On their way to a big sitdown with representatives from Sons chapters all over the country, Jax and the others run afoul of a speed trap. The pair of cops running the trap are aggressive, and the situation quickly escalates. Jax tries to keep the peace (which seems to be his main goal throughout the episode), but Juice, unstable and angry after the events of the past few months, starts mouthing off. The cops don’t take kindly to this, Juice pushes harder, and eventually, the whole thing turns into a road chase. It’s a great scene; the cops’ dickery is over the top, but the tense, almost comical way the fight plays out is thrilling to watch. And the chase itself, though short, is a great cap to the sequence, with Juice diving into an open van and letting his stolen police motorcycle flip the jeep that’s coming after the group. A scene or two later, the crew arrives at the meet-up, and Jax finds out that the cops never called the incident in, which means the whole set-up was a con job, with the officers using their uniforms to shake down outsiders. This leads to another confrontation (the assholes have Juice’s bike, after all), and it’s just as satisfying, although in a different way. In terms of basic mechanics, this is as straightforward as fun gets on the show, and the way it coincides with Bobby’s return to the fold serves as a fine reminder of the good old days.
But there’s also a certain level of convenience to the whole thing, right? I don’t mean this as an easy criticism; I enjoyed the hell out of this plot, and laughed my ass off when Jax demanded the bad guys apologize for their bad behavior to each member of his crew. At the same time, the fact that the cops weren’t on the level takes away any potential fallout or danger to the crew. More, it alleviates them of any guilt whatsoever. The asshole cops aren’t just assholes; they crooks, so assaulting them and flipping their jeep was, in its way, a kind of public service. Juice didn’t know that when he snapped, and the others didn’t know that when they ran. One of the major themes of “Salvage” is things finally going right for a change: Jax sells the Sons on the idea of getting out of guns, Bobby has been recruiting and not trying to go Nomad, and the truth might finally come out about Lee Toric’s attempt to frame Nero for murder. So in a way, those cops having their own dirty secret is part and parcel with whatever other good news that’s coming Jax’s way. Yet it still seems too neat, too easily laughed off. Where’s the danger this season? Where’s the threat that could actually do some damage to Jax’s ambitions? Hell, even the Irish kings only manage to blow up the clubhouse; all the mournful music and self-recrimination doesn’t change the fact that’s in an explosion with zero casualties. There’s a loss of self-respect, and there’s the cost of rebuilding, but as catastrophes go, this one was comfortingly bloodless.
Which, who knows, could be the point. Any time this many good things happen to a bad luck crew, the suspicion starts to build, and there’s a definite tension underlying “Salvage's” best scenes, as Jax’s luck keeps picking up. Sure, Nero is still in jail, and Galen is still the same smug bastard he’s always been, but Sheriff Roosevelt refuses to believe Nero is responsible for Erin’s murder, and the Irish kings are looking at Galen a little differently when he leaves the room. For once, the whole world doesn’t appear tipped on the precipice. Jax even manages to avoid the obvious revenge play against the IRA and settle for the deal they offer him; presumably, he’s working toward something down the line, and we’ll have to judge that when it comes, but there’s always a chance that he really means what he says. Jax’s desire to be out of the gun business, to get into legit earning, has always been sincere, however often he let himself get sidetracked. It could be that he’s going to accept the destruction of club property and the deaths of two men as the price he has to pay to move on. Which would be a totally unexpected direction for the show, in a way that could be brilliant, or could fall completely flat. It’s hard not to want to see Galen, at least, pay for his vile dickery. Can the show itself survive in a less violent world?
Complicating matters further is the one piece of bad news that Jax doesn’t know about yet: Tara is working to file for divorce, get full custody of the kids, and then send them to Wendy to protect them from Gemma and the club’s influence. This is a desperate plan made by a desperate woman, and it seems like a longshot. At the very least, Wendy doesn’t strike me as the kind of person you want to pin all your hopes and dreams on. (She’s already struggling to resist Gemma’s charms; what’s going to happen when she’s a single mom with two kids? The club can look awful friendly when it wants to.) Regardless, this is the only real threat facing Jax’s vision of a happy future: Tara and her seemingly unavoidable prison sentence (realizing she won’t be able to hold onto Nero much longer, Patterson decides to vent the full force of her fury on one of only avenues she has left), and what happens to their sons. Like I said last week, this isn’t a bad plotline at all, at least conceptually. It acknowledges how a sane person might eventually react in the fact of constant violence and danger, and it forces us to question who we’re rooting for. “Salvage” does a good job of underlining this latter conflict. We see Jax at his most triumphant, selling his brothers on his vision. Then he calls Tara to check in, and we’re immediately reminded how much he stands to lose.
