Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sons Of Anarchy: “Hands”

Illustration for article titled Sons Of Anarchy: “Hands”

I’ve complained in other reviews about how frustrated I get when a show retreats to cliches, so, to compensate: It wasn’t a huge surprise when we learned that Romeo’s involvement with the hit on Tara was more hands on than even Clay realized. Nor was it a shock when Romeo declared that they would make another play against the doctor, despite Clay’s protestations. On one level, the Galindo cartel and its men are semi-realistic creations, well-enough sketched in to make them fit believably into the world of the Sons. On another level, Clay has made a deal with the Devil, and the Devil doesn’t do take backs. That sucks for Clay, but it’s great for the audience, especially when it leads to episodes as tense and often heartbreaking as “Hands.” The problem with cliches is that they can lead to lazy storytelling, allowing writers to simply plug characters into slots that have been filled by a thousand characters before them. But cliches (or, to use a more positive word, archetypes) have power, and when that power is used properly, in the service of dynamics that have been slowly and effectively established over multiple episodes, it can be devastating. Clay is, to put it mildly, screwed. To satisfy his own greed and paranoia, he’s committed a number of crimes against the club, any one of which would lead to him getting a bullet in the back of his head if it came out. And now, he’s finally broken ties with Gemma. Not just broken; he’s taken those ties and beaten the shit out of them, and that’s not something you do to Gemma. She’s never been one to back down from a fight, especially when her family is at stake, and she really, really needs someone to focus her hate on right now.

One thing I always love about the latter half of Sons’ seasons is the way all the complicated gang wars and gun-deals and what have you get streamlined. Right now, all we really need to know is that the Sons signed on with Galindo at Clay’s urging, which was bad; that the IRA are coming over so the Sons can negotiate hte bigger gun shipment Galindo is asking for, and Linc wants to use Juice to nab them when they hit stateside; and that Tara, earlier in the season, had letters John Teller wrote that could implicate Gemma and Clay in John Teller’s death, and Clay is not happy about this. Romeo and his men are turning out to be as much of a danger to the Sons in their way as the White Power assholes of season two. No one’s been gang-raped (thankfully), but the Galindo people met with the Sons under flags of friendship. Even now, I’d argue that Romeo doesn’t intentionally wish ill on the club. It’s more that he and the rest of his group don’t really care what happens to Jax or anyone else who isn’t them. The Sons are simply a tool to get Galindo the money and supplies it needs to wage war on other cartels, and any potential threat to that relationship (like, say, a doctor who could upset the balance) is disposable, regardless of how that will affect the Sons in the long term. After the first assassination attempt is botched, Clay doesn’t exactly develop a sudden empathy for the lives he’s so callously destroying in pursuit of freedom, but he does realize that any more attempts on Tara are going to be that much harder to cover up. But it’s too late. I criticized the overly blatant, “Once you place this call, there’s no going back” comment a couple weeks ago, but it’s fun to watch it play out here not once, but twice. Once again, Clay’s big weakness is his arrogant assumption of control; he thinks he’s smart enough to handle any problem, and he’s been proved wrong time and again, and he can’t learn. It would almost be pitiable, if he wasn’t such a bastard.

Jax isn’t entirely blameless, though. He went along with Clay’s plans because he thought it served his own ends, and while he certainly wasn’t trying to get Tara (or anyone else) hurt, he opened the door for injury without really considering the consequences. The hit on Tara goes sour because Jax is with her when a van full of masked bad guys attacks, but just because Tara survives doesn’t mean she gets away. She slams her hand in the van door while struggling to free herself, and now there’s nerve damage. Nerve damage in a hand would be bad news for anyone, and it’s especially bad news for someone who makes a living using both her hands to save lives. So Tara is understandably upset. Her scene with Jax, when all her fears about getting trapped in Charming with Gemma and the Sons and all their crazy bullshit is one of the best scenes the character’s had in a long time, and Maggie Siff makes the most of it. I’ve had problems with the way her character has been handled this season, and it’s great to see all her frustration and fear and rage boil out in one big confrontation. Because really, who wouldn’t be furious after hearing the life she’d spent years working toward has been destroyed because of a bunch of selfish boy-men playing with guns? Out of the cast, Tara is arguably the character with the most moral authority; she's sacrificed much of that over the years, but she’s still largely clean when it comes to the club’s crimes. And yet here she is, stuck in hospital bed, after men with guns kidnapped her in front of her children.

