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I was a couple seasons late to the Sons of Anarchy party, jumping in somewhere around Season 3 after catching up on Netflix, but it's safe to say I was all-in on Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) and the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club well before the end of the pilot. However, like many fans, my interest in the biker drama and the enjoyment I gleaned from its violent and blood-soaked world started to wane as the series aged. By the time Jax went on his final ride -- actually, by the time Gemma (Katey Sagal) murdered Tara (Maggie Siff) -- I was more than happy to say goodbye and put the story to bed. That's why I wasn't all that interested in the show's spin-off, Mayans M.C., ahead of its debut. Now that FX has renewed the series, which debuted to the highest ratings of any new cable drama in 2018, I decided to check in on how the freshman series is doing. Unfortunately, after four episodes (the fifth airs Tuesday night), I still can't help but feel that I might never be a fan of the show -- at least not in the same way I once was with Sons of Anarchy.
Although the two shows obviously share DNA, and although there's nothing about Mayans M.C. that I actively dislike, I struggle to find myself interested in its many interconnected storylines. Sons of Anarchy eased viewers into its dangerous, violent world while taking the time to also dig into Jax's conflicting emotions about SAMCRO and fatherhood, all while slowly laying the groundwork for overarching storylines, like the hints about Clay (Ron Perlman) and Gemma's involvement in JT's death. But Mayans M.C. jumped in head first assuming most viewers are Sons fans already familiar with the world and how these motorcycle clubs operate. And while that's probably true -- I'm not sure Mayans M.C. is attracting a lot of new fans -- it's still been too much all at once.
Mayans M.C. Might Be Familiar, but It's Not the Second Coming of Jax Teller
By the time the credits rolled on the pilot, viewers were introduced to a number of characters who, with the exception of leading man EZ Reyes (JD Pardo), weren't given identities, much less room to breathe. And EZ had barely begun to take shape himself. The extended episode also revealed that, in addition to the drama with the Galindo cartel and the rebels -- the orphans of cartel violence -- actively working against it, there is also a small faction of the Santo Padre chapter of the Mayans working against the Club's interests as well as the cartel's. Oh, and EZ is also a DEA informant.
Instead of spending time easing viewers into the story of EZ and the Club, Mayans M.C. has been trying to do too much upfront. The three episodes following the pilot introduced the kidnapping of Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino) and Emily Thomas' (Sarah Bolger) son by the rebels led by Adelita (Carla Baratta); the deep-frying of a father and young son who likely were innocent and had nothing to do with the kidnapping; Emily asking EZ for help regarding the kidnapping; heat on EZ from the fine folks at the DEA; a side job going south for the small faction of the Club because of the rest of the Club's agreement with Galindo; a few flashbacks to what put EZ in prison; a daughter for Coco (Richard Cabral); and strong hints that Felipe's (Edward James Olmos) history isn't without its own blemishes.
One of the things I disliked about the later seasons of Sons of Anarchy was how convoluted some of its storylines were. Even now, if you ask me what took place during the show's final season, I honestly don't know if I could tell you without Googling it to refresh my memory. There was a lot happening then and there's a lot happening now. But there's also something different about the two situations, too. Sons of Anarchy had already garnered good will with critics and fans after a stellar second season that is arguably one of the finest seasons of TV to date. Fans were also heavily invested in the show's many characters by the time the more complex -- and eventually convoluted -- narratives started rolling in. Mayans M.C. hasn't put in the work yet to allow this kind of information dump; it's asking a lot right from the start, and because of how young it is, it's difficult to believe, without knowing these characters or the show all that well, that all the balls it is putting up into the air won't simply come crashing back down.
The good news is, the show does appear to be fleshing out its characters and building a foundation as it goes. The fourth episode of the series, titled "Murciélago/Zotz," saw fit to trim some of the excess for a week to focus primarily on the Mayans as they worked a smaller job as opposed to trying to service equally the show's many conflicting interests.
As the Club investigated drug mules being killed on the border -- a story that reveals as much about the show's world as it does its characters -- the episode felt reminiscent of Sons of Anarchy's early days. Even though we spent time checking in with the DEA and Felipe, and even though we will never be able to escape the business of the cartel, those storylines took more of a backseat to the Club and its members. I only wish an episode like it had come along sooner, because not only was it the first time I came away from an episode feeling like I knew who these men were, but four weeks is a long time to wait for something as simple as this when there are more than 400 scripted shows vying for viewers' attention or when streaming services like Netflix are releasing multiple new shows in their entirety every week. (It's probably not fair to compare shows like Mayans M.C., which airs weekly, to shows meant to be binge-watched, but it's the world we live in; if the shows released weekly don't immediately grab viewers' attention, there are five other shows on Netflix that probably will.)
Ultimately, I sincerely hope "Murciélago/Zotz" wasn't a fluke and that Mayans M.C. continues to dig a little deeper into its characters each week now that it has established the basic outline of its world and these men are no longer just nameless faces. It's going to be the key to the show's success as it moves forward, because although viewers clearly haven't been deterred by the lack of depth thus far -- the show is averaging 8.2 million viewers across all platforms, according to FX -- there has to be more to the show than just dudes on bikes kicking ass and taking names. There's a reason Sons of Anarchy was able to bring in the viewers it did season after season, and it wasn't the contrived plots or the Club's growing list of forgettable enemies. There's an emotional component to the narrative that is necessary to make the show worth watching long term; I'm not wholly invested in Mayans M.C. and its characters just yet, and I might never be, but feeling for EZ and the rest of the show's many characters is the first step to getting me there.
Mayans M.C. airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on FX.