Smokes, whiskey, and a new life
Sons of Anarchy: “Firinne”
First off, sorry to my two or three readers (hi, Mom!) for the two weeks’ absence. An incredible amount of stuff has happened in the last two episodes, which I won’t try to summarize or reflect upon; instead, I’ll jump into one of the best episodes Sons has put together in quite a while – all season, by my lights – as we race toward the finish of the season and the return to Charming.
There’s been a lot of discussion, much of it totally justified, about the pacing issues and plot contrivances of this season; more than anything, this season has lacked the dramatic punch that last year’s cliffhanger seemed to promise. As I wrote in discussing the early episodes, I think part of that was quite deliberate, as the show was laying down character dynamics and interrelationships rather than moving the plot forward or filling in backstory; and I think that work was necessary to give weight to a season meant to focus on SAMCRO mythology (as Kurt Sutter recently said). But still – there’s no denying that the swift beheading of SAMBEL, the revelation of Ashby’s motives, and the sudden testing of the Mayan alliance in last night’s episode, couched of course in extraordinary violence, was satisfying in a visceral* way that much of the season has not been. More important than plot, though – I think this season has been characterized by too much plot, not too little – was the ability of the show to return to its roots in the nasty, brutish, and short life of a Son of Anarchy. This is the logic of this show, and these people, and it is ineluctable: absolute loyalty to the club, absolute willingness to kill or be killed in defense of the club, and the absolute knowledge that a failure of loyalty means your own death. Those are the rules.
I doubt O’Neill was surprised, and McGee certainly wasn’t, at the outcome of their actions; if SAMCRO couldn’t be destroyed, then any attempt to avoid the inevitable reprisal for their betrayal was a half-hearted protest against an absolute fate. O’Neill’s interrogation scene harked back to the episode of season 1 when an exiled member was subjected to the blowtorch to remove his ink (did you catch Happy’s sadistic little grin to Bobby’s “medieval” comment?), and as soon as that happened, the show had found its footing again, I think. Sutter and company’s willingness to go to very dark places** in this show is its very DNA; and all the character work in the world – secret babies, chosen sons, and episodes of dementia – cannot substitute for this. On the other hand, the violence of this show counts in a way that would seem gratuitous in most other shows just because of that character work (The Shield and The Wire being the obvious progenitors).
The best example of that latter point is the brilliant duo of Maureen and Gemma, who switched from allies to enemies several times last night. Their standoff about John Teller’s dalliances and Gemma’s “meatgrinder” reputation gave us the best exchange of the episode, and my title; but Maureen’s little nod to Gemma over the interrogation of Cherry (reflecting the men’s solidarity in O’Neill’s torture), and of course their collective unwillingness to sanction a “three-headed grandchild,” told the real story about them. They are very similar women, and most of their conflict derives from that similarity, which is rooted in the “behind the throne” logic of the old lady. It’s easy to forget that the first major block of this season was all about Gemma, as she’s been something of a marginal player in Belfast; but in retrospect, she continues to be the moral heart of this show, and Maureen has been every bit her equal.
I won’t say much about the events in Charming, although I thought the scene with Alvarez was played beautifully, and I love that Kozick is taking on a leadership role – and that Tig is letting him. Instead, I just want to dwell on that final scene for a moment, when Ashby tells Jax that “the patch was a mistake.” It’s actually a great leitmotif for this episode – association with the SAMCRO patch cost O’Neill and McGee their lives, has Tara and Margaret tied to a beam, and has now put Jax in an impossible decision. I say impossible, because there’s a moment in Jax’s rage last night where he clearly knew Ashby, filthy Judas though he undoubtedly is, was telling the truth – Abel very well might be better off with a “good Catholic family.” It’s a wake-up call to Jax, who decided at the end of season 1 that the patch was, indeed, a mistake. For a season and a half, he’s lost his way; so if he returns to that path of reclaiming the MC from Clay, the stakes for his son’s future will be that much clearer.
*A poor word choice, or an especially appropriate word choice, depending on how you look at it, by which I mean, depending on whether you’re O’Neill or not.
**Although, thank God, I have to register relief that the show didn’t start “dancing in Tig territory.”