Not that Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter is ever in doubt, but there's truth in the notion "when in doubt, bring in Jimmy Smits." Smits has proven in the last decade to be a most-welcome Johnny-come-lately, on shows like The West Wing, Dexter, and now Sons (he even turned up in the last Star Wars movie, the best of the prequels). Though it wouldn't have seemed a natural fit for him, Smits rocks the role of Nero Padilla, a pimp who sexes up Katey Sagal's Gemma and becomes entangled with SAMCRO's business dealings. Smits is loose and sexy in the role, and he also makes an excellent straight man as he reacts to the swirl of anarchy the Sons always find themselves in.
As valuable a presence as Smits is to the show's fifth season, he's not the defining element. Nor is late-season guest star Donal Logue, who will clearly drive much of Season Six. It's not even the excellent Harold Perrineau (Lost), weaving silky evil as a character who more significantly drives the plot: down-low crime lord Damon Pope. No, the presence that continues to define Sons of Anarchy is that of Sutter, who has proven consistently eager to shock the audience, and so far hasn't allowed that impulse to become so expectedly unexpected as to start to bore us. Sons continues to be an heir to The Shield in this respect, except with more mythic overtones provided by its Shakespearean inspiration. Sutter continues to inch inexorably toward Act Five of Hamlet (now slower than ever, given a projected two more seasons till a finale), doing so in Season Five by strengthening the resolve of ascendant outlaw motorcycle club president Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam of Pacific Rim) and intriguingly complicating the relationship between fading "king" and "queen" Clay (Ron Perlman) and Gemma.
One of the most satisfying areas Sutter explores in Season Five is the way characters are adopting others' roles. Sutter opens the season with a deeply satisfying flourish that establishes Jax's growing maturity: instead of reading his father's journal, Jax is writing his own, providing the audience his inner thoughts through narration. Though Jax struggles to remain hopeful that the Sons can clean up their business (getting out of drugs and into more legitimate, if not entirely legal, enterprises), storm clouds have begun to gather, leading Jax to say things like "I see the end" and "Things are going to get bloody." In attempting to become his father (hopefully without dying), Jax risks becoming Clay—a point Jax's "Horatio" Opie (Ryan Hurst) calls him on. Meanwhile, Clay seems to be turning into the late Piney, complete with travelling oxygen and breathing tube up his nostrils.
What people will no doubt most remember about Season Five, though, will be those principal guest stars and, yet more so, the big shocks. Sutter knows how to conceive inconceivable violence, and while it's fair to question whether or not such disgusting ideas are just cultural poison, one can't argue that Sutter ignores the consequences of each act. The deaths in Season Five (including one of a long-term regular character) resonate in the characters' ongoing anguish and decision-making, informed by existential horror and rage. There's plenty of territory to explore in small-town Charming, California, with its family angst, crime and (vigilante) punishment, and politics from the clubhouse down to the mayor's office.
Fox does its typical bang-up job with Sons of Anarchy in its Season Five on Blu-ray, even if the extras feel a little slimer than usual. The picture quality on the thirteen episodes (one in an extended cut) deeply satisfies, and remains consistent with previous season sets: apart from a bit of mild noise in low light, these are tight and bright transfers, with vivid color and impressive detail and texture. The well-resolved image is complemented by powerful, lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, which will shake your home theater with rumbling LFE (think motorcycles) and cannon-like gunfire. Placement of effects in the sound field contributes mightly to convincing and involving ambience, dialogue is always crystal clear, and the rock source cues are always terrifically full-bodied.
Disc one serves up a raucous commentary on "Sovereign" with executive producer Kurt Sutter, director Paris Barclay, Katey Sagal, Maggie Siff and Dayton Callie. Fans will find this a heckuva lot of fun, especially in the absence of a video-based cast roundtable. Each disc includes a selection of "Deleted Scenes" (4:59, HD) from that disc's episodes, and that's all we get on Disc Two: "Deleted Scenes" (5:40, HD). Disc Three's "Deleted Scenes" (4:04, HD) share space with an entertaining commentary on "Darthy" with director Peter Weller, as well as four video extras: a "Gag Reel" (4:51, HD); "Opie Winston" (6:48, HD), a profile of one of the season's most prominently featured characters with comments by the man who plays him (Ryan Hurst) and his castmates, as well as Sutter; the all-too-brief interview "Kurt Sutter: Creating Anarchy" (3:41, HD), and this season's fan-reward featurette, "Fan Concert at the Club House" (19:29, HD).
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
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Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer