Sons of Anarchy 5.08: Ablation

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday 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 and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

This post will have to begin like a drunk best man’s half-assed toast: The dictionary defines ablation as “the removal, especially of organs, abnormal growths, or harmful substances, from the body by mechanical means, as by surgery.” It makes sense, there was a whole lot of ablation (metaphorical and otherwise) going on in this week’s episode.

For Gemma, ablation meant hopping on the wagon—quitting booze and pot—following the accident. So she’s literally removing harmful substances from her body, or ceasing to put them in at least. But for Jax and Tara, Gemma is the harmful substance. Putting Abel and Thomas’s lives in danger by driving high was the last straw, and they banish her from the family. Earlier on, Nero told Jax, “You need to accelerate the endgame. Get away from all the shit that’s trying to kill you.” Cutting Gemma off was a step in that direction, or at least it was until Jax needed to use her to ablate Clay, the greater of two evils.

The problem then is that Jax, though fully aware that he’ll never get out of “the life” alive, has done nothing to accelerate the endgame. And with the events of this week’s episode, it’s not too large of a stretch to say he’s shifted into reverse and stepped on the gas. Every time Jax think’s he’s out he pushes himself back in.

You could argue Jax is forced to react to events around him the way a badass biker should and must, that it’s not his fault, that his actions are rational, justified, even moral (at least relative to the show, it’s a real low bar). You could, but you’d be wrong. There have been some subtle changes in Jax’s attitude since Opie died. It’s in his menacing smirk as he beats a prison guard to death with a snow globe or takes an axe to the corpse of the man Frankie hired to kill him. It’s a bit less subtle as he shrugs off Tig killing the guard’s wife as “collateral damage,” or puts his arm around the shoulder of the second attacker in feigned forgiveness before putting a few rounds in his gut. When he did that, even Happy gave him a “who the hell are you, man?” look. Happy, who’s so violent it’s funny (because he’s such a great character and, let’s face it, we might not like a guy who gets a smiley face tattoo for every kill if it was presented as straightforward or serious).

But back to Jax. Then, there’s his newfound buddy-buddy relationship with Pope. Not that much time has passed since the man burned one of Tig’s daughters alive in front of him. Yet Pope is now Jax’s trusted business associate, they do favors for each other, make money together, all the things gangster pals do. Every time they meet you can see Jax’s subconscious gears turning. Even if he doesn’t recognize it yet, Pope is a man he admires and looks up. Jax views him as a role model—a vision of his potential future as a kingpin. None of this depicts the attitude of a man who truly wants to get out.

One last example: Jax’s decision to allow Gemma back into the fold if she helps him to bring down Clay, his archnemesis. Granted, this is the one thing that you could argue (and maybe even get me to agree) is justified. Not only that, it actually meshes with both the purported goal of “accelerating the endgame” and taking the fast lane to kingpinville. The world isn’t big enough for the both of them, and for Jax and Clay, the table is the world. At the end of the day, using Gemma is a theoretically reasonable and potentially effective plan. After all the suffering she’s left in her wake, up to and including falling asleep at the wheel with two toddlers in the backseat, not to mention her role in JT’s death, which Jax doesn’t even know about (yet), you might even say she’s simply reaping what she sowed.

Yet none of those tallies in the “pro” column changes the fact that Gemma is still Jax’s mother, and not only does he decide to whore her out, it’s to a john that Jax knows has beaten her to a pulp for crossing him (at least once) already. Nevertheless, Jax still had my complete support right up until he told Gemma her options were to go along with the plan or “get used to living in a brothel.” The line paralleled Hamlet telling Ophelia to “Get thee to a nunnery,” which made it even more awesome for about five seconds before I realized how incredibly sad it and the situation were for both parties. But after another five it was back to “fuck yeah” because Gemma has been annoying the crap out of us all.

The shit covered fan is officially spinning, and it was announced on Monday that the season’s final five episodes will be extended. Next week, “Andare Pescare” will run 75 minutes (counting commercials) and the four installments that follow will run 90. Finding out we’ll get so much more time to watch the metaphorical feces drip down the wall was the best news I got all week. Please don’t quote that out of context.

A few more things:

-Let’s all say a prayer of thanks to the writers for keeping Chibs alive, I’ll admit they had me spooked. Please, Sutter, if you’re reading this, take any of your characters but never the one true Scotsman.

-I think we all know Clay’s little “moment” with Juice was nothing but a masquerade. He’s not relating to a peer with similar experiences but putting those tidbits in his back pocket until they’re useful. He needs a new lackey, what with Tig a born-again Jaxian, two Nomads dead and the other on the run. My guess is that right when Jax is starting to close in, Clay will throw Juice under the bus and use the controversy as a distraction, metaphorical pocket sand.

-Tara’s response when Jax says they need to cut Clay out and kill him: “How do we do that?” We. If she wasn’t officially an outlaw old lady before, conspiracy to commit murder (a Class A felony in the state of California) will do it.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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Sons of Anarchy 5.07: Toad’s Wild Ride

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday 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 and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game.

After the final scene of last week’s episode revealed what everyone already knew, that the Nomads were behind the home invasions and Clay was the one pulling their strings, the opening of “Toad’s Wild Ride” filled in some new information: the specifics of Clay’s deal with his new lackeys. When Clay tells them to get out of town for a while, Frankie Diamonds (who’s played by Chuck Zito, the former president of the New York chapter of the Hells Angels) responds, “What about our deal? We get you back at the head of the table and we get a piece of your end.”

As Unser put it, “Who has something to gain by making the club weak; turning the town and the sheriffs against them? Suddenly the pretty guy they gave the gavel too, he ain’t looking all that smart.” But we’ve always known it was Clay, and we’ve always known Clay’s only goal since losing the presidency was getting it back. So I suppose that stuff’s not really new either. Here’s what is: Clay’s finally dropped the whole “lion in winter” act.

Clay’s been slowly regaining strength (both literal and figurative) for some time, but he’s continued playing the weak old man. Last week, his doctor told him things were looking up health-wise and he no longer needed the oxygen tank. Nonetheless, Clay put it back on as soon as he left the office and lied to Juice about his uplifting prognosis. Now, he’s ceased putting on airs (pun intended), or at least modified his bullshit. He no longer argues with the people who hate him, he simply agrees that they have every right to. He tells Tara she’s “supposed to hate [him], like [she] does,” and Jax that “I know you think I’m the devil, son, and you’ve got every right to assume that I’d be the one setting fire to your table.” Although he follows up the latter by proclaiming his innocence, hence modified bullshit.

But let’s pump the breaks on Clay for a moment, with six episodes left there will be plenty of time to talk about his misdeeds. Instead, let’s talk about Juice. Last season, Juice was suicidal. Roosevelt blackmailed (hey, another pun) him into snitching and he was forced to kill his “innocent” brother Miles as a result (I put innocent in quotes because let’s face it, these guys are a bunch of gun and drug-running thugs, affable though they may be). Chibs noticed something was up with “Juicey boy” and tipped off Clay, who granted him the “Men of Mayhem” patch partly because of the adept way he’d handled the Russians and Mayans, but also as a way to lift his spirits.

Juice was a broken man. That patch, and the honor and respect it represented, as well as Clay’s words when he gave it to him (“I love you, son”) were exactly what Juice needed at that moment. Clay became the badass, white biker father he’d never had, and ever since, he’s been loyal to Clay to a fault. Now, Clay’s pulled his most devoted apostle into the whirlpool of his deceit, and that loyalty could land Juice on the wrong end of a gun.

Ever since we found out the tragic circumstances of JT’s death, there’s been no question Clay will lie, cheat, steal, and even kill to save his own skin. We saw that this week, when he set up the plan to eliminate two of the Nomads (including GoGo, whose DNA will implicate  him in the home invasions). In one fell swoop, he attempted to distance himself from his minions and regain some of Unser’s trust (although I don’t think old Wayne will believe it for a second). Based on the preview for next week’s episode, Juice is in for a double whammy. He’ll come clean to Clay about the blackmail and killing Miles, and Roosevelt is going to reveal to Jax that he ratted in return for Clay, who’s responsible for the death of the sheriff’s wife. It’s obviously well within Clay’s playbook to set up this mess as a distraction from his own misdeeds. The preview ends with a Son on his knees with a gun to his head. Here’s hoping it’s Frankie and not Juice, (WARNING UPCOMING SEMI-SPOILER FOR “THE SHIELD,” ANOTHER FX SHOW KURT SUTTER WORKED ON) who’s always been to SAMCRO as Lem was to the Strike Team (END SPOILERS).

