Oct 122011
 

After the immensely impressive second season (which was reviewed here), anticipation grew and grew for the third season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy; the show about a fictional chapter of the outlaw biker group known as the Sons of Anarchy; and it was hard to imagine just how show runner, creator, writer, and star Kurt Sutter could have topped it; yet in many ways he did.

While the first season introduced the audience to the biker’s, their club, and a portion of their history, their customs and traditions, and the ways in which they do business (which include running a legal garage, a semi-legal porn business, and a slightly less-than-legal gun-running operation), the second season introduced a big bad for the club to face-off against, basically started a gang war on the streets of Charming (the fictional California town where the show is set), and ended with a huge shock cliffhanger that set the scene for the entire third season; leaving the Sons desperately trying to find a close family member who was kidnapped at the end of season two.

The fate of SAMCRO (Sons Of Anarchy Redwood Original – to give the Charming chapter its full title) has always been tied in to that of the IRA, and the Sons’ own Irish chapter, yet never more so than during the third season; which finds ‘Jax’ Jackson Teller (Charlie Hunnam, The Ledge) understandably distraught because of his recent loss at the hands of a former IRA partner, his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal, Married With Children) on the run as a fugitive for a murder she didn’t commit (after being framed by the FBI agent investigating the club), and his stepfather/club president Clay (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) attempting to hold both the club and his family together, whilst finding the one they’ve lost, and keeping the business going.

Kim Coates (Waterworld), Theo Rossi (Cloverfield), Mark Boone Junior (Batman Begins), Tommy Flanagan (Braveheart), and Ryan Hurst (Taken), all return as the club’s most prominent members; Tig, Juice, Bobby Elivs, Chibs, and Opie, respectively; and are joined by a number of newcomers this season; including a guest appearance by the infamous novelist Stephen King (The Shining writer who delivers a fantastic performance as a ‘cleaner’ in one episode), both Paula Malcomson and Robin Weigert (continuing Kurt’s plan to include every member of the Deadwood alumni in SOA), and Kenny Johnson (The Shield) as an old friend of the club, and possible new member of the Charming chapter.

Once again the acting in this season of Sons of Anarchy is of just as high a standard as the previous seasons; though it’s Charlie Hunnam who delivers the best, most believable and emotional, moments this time around (as opposed to Katey Sagal’s breathtaking season two performance); and it’s thanks to the high calibre of acting, and the huge emotional impact of the show (which really draws its fans in, and will have you truly caring about what these characters are going through), not just the action (which is often explosive, brilliant, and truly helps make a show like this) which makes SOA a fantastic drama, and one of the most compelling shows on TV.

Yet while it may be one of the best shows currently on TV, Season 3 hasn’t been the finest hour for the Sons; sure it’s undeniably addictive, must-see, TV, and will have you laughing, crying, sitting silent in stunned amazement, screaming at the television when you disagree with a characters choice (especially when it comes to Jax making one of the toughest decisions of his life), and often surprised by the brilliant direction the stories take, but it does have a few plot holes, some rather baffling and unbelievable character decisions, and really does sag quite a bit in the middle of the season (with the kidnapping storyline feeling like it’s dragged out for far too long).

Ireland brings a nice change of pace to the show, is a perfect location to take the Sons, and effectively helps introduce great chunks of the club’s mythology, and expand several character’s backstories, though some fans may find it just a little too different to the Charming setting we’re used to, and it has to be said that “This Celtic Life” is a God-awful mess of a theme tune; which butchers an excellent, perfectly fitting, usually catchy, memorable theme music which accompanies the show.

Even though Season 3 may not be the Sons’ finest hour, it’s still brilliantly written, hugely entertaining, and ends with such a brilliant finale that you’ll be begging for more; ensuring that Sons of Anarchy is still the very definition of essential viewing; filled with great acting, great writing, a fantastic concept, a huge heap of emotion, and a hefty helping of impressive (and warranted) violence, that’s bound to thrill any fan of great drama, and leave you dying to see Season 4 (which happens to be airing now in the US).

Picture:

Similar to the show’s previous releases the video transfer for Sons of Anarchy Season 3 is strong, but far from perfect; while the image may appear a little hot to begin with you’ll quickly realize that’s down to a stylistic choice which more than suits the tone and material of the show, it contains bold and striking colours which are represented with excellent contrast, generally decent black levels, and spot-on flesh-tones.

Sons of Anarchy’s third season also comes to DVD with a thin layer of grain which gives it a nice, film-like, look, and though there are a number of visible compression issues, evidence of crushing, a few halos, a touch of softness here and there, and unexplained spikes in the level of noise at one or two random intervals (most of the problems are more evident during the darker scenes), it’s difficult to deny that this is still a very strong presentation overall (though clearly not as strong as the Blu-ray releases; which have thankfully now made their way onto UK shores), and my summary of Season 2’s picture quality still rings true for the Sons’ latest release; it contains ‘only a few minor issues that most viewers simply won’t notice, and does a great job of representing its source; which, at its core, is a series that is so well made, the problems could be ten times worse, and viewers would still want to keep on watching.’

