Short take: It has some "Hamlet." It has some "Macbeth." It has motorcycles and guns and tattoos, and a more than decent cast. But there's something missing in tonight's premiere on FX. Much the way Charlie Hunnam, above, bears a strong resemblance to Heath Ledger, but lacks the solemn weight Ledger was bringing to the roles leading up to his death (and I'm not even thinking about "The Dark Knight") -- so "Sons of Anarchy" doesn't dazzle the way, say, "The Shield" or "Rescue Me" did out of the gate. I can see why FX thought it would be a good fit for the network. But it's second-tier.
Notes about tonight's episode, with spoilers, after the jump.
I thought Hamlet -- that is, Jax, played by Hunnam as a guy who seems incapable of well-thought-out action, except perhaps when overwhelmed by rage-- was a lot less intriguing than Lady Macbeth -- that is, Gemma, played by Katey Sagal.
I wasn't surprised when Gemma gave Wendy the means to check out, although I liked the way she did it. No blood on her hands. And that fit with later, when we saw that she, probably more than Clay (Ron Perlman), is the one who has sent the Sons down a criminal path. And that she wants to keep them there, even when Jax rises from heir apparent to president of the club. That creates some very interesting situations down the road if Jax, having found his father's memoir, is even more in opposition to what he thinks are Clay's policies -- not knowing they are Gemma's. Or did Jax's dad write that Gemma betrayed the MC? And, on a side point, how long exactly is it going to take Jax to read the manuscript?
Indeed, while Jax is nominally the central character, I could see this shifting toward Gemma's story as a companion of sorts to "Damages." I think Gemma and Patty Hewes would be able to compare notes about a lot of things. And it might be more interesting that way. But I also think "Damages" is -- like "Sons of Anarchy" -- second-tier FX, not on the level of "The Shield" or "Rescue Me" when it was good. And "Sons" isn't remotely on a level with "The Sopranos," which it also resembles (and Drea De Matteo, as Wendy, got a better kill-off on "Sopranos"). But I have a second episode to preview, and I may at least look at that. Not rushing, though. Not like "The Shield," where I have a stack of final-season episodes and have worried about watching one because I may not be able to stop until I have finished eight.