I must have thought you’d always be around
Always keeping things real by playing the clown
Now you’re nowhere to be found
At some point, the Sons of Anarchy rock montages at the end of each episode will slowly engulf the entire episode and we will be left with one full (presumably 90-minute long) episode of cutting between every single character 45 seconds at a time as they ponder their options in the face of danger, loves lost, and presumably how them having shot that one guy that one time has an effect on everyone they’ve ever met. With last night’s episode, “Huang Wu”, we sure came close to this musically suffocating future. An extra long montage following the “Previously On” segment at the beginning of the episode was paired with an even longer bout of bouncing around between the club members at the very end, as is the usual standard.
What is primarily frustrating about the continuous addition of musical montages is that nothing is gained from piling more and more on already packed episodes (chock full of generally useless exposition, but packed nonetheless), and the montage-mania happening more and more drags everything down. It doesn’t help that Kurt Sutter has clearly forgotten his way to the editing bay, as every single episode this season has been an hour plus, with most capping off at a full 90 minutes. By the time the episode crawls all the way to the finish line a seven minute long montage is just one more thing that the audience has to sit through instead of an effective storytelling device that it’s meant to be. I really want someone at FX to stand up to him and force at least one of the remaining handful of episodes to be a normal run time, but with the ratings numbers Sons still pulls in weekly that isn’t happening any time soon. Sutter has free reign at this point and any complaints we or the network have are just not his problem.
Separating this one issue from everything else that has gone wrong over the last two or so seasons of the show is tricky, but I really think if the overbearing music cues were toned down even slightly it would snowball into tweaks in other parts of the show, like the exposition heavy writing or the shock-and-awe moments that most of the audience is dulled to at this point. But again, this won’t happen. It’s really a shame that nobody behind the scenes has the ability to convince Sutter the error of his decisions in this area. Although it has been a persistent problem all season, the heaviness and frequency of the music cues was all the more apparent last night because the episode was actually very strong. Most of the season has been filled with stupid moves by half the cast or the previously mentioned shock and awe events that do nothing at this point but convince me how much of the time SOA is treading water form week to week. With weak episodes, the music doesn’t stand out to me as much because I’m just drifting through episodes and tuning out half of the character beats because I don’t see anything that gives me any faith that the episode will be solid.
Which is another reason last night’s episode would have benefited so much from only one montage. The opening piece was so well done, and it reminded me of two or three seasons ago when these clips were impactful and beneficial to the show. Putting it at the beginning was a nice change of pace (about the largest shift in style that we’re likely to see in these later seasons) and it alerted me to the fact that there might be something of worth in the ensuing hour and a half, which there was. There has been a general theme each season that the episode that features Katy Sagal singing a cover of a song is one of the strongest of the bunch, and last night was no different. In case you aren’t aware, Sagal was a singer in another life and her husband has her featured prominently in at least one episode per year. Last night, Sagal & The Forest Rangers added “For a Dancer” (originally by Jackson Browne) to the show’s soundtrack. It was a great choice to set the melancholy tone of the episode and accurately portray where each piece of this sprawling family had fallen after the fireworks from last week. The presence of Sagal’s voice didn’t steer me wrong, as “Huang Wu” was indeed a quality episode and one of the best installments out of the 10 we’ve seen this year. “Oh Darlin’ What Have I Done” by The White Buffalo wasn’t a bad choice for an ending montage per say, but it was a little too on the nose for my taste and again, coming after such a nice opening number didn’t have the same punch as it should have or could have had it been the stand alone piece of the episode.
So please, Sutter. Back away from your iTunes and reconsider how much you pack into each episode, musical or otherwise. It’s obvious the show won’t ever be back where it was in seasons 2 or 3, but the paring down of at least a few aspects of the show’s traditional DNA would go a long way towards a more entertaining and effective hour (yes, I said HOUR, Kurt) of entertainment, and the first step should be the soundtrack.