Action-dramas like Sons are often defined by the strength of their antagonists; if the (anti-)heroes are facing off against a weak or uninteresting opponent, it's hard to get too invested in their struggles. The real issue with Special Agent Stahl by the end of last season wasn't just that she was cartoonishly evil or weirdly sexist (I'm not saying this was intentional—I really doubt it was, honestly--but Stahl's aggressive-to-the-point-of-self-parody machismo could've easily been mistaken for a criticism of a woman trying to take on a traditionally male role of power), it was that she made it far too easy for Jax, Clay, and the others to pull off a win. There was no ambiguity to her, and no question that she'd fall. Of course, there wasn't much question that Zoebelle and the White Power Players were going to win back in season two, but at least they were sufficiently clever to serve as a credible threat. By the time Opie put us all out of our misery by shooting Stahl in the back of the head, it was less a satisfying a powerful resolution to a story arc and more an inevitable loose-end that needed to be resolved before we could move on to something worth our time.
All of which is to say that my favorite new character this season (and I apologize if I'm repeating myself) is Deadwood alum Ray McKinnon as Linc Potter, a US Attorney determined to bring the Sons down. Linc has everything I need from a good antagonist: He's smart and likeably quirky and presents a real and pressing danger to SAMCRO's continued freedom of movement. In fact, Linc is so cool that throughout the episode, I found myself pulling for him more than I was for the rest of the Sons. Admittedly, he hasn't come into direct conflict with Jax or Clay yet; his first contact with the club is through Gemma, outside Sheriff Roosevelt's wife's flower shop, where he tells her about how Hale might still lose the Charming Heights property and gives her an assumed name. But later, he visits Otto, who's in solitary after killing the Russian in "Out," and offers him some information about Luann (Otto's dead wife) and Bobby. Linc is making a seeds of discord play, which started with convincing Juice his black father could get him kicked out (or worse) from the club. This is still not my favorite storyline ever, and pitting sides against each other may not be the noblest of goals, but it is a clever way to get at the Sons, especially considering the unsettled state SAMCRO already finds itself in. This is good for the season, really; my only concern is that I'm actually rooting more for Linc than I am for Jax. That's not a problem right now, because playing up the gray area that Jax and the others live in raises a lot of potentially interesting questions. But when the chips start falling in a month or so, I'm hoping the show finds some way to make me like Jax as much as I like the quiet, weird dude who wants to put him behind bars.
"Una Venta" was a step up from last week's episode, and it dealt mostly with SAMCRO's first gun-and-drug run down to Tucson. Things are awkward with Clay and Gemma, possibly because he physically threatened her recently, and Clay's also dealing with a severe increase in his arthritis pain. So severe, in fact, that a full day of riding nearly incapacitates him (they have to stop halfway through the day so Jax can inject more painkiller between his joints), but the club's got even worse problems ahead: The Tucson branch of the Sons, SAMTAZ, is dealing crank. Worried that their dealing might affect the security of the SAMCRO guns, and also probably looking to show everyone else that he still has lines (no matter how thinly drawn) he won't cross, Clay tries to order SAMTAZ to stop dealing. They refuse, so Jax and Clay do a little digging; it turns out a couple of club members were shoved out before the Tucson Sons voted on drug dealing (one was murdered, the other blackmailed). And it gets worse: The guys responsible for this had been dealing long before SAMTAZ voted on it the issue and using the Sons name as muscle. There are dramatic confrontations, and the guilty get punished (although surprisingly, considering how much this show loves its over-the-top violence, we don't actually see the punishment), but the kicker of the story is, even knowing what they now know, the SAMTAZ crew still vote to keep dealing. What had been a manipulated, forced-through event has now become a way of life. The money's too good, see.
Which, of course, is the real reason Bobby's so up in arms about our Sons muling for the cartel. Muling in and of itself, while it's not exactly nun's work, sounds like a safe enough operation. But once they get a taste of the money drugs can bring, how long before the Sons start edging into a bigger commitment? Most of these guys aren't the brightest bulbs in the world, and the more they get used to working around drugs, the easier it will be to be tempted by the great gobs of cash waiting for anyone whose willing to take the risk. And you could argue that this is all inevitable anyway, that the club was bound to get involved in the drug trade when it started selling its principles for guns. It's been a while since we first heard about John Teller's great manifesto, but it's gratifying to finally see some real, undeniable proof that he was on the right track. It's not even that Clay is a monster; he's just a formerly powerful guy in a position that requires power to maintain. So he's getting desperate, and his hands are killing him, and his surrogate son may be on the track to discovering he murdered Dad, and he needs something to justify all this shit. He needs a way out, and the arc of the club only allows him one exit.
So this is fun stuff, using a mini-mystery with a club that's a slightly darker mirror image of SAMCRO to point out the danger SAMCRO is running. Maybe a little convenient at how immediately relevant all this is to our guys, and how easy it was to unravel everything in a day, but still effective. As for the stuff back in Charming... eh. Katey Sagal is great, but Gemma hasn't had much to do so far this season, and I'm not sure making friends with the Sheriff's wife, Rita, and getting passionate about gardening is something any of us needed to see. I'm sure there's a plan at work here--the $5,000 bucks Gemma pays Rita in Tara's name has to be for something--but it's hard to get too excited about that just yet. It's also frustrating how the episode makes convenient use of Gemma's magical ability to interrupt two people in the midst of a conversation she doesn't want them to have. Piney comes to visit Tara at the hospital (they're getting a lot of use out of that office set), but before Tara can tell him anything, Gemma pops in. And then Piney collapses and gets stuck in the hospital overnight, Tara comes to see him and they talk a bit about John's letters, and Gemma walks in on them again. It's a silly way to keep characters from sharing all their information (Tara still hasn't said anything about the police report), and while I understand the need to keep this story simmering without boiling quite yet, there must be a better way to do that than this.
Still, all in all, Linc Potter and the growing feeling that the club is a few beats away from tearing itself apart made for some good TV. And man, did you see all the heat Romeo brought with him? Makes you wonder what's going to happen if the Sons ever get cold feet about the drug deal. This doesn't seem like a buy-out type situation.
- Very pretty Spanish cover of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" at the beginning, although I wish the show wouldn't feel the need to cram a montage into every episode. (Oddly, the closed captioning during this sequence had all the lyrics in the original English.)
- "Where you off?" "To the place where bikers go to die."
- Is there any way for Clay to leave this season alive? I'm hard pressed to think of one, but I have a hard time imagining him dead, too.
- Sorry this is so late. No screeners for me this week.