The insistence that there exists an underlying poetic or even Shakespearian nature to Kurt Sutter's 'Sons of Anarchy' – the way in which it mirror's legendary tragedies like 'Hamlet' – seems enough to justify the series' inherent repetitive nature. It also allows the program to continue on without altering the characters or their circumstances so much that the basic tenet becomes something more than when Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam) will avenge his murdered father and depose Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), so that he may seek his rightful place within SAMCRO?
Ultimately, as far as season 4 goes, that growing discord served as an engrossing set up to an underwhelming conclusion, which suggests Sutter and his writers favor last minute twists and story adjustments aimed at granting the status quo time to linger, over finding their way to a more genuine resolution. This was evident in the "surprise" ending that concluded the outlandish events of season 3, which saw SAMCRO venture to Ireland – complete with a hilariously awful Irish version of the show's theme song – to retrieve Jax's kidnapped son, Abel, and ultimately uncover some scintillating details about the role Clay and Gemma (Katey Sagal) played in the death of J.T. Teller (Jax's father).
At that point, the series appeared ready to move forward by pressing the reset button in a way. For all intents and purposes, season 4 of 'Sons of Anarchy' would place the major players in much the same position they were in when the series premiered. Early on, it seemed like a stroke of genius: the members of SAMCRO are released from a short stint in prison to pick up their lives and, more specifically, the battle between Jax and Clay could finally come to a head.
Acceptably, Sutter and his writing team chose to set up the conflict between false father and deceived son around Clay's overreaching ambitions for the club -- which is motivated by a desire to set up a suitable nest egg for him and Gemma, as it is increasingly apparent retirement is on the horizon. Fair enough. What Clay has somehow set up, is a deal with the Galindo Cartel that forces the Sons into making larger gun deals, which provide more profit, but it also means the MC is now a mule for the cartel's cocaine business – something that doesn't go down well with many in the club.
The Galindo Cartel has a familiar, well-worn and decidedly awesome face to it: That of guest star Danny Trejo. As such, Trejo's character, Romero 'Romeo' Prada takes point on the season and acts as a sort of skeleton key for the MC and near mystical problem solver in how he can arrange for information, hit men and manage to show up just when Jax and Opie (Ryan Hurst) are about to be killed by a host of Russian gangsters. To the club, it's all the power of the cartel, but it's later revealed that Romeo is something far more elusive and dangerous.
Meanwhile, Clay and Gemma's paranoia over the letter's J.T. wrote regarding the internal strife in SAMCRO and his feelings that his wife and best friend were plotting to kill him begin to strain their marriage, as Clay's willingness to silence anyone – including Tara (Maggie Siff), the mother (biological and otherwise) of Jax's children – proves too reckless even for Gemma's tastes.
Season 4 also sees the induction of two new characters on the correct side of the law. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon) who is building a RICO case against the Sons, the IRA and the Galindo Cartel, and Lieutenant Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar), the head of the San Joaquin Sheriff Department that now counts the fictional city of Charming as part of its jurisdiction. While Potter is essentially the season's big bad, Roosevelt manages to toe the line between adversary of the Sons and motivated peacekeeper of Charming. In his performance, Dunbar (who was also seen in the wonderful, but tragically canceled 'Terriers') exudes a kind of strategic calm that balances the character's need to facilitate justice, while doing so in a manner befitting someone who proudly wears the badge. As is so often the case – especially with Sutter being a veteran of 'The Shield' – law enforcement is typically looked on as being just as corrupt, if not more so than SAMCRO and the cartels. While the issue of corruption in law enforcement is normally nothing more than a plot device to lessen the amorality of the Sons, the notion of an incorruptible figure was alluded to with Deputy Chief David Hale who perished unceremoniously in season 3. Roosevelt now takes on that same principled stoicism, and adds a legitimate genial nature to his method of doing business that works to make Dunbar not only a compelling addition to the cast, but a necessary one to boot.
As the intended payoff to the season's set up grew to such substantial proportions, FX granted Sutter an additional episode to tell his tale – pushing the season's count to 14. What was a moderately compelling, if not repetitive season, became almost completely undermined when, during the two-part finale of 'To Be - Act 1' and 'To Be - Act 2,' Sutter not only bilks the audience out of a promised climax, but also shows his hand so soon in episode 14 that any sort of superficial suspense is completely diluted by the realization that one of the season's major plotlines was nothing short of a lie. Meanwhile, the other major arc fizzles out on the flimsiest of excuses.
That kind of long con may work well within the twisted morality of 'Sons of Anarchy,' but it comes off as a cruel trick when perpetrated against the series' audience.
The 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 codec on 'Sons of Anarchy' season 4 is, simply put: Rather spectacular. The image is clean and crisp, free of noise and banding issues and presents each episode with stunning clarity and depth of image. As the program's color palette is somewhat stark and indicative of the arid California landscape the boys of SAMCRO are constantly shooting up, the transfer captures that hot, dry look with remarkable precision. Everything, from the worn leather of the men's clothes, to the grizzled, sun-baked faces of some of the actors (Trejo, in particular) are put on display in this release, and the result is something far more impressive than the image presented during the initial broadcast.
Contrast levels are excellent, as is the color saturation. Though there is the aforementioned stark color palette, it is occasionally assisted by sudden, bright bursts of crimson, as this series is chock full of brutal fisticuffs and has more than its fair share of gunplay. Blood stands out remarkably well, even in darkly lit scenes, and though it may sometimes look too red, that has more to do with the special effects team on the show than the transfer.
Topping it all off, the black levels are incredibly robust and inky, without a hint of crush that never compromises the fine detail – even in low light. All in all, 'Sons of Anarchy' season 4 has been given a very fine, nicely detailed transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 reproduces the program's many hectic shootouts, explosions and general acts of mayhem with depth and precision. Surround effects place the viewer directly in the line of fire with vigorous sound that extends to all speakers with excellent directionality and sound imaging. LFE comes through the subwoofer with deep, rumbling bass that perfectly captures the sound of the Sons' various rides.
As Sutter enjoys slapping a musical track in nearly each episode (in addition to the track played during the opening credits), every song is given a rich, beautiful-sounding makeover that fully utilizes the DTS-HD format, making one wish all music were presented in such a fashion.
If there were a complaint, the audio tends to favor sound effects and music over dialogue. There are occasions where voices on the low end of the spectrum (especially Ron Perlman and Ryan Hurst) become slightly muffled, or garbled sounding, which can be corrected by adjusting the volume, but the next gunshot, bike muffler or explosion in the episode will have you scrambling for the remote to turn the volume back down. It's a small complaint, but one worth noting.
Whether you consider 'Sons of Anarchy' to be a well-written tragedy, or you're of a mind that the program's pervasive and cartoonish violence prevents it from ever being taken seriously, season 4 definitely stands as a turning point in the series. Despite dawdling around its main storyline for three seasons, with stories of white supremacist groups and babies being stolen by crazy Irishmen, the show still managed to develop a fiercely loyal fanbase. Instead of rewarding the fans for sticking in there, 'SOA' essentially pulled a fast one on its audience by letting the major characters off the hook for the sake of seeing Charlie Hunnam and Maggie Siff end the season recreating a simple photograph. That being said, the season 4 Blu-ray is nothing short of a must own for fans of the series, as it presents the best possible viewing experience and enhances it with multiple colorful commentaries by the series' creator and the guy who once played Robocop. Whether you've waited until now to watch the season, or you've been longing to revisit 'Sons of Anarchy' before season 5 starts, this is the only way to properly view season 4.
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.