Mayans MC: What critics are saying about a lack of strong female characters

Katey Sagal as Gemma Teller-Morrow. Pic credit: Timothy White/FX

As fans patiently await the first episode of Mayans MC to air, the press has had access to the first two episodes of Mayans MC for quite some time now and the reviews have been slowly rolling in since the press kits were sent out.

Mayans MC airs early for FX Plus subscribers, who can view the premiere episode titled “Perro/Oc” Friday, August 31. Mayans MC: Perro/Oc will air for traditional cable on FX Tuesday, September 4th.

What several of the reviews have in common is the lack of strong, well-developed female characters. Granted, critics have only seen two out of a ten-episode first season.

While some reviewers admit that there is room for improvement as the season progresses, this does not take the bitter taste of character critique out of fans mouths.

One has to remember, that there is hardly room for comparison between two Mayans MC episodes and seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy. Here is what some critics have to say about the lack of notable female characters in Mayans MC.

“The biggest problem of Mayans MC is that it doesn’t have a Gemma”

In the Hollywood Reporter review, Daniel Fienberg expresses concern:

It’d be wise for Mayans MC to avoid sexual violence in the short-term, both for reasons of restraint and because as of now the lack of nuanced female characters is probably the show’s biggest fault.

The motorcycle club world is one defined by masculine energy, so one of Sutter’s smartest decisions on Sons of Anarchy was making sure that Gemma was the show’s most carefully defined character and that Tara was close to her equal.

You can get away with a lot of interchangeably scruffy men whose every line of dialogue boils down to dick measuring or dick measuring adjacent if you can say, “Yes, but the show’s most complicated figures are women” and that was the case from the pilot. Here, Bolger’s Emily is a porcelain-skinned prop and Carla Baratta’s Adelita is the only other woman who comes close to registering.

For Vulture, Matt Zoller shares his opinion on Mayans MC female characters:

The low-key machismo of the series wears out its welcome in part because there are so few women and/or noncriminal characters to provide contrast, although there’s good work from Alexandra Barreto as the lesbian mayor of Santo Padre and Carla Baratta as Adelita, a woman who saw her family murdered by the cartel as a child and wants revenge; hopefully in time we’ll see female characters as rich as the ones Maggie Siff, Drea de Matteo, Robin Weigert, and Katey Sagal played on Sons.

Allison Keene for Collider has a similar first impression:

In addition to missing a Gemma (or any female character who has depth), Mayans MC also lacks perspective when it comes to who the club even is, and their role and relationship to the community.

The Collider review ends on this note:

The bottom line is this: if you want to watch a great and entertaining TV series about brotherhood and being outlaws, with a strong woman at the center who holds it all together and runs the show, you should be watching Animal Kingdom on TNT, which is more of a spiritual successor to the early seasons of Sons of Anarchy than Mayans MC currently is.

Kurt Sutter already explained his creative reasoning for “no Gemma”

Kurt Sutter (Mayans MC co-creator, showrunner, executive producer and writer). Photo credit: James Minchin/ FX

In regards to what critics are saying about the lack of strong female characters, a general oversight may have been made. In The Rich Roll Podcast: Ep. 365, while discussing the pilot reshoot and the extraction of a main character, Kurt Sutter explained a crucial creative decision that took place during the production of Mayans MC. During the 2-hour podcast, Sutter stated the following:

I had the opportunity in the in the reshoot to sort of take a step back and look at what I was doing that wasn’t organic and what I realized is… for an example, we had a character that was sort of a matriarch character and I realized that I was trying so hard to not make her Gemma that ultimately she was two dimensional.

The actress that was cast last year to play Marisol Reyes was Jacqueline Obradors. Marisol was originally set to be the wife of Felipe Reyes (Edward James Olmos) and the mother of EZ (JD Pardo) and Angel Reyes (Clayton Cardenas).

When this casting and character description for Marisol Reyes was released for the first pilot, SOA fans, myself included, were worried that the family dynamic of the Reyes family would mimic that of the Teller family.

Had Marisol remained part of the story, she might have ended up being the polar opposite of Gemma and that may have been what Kurt Sutter was referring to when he said he was trying so hard not to make her like Gemma that she ended being two dimensional.

Kurt Sutter then goes on to make a point about not trying to force strong female characters into the Mayans MC and allowing those developments to occur naturally.

Having that conversation with John Landgraf (FX CEO) … I had to remind John … we didn’t come into Sons thinking we were going to get eventually half our audience would be women… it was a male [Sutter] coming off The Shield, we were shooting for that male demographic… we didn’t say like “let’s create these really strong female characters to broaden the show base” … so we had no expectation of that and that just happened organically… and had I tried to impose that, it wouldn’t have worked.

So it was reminding John that, yes, we want that demographic but we have to find it organically. I can’t try to create characters to tap into a demographic.

The Forbes review left us with much to be hopeful for, as Merrill Barr writes:

Mayans MC is a show gunning for a fanbase of its own. In no way is it demanding for the viewership of SoA fans (though it wouldn’t hurt).

And that’s the right way to play this game. EZ and the adventures of his club stand independent in this world and manage to be as equally compelling in their own right. The power dynamics on display in the pilot episode lay the groundwork for a series that has a full tank ready to ride.

As a fan of Sons of Anarchy, I am pleased with the creative choice to remove the matriarch character. Rather than a carbon copy of Sons, I expect to see the “fresh take” on the motorcycle drama universe previously seen. This includes allowing female characters to develop naturally, and not forcing an idea.

Strong female representation is not the issue

Emily Thomas (Sarah Bolger) is the ex-girlfriend of the main character EZ Reyes (JD Pardo) and the current wife of the series antagonist Miguel Galindo (Danny Pino) the Galindo Cartel kingpin.

To assume that this will not contribute to serious character development and plot progression further into the series, would be a grave assumption.

Carla Baratta also stars as Adelita, the leader of a young band of rebels orphaned by Galindo family deeds. Adelita’s mission is to throttle the Galindo cartel that is solely responsible for destroying the lives of many border town families.

With the Santo Padre charter in a business relationship with the Galindo cartel, Adelita’s character may sway the Santo Padre charter into doing what is right. If true, this would make this character a game changer in the Mayans MC plot.

The “issue” is these women not acting like Gemma out of the gate

And it’s not even an issue, according to most Mayans MC hopefuls. What many fail to realize, is the characters Gemma Teller-Morrow and Tara Knowles’ behaviors within the Sons of Anarchy MC, were heavily dramatized for entertainment.

While some viewers felt their strong presence inspiring, other viewers felt the lack of realism from these characters as they attempted to portray the role of women in the MC world.

Many fans of Sons of Anarchy held a love or hate relationship with Gemma Teller. Let’s be honest, Gemma was responsible for a lot of the club’s troubles. Mayans MC does not need to replicate this to be successful. Give me characters I can love or hate for being real as a result of their circumstances, not for acting tough.

The MC world is male driven. If the critics expected to see a female motorcycle club in this television series and were surprised by the “macho” nature the first two episodes, then I can sympathize with their lack of knowledge.

Yes, Sons of Anarchy did come before Mayans MC, which is in its infancy. But is it fair to compare the character development in two episodes of Mayans MC to the parent series?

Speaking in terms of character development only, I would say no. I have faith that Kurt Sutter and Elgin James will give us characters to root for by the season one finale — male and female.

To listen to Kurt Sutter’s creative process while creating Mayans MC, you can watch the Rich Roll Podcast featuring Sutter here.

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