 720p presentation. But TV shows this awesome are worth some sacrifice.
In a world without 'Lost' or '24,' and with 'Rescue Me' heading into its final season next year, 'Sons of Anarchy' is there to hold up my fall television schedule, thanks to its complexity, nuance, high-drama…and guns. Lots and lots of guns. For the uninitiated, I suggest renting or buying Season One to catch up on what you missed, but in the broadest strokes, this show is about the internal politics and family dynamics of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals), as well as the external forces they must battle thanks to a life lived outside the law. In Season One, club leader and co-founder, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), butts heads with his second-in-command / step-son -- Jax (Charlie Hunnam), who believes the club is heading down a darker path than Jax's father (also a co-founder) intended -- as the club tries to outsmart an ATF agent hell bent on destroying the club.
Season Two picks up where the tragic decisions of Season One smolder as embers ready to ignite at any moment. Jax is even more convinced that Clay is taking the club off the tracks. And coming in this season as the main outside antagonist is Ethan Zobelle (the quietly terrifying Adam Arkin), the non-criminal face of the League of American Nationalists, a white-hate group along the lines of the KKK (except smarter, highly organized and well funded). The League wants SAMCRO out of the gun-dealing business -- as the Sons distribute weapons for minority gangs -- and threatens to destroy the club from the inside or the outside if they don't comply. Only if SAMCRO can mend its internal emotional-cancers does this band of brothers have a chance to take down this seemingly unstoppable villain.
What follows are thirteen episodes of character, vigilante justice, drama, comedy, romance, redemption, and action. The only way to describe it is as a literal ride, one best experienced in large chunks, because the character arcs become crystal clear -- if for no other reason than Life doesn't have a chance to get in the way. Again, it's all about character, which can only happen when the writers, producers, directors, and actors mesh so tightly. In addition to Arkin's menacing work, Perlman and Hunnam are at the top of their respective games. Henry Rollins shows some serious chops as a neo-nazi who loves his sons. Katey Sagal is also amazing, playing the SAMCRO matriarch (Gemma Teller Morrow) who is at once tough-as-nails, but also vulnerable. Gemma has an strong season coaching Jax's doctor girlfriend Tara about being a part of the club; it's a striking change to see Tara change from an average civilian into someone as strong as Gemma, to see someone become a potential future matriarch. In fact, there are too many good performances to list, so just go watch the show.
While one must admit that a series splashing around in grey areas like drugs, guns, porn, and violence isn't necessarily for everyone, if you can, give it a chance and don't be like me, missing something so good simply because you didn't try.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Sons of Anarchy: Season Two' comes to Blu-ray on three dual-layer 50GB discs, and appears to be Region Free. Like last season, there are annoying forced trailers on discs one and three. Overall, I found the Main Menu designs on each disc to be cumbersome. On multiple occasions, attempting to select individual episodes resulted in activating the Play All [episodes] feature instead. Play All is also less effective as it's easy to lose track of episodes if you turn your system off, since these discs lack something like Season Play as seen on 'Lost'. Further, episodes aren't numbered, but represented by tiny dots. I don't remember last season working this poorly, but in the end what matters most is content, not a finicky menu.
'Sons of Anarchy: Season Two' arrives on Blu-ray with a slick AVC-MPEG4 1080p (aspect ratio 1.78:1) transfer.
Shot in high definition, this show looks fantastic nearly all of the time. Flesh tones are accurate. Colors are bright and bold. Picture is sharp and clear with seemingly infinite detail: from skin to leather vests to the locations to bullets bouncing off the ground. There is some minor edge enhancement and occasional noise in darker scenes, but overall the night interiors and exteriors have a wonderful contrast. Fine detail is still visible in shadow, and the image is grain-free. The only real problem area for the video I saw was in one steadicam shot at the end of the episode entitled 'Fa Guan': as the camera swirls around Jax and the other characters, focus and resolution disappear in what I can only assume is some sort of lens/production issue. That momentary flaw aside, this is a great looking show, and a fine testament to how good an HD production can look.
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment continues the 'Sons of Anarchy' Blu-ray heritage with another juicy English 5.1 DTS-MA soundtrack.
It may not always be overly aggressive in the way some $100 million dollar blockbusters or animated films can be, but it's pretty damn close, which on a television timetable is astounding. Dialogue is crisp and always clear. Sound effects make nice use of front stereo and rear panning in the surround channels. LFE gets to muscle its weight thanks to gunfire and roaring Harleys. But my favorite part about SOA on Blu-ray is the music; the show's creators seem particularly fond of thematic music to open and/or close many episodes. For audiences, the music seems not to come from any particular channel, but from the middle of the room. It sounds -- or feels -- like we're in the world thanks to the music just as much as any ambient noise could place us there. The music is always crisp, clear, and envelops the entire room. Combine this with the previously highlighted solid craftsmanship servicing the action on screen, and you have one of the best TV soundtracks I've ever heard, save for some of the work done in 'Lost.'
There are no other Audio selections, but Subtitles are available in English SDH, Espanol, Francais (Quebecois), Francais (Parisien), Portugues, Cantonese, and Koreon.
All of these special features appear on the DVD edition of this TV boxed set, but Blu-ray disc buyers get everything listed below is in high definition. Oddly, I've read that there might be two supplements on the DVD ('John The Revelator Music Video', and 'A Night Out With The Crew At Happy Endings Bar') that I did not find on this release. Can any of our readers confirm this? Perhaps they were left off all releases. As for what I've found, each of the three discs contains one commentary and some deleted scenes; the remaining features can be found on disc three.
Episode 201 'Albification' (Disc 1). This track is hosted by by Kurt Sutter, Ron Perlman, Adam Arkin and Guy Ferland.
Episode 210 "Balm" (Disc 2). Here we have Kurt Sutter, Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, Paris Barclay, and Dave Erickson.
Episode 213 'Na Triobloidi' (Disc 3). The final episode of the season features almost everyone on the show: Kurt Sutter, Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnan, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff, Theo Rossi, Mark Boone Jr., Tommy Flanagan, William Lucking, Dayton Calli and Taylor Sheridan. This track is also available as an HD-exclusive Picture-in-Picture.
Thanks to the blogosphere and Blu-ray disc, I got a second chance to experience an amazing television series. I'm so glad I did. It's epic, Shakespearean, smart, and above all, entertaining. The Blu-ray boxed set features excellent, sharply detailed video, and an immersive, active DTS-MA surround sound track. Fans who want to own the season shouldn't hesitate to purchase once you find it for a comfortable price. For folks who haven't seen the show at all, check out Season One before jumping into Season Two; to be fair, it's not a show for everyone given the language and violence. Season Three premiered September 7 (last night!) on FX.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.