Sons of Anarchy 5.02: Authority Vested

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 Pimp and the Prez

This week’s episode of “Sons of Anarchy” began with Lt. Roosevelt asking Opie where he might find Jax, Tig, and Chibs, who have outstanding warrants for the murder of Veronica Pope. Unbeknownst to Ope, the guys are hiding out at Nero Padilla’s place of business. The “companionator” has been one of the most intriguing developments  of the still young season.

Thus far, Nero’s been nothing but well, companionable. He and Gemma bang once and suddenly he’s the club’s best friend. Nero lets the fugitive Sons crash in his pimp shop no questions asked, telling Jax he’ll consider it “networking,” and that someday, maybe the club will get to help him. Things evolved further this week as Nero becomes a potential long-term love interest for Gemma and took on a business mentor (and perhaps even father figure) role for Jax. It makes sense, the pimp and the prez have a lot to bond over. Nero is a former gangster who’s left his criminal past (mostly) behind him. He now blends running an escort service with being a loving father, which allows for a (relatively) safe and stable existence. The desire to lead that kind of life has been driving Jax’s character arc for nearly the full run of the show. Plus, both Jax and Nero had children with women who used drugs during their pregnancies, leading to complications (Nero’s son has spinobifida, while Abel Teller was born with a heart defect and an abdominal tear).

Despite all that, Nero’s biggest character defining moment came during the episode’s chase scene. A bunch of Niners are hunting down Jax, but instead of dumping him on a side street, Nero burns rubber to spin around and drive straight at them in a game of high speed chicken. My point is that’s a lot of work and danger for Nero to put himself in for “networking,” and this being “Sons of Anarchy,” I can’t help but worry he’s got some kind of ulterior motive. Nero says he’s out of the game, but why should we believe him? He can’t just be Jax, Gemma, and the club’s guardian angel. Sure, he helped the Sons out in a big way, but isn’t that just what someone who’s trying to get in close to further his own ends would do? Nero could be working for the cartel, Pope, law enforcement, or running solo. I for one have no idea what the game is, but I’m positive he’s playing one.

Turn into Something

One of the show’s major themes this season (and reaching back into the last) has been the idea of transformation. A number of characters seem to be turning into others, whether through behavior, speech, mannerisms, actions, appearance, etc. The show even made explicit reference to the idea last week when Jax told Opie he’s “not going to turn into Clay.” To which Opie responded, “I’m more worried I’m going to turn into you.”

The two most obvious transformations have been those of Jax and Tara, the king and queen of our biker universe. The last shot of the fourth season, with Tara standing behind Jax mirroring the photo of Gemma standing behind JT, wasn’t exactly a subtle maneuver. Ever since Tara’s hand was injured, she’s been watching and learning Gemma’s best tricks and combining them with her unarguably superior intellect. At times, Tara still struggles to understand Jax’s mindset: that the club is part of him and must always come first. Some might even argue that she’s right in those instances and shouldn’t have to put up with that stuff. But it’s clear Tara wants to be with Jax, and becoming the First Old Lady is the only way to do it. In “Authority Vested,” she initially fought Jax when he said he’d need to help get Tig’s daughters out of harm’s way, saying “you have sons.” In the pause that followed however, things crystallized. Yes Jax has sons, but he also has Sons [of Anarchy], and they’re a part of him every bit as much as his own children are. Tara’s understanding of the situation as well as her help organizing things, dealing with the lawyer, and everything else she’s done for the club going back multiple seasons causes Jax to insist they get married immediately. Whether or not there is some symbolism in his smiling and nodding as she took off his “SO” and “NS” rings and replacing them with his wedding band remains to be seen.

Now let’s talk about Jax, the new gavel holder. It’s clear he wants to follow in his father’s footsteps: get the club out of guns and drugs and mold it to fit his vision. That said, Clay has been Jax’s most prominent father figure since he was 15 years old. Without letting this devolve into a nature versus nurture debate, it’s not difficult to see that Claudius has rubbed off on our Hamlet a little bit. As mentioned, Opie’s worried Jax will turn into his step-dad, though Jax is certain he can turn things around even with Pope and the feds hanging over his head. Whether or he will be successful is something that probably won’t be answered completely until the show’s finale.

Opie is in the midst of a transformation himself. Despite everything that’s happened to him and his concerns about turning into Jax, when he learned his brothers were heading to prison with no protection, he gave Lyla 20 grand and asked her to watch his kids for a while before socking Roosevelt to ensure he’d serve time too. Putting the club ahead of his kids? Punching a cop so he can “stay close?” Those are total Jax moves, which the two characters acknowledged on their way to the joint. That said, as big of a “fuck yeah” moment as it was, I’m a little concerned. How big a difference does it really make to have four Sons inside instead of three, what with all the inmates and guards on Pope’s payroll? But hey, this is television. They needed to inject Opie’s character back into the show’s main plot lines somehow, and no one can argue this wasn’t an exciting way to do it. Plus, this is fictionand these are our guys, so maybe Jax and Opie’s unbreakable friendship and us against the world mentality really will help them, Tig, and Chibs survive their sentences.

