You can't throw a stone these days without hitting a television show about an anti-hero; surly,complicated bastards have been a staple of modern programming ever since Tony Soprano first lumbered into view. There are all kinds of reasons for this. TV is about taking the successful and tweaking it just enough to attract viewers--like the "New and Improved" laundry detergent, the idea isn't to start a revolution so much as change the packaging. But there are other, less cynical reasons for focusing on anti-heroes. Bastards are fun to watch, because they can do things we can't, and because the stakes in their lives are often high. They're fun to write about, because that freedom of action opens up a whole mess of story possibilities. Breaking Bad has done a lot with the chemical reaction metaphor, but honestly, every series with a combustible lead operates on the same basic principle: you combine enough unstable elements, sooner or later, someone is going to explode.
It's still impossible to say just who's going to blow up when on Sons, but tonight's episode, "Caregiver," revealed just how shaky SAMCRO's position is, and how ill-prepared our heroes are to handle all these problems at once. Jax, Clay, and Gemma are clever, capable, and they don't scare easy. They aren't perfect, though. Gemma and Clay helped arrange the death of Jax's father, and their direction for the club has been a long, slow struggle to hold ground against increasingly inevitable erosion. They aren't innovators, they aren't forward thinkers--they can deal with chaos in the moment, but Clay isn't really much of one for the long game. Gemma is smarter than he is, but she's also got a very concrete idea of what the Sons are and what they'll always be, and that doesn't allow for a lot of growth. And Jax is still hard to read. He's supposed to be the golden boy in the story, the son of the fallen king, and yet so far, he's never really delivered on the challenge he issued at the end of the first season. These are all sympathetic, developed characters, but as well-defined as they are, they're impossible to predict. That's a good place for a show like this to be in.
Also good is what's become clear in tonight's episode: if our three leads are unknown quantities even at the best of times, what happens when everything goes to hell? Clay and Jax are working to track Abel down, but they're about out of resources, and when they run up empty on the guns needed to trade for intel and help against the patch-over, they make a deal with Linn, their Chinese distributor: if Linn will get them supplies and cash, they'll provide him with porn stars to feed the fetishes of some his clients. Opie's girlfriend decides she wants to pitch in with the rest of her co-workers, arguing that her shelf-life in the industry isn't going to last forever, and that she needs to make hay while the sun shines. (So to speak.) Opie acts okay with this, and, in what must stand as one of the dumbest calls ever made, he sits in with the rest of the Sons on the porn party. He sees his girl going down on a stranger, he freaks, and everything collapses. There are too many battles on too many fronts for anyone to screw up, and Opie's rage here forces Clay to give up a piece of the Sons' gun action to satisfy Linn. It's not like anyone can blame Opie, either. After last year's triumph against Zobelle, the Sons needed time to recoup, to heal their wounds and re-trench themselves in Charming. Instead, the pressure just gets worse, and Clay's decision for the club to follow Jax after Abel is both loyal and seriously ill-advised. They're skipping out on bail for the assault charges (judging by the "previously on," I'm assuming this is for their attack on the church last season), and leaving the town open to whatever happens next. Jax can say he's willing to serve the time however often he likes; it doesn't change the fact that going in full bore might not be the best call this time around.
As for Gemma... Well, talk about your unstable elements. By the end of the episode, it's looking like more and more like the cast is going on a road trip, that Gemma will be going along for the ride, and that's going to get complicated. She's been struggling ever since the gang rape, for obvious reasons, and while she managed to turn that horrible experience into something that brought her family closer together, I'm not sure she ever really stabilized. Or if she had, that was thrown out of whack as soon as Stahl framed her for murder (right after she'd committed another murder). And then her mom died, and she got back into her father's orbit, which is clearly not doing a whole lot for her mental health. The fall out with poor Amelia here is shocking enough for its violence, but what's really unsettling is just how out of control Gemma gets by the end. Amelia falling on her knife is an accident, but it's no accident that she spends most of the episode duct-taped to a wheelchair, that Gemma threatens her with torture, that Gemma hits her when Amelia mouths off about her dad. Remember that whole knife-in-the-crotch scene in "So"? Yeah, that panicky fury isn't going away any time soon.
There's a whole lot of misery in this plotline--Nate's near suicide attempt, and his conversation with his daughter afterwards, was heart-breaking. But we also get the funniest sequence of the season so far here (even funnier than the fight at the porn party which, consequences aside, was pretty goddamn hilarious). After Amelia gets a knife in her chest, Tig calls a local cleaner named Bachman (ha!) to come take care of the mess: and who should come up the driveway but the Master of the Macabre himself, Stephen King. King's done cameos in movies and TV before, mostly in adaptations of his work (his longest turn was, I think, in Creepshow), and he's usually an unfortunate distraction; here, the show uses his ghoulish appearance and nasal voice to great effect. It almost doesn't work--it's almost too self-aware to fit on the show--but I think it just scrapes by, working as the best kind of comic relief by easing some of the tension while never letting us feel entirely comfortable. Which is something Sons is getting very good at. "Caregiver" is very strong, and it manages cover ground without ever letting us feel solid earth beneath our feet.
- I still don't entirely have my head around the Irish subplot, but I'm liking what we see of Maureen; it's great to have another strong female character on the show.
- I'd completely forgotten that Half-Sack's girl was staying overseas.
- Man, Tara just isn't any good at this, is she?
- Today is Stephen King's birthday. Which is pretty cool, no?