One last thing on the Jax/Clay situation: At least one of the guys involved in the drive-by was black, which complicates things a bit. It could mean Pope is somehow involved in the Clay/Nomad deal. Alternatively, it was mentioned that Warren, the con man played by Joel McHale, runs with a crew. So it could’ve been his guys getting revenge. After all, it seems silly to get a name like McHale to play a one (and one-tenth) and done character. If he’s just going to disappear now, his familiar face did nothing but detract from the suspension of my disbelief, which is a point in favor of this option. But the far more likely scenario is still that Clay hired a random black gang banger so he could make Pope a scapegoat. After all, Clay’s really only ever had one move when he needed to bail himself  out of trouble: blame it on the blacks. Think about it, Donna got shot, blame it on the blacks, Opie shot me, blame it on the blacks, and so on and so forth.

Now, on to the episode’s last bit of drama: Gemma falling asleep at the wheel and crashing with the Teller children in tow. Filthy Phil had a concerned look on his face as Gemma buckled the kids in. After all, she’d been smoking pot and maybe drinking just a little bit earlier and had likely been awake for more than 24 hours dealing with her car getting stolen, Unser being attacked, and the rest. The sequence ended with what appeared to be Abel’s blood dripping onto his stuffed toad, hence the title “Toad’s Wild Ride.”

The scene was foreshadowed in Jax and Gemma’s earlier conversation, in which mama bear revealed that her overbearing, possessive love of Jax stems from the early death of his older brother Thomas. Said discussion led to Jax advocating for Gemma to watch the kids for the weekend, despite Tara’s misgivings, which in turn led to the fateful crash. Is the death of Tara’s oldest child (I know, Abel’s not technically her child, but still) the final step of her transformation into Gemma? Well…

Here’s the thing, I’m still not positive Abel’s dead. Jax and Gemma’s discussion could have been a red herring. Maybe it was Gemma’s blood, or some grape juice. Maybe Abel’s alive but seriously injured. Sutter’s been known to pull that kind of thing before. Remember when we were all convinced Juice had hung himself? Because I sure do. Maybe it won’t be Tara turning into Gemma because of the death of her eldest child, but Jax turning into Nero because his son is now handicapped.

The result could be any of these things, or none of them. Here’s what we know for goddamn sure: Tara is going to tear Gemma to shred regardless. Remember when she beat the shit of Carla for almost getting Jax killed? That was one thing, she knows the kind of life her husband lives. But her children? And after she continually reiterated that she was trusting Gemma in spite of her best instincts? Gemma is in for a (overly due) beatdown. Tara’s rage could also land on Jax. After all, it was his idea to trust Gemma with the kids in the first place.

No matter what, this episode moved a whole lot of interesting plot lines forward and set the tables for a few more. I have to admit I was worried about the show falling off after a few of the season’s weaker episodes, but after this week I’m sure we’re in for the same thing Toad was. Get it? A wild ride.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

Sons of Anarchy 5.04: Stolen Huffy

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday 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 and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. 

I predicted the title of last week’s episode,”Laying Pipe,” meant something beyond the obvious: that Opie’s death would be the spark that lit the fire behind the rest of this season. As such, this week’s installment would offer both a proper send-off for the beloved deceased and begin to drive the story forward, laying foundation for everything to come. After what happened, a drop in intensity was unavoidable. I just didn’t expect the drop to be quite so far.

While “Stolen Huffy” did deliver that emotional goodbye, too much of the action was focused on wrapping up old plot threads instead of kickstarting new ones. The most obvious representation of this was the continuation of the same old shit between Gemma, Tara, and Wendy. When Jax took the gavel with Tara standing behind him, it was supposed to change things for Gemma. She was, both literally and figuratively, on the outside looking in. Instead, she keeps manipulating everyone, or trying to anyway, and stirs up drama from the same tired power struggle pot. Oh, and Wendy still wants to see her kid. Surprise!

There was also a lot of time to devoted to the aftermath of Nero’s brothel being raided. The gang the “companionator” is in league with believes Emma Jean (Ashley Tisdale) called the cops and wants her dead for it. Jax and company are forced to ”rescue” the character, who we barely know and hasn’t done anything especially intriguing in the short time she’s been around. Besides the fact that she’s famous for starring in something on the Disney channel, at this point there’s not a whole lot of reason to give a shit. And by that I mean there’s not a whole lot of reason to give a shit. In fairness, all that stuff lead to Jax and Nero’s new partnership. But it took a significant chunk of screentime to get there.

