I don’t recognize your b.s. MC.*
Sons of Anarchy: “The Push”
It feels about time, before I enthuse about this episode, to go back to one of the first things I wrote in this series of reviews: FX has got some of the strongest shows on the radar right now. So it’s appropriate that Sons of Anarchy has become its flagship, officially anointing it as the successor of the mighty The Shield. I got ridiculously excited at the Justified season two tease last night, and Terriers is by far the best new show this season. All of these shows share incredibly talented casts, superb writing, and most of all, a completely different feel than anything else on TV right now. So, I guess what I’m saying is, please save Terriers. Because what I’m also saying? Apparently, that the Shawn Ryan pedigree has yet to fail.
So, “The Push.” This episode was in many ways textbook Sons. The pre-credit sequence, which gave us a glimpse of Half-Sack’s replacements, and a brawl between Tig and Kozik (Lem from The Shield, speaking of), was the brightest moment of levity we’ve seen in Charming in a while. The derision of the prospects and the bloody airing of grievances, both accompanied by the cheers of the club, was a great moment revealing the social ties that make SAMCRO such a fascinating microcosm. The Sons are always on the verge of being outmaneuvered, outgunned, or simply arrested, but they always seem to possess the resources to endure – and these are based in a set of relationships that are born of violence, but are at the same time cemented in loyalty and respect. Tig and Kozik can beat the hell out of each other, and squabble in the middle of an assassination, but still work together seamlessly; likewise, Half-Sack, always the butt of a joke, found his place in the club by adopting his role in the hierarchy and gradually transforming it into his own – so much so that the three prospects can’t really hope to take his place. Likewise, Juice’s return from marginal status with the return of his cut, and the pivotal role the recovery of his honor plays in the pact with Mayans, demonstrates the ‘one for all’ ethos that’s so important to Sons this season. I’m not saying that the MC is a model community, of course; but rather, that one of the geniuses of the show lies in its ability to reveal, in a way another crime drama like The Sopranos never fully could, characters that simultaneously fulfill and exceed the power relations that define their roles. In a highly structured world like SAMCRO, to paint characters this rich that don’t simply fill certain stereotypes – the thug, the sensitive guy, the funny guy, the morally conflicted one – is remarkable.
The show tends to play off Clay’s habit of rushing in with guns blazing over against Jax’s more strategic and cool-headed approach, but “The Push” reminded us how shrewd Clay can be. On almost any other show, the deal with the Mayans wouldn’t have worked – it’s a major source of conflict eliminated at a stroke, and it would have seemed like a deus ex machina. But Clay has made these deals before – he has Oswald firmly under his control, and his reaction to Unser’s betrayal just reinforces how long the Charming PD were in his pocket – and his “It’s not personal, it’s just business” approach embodies his character as MC President at the core. By contrast, Jax appears a loose cannon – breaking up with Tara, hooking up with his (remarkably and conveniently persistent) porn star suitor, and negotiating a deal with Stahl that can’t possibly end well. Last night reminded us of Jax’s weaknesses – it’s not clear to me why he broke up with Tara, something I attribute not to weak writing but to the fact that it’s not clear to Jax. The pangs of conscience about her losing her medical license and “saving lives” don’t sit well with his acquiescence to Clay’s casual demotion of her potential “old lady” status, and his skeezy hook-up at episode’s end. Whether he’s acting out of Hamlet’s constitutional timorousness, or out of no-distractions, going-to-war resolve, it’s that unstable marriage of emotional impulsiveness and methodical calculation that leaves him vulnerable to Clay’s manipulation (“She just a chick – don’t complicate it”).
The final sequence was particularly effective, giving the Sons one last night with loved ones (or, with Tara and Jax, not) before they take off for Belfast, all the pieces now finally in place. ** The Irish storyline receded this week, of course, but this seemed appropriate as the Sons are departing right as their long-range problems in Charming are truly beginning to solidify, most of which are still opaque to them – the mayoral race, Unser’s retreat, and of course Darby’s return. The bail hearing and inevitable prison time may be put off long enough for “stones to be unturned,” but just barely. The endgame for this season is emerging with increasingly clarity, and it promises to be monumental.
*No special relevance to this week’s episode, but I’m with Mo Ryan – this is the greatest SoA quote in the history of ever, and this seems as good a time as ever to repeat it.
**Further on the royalty theme I discussed last week: Gemma and Clay watching The King and I.