Spoilers for the first season of "Sons of Anarchy" coming.
Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is Vice President in the Sons of Anarchy Motor Cycle Club, a violent and criminal organisation kin to the Hell's Angels. He's pretty content with his life of biking and the occasional violent outburst and mayhem. However, when he discovers the old diaries of his father John Teller, the founder of the club, he takes up his goal of transforming the club into something different. He doesn't know yet what it is, but it will surely bring him on a confrontational course with the club's president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), a war comrade of John Teller's. The situation isn't made easier by the fact that Jax's mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal) is married to Clay.
The first season of "Sons of Anarchy" is set in rural California, in the fictional town of Charming, where the founding chapter of the club is situated. The police is corrupt and in league with the club, who engages in some community service to create positive PR and keep the townsfolk from demanding their removal. They are engaged in gun trade and are entertaining a blood feud with a rival Mexican motorcycle club, the Mayans. The two clubs fight over their respective turfs and have to avoide being too engaged with those parts of the police that are too righteous to be on the club's payroll.
|Clay negotiating with bland black guy no. 256|
However, danger is also brewing from within the Sons. Jax's friend Opie, releades from prison after a five-year-sentence on behalf of the club, tries to get together with his family and away from the club, while Jax tries to get him back in. When a special investigation team of the ATF shows up and uses Opie as their fall guy, things get even more complicated. Things aren't really helped along by Jax's wife suffering from a preemie after overdosing and Jax's old teenage love Tara showing up, tailed by her psychotic cop-ex-boyfriend.
|Holding a baby as a battering ram.|
These constitute, in short, the major plotlines of the first season of "Sons of Anarchy". The show was created by Kurt Sutter, who previously wrote for "Shield", a show about a amoral and violent cop, in case you're missing the pattern. It explores some pretty interesting themes, especially the parallel society of the motorclub in which the Sons are operating under their own rules, without much connection or interference to the outside world. And boys, those rules are brutal.
|Another rule: film members from behind. The jackets are the star of the show.|
We get really great scenes with this stuff. Jax and his friends for beating up a guy who wanted to pose with their bikes to be cool, or the club burning away the tattoo of a former member that was banned in disgrace just make one sick. The casual and natural way in which this violence comes is especially off-putting, and it can't be said that the club is the heroes of its own show - that honor falls to deputy Hale, the one honest cop in town who essentially fights windmills and is put off by the forces around him, be it his corrupt boss Wayne or the special investigations team from ATF with their more than questionable methods.
|Who wouldn't want to go in business with him?|
In the end, the violence spirals out of control. Clay disregards the more or less democratic core set of rules that the club has and orders the assassination of Opie whom he suspects to have gone over to the ATF - "ratting out" -, but the hit misses and instead kills Opie's wife, utterly devestating him and Jax. The season ends with Jax finding out about the hit and swearing to change things in the way that his father once envisaged, setting the stage for a conflict between Clay and Jax in the second season.
Katey Sagal especially has to be mentioned in her performance. She plays Clay's "old lady", the mother of the club, and her readiness for violence is perhaps the most disturbing, coming from this caring mom figure. Here, the cognitive dissonance between the self-image the characters have and the violent lifestyle they're actually living is the most pronounced and feelable.
|Mum of the Month|
However, there are also much plotlines and themes that don't work that well. While the rift within the Charming Police Department serves the plot well enough, it never leaves behind its formalistic roots and is pretty much foreseeable and flat. The sheer evilness with which the ATF agents are going to set up Opie as their fall guy for no apparant reason at all other than to create drama is also jarring, and the Mayans are utterly uninteresting as the villains and fall totally flat.
|Opie sure has to take some shit.|
Overall, the first season provides at times an interesting social study in the working of a Hell's-Angels-style motorcycle club, sometimes dipping its toes in the crime film genre, while at times totally going off rails with its need to simply let characters do stuff to advance the plot.