There’s a lot of rage floating through “Hands,” a lot of people finally snapping after being pushed too far. Roosevelt confronts Linc on his lies, and while the DA waves him off, their conversation inspires Roosevelt to find Juice and apologize to him for everything that’s happened, and offer his assistance with the Tara situation. It’s a nice moment, confirming what’s been pretty clear the whole season: Roosevelt may be on the other side of the law from the club, but he’s one of the good guys, and if it comes down to some sort of crazy battle between SAMCRO and Linc, Roosevelt may provide Jax and the others with an edge. Or maybe he won’t; the bigger point here is that maybe Juice won’t end up dead before the end of the season, because Roosevelt seems, at least to an extent, on his side. Given the shitstorm that’s about to result from Clay’s behavior, Juice’s “Oh shit, I just shot an innocent man” moment may get buried. Who knows. It’s just nice to have a representative of the law who isn’t a corrupt asshat. (There’s also the cop Jax talks to while on the road with Tara. It made for a nice contrast with the show’s usual relationship with law enforcement.)

There was some rage, too, buried on Opie’s face when Jax tells him near the end of the episode that he’s leaving. Opie has every right to be angry, as Jax admits. Jax is the one largely responsible for pulling him back into the Sons after he got out of jail, and Opie rejoining the Sons led, in its way, to Donna being killed. And here Jax is, saying he’s had enough, he’s cutting and running and leaving Opie to take up the slack? Bad move, man. Jax’s condescending “You should make things good with your wife and your dad” comment seemed a little tone deaf as well. (I’m not sure the show intended it to be read as such, though, because Opie didn’t haul off and punch him in the face.) The show is working to find a believable, somewhat organic way to keep Jax in town, but he still doesn’t seem to be getting the message. In his defense, it’s an usual message for this kind of narrative to take. If Charming really was a kingdom, and if Jax really was heir to the throne, then yeah, taking responsibility and cleaning up his stepfather’s mess would be the obvious right choice. But Charming is a town, and Jax is just the heir apparent to the presidency of a motorcycle club. Most other stories that deal with someone working inside a criminal world revolve around the protagonist needing to cut ties with his past, but here, we need to believe that Jax staying is a necessary goal both for the series, and for the character. Jax in Charming at the end of this season should be a triumph, not a tragedy, even if it requires a tragic cost. Anything else would be a compromise of the rest of the run.

I can think of a few ways to accomplish this, and one of the big scenes in “Hands” fits into this: Gemma, increasingly terrified at the damage Clay is doing to the club and to her family, finally snaps at him. And he snaps back. It’s a brutal, unsparing sequence. First, she’s screaming at him, and then she threatens to go to Jax with what she knows, and when Clay goes for her, she pulls a gun. But she can’t shoot him, and that’s when the hitting starts. This is something that was coming from the moment Clay grabbed Gemma by the throat earlier in the season, but it’s still hard to watch. While I’ve been wondering for a while about Clay’s chances of surviving the year, it had never occurred to me that Gemma was really in danger; and yet I still spent the final 10 minutes of the episode wondering what had happened after that last punch, wondering if Clay had finally gone around the bend. (I was also wondering why it took Unser so long to get back from Piney’s cabin, but I don’t really know the geography here, and I guess he had to finish cleaning everything up first.) But Gemma’s still alive, although she looks quite a bit worse for wear. It’s an understandable lapse on Clay’s part. Even though Gemma is going to bring Hell down on his shoulders now in any way she can, even though beating the crap out of her basically ruined any chance he had of keeping his involvement with Tara’s assault under the rug, he couldn’t kill her. There was still enough connection between them to stop him. Now she’s mad, and determined Clay’s going to die at the hands of a Son. Hmm. Wonder who she has in mind?


Stray observations:

  • In case you haven’t heard, FX ordered an additional episode for this season of Sons, which means we’re getting a run of 14 instead of the usual 13. I’m not sure how this is all going to last another four episodes, but I’m excited to find out.
  • I’d say Tara is off of Death Watch, at least for now. The primary reason to kill her, at least from a plot perspective, is to give Jax a reason to go after Clay. Gemma getting beaten up, plus the failed hit on Tara, plus all the other stuff is reason enough.
  • What’s Clay’s end game here? Is he just going to run? The question is how far Gemma is willing to go to get him dead. If she pushes for a direct confrontation, Clay will tell everyone that she was at least partly responsible for John Teller’s death. So maybe she just wants to use Unser to set Jax on Clay, in which case we won’t be looking at all out club war. At least, not yet.
  • The botched hit on Tara was a great scene. Really, the whole episode clicked; when it gets going, this show has a terrific energy to it.
  • “I’ll give you until after The Jetsons to decide.”