Sons Of Anarchy has always done death well. It’s coded into the series’ DNA: These are men and women running on the extreme highs and lows of their world, which means lots of drinking and fucking, lots of gunplay, and sooner or later, death. No matter how convoluted the story mechanics become, or how circular some of the crises may feel, with a corpse, the writers and actors rise to their best. It doesn’t matter how Opie bought his ticket, or what effect that will have on the series long term. What matters is that he’s dead, laid out in the club’s backroom, and that has to be dealt with now. “Stolen Huffy” starts in with the business of moving on, and while the episode lacks last week’s high stakes—and features a fair share of piece-moving and Gemma being Gemma—it’s grounded and held together by loss. There’s a solid chase scene, and there’s Tara and Wendy having the same argument they’ve had a dozen times already. And then there’s poor Ope in his coffin, dead if the deal with Nero pays off, dead if the mystery of the home invasions is solved, dead if Emma Jean makes it out of town. He’s just dead, whatever happens, and as lousy as that is for him and his friends, it does wonders for this hour of television.
Let’s start with a character who’s proving to be a problem this season (all four episodes of it): Gemma, and her chaotic venom. The show has struggled to find good storylines for the character since the second season, and the result has been someone who veers wildly from melancholy bitterness to thoughtless rage to empathy to manipulation to punching. More than that, even. It’s not that characters can’t be complex, and Gemma’s ability to go from monster to sage has kept her interesting to an extent. Plus, it’s nice that the writers haven’t tried to soften her edge or anything. She’s still the woman who helped plan her husband’s death, after all, and many other awful things besides.
It’s just, does she have to be so unoriginal about it? To be fair, Gemma doesn’t do a lot of plotting this week. She spends most of the episode dealing with the fallout from the brothel shakedown last week, before confronting Clay about what the hell he thought he was doing with Emma Jean. I don’t know if this scene is exactly necessary from a plot standpoint—while it makes sense that these two are never going to be as done with each other as they might like, there really isn’t that much more to say at this point. But it works, because Sagal and Perlman play off each other well, and there’s enough history between them to give their conversation a sort of tragic emphasis. They can’t be together as a couple again, not in any healthy way, but they’re still tied, with their lives and their crimes, and that will never let them go completely.
After all of this, Gemma leads Tara to beat the shit out of Carla, and while there’s an appropriateness to it—Carla ratted on Emma Jean’s location to the gang Nero works with, putting Jax and Chibs’ lives in danger—it’s also pretty tired. Gemma’s been leading Tara down the old-lady road since she realized the pretty doctor wasn’t ever going away, and all that’s really changed is how much Tara is willing to yell at her mother-in-law. Unlike the guys on the show, whose position and loyalties are constantly shifting in clear, meaningful ways, Tara and Gemma (and now Wendy) basically just stare at each other until they’re sort of friends, and then they stare at each other some more. At least the fight scene was exciting, as it seems like next week we can look forward to another tense conversation between Wendy and Tara in which they just say the same thing, and another chance for Tara to tell Gemma to fuck off, which everybody knows she never will.
Still, none of this drags down the hour as much as Gemma’s adventures last week, and there’s plenty of time to follow Jax around as he brings news of Pope to the club and gives us a chance to see how Opie’s death has changed him. Which doesn’t seem to be that much; Jax is still preaching the middle road (in this case, go along with Pope’s wishes because if they don’t, they’re all dead), trying to be the good guy in a world where good guys don’t last (see also: his dad, Opie), and plotting his exit strategy. But while Jax doesn’t seem to be making any big changes post-Ope, this could be a long-game situation. The loss has made him take a firmer stance during a club vote, and while he had an endgame in mind last season, at least this one doesn’t have him teaming up with Clay. The episode’s action centerpiece has Jax and Chibs rescuing Emma Jean from gang retribution (the gang assumes that she was the one who called the cops on the brothel, although it seems pretty clear she didn’t), and it’s gratifying to see Jax going to some length to do the right thing. It’s too soon to tell, but this season could be about Jax trying to make peace with everyone, right up until the point where he can’t, and finally turns on Pope. And there’s a chance Jax could turn out harder than he ever was before, which could have interesting consequences. Already he’s trying to push his mom out of his life and refusing to deal with Wendy, which, while understandable, may not be the smartest move; in particular, telling Nero to stay away from Gemma (or else forfeit a deal to open up a new porn studio with his brothel girls) is probably not going to end well.
We’ll have to wait and see. Regardless, Opie is dead, and the episode’s conclusion, which brings back a terrified Lyla, is a beautiful, powerful finish to a effective, workmanlike hour. Lyla breaks down in front of Opie’s body, pleading with Jax that she has no idea how she can get through this; she’s supposed to raise Opie’s kids now, and she can barely afford to support her own. In response, Jax opens the door and shows her the club. This is your family, he tells her. Death on a show can be useful in a lot of ways, but maybe what it does best is remind the characters who survive why they matter to each other. At its heart, Sons Of Anarchy is about family, and all the crap and woe that comes with it. The plot may be a mess, but the core remains.
- “I want a thumb. And a tit,” demands the gang. Jax’s “Really?” is very funny. But since I can’t imagine Jax actually fulfilling these demands, that might be a problem.
- Speaking of, Nero says Emma has left town. We don’t see her go, so he might be lying, but it also wasn’t an episode that could’ve afforded the time to see a minor character get on a plane, even if she is played by Ashley Tisdale.