In its third season, FX's acclaimed biker gang drama, Sons of Anarchy, journeyed from California to Northern Ireland in pursuit of the abducted son of the protagonist, Jax, and to explore the gang's founding legend. It was a polarizing direction that many fans and critics found off-putting. On Tuesday night, the show returns for its fourth season — and returns to the fictional town of Charming, Calif, where a number of the Sons have just been released after a 14-month jail stint following a group arrest at the end of the third season. Critics have already gotten an early peek at the premiere, and the reviews are generally positive. Can Sons of Anarchy be great again?
It's off to a good start: During season three, "the show was losing the complicated allegiances that distinguished it at its best," says James Poniewozik at Time. In the new season, the show returns to California, and once again Jax's Hamlet-like moral dilemma takes center stage: Should he leave the Club when being an outlaw is all he knows? Let's hope that after a somewhat unpleasant detour last season, "the show is returning to its thematic home territory."
"TV Tonight: Sons of Anarchy goes back to Cali"
But it's a little too predictable: "The start of the season feels formulaic," says Alan Sepinwall at HitFix. Sure, "it's a formula that's worked in the past." And the show's creator, Kurt Sutter, took a much-maligned risk by taking the gang to Ireland last season, so understandably, he's playing it safe now. Still, if the show does go on for seven seasons, as Sutter has said he wants it to, he'll need to find a way to "do something that's different but also good."
"Review: FX's Sons of Anarchy on familiar ground for season 4"
And it's not as good as it used to be: Say goodbye to "the problems of season three," says Chris Conaton at PopMatters. But don't expect to say hello to the glory days, when gripping drama was reliably delivered in every single episode. Sure, the new season offers the interesting additions of a Mexican drug cartel and a new black sheriff in town, but I don't get the feeling that this season will offer the weekly "triumph" that the show's second season did.
"Sons of Anarchy's battle for control"