Seeing Wendy’s face in the “previously on” opening montage doesn’t make for a positive omen. As good as Drea de Matteo is, spending more time on her efforts to see her son would be a distraction in the middle of all the shit going down. A custody battle, while potentially painful and disastrous for the parties involved, can’t hold a candle to Jax’s power struggles and the many different threats, internal and external, aimed at the club.
Yet Wendy’s return actually fits in well with the general chaos. Tara, realizing she has no plans in place for her sons if anything should happen to her and Jax, calls Wendy in, and makes her a deal: Wendy gets the kids if the worst goes down, and in exchange for the responsibility, Tara will let Wendy visit Abel in daycare. It’s a reasonable arrangement (and a clear sign of how troubled Tara is by Wendy’s earlier visit), but given how this show works, it’s no huge surprise when things go horribly south. Jax’s latest meet with the Irish blows up in his face, Galen swears revenge, and that revenge turns out to be an IRA thug kidnapping Wendy from the hospital when he mistakes her for Jax’s wife. Wendy makes it out of the kidnapping alive, but seriously pissed off when she hears about Abel’s abduction. Things go south from there.
But before we get there, let’s go back to the beginning. It turns out that Bobby’s big plan, the one he brought to Clay at the end of last week’s episode, was to force the issue of Clay’s betrayal; Clay confesses his dealings with the Nomad to the club and loses his patch—but thanks to Bobby’s sole “Nay” vote, Clay manages to avoid a meeting with Mr. Mayhem. This is a smart play, both from Bobby’s perspective, and from the writers’. As he later explains to Jax, Bobby’s main goal is to protect the club, and Jax’s obsessive hunt to bring Clay down, as necessary as it was, could’ve destroyed SAMCRO if it had gone on any longer. By giving Clay a choice—either he gives himself up and saves his life, or he keeps running and ends up dead—Bobby manages to cut out the cancer and, hopefully, save the healthy tissue that’s left. Looking at it from a structural perspective, this is a fantastic way to deliver on expectations (Clay had to be dealt with) while subverting them, and putting us briefly in Jax’s shoes: We’re all frustrated not to get the big fight we knew was coming. But it’s a good frustration, because all of this makes sense. When Jax runs out of the garage and beats the shit out of Clay, it’s thrilling, but it’s also not hard to see how out of control he is, how much rage and desperation are driving his actions under the guise of “good leadership.” The past few episodes have done great work to clarify what this season is about, and “Darthy” makes it even clearer. In assuming the president’s chair, Jax has been struggling to balance loftier ambitions—getting the club out of drugs and guns, living up to his father’s dreams—with more earthly realities. And for all the small victories that keep him going, he’s failing.
Just looking at it as pure drama, Clay’s confession, the two votes that follow, Jax’s explosion, and his resultant conversation with Bobby, are fantastic. Clay has been working in the shadows for so long that the charge of him laying out his plans in clear, inescapable language, is immensely satisfying. And the silence that surrounds him, and lingers in the room even after he leaves, is equally powerful. Clay is a monster, but his actions spring from understandable motives, and now that the last of his power has been stripped away, it’s possible to even feel sorry for him. The writers, and Ron Perlman, have managed to make Clay just sympathetic enough to be a real person again, to the point where I don’t even want him dead anymore. His dream of his own small club, a group of freelance thugs to do guns and bring in money, is almost charming in its childishness. Sure, he has the connections that he might be able to start something, but this is as much a fantasy as Nero’s dream of retiring on his uncle’s ranch, or Jax’s dream of a club free from the muck of illegal activity. Clay has gone too far. He makes a deal with Galen to head back to Belfast and lay low for a few months, but the odds of him making that meeting are very low. Pope advises Jax to use some kind of proxy to get his revenge, so now we get to wonder what the final play will be. A bullet in the back of the head? Or will Jax send an anonymous tip to Eli about about the man behind the Nomad attacks? Or will it be something even closer to home.
Who knows. With his patch gone, and his tattoos slowly, painfully removed, Clay is no longer a true threat. He knows it, too; the quick shot of him crying after the fight is one of the few times on the show when we’re seeing the real-deal, no-lies Clay, and it’d be heartbreaking if he hadn’t earned his bruises or his pain.