A Few More Things

-Let’s not forget Clay’s physical transformation into Piney, what with the oxygen tank and the heavy drinking. I discussed all that last week.

-Last week I also guessed that the Nomads who beat Unser were working for Pope. Now I’ve got a different idea, having seen Clay’s reaction to his home being broken into, specifically his harping about the safe, and the brief scene in which the nomads dump it in the dumpster and looked over the papers he mentioned. My new prediction is that the new guys are working for Clay, and with Jax, Chibs, Tig, and Opie in jail, the former prez is about to make his next big move.

-It was both scary and relieving to hear Romeo say that if he can’t get Jax out, he’ll “let black kill him [and] go to Plan B.” The Cartel/CIA boys don’t have a Plan B yet, but Romeo insists they will. It’s scary because it means Jax and the guys no longer have this “the feds will get us out of jail more or less free” card. It’s relieving because said card was beginning to turn into an overly convenient plot device: the Sons could do anything and get away with it with the CIA behind them. Now that we know that’s no longer the case, things could get a lot more interesting.

-Chibs flipped the cop who handcuffed him two birds. How could you not love that guy?

Check out the preview for next week’s episode of “Sons of Anarchy” below and be sure to 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.

Watch live streaming video from sonsofanarchy at livestream.com
  

SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day Three

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“Frankie Go Boom”

It’s hard to believe that a movie as terrible as “Frankie Go Boom” could boast such a great cast, but that’s what makes it so disappointing. Although there are a number of problems plaguing the film, the most detrimental one is the script itself, which fashions an idiotic plot around a rat race to track down a sex tape made by wannabe director Bruce (Chris O’Dowd) after he secretly films his brother Frankie’s (Charlie Hunnam) latest moment of humiliation in front of a cute girl named Lassie (Lizzy Caplan) that he meets while in town for Bruce’s release from drug rehab. With the exception of Frankie and Lassie, however, the rest of the characters veer dangerously close to parody by acting like complete imbeciles for the sole purpose of progressing the tale. It’s incredibly lazy storytelling on the part of writer/director Jordan Roberts, and as a result, you never really care what happens to anyone. That doesn’t stop the actors from playing along anyway – particularly Ron Perlman as Bruce’s former cellmate, who has since gotten a sex change operation (and believe me when I say that it’s every bit as disturbing as you might imagine) – but it’s all for naught, because no amount of acting prowess can change the fact that “Frankie Go Boom” never had much of a chance with a story as dull and stupid as this.

“The Raid: Redemption”

Action movies don’t get much cooler or more exciting than “The Raid: Redemption.” Whereas Welsh-born writer/director Gareth Evans’ first Indonesian feature “Merantau” had a few cool fight sequences but was an otherwise mediocre film, “The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. Iko Uwais stars once again, this time as a rookie member of a SWAT team on its way to take down a ruthless crime lord who operates out of an apartment complex populated with other low-life scum. But when the team’s cover is blown and they’re locked inside, the surviving members must shoot, stab, punch and kick their way through an army of thugs in order to get out alive. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen, and what makes it so jaw-droppingly awesome is the incredible fight choreography, including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film. Though I was a little worried that the movie wouldn’t live up to all the hype that it’s amassed on the festival circuit over the last few months, “The Raid” is every bit as good as everyone says it is and not to be missed.

“Extracted”

Nir Paniry’s directorial debut “Extracted” is a sci-fi film in theory, but like most indie movies in the genre, it takes a distinctly low-key approach to the material that actually works in its favor. Sasha Roiz stars as Thomas Jacobs, a scientist who invents a way to revisit someone’s memories from the inside. When his secret financier demands a premature demonstration of the device on a suspected murderer to determine whether he committed the crime, Tom reluctantly agrees, despite his moral trepidations. After the device malfunctions and Tom gets trapped inside the criminal’s consciousness, however, he spends the next four years trying to find a way to escape. It’s a really interesting setup that’s clearly been influenced by a number of other high-concept films in the genre – from “Pi,” to “Source Code,” to “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – but Paniry does just enough to differentiate it from the pack. Though the acting is spotty at times (particularly from Dominic Bogart, who plays the heroin-addicted felon) and the twist ending feels a little too cute for its own good, “Extracted” is a smart and enjoyable sci-fi thriller/crime procedural that will eventually find an audience, whether it’s in theaters or on DVD.

  

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