What a difference a month makes, huh? When we covered Sons Of Anarchy back in September, it didn't seem like much, but in the episodes since that first review the series has hit its stride. The cast is good and getting better (even Jax is growing on me), the plot is kicking, and the jokes are way more hit than miss. Best of all, it turns out the motorcycle mystique actually means something. Jax's constant dips into his father's book give Anarchy something unique: a shot at redemption. For once, the hero might not just exist to screw up everyone he loves and eventually die. He might actually get to do things right.
"AK-51" starts with Jax and Piney selling ten guns to one of Piney's old war-buddies. The meet is awkward, as the buddy, Nate, brings along a young punk who tries to screw Sam Crow out of the full price for the automatics. That's just the beginning of the club's woes–Nate is part of a survivalists group, and as soon as they're armed with the Anarchy's guns, they make a clumsy raid on a prison transport, killing a cop and three civilians and attracting the attention of the Feds. The Feds do a trace on Nate's cell phone, and that trace leads to the main garage, on the very day when the last gun shipment comes in.
Gemma is having her own problems. She's going through menopause, which makes for some unsuccessful sex with Clay; worse, Clay's young and skinny conquest from the patch-over party hitches a ride into Charming on the gun shipment, serving up an unpleasant contrast while Gemma is feeling her age. Cherry's just there to see Half Sack (real name: Kip), but Gem gets an eyeful of her and Clay and immediately realizes they hooked up. As always, whenever Gemma confronts a situation that makes her vulnerable, she gets pissed. And when she gets pissed, people generally end up in pain.
The back-burning from last week's "Giving Back" is pretty hard to top, but "AK-51" is less about the ultra-violence then it is about getting by and growing up. After Clay is arrested by an ATF agent (Ally Walker, who's probably having much more fun here than she did on Tell Me You Love Me), it's up to Jax to find a way to move the guns out of the garage before the cops clear through with a warrant. He figures out a solution–septic truck transport–and deals with Piney's general pissiness without breaking a sweat. The kid's obviously ready for Clay's place; there's even a moment at the end when Clay seems to be directly supporting a power transfer. The question is, does Jax want the position, and if he does, what he plans to do with it? Dad-book-reading aside, Jax has impressed me as a clever but not hugely self-aware kid. There's a line he gives Trammel at the end, telling him the problem with the idiot survivalists has been resolved: "Shit like that won't happen again." It sounds like he even believes it.
Gemma, on the other hand, is probably the most self-aware character of the show, which makes the onset of menopause even harder for her to accept. That sex scene between her and Clay shows a different side than the sleazy stuff we've seen before; Gemma's sexual attraction was a large part of her power over her husband (and, by extension, the club), and now that it's slipping, she feels her control slipping with it. She's pissed at Cherry, but she's smart enough to know that it's not Cherry she's really mad at–I loved the look on her face right after she smashes the girl with a skateboard, like she knew the second the board made contact she'd made a mistake. Gemma manipulates and handles things. Going all trailer trash on a teenager in broad daylight isn't handling anything.
Still, she might be able to find some peace with aging. Her and Clay's conversation at the jail, and her talk the next morning with Cherry, show her back where she needs to be. The scene with Clay was one of the best in the ep; after their screaming match earlier, there was something affecting about just seeing them talk. The honest affection between the two makes up for a lot.
The only real flaw in "AK-51" is the resolution of the militia problem. After smuggling the guns out of the garage, Piney makes contact with Nate again; his group offers to take the rest of the automatics for another ten grand. It's way below market value, but since the guns are hot now, it's probably the only offer on the table. Jax has other reasons for the meet as well; Opie rigs the AKs before delivery, and after the survivalists have grabbed their gun bags and retreated to their fort, Opie pulls out a remote and the whole lot of them goes boom.
It was too easy an end. I accept that the problem needed to be resolved, but all Sam Crow needed to do was lose a few guns (that they couldn't sell anyway, and they still got paid something for them) and press a button, and everything's fixed? Sons is strongest when nothing is simple–despite the long-term problems the confrontation with the ATF produced (like the discovery that the Sons have been getting guns from the IRA), that explosion was too TV-convenient.
Other than that, though, it was a solid episode, and a nice way to inaugurate regular TV Club coverage. Sons Of Anarchy is living up to potential and then some; with the increasingly creepy Kohn running around, along with the promise of greater pressure from the law and the tensions pulling at Jax, I can't wait to see what happens next.
--We never did find out who flushed those panties.
--Seriously, Kohn is freaking me out. How can someone have a job in law enforcement and a restraining order out against them?
--Damn but that back-burning was hardcore. Not really relevant to this week's episode, but damn.