Audio:

Once again coming to DVD sporting a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the audio for Sons of Anarchy’s third season is once again excellently balanced, delivers clean, consistent, and well leveled dialogue, perfectly reproduces the show’s numerous heavy-rock songs (often used in closing montages), and even introduces a consistent and solid amount of ambience emanating from the rear channels.

LFE is solid and weighty (giving real presence to the Harleys that parade down the streets of Charming and, in this latest series, Belfast, and enhancing the series’ gun battles), there are a number of solid pans, and evidence of well utilized directionality, and while Sons of Anarchy Season 3 may not sound quite as good as some of the best new theatrical releases, its soundtrack far ahead of that accompanying most television release; it’s still no True Blood, no Band of Brothers, and could even have the ambience and LFE turned up just a kick for listeners who like their audio just a little louder, but in the end, this is a great effort from a great show, and shouldn’t disappoint even a single fan.

Extras:

Just like seasons one and two, Sons of Anarchy Season 3 comes to Blu-ray and DVD with a huge selection of special features that would make most high-profile theatrical releases (never mind TV shows) green with envy; from numerous episode commentaries (which are engaging, informative, interesting, and fun), and deleted scenes (including some brilliant moments, and some not so much), to an amusing gag reel (consisting mainly of line-fluffs), a writers roundtable (a brilliant feature where Kurt and some of the SOA writers answer fans questions about the show), and a video of the actors table-read for the season finale (a boring and entirely skippable addition).

Also included are a short featurette which aired on the Fox Movie Channel; containing interviews with the cast discussing the third season; an interesting featurette focussing on Sutter, and why he feels the need to direct each seasons finale, a featurette showing a custom bike build from start to finish (which is really only for bike enthusiasts, but shows a fun project where Kurt and a bike customizer teamed-up to raise money for charity), and a collection of four short webisodes (titled ‘The Future Begins Now’) that aim to bridge the gap between Season 3 and 4; which are an excellent inclusion, with their only drawback being their short length, and the fact there are only four of them.

It’s clear to see that Sutter and co. are all about rewarding their fans, and that the selection of bonus materials awarded to Sons of Anarchy Season 3 clearly do reward the fans’ involvement; by providing not just a simple selection of special features containing mindless filler material, but a plethora of featurettes and clips, a wealth of information, and enough background knowledge to give the fans just what they want from Blu-ray/DVD extras; giving them a way to not only extend their knowledge of the Sons’ universe, but allowing them to keep the show alive that little bit longer, waiting for SAMCRO to return for Season 4.

The Bottom Line:

Season 1 started off slowly but showed a huge amount of potential, which continued into Season 2 with a bang, and Sons of Anarchy has never let-up since; it continues to gain momentum; and now that Sons of Anarchy Season 3 is out on Blu-ray and DVD it’s even easier to see that this is a show with brilliant writing, fantastic acting, and such epic drama that it just demands to be watched.

With the shocking events that concluded Season 2, expectations for Season 3 were always going to be high, and while the kidnapping story was always going to tug on the heart strings of viewers there’s still no shortage of intrigue and action, and it’s great to see the outlaw MC riding again; specifically into Ireland (which provided a nice change of pace); because even if Season 3 did sag a little in the middle, have a few plot holes and didn’t quite match up to Season 2 overall, it’s still great TV.

Sons of Anarchy Season 3 also comes to Blu-ray and DVD with a great video transfer (it has its issues, but they’re likely to go unnoticed by most viewers, and really, they’re fairly minor niggles anyway), a solid audio transfer, and a great selection of special features that do nothing if not thoroughly reward the show’s fans for their diligence and enthusiasm for SAMCRO.

So in the end it’s easy to see that with the Sons of Anarchy Season 3 DVD (and presumably the Blu-ray) you get everything you could hope for with a modern TV home release; an impeccable DVD set that does a great job of bringing the Sons home; Season 3 isn’t Sons of Anarchy’s best, but there are so many ways the show can go from here that the possibilities are endless, and as with Dexter, even if a show like this takes a slight dip (it is very slight, and nowhere near the colossal drop that was witnessed between Dexter season 4 and 5) it’s still essential TV.

Sons of Anarchy is easily one of the best, most compelling, and most original shows on TV, and one that comes highly recommended; if you haven’t seen it yet, buy the Season1-3 box set, because you seriously won’t regret it; it’s a show with brilliant writing, acting, direction, and style, and is one that both men and women are bound to enjoy.

Matt Wheeldon.

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