Last week, Clay finally crossed what should be a line. Not calling for Tara’s death; he’s brought down death on the club before, and even if Donna’s murder in season one was an accident, he’s still responsible. Beating the crap out of Gemma, and thus finally and for good alienating himself from his staunchest, smartest defender? That’s not a smart play by any measure, and it’s one that should have immediate, and permanent, consequences. We’re not talking morality here (we’ll get to that in a minute), we’re talking numbers. Without Gemma, the only one Clay can really count on is Tig. Everyone else, he’s either pushed away or was already pre-disposed toward Jax in the first place. Clay’s plans have been slowly collapsing the whole season, as his last big play for financial security has turned into one fustercluck after another—but here, really, is where the disaster should shift from watching the center collapse, to seeing how a new center takes shape in the midst of chaos. We know Clay is a bad man who needs to be put down; now it’s time for his comeuppance to begin to put itself together.
That happens a little in “Call Of Duty,” especially in the episode’s terrific final scene, but more time is spent delaying the inevitable than facing it head on. On the one hand, that’s an understandable choice; for Gemma to immediately turn to Jax to demand vengeance would be out of character, and we’re not quite at the end of the season yet. Maybe Kurt Sutter wants to hold off a little longer before the real explosions start. (Apart from poor Kozik, of course.) But there’s a certain backtracking feel to much of this slightly-longer-than-usual episode that has me, if not worried, than at least a little uncertain as to where all of this is heading. It’s not so much that Gemma’s injuries are underplayed that’s bothering me, as it is the reactions she inspires in others. The way anyone who questions Clay about what happened gets put off with a “None of your damn business.” It says something unfortunate about the club that a beating like this could get passed off as private, as a choice a person in authority could make and still be considered worthy of that authority. Really, the only guy who takes this to heart with the gravity it deserves is Tig, who turns in his Sgt. of Arms patch after seeing the wounds on Gemma’s face. He doesn’t lash out, but he does acknowledge a fundamental trust has been severed, and that he can’t continue to serve at the behest of a man capable of such violence. That this moral authority comes from Tig, of all people, says volumes about how far Jax and company have sunk.
I don’t have a problem with that, exactly. My issue is that I’m not sure Sutter and his writing team are in the same boat as I am with regard to the deleterious effect of motorcycle clubs. Or, at least, this motorcycle club. Jax sees that his stepfather has beat his mother to hell, and he allows her to convince him to let it slide. The worst he does is confront Clay off to one side, read him a fairly impotent riot act, and then let him walk. And he does it not because his mother begged him to, but because it’s in his best interests right now for Clay to be up and moving, at least until the issues with the cartel and the Irish are resolved. That’s ugly, ugly stuff right there, just as ugly as the way that SAMCRO’s cheerfully contemptuous nature towards women allows this sort of violence to happen. Remember when Jax beat on Ima to teach her a lesson? Remember when Bobby said that this was a “club solution?” Gemma’s injuries aren’t an outlier, they’re just an extreme example of what’s built into the current iteration of the Sons, and this needs to be addressed. Clay’s a bad man, but he’s not the only one with blood on his hands here. It’s hard to ignore the fact that there really is no way Jax is going to leave Charming by the end of this season, no matter how many times he says otherwise. That means he’ll still be in SAMCRO, and how that plays out will say a lot about Sutter’s intentions for the show. If Clay gets eliminated, and Jax takes over the club with no real repercussions—if it looks like we’re operating on the assumption that Clay and Gemma alone were responsible for all those bad vibes—I’m not sure how true that will ring.
