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.


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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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“Sons of Anarchy” cast and crew discuss Season Five at PaleyFest 2012

The stars and creative folks behind “Sons of Anarchy” don’t just make the popular FX television series. They live up the lifestyle to the fullest. Most of the cast are dedicated riders, while embracing the whole image of the Harley-Davidson, cruiser riding biker culture.

Their moods are intense. Their humor is edgy. They toss around f-bombs at press events as easy as they feather the left-hand clutch. Their wardrobes are streetwise. While other events celebrating top TV series at the 2012 PaleyFest featured actors and actress in suits and gowns, the “Sons of Anarchy” crew rolled in with t-shirts and boots. And their viewers out in the seats at the Saban Theater in Los Angeles sported the same.

During the fan-friendly media event, show creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter joined his wife and series star Katey Sagal (Sutter’s wife), Theo Rossi, Tommy Flanagan, David La Brava, Michael Marisi-Ornstein and others to talk about where “Sons of Anarchy” – essentially a V-Twin-powered Shakespearian political tragedy – is rolling to in the future.

Season Four ended with big changes, with Jax finally taking on the roll of the young king at the head of SAMCRO’s ornately carved table. Fans were immediately interested in how Sutter and company would tackle that this season.

“I’ve always wanted to play this idea of putting Jax in charge and explore how he handled the power,” Sutter said. “I also wanted to explore how those around him respond to having him in charge – the ripple effect of (Jax’s power) on the gang and the loyalties of it and where people land.”

“The interesting dynamic to play out this season is seeing Jax at the head of that table and the struggle that he has of being king. How can he be the leader of a motorcycle gang – an organized crime syndicate – and not become Clay?”

“And if you choose not to become Clay, are you doomed to the fate of John Teller?”

Sutter never made any secret of the fact that he’s recreating a sort of modern day Hamlet with “Sons of Anarchy.” The same tense standoff between The Prince of Denmark and his mother is playing out between Jax and Gemma (Sagal). Jax is at the head of the table now, but the matriarch really seems to want that job.

“I could really see Gemma sitting at the head of that table with the gavel in her hand,” Segal said. “And I think she should be a great head of the gang. It’d be interesting to explore how a woman could be this queen in such a world. I want to see her sitting there at the head of the table.”

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