“Family Recipe” S4 / E8
- A- Community Grade
This is where the fun starts. Oh sure, there’s little fun awaiting our heroes in “Family Recipe,” which has a number of chickens coming home to a number of roosts, but it’s fun for us, because here’s where our investment begins to pay off. Here’s where disparate plot threads start knotting themselves together, and when you get knots, you get impatient people with swords—and that is a very good thing to have. Because, let’s face it, one of the primary joys of watching a show like Sons Of Anarchy is watching characters make choices we wouldn’t dare to make in our own lives; choices that, generally, tend to make their lives that much worse. Oh sure, we’ll get some kind of status quo by the end of the season, but even then, it’s never going to be a happy ending. Maybe the series finale will close on Tara and Jax and their kids raising a new generation of free-living biker bad-asses, but there’s no guarantee of that, and it’ll take more than a few bodies to get there. So in the meantime, I’m looking for well-developed characters, great action scenes, and the suffocating tension of a situation going from bad to nuclear. And that’s just what we got here.
Turns out, we weren’t so paranoid to wonder about the last sound effect in last week’s episode. Juice’s suicide attempt didn’t go as planned; the branch he tried to hang himself from broke in mid-swing, and now he’s got all the problems he had before, plus a sore neck. In retrospect, this makes a fair amount of sense. While a dead Juice would certainly bring a less-than-ideal storyline to definitive conclusion, it would also mean closing off a source of real drama before it had a chance to come to fruition. Because the real peak of Juice’s tragedy hits when someone else in the club realizes what’s going on; it’s a moment that’s built into the very first betrayal. We get that moment tonight near the end of the episode, when Juice goes back to the woods to get the chain he used in his aborted hanging. Chibs follows him, and he realizes what’s happened, and there’s some yelling, and some tears. It’s a terrific scene, almost good enough to make up for the yardage of stupidity we had to cross to get here, because it fits in character for both men. Juice isn’t a criminal mastermind (hence the stupidity). He’s just a nice guy who loves being a member of the Sons, and is easily led around by the nose. And Chibs isn’t a cold-hearted bastard. It’s uncertain just how much of what happened he’s already put together (I’m guessing most of it), but he’s not going to just pull a gun and shoot his friend, whatever the rules say. I’m not sure what happens next here, but this is a great example of how Sons can often turn certain conventions on their ear, by finding a moment of honesty and compassion in the midst of chaos.
And that wasn’t even the best scene of the episode! It’s hard to pick just one, really, and what’s exciting is how much the various big moments fit in together. That scene with Chibs and Juice works fine on its own, but it works better when combined with the knowledge of the club falling apart, caught up in the cartel’s war and mired in their own internal struggles. When Galinda’s enemies make a run on the Sons’ clubhouse, firing wildly and dropping off a duffel bag full of heads, it’s thrilling, tense stuff, and it’s made even better knowing that this has been in the cards ever since Clay made his deal with Romeo. Sure, it’s a little convenient that the attack comes in the middle of the all important no-confidence vote, but it’s certainly not out of left field or anything. From the start, this series has been about a son trying to understand the legacy of his father, and the ways that legacy has been tainted and corrupted by others. Now we’re seeing that corruption come home to roost with a vengeance, and while this season hasn’t always been as smooth or organically plotted as I would’ve liked, it’s great how central that original conflict has become, and how it feels more than some vague philosophical concept. Clay’s short-sighted greed (which comes from the jail time and the oncoming arthritis; while much as this season has worked to make Clay as monstrous as possible, it has provided at least some justification for his bad choices) is literally killing his club, and Jax’s unwillingness to confront his stepfather head on is at least part of the problem. We’re not mired in John Teller quotes and daddy issues now. This is life or death.
For my money, then, the best scene of the episode, and maybe of the season so far, happens when Jax goes to confront Piney about his absences from SAMCRO after the attack at the garage. Jax, who has spent much of this season on the sidelines, following Clay’s lead and keeping his head down, accuses Piney of avoiding his responsibilities. So Piney starts pointing out that he’s not the only one who hasn’t been pulling his weight, and Jax gets mad and trots out all the arguments he’s been rehearsing since last season, about how his dad was a jackass who buried himself in “Irish pussy.” It’s just an excuse for him to cut ties and get out, only he’s never going to be able to do that, because the Sons are his home. Piney says what someone should’ve said ages ago: “Do you even have a side anymore?” That’s why this season has felt so aimless at times. It’s never been as oddly structured as last season, but the center isn’t there, and tonight, we had a good hint as to why. Much like Unser’s choice to plant a fake threat letter in Tara’s car, the scene between Jax and Piney feels like something that could, and should, bear positive fruit. In addition to the mayhem and the widening circle of destruction, Sons needs to give us a few wins every now and again. Jax needs to get invested in what’s happening around him again, and he needs to do more than just dig deeper and hope he’ll hit sunlight soon.
It’ll be interesting how he takes the ramifications of the episode’s other best scene (yeah, I totally cheated), Clay visiting Piney and taking him out for good. We knew this was coming, knew it from the moment Piney made his blackmail attempt. Blackmailers don’t have a long life expectancy, especially not when they’re facing off against men who’ve demonstrated their willingness to kill in the past. You could argue that Piney was basically willing to die regardless; he had that look about him, although he certainly didn’t make things easier for Clay. “Family Recipe” feels like a turning point in this season, the moment when everything finally tips over the edge of the cliff and all we can do now is watch and see where it lands. Tara is leaving Charming, and taking the kids with her, which hopefully takes her off the board until Clay can be handled. She’s making a smart move, and it’s always gratifying when shows allow room in their plotting for smart moves. But will she be allowed to leave? While Gemma doesn’t know explicitly that Clay killed Piney, she knows he lied to her about where he was, and I doubt it will be very hard for her to put the story together. Will she accept this as necessary, or will she finally change sides and come (sort of) clean to Jax? The cartel’s enemies are smarter than anyone expected. Linc and Sheriff Roosevelt are still gunning for SAMCRO. And Piney’s a corpse slumped over in his cabin, blood staining his patch in a symbol that should be too obvious, but isn’t. The bodies have just begun to hit the floor—how many will fall before we see the end of this?
- We also got some more with the Charming Heights plotline. I like the idea behind this, but it seems like one plot too many in a season already well-stuffed with incident. We’ll see how it pays off, though, and Clay did give a nice speech.
- There was also a running gag about Chucky hiding one of the duffel-bag heads in a pot of chili. It was very funny.
- Piney’s reading a Stephen King paperback before the end, but for the life of me, I couldn't read the title. It might be The Stand, but the book didn't seem thick enough. (I can recognize most of King’s paperbacks by the cover image, but this one wasn’t familiar to me. I’m wondering if it’s a variant made especially for the show?)
- Clay wrote “LS” in Piney’s blood on a framed club photo in the cabin. Is that his way of pinning the murder on the other cartel, or is there another significance I missed? (And thanks to everyone who pointed out what “Men of Mayhem” means.)