You don’t have to be a Sons of Anarchy fan to enjoy Mayans MC.
This is a SPOILER-FREE review of FX’s Mayans MC premiere episode, titled Perro/Oc.
Ten years after creator Kurt Sutter’s seminal Sons of Anarchy premiered, the chaotic and dangerous world of California biker gangs is back, with Mayans MC, a spinoff set within the same universe, taking place four years after the shocking events of the SOA series finale in 2014. The series premiere, titled Perro/Oc, gives us a glimpse into Sutter and co-creator Elgin James’ (Little Birds) ambitious new project, which gets off to a roaring start, thanks to a strong cast and an unexpected focus on topical real-world issues.
Where SOA was Shakespeare’s Hamlet set within the confines of a motorcycle gang, Mayans MC is less concerned with family melodrama, and more fixated on the volatile nature of the drug cartels near the Mexico-California border and the effect that those bloody conflicts have on the local inhabitants. While there are still exciting bike chases and tense shootouts that fans of the original series will recognize, Mayans MC is trying to be more profound than its predecessor, and for the most part, the series succeeds in that endeavor.
One of the ways Mayans MC achieves its narrative goals is the effectiveness of its primary cast. Our protagonist, Ezekiel “EZ” Reyes, portrayed by JD Pardo (Revolution), is similar to what Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone was to The Godfather in 1972. He’s the “good” son with a photographic memory, who, at one point in his life, went to Stanford University before going to jail. Add in good looks and charm and you have the makings of a hero who can easily follow in the footsteps of Jax Teller. Pardo also has the acting chops to back up EZ’s swagger; his interactions with his TV father, Felipe, played by the legendary Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica), are always engaging, thanks to the easy chemistry the two share, and Pardo holds his own against Olmos, which is no easy task.
When our story begins, EZ is just a prospect, aspiring to become a full-fledged member of the Mayans Motorcycle Club. Like SAMCRO, the Mayans are mixed up with the wrong side of the law, and in this case, it’s the Galindo Cartel out of Mexico. Instead of concentrating on club politics, which was frequently explored in SOA, the series premiere provides the viewer with multiple points of view on the unfolding drama, so the episode never feels like it’s standing still.
These contrasting perspectives include the Mayans, Galindo Cartel, and most surprisingly, the rebels out of Mexico. In many drug-crime dramas, like Breaking Bad or Narcos, the story centers on the criminals at the top and the law enforcement agents that hunt them down. Mayans, however, includes the victims that get caught in the crossfire and the effect that those tragic events have on their descendants. The children of the dead are a powerful reminder that these drug wars have real consequences, a facet of the show that makes what EZ and his gang do to contribute to those fatalities feel all the more impactful.
Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino), the head of the cartel, is developed in a way that gives his character an interesting moral ambiguity. While Miguel will probably never win the Nobel Peace Prize, he’s so much more than he first lets on. Sure, he’ll torture and kill whomever he needs to, but the writers smartly give the vicious drug dealer a life outside of the business that includes a loving family, which helps to humanize a man that could easily be called a monster.
At first glance, the rebels should be the obvious heroes of this story, but war is complicated and everyone has blood on their hands. Mayans MC does a great job of making all of its characters indispensable parts of the story, no matter which side of the border they’re on. While there are Easter eggs that fans of the original series might appreciate, Mayans MC stands on its own with a solid beginning that will hopefully turn into a great season. Only time will tell.