In terms of plot development, “Andare Pescare” (an Italian phrase that means “to go fishing”) is about mopping up the loose ends and setting up pieces for the endgame. Or something like that—one of the interesting aspects of this season of Sons Of Anarchy is how much the show has resisted setting up predictable conflicts. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really did seem like, way back during the première, that Damon Pope was going to be the Big Bad. But now, even if it turns out that Jax has some kind of master plan for getting vengeance on the man who basically ordered the death of his best friend, Pope is strictly background noise. He’s good for a scene or two if the writers want to generate a sense of menace or provide Jax with a possible direction for the future, but he’s not driving the action this year. No one person is—even Clay, with all his plotting, is important but not overpowering. It’s hard to say if a show like this one really needs a Big Bad in place to work—it’s such an accepted piece of TV storytelling to assume such a thing would exist, especially when the episodes rely heavily on serialization, that I find myself repeatedly trying to force certain characters or plot hooks into greater prominence. And really, there has been some wandering around in these nine episodes, some cul-de-sacs that seemed to exist mostly to keep up the running time. But whether it’s my own shifting standards for Sons Of Anarchy or it’s a fundamental shift in the storytelling approach, all I can say is, there’s a lot to enjoy in this looser, less-driven approach. Unlike, say, the frustrating sluggishness of so much of season three, season five doesn’t feel like a huge wasted opportunity. It’s just some crazy shit, mingled with occasional sadness and death. The highs aren’t as high as they might be, but the lows, for the most part, are nowhere near as low.
Take Gemma’s plot this week: I could see dinging the writers some points for basically taking a whole episode to reach the same conclusion we got at the end of last week, but, unlike a lot of Gemma’s stories, this felt necessary, and, in the end, affecting. Jax has made her an offer, but it’s going to cost her a lot more than he realizes to accept it, so she takes her time before making her decision. She hangs out with Nero, they talk about life and all of that, she meets Nero’s son Lucius, Nero buys her some lovebirds. It’s very sweet. Also sweet, but in a very different way, is when Gemma brings Carla’s ashes to Nero, and they break into a mausoleum and leave the remains in a flower pot. It’s funny. Carla’s actual death, and really her whole arc on the show, wasn’t all that impressive. She caused some problems, glared at Gemma, and then committed suicide in a manner that implied serious psychological problems without actually getting into what those problems really were. There didn’t seem to be any real point to her, in other words, but Nero’s grief over her death isn’t bad, and his scene with Gemma in the tomb is both macabrely funny and heartfelt. I’m not sure the writers are all that great at building effective character arcs for non-leads—they manage it from time to time, but generally things seem to happen because they’d either be exciting or devastating—but they are good at small moments like this. It makes Gemma’s final scene with Jax all the more affecting, too. She finally finds peace, but in her heart of hearts, she only really believes in family. As good as Nero is for her, Jax and the kids are all she really understands, and if it means losing the one positive relationship in her life to get that back, she’s going to do it. This makes sense, and the final scene with her and Clay makes sense. More, it feels earned, in a way it might not have had she gone back to him at the start of the episode.
Frankie Diamond, who represented Jax’s best chance to prove Clay’s involvement in the nomad home invasions—as well as a way to learn from Sheriff Roosevelt the identity of the club rat—is dead. This is inevitable: A living Frankie would change things up too much. Clay doesn’t kill him, but Frankie’s death still makes life easier for the club’s ex-president, if only for the moment. The action scene at the cabin, with Clay and Juice taking extreme measures to get their man, is fun, as is the fight at the restaurant when Jax goes to talk with the mob guy Frankie paid to protect him. (Jax’s lie that Frankie has even more money than he claimed is a good one; better to appeal to mob greed than the guy’s sense of fair play.) Still, none of this changes anything. Having Frankie survive this long, only to get gunned down in a cabin by a pissed off mobster, isn’t that much different than if he’d gotten killed a few episodes back. It’s certainly not painful to watch, but this is the drawback of lacking a central Big Bad. Unless the show wants to try to tell more episodic storylines, it needs a bigger and more consistent threat to hold everything together. I’ve noticed how much of each hour is taken up with characters explaining where everything stands to other characters. It’s a basic meat-and-potatoes piece of scripting, but it also demonstrates a straightforward approach that doesn’t have major goals. Stuff happens, some of it matters, a lot of it doesn’t, and all of it is just a way to get from one episode to the next.
The stories that matter are the ones that have a history, such as Gemma’s arc, or Tara’s second (and third) encounters with Otto at the prison. The fact that those encounters climax with Otto jerking off (or maybe just groping himself) while Tara strokes his head is, for Sons Of Anarchy, not a huge shock, but it’s a surprisingly melancholy scene, and not just because Otto is crying. The guy is probably the longest suffering character the show has (the fact that he’s played by Kurt Sutter is a nice touch), and while the sight of him broken and alone isn’t really new, it is deeply felt, and that makes it affecting. Whether or not Otto drops his testimony against the Sons has never seemed all that important, but it has given Tara something to do, and the scenes between the characters have worked well. Otto is scary and miserable, Tara holds her ground, and that’s enough.
While we won’t see the consequences until next week, I’m also still digging the harder, smarter Jax. He isn’t able to give Eli the chance for revenge, but it doesn’t matter—as he explains to the sheriff, it’s not hard to figure out who in the club is playing rat. It’s a nice twist on a scene that seemed to be heading into another “I almost have the truth! Oh damn, it’s gone” situation. Being president has forced Jax to make some hard choices, and I suspect we’re still seeing fallout from Opie’s death. As Jax watches Juice leaves Clay’s house, and then follows Juice into the night, it’s hard to know what to expect. A bullet in the back of the head? Or is Jax going to make sure his mom has backup? If I had to bet, I’d put money on the latter, but it’s anybody’s guess. All we can say for certain is that Jax isn’t going to let him off with a warning. The time for warnings is long gone.
- The scene between Bobby and Clay is great. “I really hope you’re as smart as you think you are. I’m tired of burning friends.” “Me too.”
- “All in favor of Frankie Diamonds meeting Mr. Mayhem?” Oh gosh yes.
- I’m not sure what to make of the scene where Tara puts on Luann’s perfume and gropes herself. What’s turning her on? Otto’s grief and loneliness were powerful, but I can’t imagine touching someone’s head while they jerk off would be an erotic memory, unless you already had erotic feelings for that person. This just seems pointless.