Sons of Anarchy 5.05: Orca Shrugged

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 all the depressing shit that’s happened so far in the fifth season of “Sons of Anarchy,” this week’s episode, “Orca Shrugged,” was a welcomed comedic interlude. Ironically, it also included a pregnant woman being shot in the belly. But let’s start with the fun stuff.

The centerpiece of the episode was a surprise guest appearance from Walton Goggins as transexual call girl Venus Van Damme. Those of you who watched “The Shield” will recognize the actor as well as his character’s name, a reference to Cletus Van Damme, an alias used by Detective Shane Vendrell in that program. If you’re interested, Goggins did this interview with Entertainment Weekly regarding his part in “Sons.” There’s a lot of insight into how the appearance came to be and how this manly man of an actor prepared for his, ahem, unusual role. In it, Goggins says Kurt Sutter mentioned neither he nor Michael Chiklis could appear on “Sons” because of “how closely relatable they are to their characters on ‘The Shield.’” Luckily, Goggins called bullshit on that one, and we can only hope Chiklis will someday do the same. A plethora of actors from “The Shield” have gotten roles in “Sons,” but Chiklis is now the only member of the Strike Team who hasn’t made an appearance. Recall David Rees Snell (the unbearably cool Ronnie Gardocki) took the role of Federal Agent Grad Nicholas and Kenny Johnson (Curtis “Lem” Lemansky) played club member Kozik.

But let’s talk about why Goggins was there. Mayor Hale needed one more vote to get his Charming Heights project approved. Despite the club being against that kind of McReal Estate last year, now they’re picking their battles, and they’re alright with the development if it means they can use one of Hale’s properties to set up their new escort business with Nero. So they decide to blackmail  a city council member to get the mayor his vote.

Goggins scene was nothing short of hilarious, with lines like “didn’t your daddy ever tell you not to judge a book by its penis?” When they needed to convince the councilman’s step son to take some bait, the rest of the club got in on the humor too. Jax insists “it doesn’t mean you’re gay man, we’ve all been there.” “Really? All you guys?” the kid responds. Juice then says, “Lot of cock,” Chibs interjects with “two dicks,” and back to Juice with “slammin’ cock.” Insert One Chibs Two Dicks joke here.

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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 5.03: Laying Pipe

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Wednesday following a new episode of “Sons of Anarchy” (sorry it’s late this week). 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.

Opie Delivered

There’s really only one thing we need to talk about this week. Everything that happened outside the prison walls—Clay and Gemma’s drama, Tara and Gemma’s drama, Wendy and Gemma’s drama—it was filler. With the exception of the very last non-jail sequence, Nero’s place getting busted, it all felt like shit we’d seen it before. There’s no love lost between Clay and his (ex?) old-lady. Tara is now Gemma, and the new biker queen. Wendy wants to see her kid. Sure. Alright. Whatever.

Something real happened this week. Well, something “real” anyway. Opie, who’s always been both SAMCRO and the show’s moral center, is dead. Giving him that fuck yeah moment last episode should’ve been the hint. It was what Ope wanted. The guy chose to go to prison, ostensibly to help protect the other guys. But as I mentioned last week, how big of a difference could one guy really make when Pope owns everyone? Of course he’d have some prisoners, and if he’s got cops on the payroll then shit, why not some guards? Then we saw he’s even got the warden in his pocket. Four guys isn’t all that much better than three up against all those people and all that cash. Opie had a death wish. I just wish he could’ve taken Clay out with him.

Along with being the last bastion of righteousness, Opie has also been the club’s sacrificial lamb from day one. He spent five years in prison partly because he refused to turn on any of of the others involved in his failed arson. Nonetheless, his wife and father ended up dead at the hands of his “brothers.” It’s all ancient history. Point being: Opie never could catch a break.

As great as “Sons” is, one of its biggest issues has always been a refusal on the part of Kurt Sutter and the writers to actually kill a major character. Think about it. Although the full length of season four seemed to be leading up to Clay’s demise, even he is still breathing, labored though those breaths may be. Episode after episode, season after season, despite ludicrous odds, our favorite characters always managed to come out on top. As such, what’s stopped this show from being real, top tier television, is that at the end of the day, I never felt that fear. I was always certain that the main cast would survive.

All that changed with Opie’s death. It was just one of moments. Up until that final blow, I was still holding out hope he’d live to ride another day. You think it was tough to watch? I promise it hit Sutter a thousand times harder just to put those words on the page.

This episode was called “Laying Pipe,” and there’s more to that than “it was Colonel Mustard, I mean the Niners, in the prison, with the pipe.” Recall that “Sons of Anarchy” is based in part on “Hamlet.” Spoilers for the ending of Shakespeare’s version: everybody dies. Everybody. We can only expect some version of that moving forward, and this episode laid the foundation for everything that’s to come.

The war Jax had been trying so hard to avoid is in full swing. The new prez finally came to that realization when the light went out in his best friend’s eyes. Now, Jax is more alone than he’s ever been. Tig’s got to live with another death on his conscious, and sooner or later he’s going to recognize that like Opie, all his pain can be traced back to Clay. Tig might have been able to kill Clay, to succeed where Ope failed. Maybe. But Jax needs his step-dad alive, and as we saw at the end of this episode, Tig isn’t going to make the mistake of disobeying him. Was Jax’s promise to turn Tig over to Pope once things settled down genuine, or was it just more stalling to protect a friend? As for Clay, one can only hope that Opie’s death was Jax’s last straw, something will give with Romeo or the Irish, and he’ll finally kill Clay himself.

Things are really starting to heat up. “Sons of Anarchy” is intended for a seven-season run. And now that the big guns are out, it’s all downhill from here.

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

  

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.

 

  

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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