Standout episodes: "Orca Shrugged," "Andare Pescare," "J'ai Obtenu Cette"
Best moment: Jax finally turns the tables on Damon Pope and Clay in one fell swoop.
Most shocking moment: Jax shoots his ex-addict/ex-wife up with drugs just to avoid a custody battle.
Best Gemma moment: Gemma and Nero have a heart-to-heart in the graveyard.
Yes, when pinpointing the worst Sons season, 96% of the fan base immediately chooses season three, because the Ireland arc, like, totally sucks, man. We'll explain why season three is ultimately better than that misguided trip to Belfast retroactively suggests a little later. For now, let's talk about how the show almost veered into self-parody in its fifth year, and definitely fell into redundancy.
There are interesting, fresh moments peppered throughout—namely Gemma's (Katey Sagal) downward spiral and quest for redemption, Clay's (Ron Perlman) subterfuge, and the great Ryan Hurst sending Opie out with a bang. But ultimately Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) is a reheated Ethan Zobelle Big Bad a la carte with diminishing returns, down to committing an unspeakably vile act against a friend of the club in the season's premiere.
As horrible as burning Tig's (Kim Coates) daughter, Dawn, alive in front of him is on paper (and Coates does indeed sell the hell out of it), at this point the show's formula was so blatant that Pope's plan was obvious upon his first scene. And worse, unlike Gemma's rape, it doesn't resonate at all. How could it, when we barely know Dawn at all? And that's to say nothing of every character's laughably minimal reaction to what should be a horrific line crossing. Coates does his best to sell Tig's uneasiness throughout the season, but when Jax and co. basically just gave him a pat on the back and said, "Sorry, brother," it was almost as if the Harley had officially leapt over the metaphorical shark.
Five is also easily Tara's (Maggie Siff) worst year. As the new reigning Old Lady she practically has no agency until the end of the season when she finally decides its high-time her kids get the hell out of Charming. In between, though, there's a lot of weed smoking, weird interactions with Otto (Kurt Sutter), and fighting with and alongside Gemma. Speaking of Gemma, her arc gave us Nero (Jimmy Smits), one of the show's last great new characters. But there's also a lot of nonsense that came with that, like his pointless and randomly batshit crazy half-sister.
Ultimately Sons' fifth season is worthwhile for finally pushing Jax over the line. It's hard to come back from coercing your own mother to go undercover with her abusive husband and shooting up your ex-addict ex-wife with a speedball to cut her off at the custody pass. But retroactively speaking, it forged very little new ground while relying on well-worn tricks. —Frazier Tharpe