That said, the story elements that did continue to develop were subtly engaging. Namely, I mean Clay’s continued behind the scenes plotting, which the club remains oblivious to. The camera work during the early scene at the table was revealing. Jax speaks and Clay retorts. Chibs and Tig back their president, while the newly-patched former Nomads seem to echo Clay’s concerns. It certainly lead credence to the theory that Clay is the one orchestrating the break-ins and likely notified vice about Nero’s establishment. Recall last season’s finale, when Jax first took his seat at the head of the table. Just sitting there made him the leader, and when Tig made a move for his customary position, all Jax had to do was raise his hand and say “no,” and so it was. Now these new guys think they’ve earned the right to spout off? They didn’t get that kind of gumption on their own. With Opie out of the picture, a weight has been taken off Clay’s shoulders. The old man is on his way back, regaining strength, as symbolized by his lifting weights. As long as Pope remains in the picture, it’ll be hard to return to his status as the series’ main antagonist, but this is Clay, he’ll get there before too long.

At the end of the day however, all that stuff was just a series of distractions from the last item on the agenda: Opie’s wake. More specifically, the various ways the characters coped with his death. Most of the club remained stoic despite the loss of their brother. Only Lyla and Gemma really seemed to outwardly struggle with the news.

The key word there is outwardly. After all, do we really want our big tough biker gang breaking down in tears? The montage sequence that ended the episode did a lot to show that despite their gruff exteriors, losing Opie really did hurt SAMCRO. Each dealt with it in their own way. Tig put a bottle of Patron in the casket, something for Ope to enjoy with his old man now that they’re back together (tequila was Piney’s favorite drink). Chibs did the Catholic routine and even sniffled a bit. And Clay, well, fuck Clay.

Protagonist that he is, it was Jax’s response that was the easiest to connect to. In tears, Lylya asked  how she’s going to raise three children on her own. Jax replied by directing her attention to the people in the clubhouse, telling her “That’s your family.” It was a line that really hit home, especially when he placed the childhood photograph in the casket. Like Jax, I hadn’t really come to terms with the fact that Ope was gone until that moment. The move and all its connotations (that Opie saw death as more desirable than continuing the life he’d lead since that picture was taken, that he and Jax were once innocent children,  that Opie’s own innocent children are going to grow up fatherless, etc.) hit even harder than seeing pipe collide with skull.

“Sons of Anarchy” is a series of peaks and valleys. After the ferocity of last week’s episode, “Stolen Huffy” did its best to be poignant and cerebral. That just means we can expect plenty of action to come, as foreshadowed by the shift from sadness to anger in Jax’s face as he slammed the hearse door closed. One can only hope it starts with fulfilling his promise to kill the prison guard that orchestrated Opie’s murder.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

Sons of Anarchy 5.01: Sovereign

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday 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 and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. 

The Lion Declawed

After nine long months, SAMCRO is finally back. “Sovereign” began with Jax writing in a manner that seems to be addressing his sons when they come of age, just as his own father did. Although his father died when he was 15, Jax has more of JT in him than Clay. The prodigal son now sits at the head of the table with Chibs to his right as the new sergeant-at-arms. Bobby Munson will be on his the other side, having been made the new VP in the premiere, and Opie will be taking an extended leave of absence from the club. It’s great when tiny details in something like wardrobe can portray significant changes in the characters. We saw that in “Sovereign,” as Jax and Chibs’ new position patches were a freshly sewn white. In contrast, you could still see the remnants of the word “president” stitched into Clay’s cut. It served as a subtle reminder of Jax’s recent coup and just how far the once mighty Clay has fallen.

Almost more interesting than the things that have changed however are those that have stayed the same. Namely the fact that Clay’s still breathing (or trying to anyway). The former president’s non-death last season still seems like a bit of a cop out. Remember Jax needs his step-dad around to keep the Irish happy, a plot choice that fails to live up to the real-world reasoning that those in charge aren’t ready for Ron Perlman to leave the show. After doing so much work to build Clay up as a villain last season, the writers had better have some tricks up their sleeves if they want viewers to continue accepting his sticking around. That started last night, and how.

Anyone who thought Clay would accept defeat and move quietly out of the limelight was sadly mistaken. His physical ailments have caught up with him, and it’s no coincidence that he now bears significant resemblance to Piney, who he killed last season. After Clay’s talk with Gemma, my first guess was that he’d undergo yet another role reversal and be made into a sympathetic character again. That notion was quickly discarded, Clay’s still up to his old tricks, only now he’s got only his wits to work with and none of his former brawn.

