For all my skepticism earlier on, I realized halfway through tonight’s episode that I’m enjoying this season of Sons Of Anarchy more than any season since the second. (And possibly the first, although it’s been a while.) There’s a fleetness to the show’s storytelling now which, while often circular and occasionally repetitive, keeps the pace moving, and makes sure each hour goes down easy. Yeah, not every subplot is handled well. I’m still not sure about all the craziness with Carla, and Opie’s death remains a cheap shot—the sort of desperate move writers will make when they have no other plans for a character, and need a push to jump start the narrative. But I dug how Nero and Gemma bonded over Carla’s death, and Jax’s slow turn to the dark side in his increasingly desperate attempts to avenge his fallen friend have been pretty terrific. Solid followthrough can’t entirely make up for so-so plotting, but it can, as they say, turn a seeming mistake into an opportunity, and that’s been happening a lot this fall. Juice’s brief turn as the world’s worst snitch, which appeared to be buried and forgotten at the end of last year, has come back with a vengeance. And Clay’s survival, which at the time came off as a failure to commit, has worked out largely for the best. I thought I’d be sick of him by now, but Ron Perlman remains terrific, and his turn as a cagey, over-the-hill Machiavelli has been a lot of fun to watch.
Plus, the season’s main arc hasn’t built up in a way that requires a perfect landing. It’s clear that Jax and Clay are building to some kind of showdown, much like always, and it’s also clear that Jax is at a moral crossroads. His increasing coldness toward his crew, his willingness to make decisions driven by rage, his apparent belief that the only way to be the true president the club needs is to sell his soul by pieces—all of this is, presumably, going somewhere. But the pressure that defined so much of season four, before it ultimately fizzled in a disappointing finale, is no longer present. On the one hand, that means there’s no huge, building tension to drive us through the final few episodes, no impending doom looming up over the horizon. But on the other hand, it also means there’s no reason to get worried about where all this is headed. It’s easier to enjoy each story moment by moment, like watching Juice’s world unravel yet again, or the expression on Gemma’s face as she invites Clay back into her bed. These are powerful scenes, and they build on history, letting the actors do as much work as the dialogue. I would argue that they don’t really generate suspense, per se, but that’s part of their strength. There’s no cause to worry about what happens next; these particular wrecks are slow-moving and ongoing.
Juice, for example. He’s fucked six ways to Sunday, isn’t he. Jax follows him home, but in a desperate attempt to make up for his sins, Eli sends some cops to Juice’s place to arrest him. Back at the station, Eli tells Juice what happened, and Juice, deciding there’s nothing he can do, goes to Jax to confess his sins. (Which is perfectly in character. After all, if he wasn’t so desperate to stay with the club, he never would’ve gotten into this mess in the first place.) Jax decides to use him, and then Clay tries to win him back, and there is absolutely no way out of this situation that doesn’t involve him betraying someone’s trust. That’s not to mention the fact that Jax already talked over his fate with Chibs and Bobby, and hasn’t told either about the current arrangement. Jax is making hard choices all over these days. He tracked down the man who killed Opie in prison, and in spite of giving his words to the Grim Bastards (another club, friend to the Sons; the killer, Randall Hightower, arranged for protection) that he wouldn’t shoot the guy, had Chibs put one in the back of the ex-convict’s head. Even Bobby’s noticing how much Jax has changed, and how much his actions seem driven by a barely restrained fury, and an inner conviction that leadership is treating everyone outside his family as a tool he can use when it suits him. Which means odds are once again low for Juice’s survival.
The funny thing is, the people Jax wants most to protect from all this are still in it up to their necks. At least Tara is—apart from Gemma’s car crash, the boys are okay. Her efforts to persuade Otto to drop the RICO testimony against the club end in success, at the cost of a dead nurse and a portion of her sanity. Otto asks for Luann’s crucifix; Tara, desperate and probably forgetting all the movies and TV shows she’s seen which show what happens when you grant this kind of request, grants his request; and Otto uses the cross to stab out a hole in a friendly nurse’s throat. The murder means the Feds will have to drop his testimony, and, hopefully, the case, but it’s a high price to pay. Too high, really. Jax isn’t the only one changing, and while Tara clearly loves him, she’s must be reconsidering the job offer she gets earlier in the show, one which can get her and the boys out of Charming and away from all this.
I’d thought the Charming Heights plot was going to get dropped once again, but the mayor drops by the club to give Jax the prospectus for the proposed development. Jax makes a few demands, but it looks like the big reason he’s bringing this together is to take the whole thing to Pope. It’s hard to be sure what the plan is here. Pope seems happy about their working relationship, although he pressures Jax to turn Tig over as soon as possible. But given the look on Jax’s face as Pope walks away, it’s possible this is part of some bigger con he’s running. He could very well be the sort of man who would turn a brother over to a bigger fish if it became necessary, but his willingness to accept Pope’s rule is suspect, especially considering how furiously he’s avenged Opie’s death elsewhere. Maybe the reason he’s so determined to kill the others responsible is because he knows he can’t take out the guy at the top. Or maybe he’s just really good at playing nice. (I’m betting it’s the former, as a big, definitive play to take Pope down would go a long way toward solidifying Jax’s leadership.)
Then there’s Clay, still trying hard to pull strings. As always, he’s just good enough to be a threat, but not so good as to see all the angles. Or maybe he realizes Gemma’s playing him. Gemma herself isn’t the world’s best spy. The obvious horror on her face as Clay moves in for a kiss, the hesitant way she approaches him on her bed—clearly, this is incredibly painful, because this was a man she’s shared a large part of her life with, and one who hurt her badly. It’s an especially kind of awful to try to bring someone like that back into your home, especially when he’s quiet and apologetic and kind. Plenty of shows revert back to the status quo over time, but what’s fascinating about this specific arrangement is how it uses the familiarity to dramatic effect. When a person becomes a part of where you live, it’s hard to believe they don’t belong there—that’s the reason the abused often stay with their abusers. (Which isn’t to say that Gemma was a complete victim during their relationship, but Clay, apart from the physical violence, is clearly part of a life she wants to move beyond.)
Hopefully, she’ll be able to get the information Jax needs before she loses herself again. Hopefully, Jax will be able to use that information, and whatever Juice can give him, and put Clay down for good. And hopefully, Gemma and Juice (well, probably not Juice) will still be walking when this is all said and done. The problem is, I don’t think Jax gives a damn either way.
- Clay going directly to Galindo was not a move I saw coming, but it makes perfect sense.
- After learning why Juice was willing to turn rat, Jax says, “Maybe it’s time we change a few bylaws.” You think?
- Tig on Randall: “Looks like the word ‘OBEY’ should be pasted underneath his head.”
- Unser’s trailer is now sitting on the club’s lot. Where it belongs.