Can I confess something? I’ve never really bought Tara and Jax as a couple. I’m willing to accept it for the sake of the show, because plenty of shows have iffy romantic relationships for their lead characters. Romantic chemistry between actors is difficult to generate if it isn’t there naturally—and besides, it’s such a subjective thing. To me, Tara choosing to stay in Charming just to be with Jax and help him raise his son (this being before she got knocked up herself) is the sort of decision a writer makes and not a character, something that needed to be in place for the rest of the series to function as Kurt Sutter envisioned it; to you, maybe it’s the best love story on TV. (Although can we at least agree that Tara has never been defined in a way that made this relationship make sense? If you see chemistry, that’s cool, but the idea that a rising doctor would decide to settle down in a podunk town so her boyfriend could run guns with his biker gang is, to put it mildly, a stretch.) Still, it’s hard for me to let the show completely off the hook when it has such a better example of a strong emotional bond between two characters: Jax and Opie. Obviously they aren’t romantically attached, but these two have been best friends since the start of the series, and it’s never been hard to believe that. Not even when Jax’s advice helped inadvertently get Opie’s wife killed.
That relationship was put to good use in “Burnt And Purged Away,” a shorter episode than last week’s minor epic, and a much more satisfying one, even if it did hold back a little in the final moments. (Which were awesome, don’t get me wrong, but—well, we’ll get to that.) One of the minor tragedies of SOA in recent years is that it’s let Jax and Opie’s friendship go to the back burner, and worse, Opie’s become more of a minor character than he was in the show’s first season. Lately he’s been relegated to little more than being the stoic back-up to the club’s crazier elements, or else dabbled in comic relief and melodrama in his relationship with a porn star. Thing is, with the exception of Otto, Opie is argubly the most put-upon, routinely fucked-over member of the Sons, for no reason other than bad luck and his own basic decency. He tries to do the right thing, but while he’s no fool, he’s also not a schemer, which puts him at a disadvantage when dealing with Clay; nor is he a golden boy like Jax, raised for command and protected on all sides. He’s just a good man who’s given everything he has to a motorcycle club that doesn’t really deserve his faith, and now, finally, the debt that’s owed him has come home. At the start of “Burnt And Purged Away,” he knows his father’s dead, and he knows who killed him, and much of the episodes is spent with him off-screen, as we wait for him to finally, and righteously, make a move against Clay.
This was a very tense episode for the most part, in a good way, with plenty of other shoes raining down on upturned faces. That makes sense; after “Burnt And Purged Away,” there are only two episodes left till the end of the season, and that means its time for at least a few lit fuses to start going off. So, the Irish finally show up, and of course they aren’t happy about SAMCRO’s involvement with the cartel, or the fact that Jax used one of their rocket launchers during last week’s battle with the Lobos. Clay manages to keep the peace, but the actual meet between the Irish and Galindo will be going down next week; the important thing to happen here (apart from Juice finally delivering on his promise to Linc) is that Jax finds out the IRA is running another baby factory in the states. He freaks out, which is understandable considering a Belfast baby factory nearly cost him Abel last season, and there’s some head pounding, and it all winds up with Clay once again trying to patch up a bad scene. Plotting wise, there’s no reason for this scene, apart from putting Jax at odds with the Irish. But it’s a decent moment from a thematic perspective, because it reminds us once again that no one in this is really clean. The whole season has been pushing the idea that Clay’s decision to mule drugs for Galindo was going to bring down the club, but the thing is, they’ve been dealing with the IRA for years. All of SAMCRO is touched by corruption at this point, corruption that John Teller unintentionally gave his life trying to stop. There’s no pretending Romeo and his men are the only problem.
