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 5.03: 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.

 

  

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