When corrupt cop drama The Shield bowed out in 2008, the similarly ultra-macho Sons of Anarchy – from the pen of Kurt Sutter, one of The Shield’s writers and loosely set in the same Californian criminal underworld – stepped up as its natural successor.
Following two seasons of balls-out biker action with Ron Perlman’s none-more-gruff patriarch Clay mentoring conflicted heir to the throne Jax (Charlie Hunnam), Season 3 is even more of an adrenaline shot.
Raising the stakes after the previous story arc’s brutal gang warfare, revenge attacks on Jax’s mother Gemma (Katey Sagal) and murder of Half Sack, we pick up after the previous season’s cliffhanger with Jax’s newborn son Abel kidnapped by the Real I.R.A.
This dark opening perfectly sets the scene for the extreme peril faced by SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original) and, in particular, Jax’s family in the season’s damaging sequence of events that see our protagonists come close to the very brink of collapse.
As with earlier seasons and Sutter’s older show, Sons of Anarchy’s labyrinthine plot involving a list of enemies longer than Ron Perlman’s face is non-stop, in-your-face action from the off. With Abel whisked off to Belfast by the sinister IRA psychopath Jimmy O (Titus Welliver), SAMCRO has to simultaneously track down his whereabouts, somehow get Gemma off the hook with the FBI, maintain their hold over their hometown Charming and all the while stay out of jail.
This makes for an only slightly embarrassing US take on Northern Ireland, which is cancelled out by a great performance from the ever-reliable James Cosmo as an ethically ambiguous priest on ‘shady, serious’ duty.
Though the action is sometimes ridiculously difficult to follow with seemingly unnecessary subplots shoehorned in to keep the energy flowing (but actually distracting the viewer from the show’s emotional thrust), the muscular fight scenes, hardman standoffs and gripping series conclusion prove to be a compulsive, non-stop thrill-ride.
With a fourth season recently screened in the US and a fifth commissioned due later this year, Sons of Anarchy’s extremely enjoyable mix of brilliantly-realised gang fights with classical ambitions remains the bare-knuckle champion of its class.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 10th October 2011 by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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