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Reviewed by Jason Zingale
he third season of FX’s outlaw biker drama may not have been its best, but after a sluggish start that had fans worried that their favorite show might have lost its creative edge, the series eventually redeemed itself by getting back to the kind of top-notch storytelling we’ve come to expect. What you to have to realize is that the first two seasons of “Sons of Anarchy” were so good that it made even the slightest slip-up only more obvious in comparison. But while the first half of the season was pretty hit-and-miss, those who stuck around for the long haul were rewarded with perhaps the most creatively satisfying storyline to date.
Picking up only a few days after the tragic events of the Season Two finale – with Jax’s son Abel kidnapped by Cameron Hayes, Gemma on the lam for murder, and club prospect Half-Sack killed during a heroic moment – the season begins with SAMCRO in a state of shock and despair. Gemma (Katey Sagal) has managed to cross state lines into Oregon where Clay (Ron Perlman) intends her to stay until the club can clear her name, but when she learns that her mother has just passed away, she sneaks off to visit her father (Hal Holbrook). When the nurse taking care of him learns that Gemma is a wanted fugitive, however, she decides to cash in on the reward, ultimately landing Gemma in even more trouble than she started out in, and dragging Tara (Maggie Siff) into the mess with her, much to the dismay of Jax (Charlie Hunnam).
Meanwhile, Jax and Clay have decided to keep Abel’s kidnapping a secret from Gemma lest she do anything else stupid, but they can’t very well go looking for him themselves, either, because they don’t even know where to start. But when a club friend (Paula Malcomson) from the Belfast charter informs them that Abel is in Ireland, Jax strikes a deal with FBI Agent Stahl (Ally Walker) to allow SAMCRO to go over there and get him back in exchange for giving up information about Jimmy O (Titus Welliver) and the rest of their IRA contacts. What Jax and the gang don’t realize is that Jimmy O is currently in a power struggle with IRA consigliore Father Ashby (James Cosmo), and they’re both feeding the MC lies about Abel’s whereabouts in order to convince them to kill the other.
A lot of fans were quick to criticize the Belfast subplot, but it proved to be important in more ways than one. Though it wasn’t always executed as well as it probably could have been (case in point: certain characters’ motivations were left frustratingly vague so as to not ruin future revelations), the overarching story set up several big plotlines that will likely play out over the next few years. It also allowed for the writers to delve further into the mythology of the series, including Chibs' history with Jimmy O, the founding of the first SOA charter, and John Teller's ties to Belfast and the Ashby family in particular. Kurt Sutter was smart to get all that background information out into the open sooner rather than later, because it clearly plays a major role in his grand plans for the show.
While the audience may be divided over Season Three's story, just about everyone can agree that Sutter did an incredible job of juggling his massive ensemble cast. Charlie Hunnam delivered a multilayered performance on par with Katey Sagal’s impressive work in the second season (especially in the heartbreaking episode, “Bainne”), and though many of the other series regulars were relegated to the background for long stretches, they all had their chance to shine at some point throughout the season. Plus, when you've got guest stars as talented as Titus Welliver, James Cosmo and Paula Malcomson, you'd be crazy not to give them more screen time. All three actors knock their respective roles of out the park, but it's Ally Walker who takes the cake with her snakelike turn as the heartless fed who's more of a criminal than the actual criminals.
It’s characters like Agent Stahl that make “Sons of Anarchy” such a fascinating and unique TV drama. Because while you may not always agree with how Sutter tells his story, you can be sure that he’s at least going to do it in a way that pushes boundaries, turns things on their head, and ultimately gets people talking. Season Three is certainly successful in that regards, and though many fans voiced their doubts earlier in the season, "Sons of Anarchy" proved once again that between its consistently great writing and solid performances from its cast, it's still one of the finest shows on television.
Special Features: The three-disc Blu-ray release is packed with hours of bonus material, including cast and crew audio commentaries on three pivotal episodes (“SO,” “Firinne” and “NS”), extended cuts of “SO, “Bainne” and “June Wedding,” and deleted scenes on each disc. They’ve also included all four minisodes (“The Future Begins Now”) that were originally released on the show’s official iPhone app bridging Season Three to Season Four, a writers’ roundtable, a short interview with Kurt Sutter about directing the finale, a table read with the cast for the season finale, and much more.