How 'Mayans MC' Family Drama Differs From 'Sons of Anarchy'

Kurt Sutter and star Emily Tosta speak to the family dynamics at the heart of the series.
Prashant Gupta/FX
'Mayans MC'

[This story contains spoilers through season one, episode four of FX's Mayans MC, "Murciélago/Zotz."]

In Mayans MC, like Sons of Anarchy before it, the violence and the action all draws from the same point of origin: family. 

The show's "fraternity-on-wheels" quality is always front and center, especially as members of the Mayans find themselves at odds with one another's interests, thanks to Angel Reyes (Clayton Cardenas) and his secret corner of the club working together against the Galindo cartel. But beyond the greater dynamics within the titular M.C., there are smaller-scale family issues fueling the new drama from Kurt Sutter and Elgin James, as evidenced in the latest installment.

For one, "Murcielago/Zotz" shines a spotlight on Richard Cabral as Johnny "Coco" Cruz, one of the Mayans keyed into Angel's plans. Earlier in the series, the heavily tattooed biker was seen protecting the honor of a woman believed to be his sister: Leticia, played by Emily Tosta. In this week's episode, however, Coco's true relationship with Leticia comes to light: he's her father, a secret that comes out to Leticia in a charged and shocking burst of emotion.

"My world was completely shattered," Tosta tells The Hollywood Reporter about her initial reaction to the reveal, and shooting the scene. "It was so sudden and so creepy, even for me to read! It was very tense for Leticia, and for me as well. Imagine finding out someone who you thought was your brother your entire life, and someone who you thought was your mom your entire life … it's actually completely switched on you, in a matter of seconds. It's too much to process!"

Beyond the Coco-Leticia reveal, there's the matter of the Reyes clan: the aforementioned Angel, his younger brother (and series lead) EZ Reyes (J.D. Pardo), and their father Felipe (Edward James Olmos) — if that is indeed his real name. Mayans' fourth episode reveals some secrets about Felipe, who is being coerced into getting his son EZ back on track with an undercover investigation for the DEA. As a result of agent Jimenez' (Maurice Compte) strong-arming tactics, Felipe goes home and opens a locked box, which contains several photos from his youth, as well as a birth certificate for someone named "Ignacio Cortina."

Who is Felipe, really? How will his sons react if and when they learn about his past, assuming they aren't already in on the secret? How about when Angel's fragile plot within the Mayans comes to light for Felipe — or when EZ's fragile deal with the DEA comes to light for Angel? These delicate family dynamics are right at the heart of Mayans, even if they are somewhat different from what Sutter initially envisioned when working on the series. 

In the first pass at the Mayans pilot, which was originally directed by Sutter before being scrapped and overhauled under the directorial vision of executive producer Norberto Barba, the series included a matriarch in the Reyes family — a character who was unintentionally but inevitably connected to Gemma Teller Morrow, Katey Sagal's iconic character from Sons of Anarchy.

"By no fault of the actress — it was really the writing — the character never landed," Sutter tells THR. "I realized I was trying so hard to not make her Gemma, that she ultimately just became two-dimensional, and not one thing or the other."

In excising the Reyes matriarch from the second crack at the pilot, Sutter says the true core of Mayans made itself known: "I realized that the reason why the mother character didn't work is because it's a show about a widow and two sons, and that the death of the mother has haunted and driven them."

In focusing on the three Reyes men — all of whom were seen together calling it a night in the middle of the Reyes family living room at the end of episode three, a rare moment of sleepy respite for such a high-octane series — Sutter's core Mayans family dynamic takes a sharp turn away from the situation at the heart of Sons of Anarchy. In that drama, Charlie Hunnam's Jax Teller was living in a world without both his father and his brother, their deaths looming large over his life and legacy. Here in Mayans, tensions between brothers take on literal form in Angel and EZ's relationship, as well as the father-son dynamics between Felipe and both of his children.

"These three men who love each other intensely, but are probably not the most adept at expressing feelings or communicating. So, to see that dynamic happen in a clumsy, testosterone-clouded way was really interesting to me, and heartbreaking in a lot of respects."

Shifting back to the unexpected father-daughter drama between Coco and Leticia, Mayans fans can expect even more heartbreak as the storyline moves forward. For Tosta, the actress charged with bringing Leticia to life, she feels a deep connection to how the Cruz story will play in the episodes ahead.

"Family is a huge theme on this show," says Tosta. "Not only are we covering the biker gang and the strength of the characters, but we also have the emotions of each character. Everything that's going on with EZ, as well as Sarah's character [Emily Thomas, whose son has been in captivity since the series' second episode], and the journey that you're going to go on with Coco and Leticia … that's going to be truly amazing. It's really incredible, and very real. They go through so much together. They grow together. They learn together. It's important, and very beautiful."

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