Spoilers for the first three seasons of Sons of Anarchy coming.
After the abduction of Jax' son Abel, the club needs to get him back. Unfortunately, it soon turns out that the IRA brought him to Belfast, where the club can't go because of the bail they posted after their attack on Zobel's church back in season 2 - before the trial is over, no one is allowed to leave the state. The trial will in all likelihood lead to a long sentence for the members involved, including Jax, which means no chance at finding Abel. Jax takes desperate measures, striking a deal with Agent Stahl, who's still prosecuting them but would prefer the career-making case of taking on the IRA. Of course, under the rules of the club, working with the police carries a death sentence under all circumstances.
Jax manages to push the trial date back for 10 days with his deal, allowing the club to make the trip to Belfast. There they soon learn that the local charter of the Sons is playing its own game, and that the IRA keeps information from them. Tangled within a deep net of intrigue and betrayal, the club needs to maneuver in order to avoid the traitors and the IRA while still finding Abel. Additionally, John Teller fathered a daughter on an IRA woman back in his Belfast days, further complicating matters. The club purges the Belfast charter of the traitors, recovers Abel and returns to the states, where the nasty business with Jax' deal with Stahl awaits resolvement...
|"Want a piece of this plot I found?"|
Ever watched a train getting utterly derailed? That what's happens to the show in season 3. We start off Deputy Hale getting killed in world's most unmotivated Drive-By (that reeks of "actor wanted to leave the show") and Gemma being wanted to manslaughter (Stahl put her murder of the IRA soldier on Gemma in season 2) and being hid by Uncer and others, which makes for a convenient excuse to get her along to Belfast - assuming the utter insanity of the plot is accepted first. You always had to dispense your diesblief a bit on "Sons of Anarchy", but this season takes it to new levels, especially when it comes for the writers - Kurt Sutter, the show's creator, chief among them - to cover their tracks.
|7 tickets to Belfast? No problem!|
The club is not allowed to leave the state. This poses problems for trips to Oregon for them, but not for a trip to Belfast, including, presumably, their bikes and weapons? What, the post-9/11-airport-controls went out of fashion? You need passports and visa to travel between Europe and the USA, at least last time I checked. But such details aren't even discussed - the trial is postponed (as if that was the major problem) and, next scene, we're in Belfast, driving black Harleys through the Irish countryside, filmed in blue cast because EUROPE. There, we have the usual variance of cops in "Sons of Anarchy" - corrupt and utterly unaccountable. The local charter organizes not one but three major traps involving local police, heavily armed with machine guns, and the Sons escape all of them, in some cases trashing their belongings. Don't those guys have to fill out reports when they don't bring back heavy equipment or something?
|Look at my abs instead, officer.|
The whole plot in Belfast is also convoluted to the point of silliness. The addition of A-class-actors like James Cosmo or Paula Malcolmson doesn't help, because the lines they are given add up to much looking desperate or serious and nothing more. The whole plot doesn't make a fig of sense, but it poses brother against brother for a supposedly awesome showdown including torturing, blowing up stuff and shoving people off roofes. Nothing of this gets ever prosecuted, by the way. This is just how the Irish roll. The sons, leaving a body count of at least half a dozen and wanted for a series of crime even before, are just able to return back to the states. Are you fucking kidding me?
|Torturing, totally ok if the victim is an asshole.|
The good elements of the Belfast plot really don't help with this. There is a great interaction between Jax and his step-sister, a plot that is just totally lost later on and simply dropped, and an equally great piece when Jax finally finds Abel, who been turned over to a loving pair of parents who adopted him. He gets a breakdown, seeing that they really love the child and are more capable parents than he could ever be. He follows them a while and decides to give Abel up. You may guess how this plot is resolved - the adoptees are shot, and everything reverts back to the usual. Because this is definitely the Kurt-Sutter-way of resolving each and every plot - a bullet between the eyes fixes everything.
|Really, who needs character development when you can just kill people?|
Meanwhile, in California, the other characters get some inconsequential stuff to do, while Agent Stahl does what she does best - breaking all the rules and acting evil. Real evil. Because she's the female ATF agent, and you can only be this if you're not only a tough bitch, a treacherous bitch, and a lesbian bitch. This is serious. OF COURSE Agent Stahl is a lesbian, because why would she be in the police otherwise, right? She also betrays her girlfriend for her own career advancement, framing her for her own murder, and then later SHOOTING HER and pinning it on the Mayans. Really. That is totally a plot. I'm sure, in Sutter's mind, it makes sense somewehre.
|"Calling in the murder on common sense!"|
Back in the states, Jax tries to get his club a deal that'd allow them to serve as little time as possible. In return, he needs to give up the man responsible for...something with his son, it has all become one sticky mud at this point, really. He's also the go-to-man for the guns, so two flies with one clap, if there wasn't the problem with "you can't go to the police, ever". Stahl being Stahl keeps her end of the bargain by signing the statement and then giving Jax up to the club before they are all arrested for their (now shortened) sentence.
|Which should have happened some time ago.|
Jax melodramatically cries "You killed me!" while everyone is cursing him, and just as you think there could be some real drama going on for a change, the worst and cheapest trick ever is pulled off by Sutter: it was all a ruse. Jax told the club, and they were all totally ok and voted to go along with his plan. You know, the plan that was totally impossible to ever do until now. With help of Uncer, they trap Stahl and get access to the Irish guy Jax had to give up, and we're in the most dumbest round of revenge porn in the history of television.
|Just get it over with.|
Chibs gets to mutilate the Irishman before killing him, because apparently, he has a beef with him that would matter to the viewer had the show put some effort into making these guys characters. Then Opie gets to shoot Agent Stahl in the back of her head after forcing her to sit at the wheel like Donna and pleading for her life. All of this is presented in this "Yeah, bitch!"-fashion designed for the audience to applaude. Wayne Uncer smiles on, betraying the utter moral bankrupcy of his character and Sutter's twisted mind, and the season ends with the club members getting the news on their way to prison and breaking out into joyous laughter, intended to be joined by the audience. This is not only dumb, this is sick.
"Sons of Anarchy" could be forgiven for being dumb, because where the show really shines - in its action sequences and chases - you don't want this kind of realism. But unfortunately, the bloody violence in which it so revels (instead of taking it the "Fast&Furious"-route) comes with a responsibility that Sutter utterly fails to live up to. Violence, excessively so, has found its way into mainstream TV for a time now, spearheaded by HBO and followed up by AMC and others, but it is only justifiable if it serves a narrative purpose, because otherwise, it degenerates into violence porn.
|After dehumanizing Stahl on every possible level, killing her becomes so much easier, right Opie?|
This is exactly what "Sons of Anarchy" becomes in its third season - a thirteen-episode-run of violence porn intended for an audience that isn't able to challenge the morals of what it is watching. To add insult to injury, Sutter is also unable to develop the plot and characters at all. At the end of season 3, we're EXACTLY where season 1 started. The club is unified in its dirty business, while Jax is in possession of texts by his father telling the reader that the club is not good - a claim that is paid regular lip-service to but that is never followed up by the plot.