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Kill the Devil: First Impressions of ‘Mayans M.C.’

The Latin-tinged spinoff of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ premieres this week, and the first two episodes show promise that it could be as bloody good as its predecessor

Leonardo Santamaria

Mayans M.C. is a new television show. It debuts on Tuesday on FX. It’s a spinoff of Sons of Anarchy, a very violent drama centered around an outlaw motorcycle gang in California. The Mayans were one of the other motorcycle gangs that existed in the Sons of Anarchy universe. They were the Latino gang. Mayans focuses on them. The people at FX sent us the first two episodes to watch beforehand. Here are some notes, most of which are about the show, some of which are about other things, and one of which is about a quinceañera dress.

  • Prior to rewatching the pilot for Mayans, I decided to rewatch the pilot for Sons of Anarchy. And it felt good. Very good, even. It was so nice to see the earliest versions of Jax and Clay and Gemma and Opie and Tara and so on in that very specific way that only rewatching a TV show you cared about can bring. And so one episode turned into two, turned into three, turned into four, turned into five. Such is life.
  • I actually still very clearly remember watching the pilot for Sons the first time several years ago, mostly because when it was over I very much felt like, “Ehh, no thanks.” Watching it again, though, it was the opposite of that. And to be sure, part of that is (obviously) owed to the time that was eventually spent with all of the characters. (If your first time watching a new TV show is like a blind date, then rewatching a show you liked for the first time in years is like seeing several friends you grew up with all at once.) But a bigger part of it—or a more interesting part of it, anyway—is watching it and realizing how the writers and actors are laying down the tracks that each character is going to ride down in the coming episodes, seasons, and story arcs. It’s just cool to see, say, Gemma do a thing and realize that the way she was eventually going to behave in Season 6 was hinted at in her first few minutes in the very first episode. At any rate, I say all of that to say: Minus the obvious excitement of watching a show with a largely Latino cast, watching Mayans for the first time felt a lot like watching Sons of Anarchy for the first time, which maybe doesn’t sound like a compliment but absolutely is given that Sons went on to become, for a period at least, one of the very best shows on television.
  • Mostly, the reason I rewatched the Sons pilot was to be ready and able to spot any little hat-tips that Mayans might’ve been making to the show in their own pilot. Stories had come out about how Mayans was going to live as a thing separate of Sons (last week, for example, Edward James Olmos said, “It doesn’t deal with the Sons of Anarchy world”), so I figured it’d be hard to point out any parallels being drawn between the two if I didn’t have a fresh viewing in my brain. Olmos, it turns out, was not entirely correct. They very clearly mush the two worlds together. Sometimes it’s obvious, other times it’s on a gigantic billboard. To wit, the first scene in the Sons pilot is two crows standing on a road at night that get scared off when Jax Teller comes rumbling past on his motorcycle. The first scene in the Mayans pilot is a street dog common to Mexico picking at the remains of a dead crow in the road during the day (SYMBOLISM!). The show’s star, Ezekiel Reyes (played by JD Pardo), not only scares the dog away as he rides his motorcycle past, but he also runs over the dead crow, too (SUPER SYMBOLISM!). There’s also a [REDACTED] in the [REDACTED]. (This made me way more excited than I was expecting to get.) There’s also a full-on [REDACTED]. (This made me way sadder than I was expecting to get, because [REDACTED].) And all that is just from the first episode.
  • Ezekiel goes by “EZ” on the show. And he rides a motorcycle. He is, quite literally, EZ rider.
  • EZ has what basically amounts to a photographic memory. This, I suspect, will end up being meaningful beyond just its function as a narrative device on the show. (Something about being able to see a Latino or Latina character possess a gift we don’t often get to see them possess, I’m sure.) (I don’t know.) (That’s just a guess.) (All I know is when I realized he had it, I went, “That’s dope.”)
  • The most unexpected but obvious This Person Is Going to Be a Force performance is given by Richard Cabral, who plays a character named Johnny “El Coco” Cruz, an important member of the Mayans. He’s thin and his chin is angular and dangerous and his nose bends like it’s trying to sneak up behind you and he stands the way monsters stand when children draw them and moves the way nightmares would move if they were humans. It’s all just great. Cabral was nominated for an Emmy in 2015 for his work on American Crime, and I have to imagine that it was clear early on to co-creators Kurt Sutter and Elgin James that he has a very real gravity because he’s the first background character they choose to start pulling the show toward. (This happens in the second half of the second episode, and then especially at the very end. Without spoiling anything, there’s a moment when he’s driving at night down a street where prostitutes work and the camera is shooting him from the back seat and he looks like the entire galaxy has placed all of its weight on the nape of his neck. He stops the car and calls to a woman and she walks over and makes small talk, laughing just enough to put you off guard. Then he says two sentences to her, and the camera pulls back some and he blinks his big devil eyes and shakes his head a little and it’s just like, “Well, fuck. I can’t wait to watch more of this guy.”
  • The Mayans run drugs for the Galindo Cartel. (The Mayans operate in southern California along the U.S.-Mexico border, and, as such, have to deal with the cartels and cartel-adjacent things.) One of the ways that they move the drugs is by hiding them in pouches sewn into quinceañera dresses. When that scene happened, I clapped my hands out of excitement and then hollered toward my wife in the other room, “These guys are hiding drugs in quinceañera dresses!” It was the most excited I’ve ever been about the transportation of drugs and the second most excited I’ve ever been about anything related to a quinceañera. (The first most excited I’ve ever been about anything related to a quinceañera was when I was asked to stand in one in middle school, because being asked to stand in a quinceañera in middle school is no less substantial than someone being asked to be one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.)
  • Two people get tortured by the person who oversees the Galindo Cartel in America. The second torture scene, while less blatantly grisly than the first, is far more disturbing. Mayans is going to be, at the very least, comparable in violence to Sons. (Were I to bet on it, I’d wager that Mayans eventually becomes more gruesome than Sons was, which is saying a lot, given that Sutter wrote an arc for his own character that included getting a broken mop handle shoved into his eye, biting off his own tongue and throwing it at a window, and repeatedly being raped in prison.)
  • As mentioned, Edward James Olmos is in Mayans. He plays Felipe Reyes, widowed owner of a carniceria and the father to Ezekiel. Olmos is (unsurprisingly) the steadiest of everyone on the show. He talks in a way that feels real, moves in a way that feels real, sits quietly in a way that feels real, etc. There are a bunch of times when you’re watching Mayans and go, “Oh, OK, got it. That’s the [NAME OF A CHARACTER FROM SONS] of this show.” (“Ezekiel is the Jax of Mayans”; “Emily is the Tara of Mayans”; things like that.) Olmos’s Felipe doesn’t fit anywhere in that algorithm. He’s new. He’s excellent.
  • The opening words you hear on Mayans are in Spanish. It’s a background song playing as Ezekiel rides. The first actual phrase is “Ayudame,” Spanish for “Help me.” (SUPER DUPER SYMBOLISM!)

It’s unclear if Mayans is definitely going to be good. (My guess is yes, ultimately.) But it’s clear that it’s definitely going to be fun.