Say this much for the latest season of Sons Of Anarchy: It gets moving in hurry. In fact, to hell with snarky praise—while “Authority Vested” has its low spots, the episode’s rising momentum and character beats make for a largely exciting hour. After a première that was mostly dedicated to establishing the new status quo and setting up new factions (announcing Pope in particular as the most obvious and pressing threat), this entry gets into the business of what the show does best: deeply felt melodrama and skin-of-teeth plotting. Jax and Tara get married! Nero has a young son with a spinal disease! Opie makes a choice! And so on. All of these twists are easy to make fun of, but they all work and serve to establish a trajectory for the first half of the season in a way that Dawn’s roasting did not. That scene was awful and upsetting, but it was also so nasty that it basically exists in a vacuum, inspiring an obvious emotional response that’s largely independent of the characters. I mean, burning someone’s child alive—it doesn’t really matter what their relationship, who the victim is, or what someone did before. It’s just the worst.
This week’s twists, on the other hand, have all kinds of possibilities, both building off of show history and suggesting ways that new history might unfold. “Authority Vested” has plots moving on a number of fronts, but by the end of the episode, these various plots feel less like chaos and more like rising action. Thanks to Pope, Jax and some of the boys are on the run, but as they hole up in Nero’s high-class brothel, they’re already looking for a way out. Lots of lawyer-talk later, and Jax is once again turning to Alvarez and Romero to try and fix his problems with the police. This connection is a narrative crutch, although thankfully it’s nowhere near as painful here as it was last season. More importantly, the writers seem to show signs that they’re of the problems, because while the agents manage to give Jax answers that are close enough to what he wants to hear, as soon as he’s gone, they open discussion of the need for a plan B in case it becomes necessary to cut ties with the Sons. This would be horrible for Jax, but it is crucial for the show, as the safety net of government backup makes problems with the law appear too easy to resolve. I’m not sure exactly how such a break would play out detail-wise, and who knows when or if it will happen, but it’s exciting to see it put on the table so early in the season.
Also exciting is Opie’s arc this episode, which has the character heading in a slightly unexpected, but still believable, direction. Opie is arguably the most likable person on the show by now; given the hell he’s gone through with Donna’s death, and his rage over Piney’s murder, he’s suffered more than most of the club (outside of Tig), and he’s still a relative innocent, the picture of a good man suffering for the sins of his friends. So it wasn’t a surprise to see him still pissed off and resentful toward Jax in the première. But this episode finds him hearing about the warrants and making a decision to get back in the game. And while there’s definitely an air of “Well, if he doesn’t do this, it’s going to be difficult to keep him on the show” about it, Opie’s decision to attack Sheriff Roosevelt so he can accompany Jax and the others to jail was the sort of cheer-worthy grand gesture the show does so well. Yet the script (and the actor) didn’t lose sight of the fact that Opie is deeply screwed up inside, as his conversation with Lyla earlier in the episode reminds us in its over-the-top, but still sort of heartbreaking, way. Clay’s decision to meet with him and “confess” about pulling the trigger on Piney shows that the former club president has decided to commit completely to his apology tour. It’s an interesting strategy, in that he’s robbing Jax of a big weapon, and I dig the self-laceration aspect of it. I’m not sure Clay feels that guilty, but the way he’s shaping himself up as the martyr is interesting. Plus, by confronting Opie directly, he’s dulled some of Opie’s rage. Getting shot has improved the bastard’s game considerably.
As for the cornier stuff—Jax and Tara getting hitched, Nero having a physically disabled son—it’s effective enough. Tara is still problematic to me as her transition to biker chick never entirely made sense; I’m not sure if a piece of story was missing, or if Maggie Siff didn’t get a chance to sell the transition. Her current status as “ex-doctor who’s totally okay with her husband breaking all sorts of laws” is an odd fit, but both she and Charlie Hunman do their best to make sure the relationship works in the moment. Tara’s happiness during the wedding is affecting, and it’s a good way to remind us that whatever else goes on, there’s a big-hearted core to this series that will probably never go away. (It might get so sloppy that it becomes meaningless, but that hasn’t happened yet.) Nero’s son, Lucius, fits into this as well. We don’t get to meet the kid directly, but he adds to the growing picture of Nero as an elder statesman type, a decent guy who has managed to balance his outlaw livelihood in a way that Jax might be looking to emulate. The long conversation between the two of them in Nero’s truck helped to give us a better sense of who Nero is, and suggests a possible out for Jax in the years to come. But then, Nero’s decision to play chicken with a trailing jeep belies his calmness. He may have his shit together, but he’s looking for an excuse to lose it.
The rest of the episode wasn’t bad, although a lot of it was people having heated discussions reminding us just how complicated the club’s legal situation is. There’s also a lousy coincidence when the club’s lawyer (it’s always great to see Robin Weigert, although the show never gives her much to do beyond look harried and exasperated) drops Jax and Tara’s marriage license off with Gemma, which, at first, looked like a contrivance that was going to lead to some kind of awkward, tedious showdown. But the Three’s Company-type twist is redeemed when it doesn’t really lead to anything, apart from a quick and refreshingly drama-free chat between Gemma and Tara pre-wedding. The hunt for Tig’s other daughter leads to some awkward, racially charged stuff (the Sons bust into Faun’s house while she’s fucking an African American—it’s kind of funny, given how unhinged Tig is, but the fact that the dude doesn’t seem to have a character beyond “looks good in boxer shorts” is odd; he’s really just a sight gag), as does Pope’s one quick scene in which he drops an n-bomb while talking with his second in command. We’ll have to see if this pays off down the line.
At the end of the episode, Jax and the boys with warrants on their heads turn themselves over to the cops, along with Opie, convinced that Pope is going to try and kill them all in jail. That’s bad enough, but there may be other problems coming down the line; the guys who beat up Unser and ransacked Gemma’s place were white dudes, and while Unser tries to track them down, they’ve got the safe, and what looks like marriage certificates? Whatever it is, I can’t imagine it’ll be good for anyone we like. Exciting, huh?
- I want to like Nero, but the guy’s got to have some kind of ulterior motive, right? His eagerness to help and the fact that he’s willing to have the Sons in the brothel even though (as he freely admits to Jax) Vice is constantly sniffing around looking for excuses to bust the place is suspect. Sure, he likes Gemma, but... we’ll see.
- “I killed a Fed for you. Nothing says endless love like capital murder.” —Jax, whispering sweet nothings
- We still don’t have a sense of Jax’s leadership yet, apart from: “He’s not afraid to go to others for help.”
- “And the bigger picture was pussy.” “Every picture is pussy, ese.” Jax and Nero, exchanging worldviews.