There are other dangers now. Donal Logue returns to pay a quick trip to Tara at the hospital, for a friendly interview that gradually becomes not very friendly at all. Logue tells Tara his name is Lee Toric, and he’s the dead nurse’s brother, so the meta fun of last week continues, although now in more obvious fictional clothing. Lee is also a retired U.S. Marshal, which means he is not somebody you want to piss off. While grieving brother doesn’t actually do anything this episode, he makes it clear to Tara in no uncertain terms that he’s looking to avenge his sister’s death as thoroughly and completely as possible. Tara gives her deposition about Otto’s crucifix murder, and, with some lawyer help, seems to get by well enough; the man asking the questions clearly has his suspicions, but the scene ends without any arrests, or any hint that an arrest would be forthcoming. Maybe there will be legal consequences, but right now, the real threat is from the intense, unblinking man who likes to sit in his hotel room in the dark, surrounded by guns.
But Lee is an outlier, an unforeseen consequence of a seemingly harmless decision. Tara thought she might be able to help her husband and the club by appealing to Otto directly; she certainly never meant for anyone, not even Otto himself, to be hurt. There’s plenty of bad news at the Sons’ doorstep that the club has brought on itself. Like Pope’s insistence that Jax turn Tig over ASAP, now that Clay is off the table and Jax no longer needs Tig’s vote. Jax is still stalling, and it’d be surprising if he didn’t have some scheme in play to get Pope off the club’s back for good, but for right now, he’s acting very friendly. He even honestly asks Pope for advice on how to deal with the Clay situation; that doesn’t mean anything one way or the other, but if Jax is planning on betraying Pope, his willingness to still seek the man’s counsel is telling. Jax is working very hard to be as vicious and cold as he needs to be. If that means learning how to be a monster, so be it.
Maybe that’s the biggest threat, in the end. The breakdown in communications with the Irish (driven by Romeo’s decision to intervene at the worst possible moment) is bad news, but while there will almost certainly be trouble down the road, the biggest result is unexpected: Wendy, after hearing her son was taken out of the country by gangsters, and after realizing that Jax and Tara are completely incapable of ever leaving the Sons behind, decides she’s going to report what happened to the authorities, and sue for custody. It’s a great twist. After spending so much time showing Wendy as a liability, or as a villain who refuses to get out of the lives she nearly ruined, the writers have actually given the character a justifiable reason for complaint. The ambiguity of the confrontation is unsettling, because even though Jax and Tara are the protagonists, and even though they both love their sons to distraction, Wendy has a point. The lives they lead are insane even if they didn’t have children, and with the boys dragging behind them through life as hostages of fortune—well, shouldn’t somebody do something? Shouldn’t somebody step in and stop this?
Wendy swears she will. So Jax, with Tig’s help, comes by her apartment later that night, injects her with heroin, and tells her he’ll say she came by the daycare raving, and demand a drug test. He’s so far gone at this point that I briefly worried he was going to kill her, but that would’ve been too far; this is just the right kind of nasty. Yes, he wants to protect his boys, and yes, Wendy has done him wrong in the past. But this is purely, selfishly evil. Jax claims the president’s seat corrupts whoever sits in it, but it’s hard not to wonder if that’s just his excuse.
- One of the reasons Clay’s confession is great (it’s his second confession this season, but it still doesn’t feel like old hat) is how direct he is. He doesn’t hold anything back; more than anything it shows that, whatever his future plans, he really is trying to get out of all of this.
- Another bad sign for Jax: He’s using Tig more and more. This is partly because he basically owns Tig, but there’s also the sense that Tig’s loyalty to both the club and the man in charge make him willing to go to lengths neither men should go to. And even Tig has some doubts about what happens to Wendy.
- The show has used montages almost to the point of self-parody, but the scene of Clay losing his tattoos is a good one.
- I wonder what Jax told Gemma to do? (I’m guessing it has something to do with Clay, although I realize that’s totally a stretch.)