"Sons of Anarchy," the extraordinary biker drama on FX, kicks off Season 5 (10 p.m., Sept.. 11) in typically blazing fashion. There's a crash on the highway, lots of gunfire, violence, explosions, some kinky sex ... and that's before the opening credits even roll.
Best of all, there's the introduction of new cast member Jimmy Smits, looking like we've never seen him -- all tatted up and rocking a salt-and-pepper goatee.
As he did in his 2008 guest arc on "Dexter," Smits shows us his dark side. This time, he plays Nero Padilla, a smooth-talking Latino pimp -- or as he prefers to say, a "companionator" who is "all about the love."
"I'm just happy I don't have to wear a suit," Smits told reporters during
"I've been a huge fan (of SOA)," he said. "It's been great watching the last couple of seasons as the ensemble got tighter and tighter and jelled. ... This is an opportunity to again do something that's a little bit outside the box and different."
Smits makes a magnetic first impression in the series as his character strikes up a relationship with Gemma (Katey Sagal) that, fittingly, begins with some friction and a bit of suspicion.
"What are you doing picking up old
Sagal remains at the top of her game, even though clueless Emmy voters are still failing to notice. Her early scenes with Smits are pure gold and it looks like one of the distinct pleasures of Season 5 will be finding out where creator/executive producer Kurt Sutter goes with these two.
Gemma, fans will recall, is on the outs with husband Clay (Ron Perlman). who beat her to a bloody pulp late last season. Clay, meanwhile, is licking his own wounds after Jax (Charlie Hunnam) stripped him of the club presidency and ascended to the head of the table.
In addition to Smits, "Lost" alum Harold Perrineau joins the show as a high-level, vengeance-seeking Oakland gangster who has SAMCRO in his sights because Tig (Kim Coates) killed his daughter by accidentally running her over.
After Perrineau landed the role, he worried about whether he could pull it off.
"But, as it turns out, I have to do less than half the work," he said. "All the writing is done. I just kind of have to show up and say the right words. So it's an exciting, exciting adventure for me."
Other guest stars this season include Joel McHale and Ashley Tisdale, but they don't show up in the first two episodes made available for preview by FX.
Sutter says Season 5 will mainly focus on Jax -- how he deals with the challenges of his new post and the decisions he makes as to what kind of leader he wants to be.
"Does the nature of the outlaw world force you to be that sort of Machiavellian kind of guy who ultimately has to do things behind the club's back to protect the club?" Sutter said. "The flip side of that is: If you don't become (like) Clay, are you then perceived as weak?"
Entering the season, the "SOA" mastermind said he realized for the first time that he needed to come in with a "very clear sense of what my endgame is. (Now) I have to write to that endgame. So the stakes get higher with each season. The circumstances get higher. The wreckage gets deeper. And as a result of that, things will change. We don't know how all of that will fall apart, but eventually it will."
Sutter has mentioned that he is considering ending "SOA" after Season 7. The show has already been renewed for a sixth season.