“There is no risk,” Damien Pope tells Jax, and he seems to be a man who should know. I was skeptical of Pope initially, and I still go back and forth about Harold Perrineau’s performance, but his position in the season has taken an interesting turn. After committing multiple acts of astonishing violence and cruelty, Pope has become a business partner to SAMCRO, and a sort of mentor to Jax, without any serious transition period between the two states. This isn’t “bad guy softens” this is “bad guy does exactly what he wants, and then keeps on getting exactly what he wants.” And that’s, well, interesting. Where this is heading remains unclear, and Jax’s plans are hidden to us; if I had to guess, I’d say he’s running a long con, and the events of “Small World” imply that he’s not exactly peaceful over Opie’s death. But for all my skepticism, this season of Sons Of Anarchy has done a good job playing close to the vest with its main arc. Pope should be the Big Bad, but right now he’s just one more devil looking for his due. His assault against the club was brutal, hellish, and, so far at least, self-contained. Unless he’s got some sort of horrific second phase in mind (and that’s always possible), he’s actually helping SAMCRO, albeit by getting them to up their investment in the drug muling.
What this means is, Jax isn’t dealing with the kind of threat the club usually has to deal with. Right now, the real dangers are all internal. The most obvious one (and the biggest twist of the episode, even if most of you had already guessed it by the end of the première) is Clay, who, it turns out, is orchestrating the home invasions that have been plaguing Charming since the start of the season. This isn’t a shocking surprise, but a really good twist doesn’t need to shock to be effective, and this one basically works. It supplements the wounded-warrior shtick Clay has been putting on, one which we get proof is a put on when we see a doctor tell Clay he doesn’t need the oxygen tube anymore, and Clay responds by thanking the doctor warmly, and then immediately putting the tube back on once he steps out into the hall, telling Juice the prognosis “isn’t good.” The fact that Clay is still alive is silly, but Ron Perlman is doing his usual terrific work, and the fact that he’s continuing to pull this Iago shit even while true power is denied him is satisfying. He’s clever, but as always, he’s not as clever as he thinks he is; nor is he able to control his plots as well as he’d like. So poor Rita gets gut shot even though the thugs “weren’t supposed to kill her,” and then she dies in the hospital.
That’s not good. Sheriff Eli has been, for the most part, a reasonable man; he’s not as much in the club’s pocket as Unser, but he wasn’t out to focus all his energies on persecuting (or prosecuting) SAMCRO. But now he’s lost his wife to a robbery he has every reason to believe is some form of retaliation against the club, and by extension, him. The irony being that despite Jax’s fervent protestations, Eli is even more right than he realizes. The sheriff promises to destroy SAMCRO, and while I doubt he’ll succeed, Jax doesn’t need a righteous man of the law on his back. Pope is dangerous, but he can be negotiated, held at bay until the time is right; Eli won’t be put off by a taste of the drug money.
As if that wasn’t enough, there are some questions as to how together Jax is at this point. Opie’s death got to him, but he’s been playing things close to the vest since the prison time, and it’s not until Pope offers up the address of the guard who organized Opie’s murder that Jax’s rage comes to the surface. And it’s not just rage. The boys go for the guard during the day, when they’ve been told he’ll be home alone, his wife off at work at a chicken place down the road, but when they make their move, the wife pops in with a shotgun, nearly ruining everything. Bad enough, but when Jax and the others get everything back under control, Tig shoots the wife (who, as far we know, has done nothing to anybody apart from trying to scare off some home invaders). This makes sense from Tig—he’s not in his right mind, and he’s always been the loveable psycho type. But Jax doesn’t bat an eye. In fact, he almost smiles when he says, “Collateral damage,” and then beats the guard to death with a snow globe.
All season, I’ve been wondering how we should be reading Jax: Do the Sons Of Anarchy writers think he’s a good man who’s still mostly on the side of the angels, or an antihero who is being gradually corrupted by the corruption of SAMCRO? (The corruption John Teller wrote about in his letters and died trying to stop.) I’m still not sure, but the Jax of “Small World” isn’t a well man. The guard’s death makes sense, although the fact that he’s willing to not only kill this guy but get even further into bed with Pope is unsettling. (Though we still don’t know what Jax’s plans are.) But casually accepting the death of a bystander? Going batshit in beating the guard to death? Accepting a greater commitment to drug muling as though it’s the most natural thing in the world? That is not good, and I don’t think we’re supposed to read it as “good.” Time will tell if this is part of some complex stratagem on Jax’s part, but for right now, he seems like a man who has given up on caring, and who knows where that could lead.
This episode worked better for me than last week’s, although it still had a misfire or two. Mainly, I have no idea what to make of Carla’s decision to hold Gemma and Nero at gunpoint, forcing them to screw in front of her, and when that doesn’t work, shooting herself in the head. It’s a shock, but like a fair number of the shocks this season, it seems to exist in a vacuum. All we knew about Carla was that she was a plot complication who glowered a lot. That’s pretty much how she exits the show. Clearly, she had some weird, tension-filled relationship with Nero (she was his half-sister, but she was in love with him), and she was definitely not fond of Gemma, but beyond that, there was no character to care for or mourn. Losing her means losing basically nothing. There may be ramifications down the line (although they got rid of the body quickly), and I’m sure Gemma’s chance encounter with Joel McHale in a bar will lead somewhere, but Carla’s sudden death is just another piece of Gemma’s misery-strewn, meandering plotline.
Even her confrontation with Unser seems rote. He gets mad because she’s shacking up with Nero (well, technically he gets mad because he sees Nero going into her house, even though the real reason Nero visits is that Carla called him over), and tells her to stop chaining him along, and it doesn’t really make sense. Unser works best as a sad sack who gets his position in life, but he is still quite a lot smarter than anyone around him realizes. His confrontation in the hospital with Clay, where he lets on what he knows without telling much of anything, is sharp and fun to watch. But suddenly deciding to play the wounded-lover card against Gemma seems more something the writers would do to stack more punishment on the lady, and not something Unser himself would say.
That’s nitpicking, though; it’s not a great scene, but I guess it’s always nice to have somebody tell Gemma off. “Small World” once again finds the ground shifting under SAMCRO’s feet, and while nothing is set in stone yet, it’s good to get a clearer idea of who the bad guys are. There’s the outsider in the limo, and there’s the old man at the other side of the table—and neither of them are going to go down easy.
- If I had to bet, I’d say Jax is planning something against Pope. But that might be because I want it to be true.
- Tara starts working at the prison hospital to get a sit down with Otto. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
- You know, for a bunch of guys who’ve been running a massive criminal conspiracy for, say, a decade now (more?), SAMCRO makes some dumbass mistakes.