At the end of Mayans M.C. season 1, Ezekiel ‘EZ’ Reyes (J.D. Pardo) learned the identity of the man who killed his and his brother Angel’s (Clayton Cardenas) mother. As it turns out, that man was none other than SAMCRO member Happy Lowman (David Labrava), though he wasn’t wearing the SAMCRO cut at the time. It was a huge moment that season 2 is all too eager to remind viewers of, though getting to the matter at hand comes in the sometimes painfully circuitous way this franchise likes to deal with exigent circumstances. Nevertheless, one thing is made evident: Mayans M.C. may have had a successful first season with a new club and mostly new characters, but, for better or worse, it is far from done with the legacy of Sons of Anarchy.
There’s a certain pattern or rhythm to how an episode of either biker drama plays out. Like Sons before it, Mayans revisits familiar beats and frequently hits the same highs and lows. In just about every episode fans can expect there to be plenty of coarse language, an action scene or two, a chase sequence, and then a big reveal or twist at the episode’s end that typically induces a lengthy montage set to a slightly somber piece of music usually sung by a gravelly voiced performer. It’s a successful formula, if the viewership numbers of either show is any indication, but the degree to which Mayans is determined to stick with the prescribed program is also indicative of just how reliant this prospect continues to be on the series that came before.
It’s not an especially good or bad thing that co-showrunners Elgin James and Kurt Sutter (the latter will be exiting his show-running duties at the end of this season) are increasingly interested on weaving the ongoing narrative of EZ and the Mayans in with the post-Jax Teller world of SAMCRO, but it does imply where the spinoff’s presumed strengths lie. That is, in the ever-twisty and complicated (but not particularly complex) world that continues to be inhabited by Jax’s former crew. It also provides Mayans with an opportunity to upend what viewers thought they new about some of the Sons, while pointing to a potential protracted conflict between the two clubs that would end the tenuous peace they brokered during the original Sons of Anarchy run.
Potential for future conflict aside, the inclusion of Sons characters and references to certain past storylines — Chucky (Michael Ornstein), a callback in and of himself, not only name-drops Jax at one point early in the season, but also reminds viewers that SAMCRO was working to get out of the gun-running business — is clunky at times, and the retro-engineering of Happy’s past (or what the audience knew of it) to fit into the Reyes brothers' story is more obvious that it should be. The emphasis on callbacks and series integration slows the progression of Mayans’ main plot (or plots) early on, and to make up for it the series resorts to a familiar strategy of extreme violence, duplicity, and secret-keeping among the brotherhood that sows the seeds greater conflict and drama, with an implicit understanding that the resulting crop won’t be harvested for weeks to come.
The season 2 premiere, ‘Xbalanque,’ mixes seeding future plotlines, moving characters around, and giving the audience what they tune in for — i.e., bloody violence and motorcycle chases. Much of the hour is told from EZ’s perspective, illustrating the lengths he’ll go and the humiliations (good natured and otherwise) he’ll endure to get that patch. Angel, meanwhile, still wants nothing to do with EZ or his father, and the rift between the brothers has not gone unnoticed by Bishop (Michael Irby) or the rest of the club. If EZ wants to be a full member, the vote must be unanimous, which means fixing his relationship with Angel is now at the top of the list. Surprisingly, Mayans wants this particular box checked too, and it takes the necessary steps to make it so. Pardo and Cardenas offer Mayans one of its best and most rewarding relationships (the other being that of EZ and his father Felipe (Edward James Olmos), regardless the secrets the old man is keeping), and as such, getting the two back on speaking terms is essential to the show’s continued success.
It’s also a sign that the Mayans writers’ room is still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. The emphasis on EZ, Angel, and Felipe means less time for the troublesome love triangle among the younger Reyes, his former flame Emily (Sarah Bolger), and her husband Miguel (Danny Pino), as he tries to angle his Galindo cartel toward legitimacy. With the potential for romance essentially off the table, both Emily and Miguel become more interesting characters. Their wants are now entangled in and around one another (and Miguel’s sometimes troublesome mother), and Mayans is eager to see how the shifting power balance between husband and wife will impact a storyline with considerably more potential this season.
In all, the season 2 premiere is more or less what viewers have come to expect from the ongoing SoA franchise. There’s a great many pieces being moved around the board, but none of them are too surprising. The series continues to rely too heavily on late-episode reveals that inevitably must tread water for weeks before they’re properly — if ever — resolved. Still, the premiere packs a considerable punch in the action department, and that will likely be enough to keep viewers coming back for more adventures with the Mayans, with or without the seemingly inescapable influence of SAMCRO.
Mayans M.C. continues next Tuesday with ‘Xaman-Ek’ @10pm on FX.