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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Mayans M.C.’s vision grows grander and more personal in season 3

Clayton Cardenas and J.D. Pardo star in Mayans M.C.
Clayton Cardenas and J.D. Pardo star in Mayans M.C.
Photo: Justin Lubin/FX

The behind-the-scenes shake-up in 2019 that led to the ouster of series co-creator Kurt Sutter hasn’t derailed the FX crime drama Mayans M.C. Series co-creator and writer Elgin James leads the pack as showrunner for season three, which is filled with more action, scheming, plot twists, and personal tragedy than its predecessors. EZ Reyes (J.D. Pardo) is now a full-fledged member of the Mayans, but that just means he has even more to prove—both to his club and himself. This is, after all, the life EZ chose for himself on more than one occasion in season two; even when he had leverage against Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon) that could have been used to disentangle himself from the M.C., the one-time Ivy Leaguer just recommitted himself to his brothers in the kutte. The consequences of that decision pursue him doggedly in season three, but he’s not the only club member or Santo Padre resident for whom the chickens are coming home to roost. This season, scores are being settled, and no one is free of judgment.

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James and his cast have positioned the new season, which rolled out with a two-episode premiere on March 16, as a “reckoning” for, well, any number of offenses and pecados. The Mayans have a long history of run-ins and double crosses; they were introduced in the flagship series Sons Of Anarchy stealing weapons from under the noses of Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) crew. Payback was swift, as was the establishment of an alliance between the two clubs, one that’s remained tumultuous throughout the spin-off. If only SAMCRO was the only source of tension—as the premiere “Pap Struggles With The Death Angel” amply demonstrates, the Mayans might soon be fighting a war on multiple fronts.

In some ways, this is just business as usual for the “Southern Cali” chapter of the Mayans, which has long born the burden of West Coast operations. They’re the lowest in the pecking order, even as they’ve watched their former national president Marcus “El Padrino” Alvarez (the fierce but soft-spoken Emilio Rivera) join the Galindo cartel as an advisor to their nemesis-turned-partner Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino). The Mayans seemed to be making headway in season two, striking a deal with the Galindo cartel. But relations have grown increasingly strained between the two groups, and as season three begins, the Mayans are hustling, taking ever greater risks for much smaller rewards. Whatever gains they made have been squandered, and after yet another run of bad luck, the Southern Cali M.C. seems to have more enemies than friends.

The Mayans’ desperation only grows throughout the season, as James and his fellow writers—among them Andrea Ciannavei, Jenny Lynn, Debra Moore Muñoz, and Sean Tretta—throw obstacle after obstacle onto their paths. As in seasons past, this overabundance of plot threatens to overtake characterization. EZ and Angel barely have a chance to grapple with the revelation in season two that Dita Galindo (Ada Maris) ordered the hit on their parents before being ensnared in one of the many new B and C plots, including trying to pull a fast one on other Mayan charters. There’s so much scheming going on that the club members spends half of their time gathered ’round the table to parse out their machinations. Bishop (Michael Irby) is in a vulnerable position as their leader, which causes him to gamble on EZ, the most untested member of the batch. “Swing big, miss big,” warns brother Angel, who is himself taking some huge risks. No one is entirely on the same page within the club, and their discord is sensed from without, which—you guessed it—creates even more threats.

Sulem Calderon and J.D. Pardo
Sulem Calderon and J.D. Pardo
Photo: Justin Ludin/FX

Season three does find compellingly quiet moments in all this bluster, as EZ and Gabriela (Sulem Calderon) navigate the early stages of a relationship. Coco (Johnny Cabral) sinks inward as he struggles with drug addiction. And as Felipe, a man who ultimately couldn’t outrun his past, Edward James Olmos remains the soul of the series. But Felipe’s depression isolates him from his sons so much in the first half of the season that EZ fails to see the warning that’s always been a part of his father’s life. Straddling the series’ fury and grief is Miguel, who can’t feign domestic bliss or much of anything after the loss of his mother, and so lashes out at everyone from his wife, Emily (Sarah Bolger), to some of his most trusted employees (just wait until he finds out the role EZ played in Dita’s death).

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The world of Mayans M.C. remains one primarily populated with men whose lives are primarily populated by two types of women: sinners and saints. Dita’s departure and the sidelining of Adelita (Carla Baratta), leader of the Mexican guerrillas Los Olvidados, toward the end of season two only made this binary more pronounced. Season three features some new female faces as well as some returning ones, but their storylines mostly seem to be setting up some huge development later in the season. After taking a few big swings of her own last season, even outplaying her husband, Emily is hiding for much of the new episodes. Over time, Emily’s story could play out as the inverse of EZ’s (and those of several others), though—embracing her past might be just what she needs to do to break free of her an increasingly illusory home life. Adelita seems poised to make a significant play of her own, though she’ll have to deal with a fresh bout of trauma first.

But even as certain beats are hit again, James works to distinguish the story he’s telling in season three from the one he first brought to FX with Sutter. The players may be the same, but they have greater resonance now—flaws are explored not just exposed, and the past is reckoned with, not merely trotted out to set up another plot. Mayans M.C. might be building to all-out war this year, but the story has only grown more personal, for James and for his characters. Cultural specificity was never lacking in Mayans M.C., which has always hosted a variety of influences from Mexican, Chicano, and Mesoamerican people. The concert of languages, from accented English to accented Spanish to Indigenous tongues, has also helped ground the show in its Southern California setting. An air of revitalization fills the new season, from the new title sequence—which includes nods to the Iran-Contra affair and the U.S. War on Drugs that’s ravaged the Southern Hemisphere—to the more layered performances from Pardo, Cabral, and Pino. The second half of season three might just lead us back to familiar territory, but for now, Mayans M.C. has kicked things into a higher gear.

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