“This life it ain’t romantic or free. There’s no path to anything that makes any sense. It’s just dirty and sad. And we both know it’s only gonna get worse.”
So sayeth Wayne Unser; so say we all. As noted earlier in the season, Unser is one of the show’s most trustworthy voices of reason (although Nero is about on par with him by this point, which makes it odd that both men are in love with Gemma, but I guess opposites really do attract), and for him to make a pronouncement as direct and cutting in an episode really only means one thing: Somebody’s going to die. There were omens and portents spread throughout “Aon Rud Persanta” (Gaelic for “Nothing personal,” more or less), and nobody looked too happy about how things were working out. Tara is still dealing with the fallout from her failed fake pregnancy con; Wendy is unconscious at Gemma’s place; Nero is getting that “Ah, shit, what have I gotten myself into” expression more and more often; and Jax is locked into ice king mode, working the angles and closing the door on club history as firmly as he can. Even Chucky’s feeling the bad vibe: “It’s not going to get any better, is it?” he asks Unser. “Not today, Chucky,” Unser replies, and you can almost hear the death clock getting closer to zero.
There are lots of potential corpses on display, although Tara seems the most likely victim. After the collapse of her plans to get her sons out of Charming, she’d been getting more and more desperate for an escape, and Jax’s suffocating precaution—in effect putting her under house arrest, which is both somewhat understandable and very, very creepy—isn’t improving her state of mind. After learning last week that Patterson’s offer was no longer on the table, it wasn’t hard to imagine Tara trying some final, crazed ploy to save her children, a ploy which would either immediately backfire, or else put her in harm’s way of a bullet or something worse. She survives this episode, but that potential for a tragic end is still on the table. Tara’s new plan to use the bullet she took from Bobby’s shoulder and give it to Patterson as undeniable proof of the Sons’ involvement with the escape of Clay Morrow (which resulted in the death of a cop) is a smart one, but since the show isn’t going to spend its next season with everyone locked away for life, her plan has to fail somehow. Maybe she ends up getting locked away herself, or maybe Gemma’s threat turns out to be a promise. Either way, there’s no guarantee the writers will have Maggie Siff to underuse next year.
Still, Tara isn’t the reason this hour and change is so laden with grim foreboding. She survives, but Clay does not, ending his life as a fallen pawn in Jax’s big game of Fuck You, Galen. This is a big deal, and the show does its best to treat it as such, although only Gemma seems to be upset after the deal goes down. That’s probably because she’s one of the few people to know about it who didn’t realize what was going to happen before it did. After Jax and the others spring Clay from a prisoner transport, everything seems to be going smoothly, apart from Bobby getting shot. The meet up with Galen is barely past the pleasantries, though, when the guns come out, and Galen and his men go down. Clay gets the dignity of a few more minutes of airtime, as well as the knowledge that he’s about to die, and why he’s about to die: to protect the club, and, in a small way, try and pay for some of the damage he caused for so long. The way Ron Perlman plays it, Clay is surprised at how things go down but not completely shocked. He might have hoped that he’d get to ride off into the sunset and sell guns for the IRA, but deep down, he must’ve realized the odds were stacked against him. Jax is not the forgiving kind.
How to take this? It’s a good scene; Perlman’s been doing a penitent man shtick for most of the season, and his final moments are filled with the sort of history and pathos the show can do very well when it needs to. As Tara says (in a line that’s surprisingly cold, although justifiably so), Clay should’ve died ages ago, both in terms of narrative and dramatic impact, and like so much of this season, it’s hard to know what to make of this. Gemma is the only one to express any grief at all, and even that’s conflicted and angry; she assures Nero that Clay isn’t worth even a minute of sadness, and everyone else seems to agree with her. Is this supposed to be satisfying? Triumphant? It certainly doesn’t feel that way. Clay’s quiet, doomed dignity make those last minutes hard to watch, and there’s no catharsis in going out the way he does. Taking Unser’s earlier comments, the scene really plays like yet more evidence that Jax’s plan to get the club out of guns and into legit business is built on a foundation of sand and rotting corpses. He assures Nero that Clay’s murder is a necessary step, cleaning up the past in order to make way for a more promising future, but killing people is the easy choice, not necessarily the right one. In a way, Bobby’s shoulder wound is just another omen Jax refuses to recognize. Bobby survives, but the scars remain, and the bullet in Tara’s pocket is one more crack in Jax’s vision of a perfect future.