We’ve still got three more episodes before that particular story plays out, and I’m not giving up hope or anything quite yet. “Call Of Duty” isn’t as good an episode as last week’s. It’s got a terrific action sequence to prop up its middle, and the ending is, as mentioned, great, but a certain amount of momentum is lost in dealing with subplots which, while not exactly dull, don’t have the same immediacy as Clay’s collapsing house of cards. The biggest oddity here is the return of Wendy (Drea De Matteo), mother of Jax’s first son, not seen around these parts since season one. She’s straightened up her act, and has decided to pick the worst absolute moment to drop by Tara’s hospital room and demand visitation rights with her kid. This freaks Tara out (I hope the show doesn’t have her going full Ophelia, but she is really not having a good week here), and puts Gemma on the offensive, but while I assume this will have some impact in the weeks to come, it’s a little ridiculous that it happens now. Sons has never been the most organic drama on TV, but Wendy’s sudden reappearance here is so blatantly manipulative that you can almost see the writer behind her, feeding her lines. This season’s biggest problem has been trying to keep too many plates spinning all at once, and every time the narrative drive threatens to narrow the focus, another plate gets tacked on for no clear purpose.
“Call Of Duty” does its best to wrap up some loose ends, marking the final end of poor Porn Georgie, and allowing Linc’s manipulations of Otto to finally bear fruit. Once again, we hear about Charming Heights, and it seems to be happening despite Clay’s best efforts otherwise. As always, I’m baffled by the continued existence of this subplot. Not only has it been kept on the back burner for much of the season—meaning that every time it gets mentioned, I have to remind myself what they’re talking about—it also seems out of character that Clay, whose spent nearly every other scene this year with his eye firmly on the prize, would give a damn about this. The show has tried to sell the idea that he sees this as some insult to his community pride, or some sort of primal, slobs vs. snobs battle, but it doesn’t fit well with the rest of his arc, and unless there’s some sort of major reveal that the machinations against the Heights are another way to grab some quick cash, this seems like a story that didn’t really need to happen. Maybe it’s a subplot that had been intended for another season, but now that Clay is almost certainly on the outs, they wanted to force it through.
Still, there’s plenty of good here. The assault on the Lobos camp, including a mine field, a rocket launcher, and the death of Kovitz, had a nice kick to it. Something Juice says early in the episode has me wondering just how conscious Sutter et al. are of the absurdity of a bunch of tough-talking guys in leather jackets running around with assault rifles in their own back yards; when the rocket launcher is uncased, Juice mentions he’s never seen anything like it outside of a video game (hence the episode title). Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but there is a certain gung-ho stupidity about all of this, the sort of stupidity that probably convinced these guys they could sign on with Galindo in the first place. I’m not saying Jax and the others haven’t been through hell, but prolonged gun battles with well trained armies—that’s not something that should be on the club menu, not by a long shot. There’s an arrogance here, an unwillingness to recognize the consequences of one’s actions, that keeps leading the boys deeper down the hole. It’s fun to play games when no one gets hurt, or even if there’s an occasional dust-up and bruising, but this isn’t a game anymore.
Then there’s that last scene, when Opie finally finds his father’s body, and Unser tells him the truth about what happened. Once again, Unser takes action when everyone else is clinging to a holding pattern (although there’s a good chance he’s doing this on Gemma’s orders); who knows if it will have more effect than his last attempt to break out, but at least someone outside the inner circle finally sees just how far Clay is willing to go to get what he wants. “Call Of Duty” is a longer-than-usual episode that gets bogged down in details that no longer feel relevant, introducing new concerns in a season that’s already got more than enough bad guys, and tying up loose ends that were never all that loose to begin with. We finally learn who killed Luann! And it wasn’t Bobby, so who cares. This wasn’t bad, not by a long shot, but there’s a certain impatience throughout, a feeling that we are being fed a line because it’s not quite time to bring out the good stuff. Thankfully, there’s only so many episodes left before the end, and I am absolutely convinced that there’s a fireworks factory in at least one of them.
- Hospital Administrator Lady comments directly how the violent culture of SAMCRO made Gemma’s beating possible, so at least someone’s talking about it.
- Gemma tells Jax, “I crossed a line.” I realize Gemma’s playing her own game here, but you combine this sentence with the way Jax hangs back from going after Clay, and it doesn’t make Jax look like a good guy.
- You could do a montage of clips from this show featuring people saying, “I need your head in the game.”
- So, was that Chekhov’s rocket launcher?
- Wendy is into women now. Okay then.
- “Clay’s got to go, son. Before he kills someone else you love.”