Through much of the first half of “Some Strange Eruption,” Jax is stone-faced. This is Charlie Hunnam’s standard acting approach to the aftermath of great shocks: a frozen, half angry, half sorrowful expression that doesn’t give much away. It’s not a bad look on him, and, for a while, it works. It’s a face that suggests something is coming, some deep reservoir of rage and violence is being held back, but only for the moment. Soon the dam will burst and his fury will flood the world. It’s a face made for suspense, really, just like all those corpses at the end of last week’s episode. Something has happened, and we know something else is going to happen next. We just don’t know when.
The problem, though, is that you can only use the stone-face approach so many times before it loses its impact. Jax has been through so much over the course of seven seasons, some of it his fault, some of it not, that by now, his standard state seems to be one of suffering. Adding some dead ladies onto the pile doesn’t really change that, especially since his wife is still buried at the bottom of them. Ideally, the show should find a new way to delve into Jax’s woes, by finding some different reaction or giving him someway to climb out of this mess. Instead, he just puts on the stone-face and digs himself deeper. There’s something mechanical about it, really. Input the data on this end, wait for the processor to run, and then get the results. Jax tries to get revenge on Lin (for something Lin didn’t do), Lin finds out and retaliates, Jax retaliates back, and so on. Revenge is wrong, kids. Outlaw code. Something something masculinity.
It’s passable on a basic level, but whatever charge was left in the equation has long since gone. Even the murder of a group of unarmed women (including poor Colette; goodbye Kim Dickens, may your next project deserve you) wasn’t really that shocking; at this point, the horrors feel more like an intellectual game. Is there no line Sutter and the other writers won’t cross? Probably not. In some cases, that’s for the best: Tig and Venus’s budding relationship from last week is a pairing that could, on another show, be played as a joke; here it’s both a joke and a surprisingly tender connection between two unique souls. The show’s continued willingness to embrace extremes can work, but only if those extremes arc in unexpected ways.
Here? Not so much. There’s only one truly surprising sequence in the hour, and it takes you a full episode to get to it; when Gemma takes Juice out of town, and Juice slowly realizes that she’s planning to put a bullet in his head, that’s interesting. Given how seemingly helpful and level-headed Gemma has been so far this season, her taking a turn for the murderous is both a bit of a twist and also perfectly within character. She’s a woman of expedience, always has been. While I have no doubt she cares about Juice, and is grateful that he helped her out of that little mess she got herself into at the end of last season, once he becomes a liability (and given how hard the show has been pushing the “Juice is crazy!” card, it’s hard to blame her suspicions), he needs to be removed. She’s paid so much to keep her family together; nothing’s going to take that away from her.
These are events that have real weight—a conflict that’s been bubbling just below the surface between two morally compromised parties, one of whom has nothing to lose, while the other has everything. Contrast that with the rest of the hour, which is mostly just Jax finally getting the upper hand on Lin, even when it looks like Lin has finally gotten the best of them. I suppose there’s some thematic relevance to all this; the bodies keep falling, and Jax keeps trying to build a future on the rotten foundation of his mother’s lies. We see Abel not taking the news too well, even picking up a hammer and trying to “protect” his little brother; the kid remains as much a cipher as anything, but it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that being stuck in all this violence and death is affecting him, even despite his father’s best efforts to keep him safe.
But so? Keeping kids in Murder Town isn’t a great idea. Revenge doesn’t provide closure. Jax can hurt his friends as much as his enemies. We’ve been here before, and none of these themes have the vitality they once did. I wouldn’t be surprised if something horrible happened to Abel and/or Thomas before the end. I’m sure Jax will finally realize the error of his ways, and there will be some incredibly awkward scene with Gemma; at least one of them will end up dead. But until those things happen, we’re just treading water, no matter how much of it looks like blood.
Despite the explosions and killing at the end of last week’s episode, Lin turns out to be not that much of a threat. We still don’t know who informed on Jax to him (I’m guessing Jury comes back next week) (yes, I finally spelled that correctly), but his plan to get payback hinges on Nero betraying Jax and/or Jax just sort of wandering into his clutches, neither of which rates very high on the Evil Scheming Bastard Scale. The idea of Nero turning traitor is something the show has been nudging towards for ages now, if only because the poor guy is constantly getting screwed over by SAMCRO’s actions; but the threat has never felt really, not even when Nero seems to sell Jax out to Lin and his men. It’s a trick. Of course it’s a trick. You can tell it’s a trick because earlier, Nero said he and Jax needed to talk, and we never saw that scene, so—well, do the math.
Even without that clue, though, it was painfully obvious that Nero wasn’t going to turn. If he didn’t turn when Jax had Juice call that woman last season, this new ugliness wasn’t going to change things. Everyone is locked into the same rut they’ve always been locked into. Nero bemoans SAMCRO’s actions, but stands by them. Gemma says awful things but is occasionally vulnerable right up until she decides she needs to murder someone. Unser is troubled, but goes along with it. Tig is kind of crazy. Chibs and Bobby are sort of sane. Jax is wounded but willing to make tough choices. Well-drawn characters are a necessary, vital part of any show, and it’s not that everyone needs to constant change who they are to keep things interesting. But it’s all so familiar by now that the only real pleasure left is spending time with fictional people you’ve come to care about. And even that’s fading.
So Jax beats up Lin (who’s understandably shocked to get blamed for Tara’s death), and his gang gets arrested holding a bag of drugs, with the Sons promising to see Lin killed in lock-up. Last week seemed to promise devastation ahead, but this is mild even by corrosion-of-Jax’s-soul standards. The only person to get killed is the crooked cop Barosky had on retainer to keep an eye on the warehouse, and Barosky is the one pulling the trigger, so… who cares? Instead of rising tension, it’s just a lot of mopiness with some deflated resolution. While that makes a certain amount of sense—taking care of Lin doesn’t really resolve the dead-Tara issue, after all—it doesn’t make for engaging viewing. With Lin out of the way, and Jury presumably still pissed off, Jax will have real problems to face in the weeks ahead, with hopefully real consequences. And the fact that Gemma and Juice have finally turned on her could maybe go somewhere interesting. But for now, at least, there’s a lot of bark, and not much tree.
- Oh, and Juice killed a guy who worked for the motel he was hiding in. Juice is crazy, and Unser is okay with this.