We get more Wendy this week, as Jax confronts her and orders her to stay away from Abel. I’m still not a huge fan of this new subplot; it’s a distraction, and it’s too conveniently inconvenient for Tara and Jax for it to come when it does. Still, it’s fun seeing Jax throw slurs at a woman who really does seem to have cleaned up her act, and it’s not impossible to see where she’s coming from with her request for visitation. If she’s doing this well now, if she really is off drugs and holding down a good job, it’s only natural she should reach out to the son she left behind. I’m still not sure how this is supposed to fit in with the rest of the season’s arc, although it’s telling that once again, the best solution Jax can think of its to tell everyone he’s leaving. It’s hard to imagine that actually happening, so unless Wendy gets accidentally murdered, she’s not going away any time soon.
Linc’s plans seem to be coming together in a big way. He’s got his deal with Otto signed and delivered, and Juice came through on the meeting between the IRA and Galindo, so we can expect a showdown soon. He’s also apparently interested in Mayor Hale’s Charming Heights, which makes me think it’s possible that particular dangling runner might finally pay off. Juice is sweating it out in jail, presumably because Linc doesn’t want to risk him spilling the beans to his friends, and Bobby finally gets his punishment for sleeping with Luann and lying to Otto. Which means that Jax and the others will be going into next week not knowing the law is getting ready to crack down, and lacking one of their more level-headed leaders, a guy who, if he hadn’t gotten himself arrested, would’ve supposedly served as club president after Jax and Clay left. As for Gemma, well, I don’t know what her game is at this point. Two weeks ago, she was determined to see Clay dead, but now she’s warning him about Opie, telling him she loves him, and yet again trying to lord over Tara with the same old bullshit. I hope this is part of some complicated maneuver she’s trying to pull off, so I’ll withhold judgement; right now, it looks more like she’s backing down from her earlier statement to Unser, and that’s just a weak writing choice.
Speaking of weak writing choices: The ending of “Burnt And Purged Away” is terrific stuff, as intense a scene as the show has had all season, with Opie finally turning on Jax for all the club has cost him, before heading to the club house to face down with Clay. Opie is usually one of the calmest guys on the show, but he’s all rage in this episode, and it’s awe-inspiring to watch. Ryan Hurst gives it his all, and the confrontation between him and Clay is great stuff. Jax (after stealing a hearse, crashing it, and then stealing someone’s motorcycle) gets there and pulls a gun on Opie, while Opie has drawn down on Clay. There’s some yelling, and finally, Opie snaps and shoots Clay. But only in the side, and there’s no indication that it’s a killing shot. I’m not willing to say this is a bad call quite yet, because I’m curious to see where all this is headed, but if this isn’t handled very well in the next two episodes, it could turn into a case of writers edging away from offing someone who really and truly needed to be offed. Either Opie needed to get shot, or Clay did, and Jax’s weak-ass protests about how this was a “club issue” weren’t nearly enough to change anyone’s mind. There are ways to justify this—there always are, unless a show is just awful—but the fact is, dramatically speaking, there needs to be a confrontation with Clay, and someone needs to die from it. Opie pulling his shots at the last second makes for a sort of “Oh my god, but… ” moment, in which the series attempts to have its cake (Clay) and eat it too (killing Clay). Again, I’m not saying it won’t work. We don’t know yet. But one of the big questions for me this year, in a season that has generally been very good, is whether or not Sons will be able to the pull the trigger when it counts. Sure, Piney’s dead, and he was a good guy, but he was a secondary character. The current dynamic can’t go on as is, and it can’t forgive Clay his sins (even if he does seem to be trying to avoid getting Tara killed now). More importantly, it needs the status quo to shift. Clay’s the bad guy now. You try and backtrack that, you try and find some way to make everything like it was again, and I’m going to lose what faith I have left that this is a story, not a template.
- Kurt Sutter has been doing some fine work as Otto, and he gets a great moment tonight when Linc tells him it’s all about closure: “Yeah. I’m completely at peace.”
- Also killer: “Time for you to start a list, Bobby.”
- What the hell is Gemma up to? She acts like she’s got something going on, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what. (And it turns out I was wrong last week when I wondered if she’d sent Unser after Opie.)
- “After [what happened to] Donna, he’ll kill Clay!” “My intent, Gemma.”