Maybe the show is heading this way. Unser’s comments clearly suggest that it’s not all fun and games, but the writers are so in love with this culture, even as they disparage it, that it’s unclear whom we’re supposed to be rooting for, or why. The judgment on Tara’s efforts appears to be that her heart is in the right place, and she just went too far, but that doesn’t hold up to scanning; if getting the boys out of Charming is really a goal worth striving for (and it is), then some sort of major betrayal on Tara’s part was always going to be necessary. Season after season, we saw how half measures failed to produce results. Tara or Jax would swear they were getting out, but then Nero’s Godfather Paradox would latch on, and they’d be right back where they started. Jax and the others behave as though Tara committed some heinous sin, but in reality, she was simply using every means within her power to protect those who needed protecting. She faked a miscarriage, framed Gemma (who, let’s not forget, gave the okay to have her husband killed years ago, among other things), and worked behind Jax’s back. Does this mean SAMCRO should be friendly to her? No, but in terms of our perspective, I’m hard pressed to assign her any blame at all.
At the end of “Aon Rud Persanta,” the factions have shifted somewhat, but the lines remain the same. Tara, despite what seemed like a brief reconciliation with Jax post-shooting, is still determined to get her boys out, and she’s willing to risk everything to do it. The Sons soldier on unaware, convinced that their recent plan (all of which got passed by club vote, including Clay’s killing) has finally fixed everything. The most obvious angle, or at least the one that seems most obvious to me, is to hope Tara finds some way to get through this, but that requires hoping she gets what she wants, and viewing Jax and the others as villains, and I’m not sure the series is ready to support that. There are stories that can allow multiple characters different, and often contradictory, agendas; great drama requires that sort of thing, because it means putting disparate, but sympathetic, perspectives against one another. But Sons Of Anarchy struggles with this. Clay’s death is a great example of the show pulling off the balance. The ambiguity of it adds to the tension and the overall effect, because the coldness of Jax and the others is, given what’s happened before, something that makes sense. It’s shocking that Jax would be so merciless, given what we’ve seen Clay go through this year, but not unbelievable or forced. With Tara, though, it’s hard to see how this can work out in a way that acknowledges the full depth and justification of her objectives, without undermining the characters aligned against her so utterly that it becomes impossible to sympathize with them again. Clay was a monster with a soul, and we all know what happens to them. Tara is a mother trapped in an endless tragedy. If the mob with pitchforks come for her, can we ever bear to look at their faces again?
- Big thanks to Josh Modell for covering me for the past couple of weeks! I'm sure he'll be back again eventually, although you are stuck with me through the rest of the season. (All two episodes of it, with no episode next week because of the holiday.)
- For two characters with so much importance to almost everyone on the show, it’s funny how little we know about Tara and Jax’s sons. Obviously, they’re young, which limits their personalities a bit, but even the slightest sense of what it would be like to grow up in an environment like that could be very valuable.
- Another extra long episode tonight, and another episode that could’ve used a bit of trimming. Clay’s final scenes were great enough that the running time wasn’t a huge burden, but there’s still a lot of superfluity, for no good reason.
- Hey, Jax? Your “This is the last thing we need to do before we can be good guys again!” plans seem kind of bullshit when you’re endangering the lives of cops. I mean, I realize we’ve been given ample opportunity over the years to see just how evil prison guards are, but c’mon.
- Also, what the hell was your plan with Patterson? You obviously tricked her so you could get the cops away for Clay’s escape, but did you really think that she’d be satisfied with dead bodies? Also, I probably shouldn’t be addressing a fictional character like this.