“Brick” S4 / E5
- B- Community Grade
I have a problem with Tara. I’m not sure if that problem is due to my having the wrong expectations for the character, or because of weak writing, or both. Tara started this show as the outsider, arguably the closest point of identification for audience members who weren’t all that familiar with motorcycle clubs or gun-running. She was a law-abiding citizen who, while initially shocked by the club’s outlaw ways, eventually became a part of their community, both out of her love for Jax, and her need for protection. While the men of SAMCRO aren’t anywhere the same level of bastard as Tony Soprano and his ilk, Tara’s willingness to use Jax to help her take care of a certain problem in the first season is reminiscent of Dr. Melfi’s moral crisis in “Employee Of The Month”; but where Melfi rejected the opportunity to turn to someone outside the law to redress her wrongs, Tara chose to bring Jax in, which, whatever her hopes to the contrary, meant she had to accept the rest of his world as well. The show has always played around with the shades of grey the Sons represent—they break the law, and they do bad things, but Sons Of Anarchy leaves the ultimate moral judgment up to the viewer. Theoretically, this should make Tara’s situation more interesting, because it’s not a simple question of saying she was wrong and she’ll eventually suffer the consequences. Tara could wind up dead before the end of the series (probably not, but it’s certainly possible), or she and Jax could somehow go off into the sunset. Or, more likely, something in between those two outcomes.
For now, though, Tara has somehow… disappeared. Instead of turning into a badass old lady like Gemma, or serving as the voice of conscience for Jax’s increasingly wayward soul, Tara is indistinct, floating from storyline to storyline until the narrative needs her to show up and help Gemma dispose of a body, or get kidnapped by bad(der) guys while the Sons are out of town. She made her decision to stand by her man and his club, which is fine (and stops her from being a tedious plot obstacle for the writers to exploit whenever they need to slow things down), but that decision seems to have largely stripped her of personality. It’s difficult to really understand her relationship with Jax at this point, which is frustrating, given how much angst and blood has been spilled to get them together. It’s hard to understand what her goals are. She got the JT letters, and she has a conversation with Piney about them, but there’s no sense of agency on her part. When Jax tells her he wants to get out of SAMCRO, she’s all for it, but when he also tells her that he’s going to stay in long enough to get one last big score, she’s barely raises an objection. I can buy that Jax would be short-sighted and arrogant enough to think that he could pull this off. I can even believe that Tara could be convinced of this. But there’s no effort that passes between them, no real discussion. He tells her the plan, and she accepts it.
Early in “Brick,” Jax comes home and gives Tara some of the mad drug money the club has been pulling in. It’s an odd moment, because while the money means they’re (supposedly) one step closer to their plan of getting out, it’s also a lot of money—and that much money doesn’t come without a lot of risk tacked onto it. Jax still hasn’t told Tara about the drug-running yet, but she has to find out sooner or later, and she’s not going to be happy when she does. This would at least give her something do, beyond running around doing the investigative work that Jax has given up on, and putting herself directly in the sights of Clay’s growing paranoia.
And Clay has reason to be paranoid. Piney lays it on the table for him after a club meeting: Either Clay gets the Sons out of the drug business, or Piney will bring what he knows from JT’s letter and other sources to the rest of the club. As Clay tells Gemma (making this the first time, I think, that the show has been completely unambiguous about this issue), “I had John Teller killed while I was bedding his wife.” There are few responses SAMCRO and Jax will have to this news, and none of them speak to Clay’s longevity and good health.
So finally, we’re getting down to brass tacks. We’re dealing straight on with something that’s been looming over the show since the very start, and that’s great, but—it’s not really working yet. I hate saying that, after spending so much of last season complaining that the show was losing its way, but while “Brick” has some potentially explosive threads running through it, very few of those threads were lit. Clay is shifting closer and closer to flat out villain territory; he tells Gemma that Piney and Tara may have to be dealt with, and when Gemma refuses to accept this, there’s a look on Clay’s face that may mean Gemma’s suddenly become a lot more expendable. (Or it could just mean that he’s willing to off Piney and Tara and face her reaction afterwards.) In some ways, this makes sense. Clay was locked away for a while, which means he’s had plenty of time to become very focused on protecting himself and getting what he needs now that he’s out. And his hands, so long a referenced but never immediate threat, have begun to betray him. His time as club president, or even as an active member of the club, is limited. He needs to get enough money to get out for good, and, since he’s demonstrated he’s not above killing someone who stands in his way, we know he’s capable of taking steps to defend himself against a threat.
That said, there’s something weirdly convenient about his behavior, as though the show has decided to go out of its way to make it very easy to dislike Clay. Before, we’ve seen Clay and Gemma as rough equivalents, both supporting Jax and standing against him in his desire to reform SAMCRO. Now, Clay’s the dangerous crazy one, while Gemma is just trying to keep the peace and cover up old history. It’s a subtle shift, but it’s almost like characters are repositioning themselves so that, if Clay should finally snap, it’ll be easy to cut him cleanly from the rest of the ensemble without leaving much in the way of scars. He’s alienated himself from basically everyone at this point. Even Unser is pissed off at him by the end of this episode, once he realizes that Clay lied to him about his reasons for murdering, and then covering up the murder, of John Teller. Clay is turning out to be responsible for all the club’s woes—the drug running, the gun deal with the Irish, the moral corruption that changed initial idealism into drunken greed—and it’s being done too obviously and too clumsily.
There’s a lot of clumsiness in “Brick,” some of it from the characters, some of it from the episode. Apart from Clay’s inching toward murder, we get two main plots: In the first, Otto demands justice for Luann’s death, which has the Sons diving back into the porno world; and in the second, Linc pressures Roosevelt into pressuring Juice to get the tags off the heroin shipment so they can track the cartel. The former storyline is fine, although it has a sort of greatest-hits feel—look, it’s David Hasselhoff as a porn director (who, of course, has a large penis)! Look, it’s Tom Arnold again! The club has Tom trussed up and ready for a bullet in the brain, but then he offers them a sweet cut of his sex-doll deal with the Asians, and Clay jumps on this. So Bobby has to go lie to Otto (Bobby who, by the way, was shagging Luann, which Otto knows about), and that’s another lie the club is working with, for no reason beyond greed. It’s just silly, and I’m not sure we really needed another business venture/plot-thread for the season. And if that ain’t enough, Opie finds out that his wife is on birth control, so he freaks out, and then he has sex with the porn star who was hitting on Jax last year. Which is fun.
As for Juice’s bumbling attempts to play double-agent—he gets into the stash, and winds up stealing a kilo when a Mayan shows up, a kilo which he then buries under a nearby tree—I’m not a fan. I appreciate Kurt Sutter’s interest in exploring segregation and race relations in bike clubs. I also don’t question for a second that he, and everyone else on this show, know a lot more about MCs than I ever will. But that doesn’t make this plot any more palatable, because right now, we’re not dealing with race. We’re just watching a pretty standard “going rat” arc play out, and it’s hard to get too worked up about it. “Brick” puts into motion some pieces that may bear fruit down the line, but as is, it didn’t quite sit right; not bad, exactly. Just a little forced, and a little on the edge of dumb.