All right, let's see if we can count up the conflicts in play right now on Sons. The Russians, if any of them are left, are gunning for the club, with only the protection of the cartel keeping them at bay. The cartel represents a problem, although it's not an immediate one right now; Romeo seems pretty happy working with the Sons so far. That doesn't preclude a falling out down the line, however, and more immediately concerning is the fact that SAMCRO's relationship with Galinda is attracting the attention of the law and tearing the club apart. Within the Sons, Bobby's pissed at Clay for lying, Tig's feeling abandoned, and Piney is trying to blackmail Clay to force them out of the drug trade. Opie is so upset that his wife has been using birth control that he went and had sex with another porn star. Juice, working off the (apparently reasonable) assumption that he'll be kicked out of the club (or worse) if his mixed-race parentage is discovered, has temporarily liberated a brick of cocaine from the storehouse while working under the orders of Sheriff Roosevelt. Jax is determined to get his family away from Charming after one last big score. And Clay and Gemma are desperately trying to cover the tracks of a decades old murder. Clay is so desperate, in fact, that he's willing to try just about anything to keep the story from getting out.
That's not a comprehensive list. You've still got Linc poking around the edges, and the whole trouble with Charming Heights. But it covers most everything I can think of off the top of my head. It's good for a show like this to have a strong sense of danger from all sides. Keeps the tension up, and it forces people into making difficult decisions, which is always the key part of great drama. But while it makes sense that some of those decisions would be dumb, people being people and so forth, this season has come across so far as one bad call after another, and it's hard to know exactly what our rooting interest is as this point. There's fun to be had in watching everyone spar at each other and seeing just how nasty it can get, but beyond that, there's no clear struggle here to focus on. It's just pieces constantly shifting into new positions, and the strongest thread in tonight's episode "With an X," the fall out from Juice's clumsiness, stems from what remains arguably the show's least convincing narrative. "X" tries to justify Juice's behavior a bit more, by having him air his fears (as subtly as he can) to Chibs, arguably one of SAMCRO's saner members. But Chibs, despite being part of his own inter-racial relationship, doesn't offer much hope. He justifies the club's behavior by saying you can't pick and choose what rules you follow, which, I gotta say, doesn't sound particularly anarchic.
Last week ended with Clay and the others discovering that the drug stash was light a kilo. This week, the boys turn the screws on the prospects who'd been left in charge of guarding the stash, while Juice tries to stop anyone from getting killed while also covering his own ass. The club has already demonstrated its willingness to use extreme measures to get answers, and we get some of that here; there's a funny (if predictable) bit in which the two suspects, Rat Boy and, um, the fat guy (I kept missing his name) are threatened with the idea of torture, when Miles goes off in a room and starts screaming like he's getting the crap beaten out of him. When this threat doesn't work, the club turns to the next best thing: Russian Roulette. Which is a bit silly, to say the least. This also doesn't work, and thankfully, nobody winds up dead from it (I guess the gun maybe wasn't loaded?), so we go to plan C: Here's a definitely loaded gun, we're going to lock you guys in this room, and you two figure it out. Juice, desperate, makes one last attempt to keep anyone from getting killed; he tells the prospects that they have 15 minutes to bring the brick back from wherever they stashed it, and no questions will be asked. This gives Juice enough time to try and get the brick back from where he stashed it, but he's interrupted by Miles. The two fight, Miles winds up dead, and Juice's racial angst/going rat craziness finally has a body count.
While Miles was pleasant enough, it's hard getting too worked up about any of this, because it's all based on Juice behaving stupidly last week. The convolution required to get another dead biker on the ground (Juice has a secret black dad he never mentioned, Roosevelt and Linc know about this dad and use it to apply pressure, Juice has to make a run on getting to the drugs and get interrupted in the middle of it, swipe a kilo, bury it near the building, then, while he's digging it up again, he has to get interrupted again) isn't completely beyond the pale, but it's a lot of work on a plot that has no real emotional weight to it, beyond the fact that Juice seems like a nice enough guy. There's a lot of that sort of thing going around.
Another subplot this episode revolves around Opie's porn star hook-up waving a gun around the club when she feels threatened. Tara is pissed off at seeing her again, which is understandable, but when Jax decides to make a statement on the issue by slamming Ima's head into a table, it's excessive. Occasional shocking bursts of violence are a part of this show, but those violent acts function as a way of sudden, rapid character illumination; when they happen, we should be surprised, maybe horrified, maybe impressed, but we should also know more about the people involved then we did before. Jax beating up Ima shows us he's determined to make up for past sins he committed against Tara, but the ugliness of his actions oversteps the justification. Maybe it's also a reflection on something Tara said earlier, about the club's whole "attitude towards women"; maybe we're supposed to look at this as an example of Jax's issues with viewing any woman who isn't his wife or his mother as disposable. But if that's the case, then Ima herself would need a personality. Right now, the show views her with as much contempt as Jax and the others do, and that means scenes like this one don't work.
At least Piney sucker punched Opie for sleeping around; otherwise, the majority of the blame was heaped on Ima's shoulders. "X" continued the assault on Opie's marriage, as Lyla finally tells him she had an abortion. Opie doesn't take this well and starts acting like their relationship is essentially over. It's a harsh choice, and I'm not sure how dramatically effective it is to have these problems come up so soon after the two married, but at least Opie's behavior is in character. Also in character, and one of the episode's better stories, was Tig getting a visit from his daughter Dawn. Dawn tries to con him out of $1,200 (and she's not very good at it), but even after recognizing the con, Tig gives her the money. This makes decent sense, and Kim Coates does a great job selling it. It's also nice to have something resolve so easily, although there's always the chance Dawn could show up again, looking for more handouts. The drawback is, well, given everything else that's going on, there wasn't time to give much personality to the story, which leaves it feeling like something that could've happened to just about anyone in the club.
The biggest twist this week came near the end, as Clay turned to Romeo for help in dealing with Tara. This continues Clay's willingness to use other people to do his dirty work, and we'll have to see how it pans out. (I'm betting it won't go according to plan.) I'm not sure going to outsiders to handle this is in Clay's best interests, but it does cement his status as the season's main villain, so maybe he'll get a free t-shirt out of that. What's most frustrating about this season so far to me is that we see the antagonists making all sorts of plans, but the characters who should be the leads, who should be making decisions and moving forward, remain disappointingly stuck a few steps behind. It's convention for the hero to be beset on all sides, but Jax doesn't seem all that heroic. He's mostly running around doing other people's work, and with him absent and Tara perpetually out of focus, there's a hole at the center of the show right now. Everything feels unmoored, as though the writers keep stacking obstacles on top of each other because they aren't sure yet what the actual goals are. There's still time to fix that, though, and I remain optimistic. Oddly enough, most of my hopes right now are pinned on former sheriff Unser. He knows Clay is gunning for Tara, and when Sheriff Roosevelt won't take his warning seriously, Unser plants a threatening note in Tara's car to give people a reason to be concerned. It's a bold play, one that's sure to put him in danger at Clay's hands, but it's also a positive move, and a smart one. Sons could use more choices like this.
- RIP, Miles. You were polite.
- Chib almost certainly knows that Juice took the brick. It's amazing, really, considering how subtle Juice is.
- "My kid just showed up." "Which one?" "The crazy one." "Which one?" "I know."
- "This is why mothers should drown baby girls."