Clay’s trickiest move was coming clean about killing Piney, right at the table during “chapel.” Well, sort of. The bare facts were there, but he twisted the tale to make his actions seem justified and himself more sympathetic. This was not a repentant man struggling to explain things to his club, it was a con artist making the best play he could, bluffing a shit hand. Clay’s faux explanation has neutered any plans Jax might have had to use the truth to turn the club against him after he’d served his purpose. If Jax tries to tell the real story now, the guys will think he’s doing exactly what Clay actually did: lying to get his way. All that said, some element of making Clay likable again survives due to his leafing through a photo album even though Gemma specifically told him not to make any pictures. Maybe he really is sorry? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Villain vs. Anti-Heroes 

After Opie shot Clay last season, the rest of the club was told the One-Niners were responsible. In a tumult of rage and guilt, Tig sought vengeance by attempting to kill the enemy gang’s leader, Laroy. Instead, it was Laroy’s girlfriend, one Veronica Pope, who ended up dead. The woman was the daughter of Damon Pope (played by Harold Perrineau of “Lost”), a Gus Fring type: powerful businessman with criminal ties. From his ordering the repeated killing of the gang’s leaders, we learned that the One-Niners are really just a street-level arm of Pope’s operation. This time around, it won’t just be the Niners the Sons are dealing with, but Pope, a man of unknown motivation, power, and yes, responsibility. Unlike that gangster in his employ, Pope is in fact a “Spider-Man nigga.”

The first step for SAMCRO’s newest antagonist was retaliation against Tig. But this was no simple vengeance. There’s an eye for an eye and then there’s burning a man’s daughter alive as he stands there chained and helpless. It’s clear that watching that flung the affably unstable Tig right off the deep end. Let’s see, Tig kills a woman because he thought he was avenging Clay. It turns out that was a lie, and Tig’s actions (which were entirely unprovoked in the eyes of Pope and the Niners) led to his own daughter’s horrific death. I wonder who he’ll blame for that? Trouble is, as badly as Jax wants Clay dead himself, it will be up to him to rein Tig in.

That’s what all this means for the club, but Pope’s actions and demeanor say something different entirely about the show. Early in the first season, my main problem with “Sons of Anarchy” was that it showed a bunch of interesting but ultimately uber-violent “bad guys” doing a bunch of horrible things and laughing about it afterwards with little to no character development. That changed as I came to understand the characters and their motivations. One way the show tried to justify the viewer rooting for the Sons was making them the gang that does everything except deal drugs. That excuse I found cheap, but I respected that they wanted to maintain Charming’s small-town, well, charm. They kept corporations out so small businesses could succeed, stopped developers from building “McMansions,” and the like. Plus, there was the simple idea that no matter how bad the Sons got, their enemy was usually a whole lot worse.

After all the forward movement of the past four seasons, introducing Pope as a sociopath, a man who won’t shy away from burning your daughter alive before your eyes, seemed almost as convenient as drugs=bad, Sons don’t sell drugs, therefore Sons=good. This isn’t to say bringing in Pope was a bad move or that the show won’t handle the move with grace, anything can be done well if it’s done right. But the character should not simply be a way to distract from or delay further exploration of the Sons’ moral complexities. While the characters might look in the mirror and see righteous outlaws, the viewer should be given a more objective perspective and be allowed to decide for themselves what they see. If Pope only sets up SAMCRO as the lesser of two evils, the show is giving up on all that, at least for the time being, which would mean, well, I wouldn’t give up on the show, but I’d be disappointed.

One Last Thing

Early into the season premiere, Lieutenant Roosevelt showed up at Teller-Morrow to ask the members if they knew anything about a couple of recent break-ins, one at the home of a club groupie (or “crow eater”) and the other at that of a Teller-Morrow mechanic. Roosevelt guesses the crimes were retaliation for the killing of Veronica Pope. The episode ended with Wayne Unzer, former chief of Charming P.D. and friend of the club, having his home invaded. Somewhere in between, SAMCRO inducts a couple of Nomads into their chapter. One of them was “Greg the Peg,” who has a prosthetic leg and joked about having “somewhere to put his feet up.” Turns out one of the guys who broke into Unzer’s house was wearing the same shoes. Oh, and a prosthetic leg to boot (check out these screenshots provided by a user of the “SoA” subreddit). My guess: the Nomads are all working for Pope, who’s now got three different inside perspectives on SAMCRO. Strap on your helmets and throw on your cuts, we’re in for a hell of a ride this season.

Watch Kurt Sutter and the cast discuss “Sovereign” and answer fan questions below. Be sure to follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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