Talk about a comeback: Just as the SAMCRO boys get out of prison, mount their hogs, and rumble home in the season 4 premiere of Sons of Anarchy, so does the series itself return, triumphantly, to its roots. After a third season spent making wobbly journeys back and forth to Ireland in an attenuated subplot that slackened the pace, SOA is back in its hometown of Charming, Calif., where there's a whole world of trouble. There's a new sheriff in town, and he's not the old softy Wayne Unser was. Eli Roosevelt (Prison Break's Rockmond Dunbar) is a hard-nosed cop who wants to clamp down on the motorcycle gang. This doesn't sit well with leaders Clay (Ron Perlman) and Jax (Charlie Hunnam), especially since they're also being squeezed by Charming's land-grabbing mayor, Jacob Hale (Jeff Kober), and a recently arrived undercover assistant district attorney, Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon). It's a good thing Clay and Jax have a new ally within the Mexican cartel: Romeo Parada, played with craggy authority by Danny Trejo.
For me, SOA has always flirted with absurdity. I never entirely bought the idea of a gunrunning, murderous gang as sympathetic heroes, and the show's presentation of its female characters strong women led by Katey Sagal's Gemma and Maggie Siff's Tara is at odds with decades of reporting about real-life cycle clubs' casual sexism and worse. It still strains credulity that, for example, Tara can be a doctor by day and hot motorcycle mama by night. Nevertheless, if you accept the premise of the series, this new season is a real ripsnorter. It's the club versus the Man (Sheriff Roosevelt is no pushover); the club caught between other criminal factions (the Mexicans and the Russians, both seeking guns, are powerful forces); the club colliding with its own history (Jax is ever closer to embracing the philosophy of his dead father: that SAMCRO has lost its reason for being).
There's all the slamming violence you might want in your gas-fumed escapism, mingled with real-world difficulties. Clay's crippling arthritis has left him bemoaning his lifestyle (''no savings, no medical''), and thus willing to make some risky scores. Contrast this with Jax's desire to chill out and settle down, and you've got some major internal struggles brewing. Beyond this, there's the suggestion that Sons of Anarchy will confront some of the moral problems I raised earlier. As Bob Dylan put it, to live outside the law, you must be honest. And as Dylan implied, to do so may bring about great grief, or worse. B+