The downside being that we’ve gotten too little of Tara’s perspective in all this. The show hasn’t painted her as a villain, and it’s not like her motives are opaque; nearly every time we see her away from Gemma and her husband, she’s working on getting her kids out of Charming. Yet for all the expanded running times this season, there’s been little chance to spend time with the characters. Montages aren’t enough to prevent the cast from turning into cogs in a machine, and arcs are more discussed than they are inherent in the text. Chibs routinely accused Jax of not bringing his plans to the table, and it’s possible to argue that the fallout from the Irish is the result of Jax playing so close to the vest, but there’s little dramatic satisfaction in connecting the two. That’s what’s been the most frustrating about this season as a whole. Despite all the conversations, events seem to exist in a curious isolation. The closest we get to the rising tide of shit that is one of the show’s trademarks is just a lot of bad news hitting on the same day; moments fail to combine together, so that even if the school shooting is referenced, it feels like something that happened years ago.
The writers are still capable of telling extended stories: The brightest moment in the hour comes from Bobby’s talk with Jax, as the former VP explains he’s been out bringing in new members to try and shore up SAMCRO. This is, really, an old trick. The show went out of its way to emphasize how alienated Bobby is, and how he’d only need four members to start up a group of Nomads, the whole set up being so obvious that, in retrospect, it had to be a misdirection. Yet the reveal took me completely by surprise, and it made sense in a way that was deeply satisfying, even uplifting. As much as Jax’s speech before the group was supposed to be the highlight of the episode, Bobby’s decision to come back, and the idea that he never really left, mattered more. It’s the sort of smaller, more intimate arc the show needs. And convenient or not, the fight with the crooked cops was the breath of fresh air the show needs too: simple, rowdy, and fun. Too much of this season been spent on keeping as many plates spinning as possible. Maybe it’s time to let some of them break.
- Can’t let the review go by without talking about Walton Goggins’ return; it’s an odd scene disconnected from the rest of the hour, but it still leaves an impression. As ever, the biggest take-away is that Goggins is a damn good actor. His commitment helps turn a character that could’ve been a walking punchline into a commanding figure, at once funny, awe-inspiring, and a little sad. Gemma’s encounter with Venus Van Damme in Nero’s office didn’t serve any immediate plot relevance, though it might be setting something up down the line; mostly it just provided more proof that Nero is a stand up guy, and gave Gemma a chance to be nice for once. (When it comes time to refer to Venus’ transition from male to female, Gemma uses the word “transformation.” The fact that she didn’t throw out a horrible slang term is probably the clearest sign of respect Ma Teller can give.) And in a way, Venus’ fears offer up a chance to demonstrate that SAMCRO really can have some kind of positive influence, if Jax’s plan finally works. These guys have their dark sides and their bad habits, but they’re not gonna throw a lady out on the street. The Sons can be, in its way, a place for people who fall through the cracks in a normal society, not an asylum or anything overly romanticized, but at least some kind of home.
- Bloodless or not, the cold open of Jax and Chibs wandering through the wrecked clubhouse were striking.
- I am not a violent man, but fuck Galen. Seriously. He’s not even a fun villain.
- Oh, and Jax has Gemma tell Clay to go along with the Irish deal; this may end with Clay doing a sacrifice play, or it may not. We’ll see. (Clay’s also the one who gives Gemma some info on Toric to help Nero. I don’t completely buy the chain of events, but really, the sooner Nero can get out of lock-up, the better.)
- “I got me a little Nazi owie here.” -Unser
- “I’ve seen Smokey And The Bandit a thousand times!” -Tig
- “The betrayal of love has boundaries. Ones that I have to live with.” -Tara, doing her best with a lousy line of dialogue.
- Patterson took her wig off! “Time to go ‘hood, sister.” Shit is getting real.