SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects of the show up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.
Can “Sons of Anarchy” accomplish the unthinkable, can it make Clay Morrow a likable character again? Over the course of the second half of this season, Clay has become more and more sympathetic. He’s not actually sympathetic, not yet anyway, but the Clay of late is at least a human being. His confession to the club was real, the most honest words we’ve ever heard him utter. That’s not to say they were the complete truth or that they didn’t contain some element of self-preservation. And granted, if Bobby got even a whiff of bullshit, I’m sure he would’ve joined the rest of the club in voting “yay” on Clay meeting Mr. Mayhem. But the confession was still a revelation. When we saw Clay ask for some time alone so he could break down and cry, it may have been our first ever glimpse at the person behind the crimes. I had to remind myself of the crimes to stop from feeling sorry for the person.
Clay now hopes to start and lead his own small club to earn money. It’s a dream that has clear parallels with Nero’s hopes of settling down with his son on his uncle’s ranch, completely free of the life he left behind, or Jax’s desire to mold the club to fit his father’s vision (as well as last season’s goal of escaping Charming with Tara and the boys). These are exactly the type of fantasies we expect from the manchildren that populate this show, ambitions that are almost adorable in their simplicity and improbability—like when a toddler tells you he’ll grow up to be a professional baseball player. But just like the characters, we want to believe.
Clay’s retribution is something we’ve yearned for since season four at the latest (the pilot at the earliest), and it was accomplished in a way that met and subverted our expectations at the same time. Clay was brought to the table during the influx of his humanity, and as a result, the verdict on his survival brought both relief and frustration. Part of me enjoyed every moment of the beating Jax handed out afterwards, because I wanted Clay to die too. But at the same time it was the perfect illustration of Jax’s spiral out of control—the way anger and a thirst for revenge are driving him more than the good of the club ever did. It seems Clay’s justification for his dealings with the Nomads made sense in a fucked up, Clay sort of way. He was right that Jax wasn’t ready for the pressures of leadership, just not in the way he expected. Jax has been a fantastic president for the SAMCRO Clay built. But that wasn’t what he wanted when he took the gavel, he wanted to be a great leader for the club as he and his father envisioned it. The protester outside the White House clamors for world peace, but would he have the strength to make it a reality it if he was the one sitting in the oval office?
Love-hate-love (and vice-versa) arcs have always been “Sons of Anarchy’s” bread and butter. In the case of almost every major character, the show has started us out feeling one way and then worked to push us in the other direction. Often, when a character reaches the other side of the spectrum, the show turns him or her right back again. If you, like me, are starting to lose respect for the man Jax has become, it’s a mark of the show’s success. Shooting Wendy with heroin, given that she is an addict in recovery, was truly reprehensible. It’d be easier for us to see Wendy has a point about being the best person to raise the boys if not for the fact that Jax (and to a lesser extent Tara) are the protagonists. Likewise, Pope advises Jax to find a way to have Clay offed indirectly. Maybe it’s what Clay deserves. But at the same time, Jax going behind the club’s back to off him despite the vote to let him walk, purely for his own purposes, would be a trademark Clay move. If that’s the road Jax goes down, it will be the ultimate symbol of his transformation. Actions like these will give his inevitable redemption all the more emotional impact. I’m certain that by the series finale, we’ll be back in Jax’s corner. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. It might take the entirety of the final two seasons to accomplish.
Speaking of Pope, with Clay now stripped of all power, he’s sure to be a major source of conflict moving forward. I still don’t know if I believe Jax is just going to hand Tig over, even if Clay’s ousting means Tig’s usefulness is diminished (or even gone). At the same time I think the new Jax genuinely looks up to Pope. He tells Bobby that “you can’t sit in this chair without being a savage,” and given that Pope is the ultimate mentor in savagery, it makes sense that Jax would continue to seek his counsel. Whether he’s planning to turn Tig over or go to war with Pope, Jax is going to need every play in the savage book. Jax’s decision on the Tig front will either cement Pope as a friend or an enemy during the finale (if it’s the latter, Jax will have a plan to make it seem like he’s giving Tig up until the very last moment before taking Pope out).
Another source of conflict will be Lee Toric, the retired U.S. Marshall played by Donal Logue whose sister was the nurse Tara accidentally helped Otto murder. I predicted this meta motivation last week based on the fact that the actress who played said nurse was Logue’s real-life sister. Tara played her deposition almost perfectly. It’s clear her interrogator had his doubts about her innocence and naivety, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which she gets off and Toric is forced to seek his own justice. Toric is next season’s big bad, meaning he’s here to stay. His appearance during the ending montage showed him holed up in the dark with enough weapons for a small army and a bag full of pill bottles (perhaps he’s addicted to painkillers or some other pharmaceutical, which would give him a weakness and explain why he’s a retired U.S. Marshall). The most unsettling thing, however, may have been Toric’s choice of literature, “Watchfiends and Rack Screams,” by Antonin Artaud. The book was written during the last three years of Artaud’s life, which he spent incarcerated at a mental asylum, and it reads like it. I made that joke about Jax needing every play in the savage book, well, he might have to ask if he can borrow it from Toric first.
Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.
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Tags: Charlie Hunnam, Chibs Telford, Chuck Zito, Clay Morrow, Damon Pope, Donal Logue, Eli Roosevelt, Gemma Teller, Gemma Teller-Morrow, Guest star, Jax Teller, Jimmy Smits, Juice Ortiz, Katey Sagal, Kim Coates, Laying Pipe, Lee Toric, Lt. Roosevelt, Nate Kreichman, Nero Padilla, Nomads, Opie Winston, Rockmond Dunbar, Ron Perlman, SAMCRO, Sons of Anarchy, Sons of Anarchy blog, Sons of Anarchy Season 5, Sons of Anarchy season five, Tara, Tara Knowles, Theo Rossi, Tig Trager, Tommy Flanagan, Unser, Wayne Unser