Sons Of Anarchy
is a show that has always worn its heart on its sleeve. If a character is angry, they'll yell. If they're upset, they'll cry. If they need to be secretive, they'll pull someone aside and lower their voice.
There is no guesswork when it comes to how the members of SAMCRO are feeling: if you watch the show, you'll be able to tell.
As a result, the show has always managed to maintain a level of intensity that most shows simply can't attain. Even when the plot starts to get too complicated - as I thought it did last season: I'm sure Jax (Charlie Hunnam) could have solved his Pope problem without endangering his friend and involving 30-odd people - or veers into absurdity, you never feel as though things are any less important.
In the world of Charming, California, the stakes are always high.
I think this is part of the reason that I'm a little baffled by Sons' sixth season premiere, which aired on TV3 earlier tonight. The writing on the show is as good as it has ever been, and creator Kurt Sutter is operating at a really high level right now. I'm just not sure why he feels the show needs to be so violent.
If you consider only the story elements covered during the episode, the bikie drama did a great job of setting up the rest of the season, meticulously running through the various threads left behind from season five - Jax's struggles to keep the MC together; the fate of Clay (Ron Perlman) and Tara (Maggie Siff), both of whom are in prison; the return of Juice and the exile of Bobby - and giving us hints of what we'll see in the season to come.
But it was the way in which these stories were covered, the scenes in and around the exposition, which caught my attention. The season premiere did a good job introducing what will happen this season, but they were all accompanied by uber-violence that seemed almost out of step with what the story was trying to do.
Jax's plan to extend the clubs reach into nearby Stockton, for example, involved a torture porn ring and a girl, Lyla, getting cut and burnt by some sick individuals, and ended with Tig (Kim Coates) drowning a man in a bathtub full of urine. Much of the season will centre on Tara's struggles with either staying loyal to Jax and SAMCRO or running like hell, yet her contribution to the episode ended with an uncharacteristic bloody beatdown of a fellow inmate.
The season also appears to be focused on the idea of cause-and-effect, particularly in regard to the wider effects of the MC's activities ... which Sutter chose to illustrate with a violent school shooting, complete with blood spraying through the window blinds.
Those are just the most notable examples - the episode also featured Chibs kicking the crap out of Juice and Otto being repeatedly and violently raped, as well as drug use and nudity.
I'm not complaining about any of this. Sons of Anarchy is a pretty great show, and the violence, nudity and drugs is part of what makes it such a cutting, intense drama. The premise and setting of the show demand this stuff.
But the season six premiere just seemed like it went into - for want of a better word - complete overkill. It was too much, by the shows own standards, and most of it didn't need to be there. Tara didn't need to beat the bejeezus out of a girl over a blanket. Tig didn't need to drown a guy in a bathtub of human excrement. We got the point already.
More than that, I thought it distracted from what was a really well written introduction to the season. The shock of seeing a kid pull an uzi out of his school bag, followed by blood splatter appearing on the classroom windows, took me by surprise, and took me right out of the show. A shame, because I was loving the episode up to that point.
I hope the violence isn't this distracting throughout. It looks like season six might be a helluva ride.
* Did you watch the Sons Of Anarchy season premiere? What did you think? Was there too much violence?