Though we’re still riding high on some of the fun from last week, this episode also took one of the darker turns we’ve seen this year. Nonetheless, this season is doing a much better job of balancing the tragedy and the comedy, the fun and the sorrow. Here’s what we learned from last night’s tumultuous episode of Sons of Anarchy.
Movin’ on Up
This episode is all about rebirth, new beginnings, and trying to come out the other side of a tragedy clean. The MC seems to be pushing that idea to the limits as they trade in the grease and grime of Teller-Morrow for a squeaky-clean sweets shop in downtown Charming. Set to a cover of Ziggy Marley’s “Love Is My Religion,” we see the boys move all of their things into the shop ... all of their reaper-emblazoned things into a candy shop for kids. A call back to the school shooting? The gang then got a visit from Mayor Hale, who delivers the bad news that (a) the Charming Heights development was delayed, so the boys will have to wait on their contracts and (b) he won’t be reelected, so they have three months to rehab their image with the town (or buy themselves a new mayor). So times are tough and money’s tight, but the boys did splurge on some shiny new patches for Sons of Anarchy: The New Class. Montez, Quinn, West, and (after some good-natured hazing) Ratboy all get patched in to the club. What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Back at the Lockup
DA Patterson, still un-wigged, tries to crack Nero and get him to turn on the club, but no dice. Nope, not even bringing up his son will do it. (“Son” is basically a Manchurian Candidate trigger word in this episode.) But Nero isn’t budging and he tells Gemma as much when she comes to see him bearing news of Venus. This Jimmy Smits reaction face? Oh, this might be the finest acting he’s ever done.
Maybe She’s Here for the Banana Split
There’s only one thing on this show I love more than Venus Van Dam and that’s Tig’s unrelenting crush on Venus Van Dam. His face when he saw her? Every supportive gesture and affectionate murmur? Adorable.
But can you blame him? Walton Goggins was in fine form this episode vacillating between wilting Southern magnolia and gun-toting badass. Without so much of a flutter of her fake eyelashes. I’m convinced that Goggins took this gig in order to finally win himself an Emmy. If those idiots won’t reward him for his supporting work as Boyd Crowder on Justified, then maybe at least he can score himself a guest star trophy. Because, oh, wasn’t he magnificent in this scene spilling forth all of Venus’s pain and trauma? His accent was slathered on thicker than his lip gloss and he somehow managed to out-eloquent even the loquacious Crowder. And don’t we love the MC all the more for gallantly coming to Venus’s rescue?
Mom, Mama, Sweet Momma
Those are three terms all used to describe Gemma in this episode and they come not from Jax but from Chibs, Nero, and Venus respectively. Gemma has been such a vile, abrasive character for so long that we really needed a reminder of why we like her. Her softness with Venus went a long way towards rehabbing her image last night and it made her eventual downfall all the more complicated. If Gemma were a complete villain, the show would be much less interesting, but she had these flashes of softness, of protectiveness, that make her a complete puzzle. But the most important takeaway is this: being a mother/grandmother is the most important and identifying role in Gemma’s life. I know you already knew that, but here’s a gentle reminder.
Go Ask Alice
Speaking of bad grandmas, here we have another heavy-handed parallel. Obviously, Venus’s mother Alice is a much scarier monster than Gemma ever was, but the show draws a clear comparison between Thomas, Abel, and Joey. The sons in peril. Actress Adrienne Barbeau was an absolute terror as Alice Noone, a child pornographer who spits nothing but hate at her son. It’s no wonder Vincent gets angry. Her final speech, aimed at Venus, but hitting Jax smack in the gut, went a little something like this: “You don’t deserve a son. You go ahead you tell that sweet boy all about his daddy. He’s gonna grow up hating you. Hating your lies.” She was cut short by Jax’s bullet right when she reached the word “father” because, of course, Jax would rather disappear into violence rather than confront the hard truth that he’s not any different than Clay.
I’m Tired of Blood for Blood
Earlier in the episode, Jax told August Marks he didn’t want to kill his Irish hostages because “I’m tired of blood for blood.” Marks responded, “you’re learning son” while Bobby beamed on with approval. Ah, well, that zen attitude lasted a cool twenty minutes or so. You see, in that scene with Alice, Jax was projecting. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s projecting. Though the show certainly set up Jax’s actions as “justified” (who can possibly defend a child pornographer who molested her own son and likely her grandson?), but I’m not sure we’re meant to be fully on board with Jax’s decision. His action was fueled by hate for Alice and for himself. He weakly gave into hate and, as we’ll see in a bit, that weakness will almost certainly come back to haunt him. Venus describes her family’s brand of hate-fueled damage: “We judge and we hate and when we’ve scorched every earth and we’re all used up, we die. Miserably. I had to be reborn to escape that doom. I just hope something comes along to liberate my son.”
Blood for Blood
And that brings us to Tara who did something very unsettling and extreme in order to “liberate” her sons. First of all, let’s clarify something. I’ve seen some of the Tara haters say they can’t believe she murdered her own baby. No, guys, there was never any baby. This was a long con. A fake pregnancy. She had a packet of her own blood (drawn from her arm earlier in the episode) squirreled under her clothing. Secondly, I’ve also seen people react as if this bloody gambit of Tara’s is the most despicable thing anyone has ever done on the show. Are you kidding me? It’s extreme, yes. It’s going to come back and bite Tara, yes. But compared to Jax putting the boys in danger a few weeks ago or Gemma driving the boys off the road last year, I don’t see the despicable here. Lying and manipulating Jax is the worst thing that’s happening and, yes, that’s an emotional betrayal, but Jax has done far worse in his day. Gemma? I really don’t have much sympathy for. Besides, she won’t stay behind bars for long.
The Blow Back
Here are the threats currently looming over the MC. (1) The Irish. They’re still out there and if things don’t work out with Clay, I’m not convinced there won’t be further battles. (2) Their public image. After the bombing, Charming wants them out. They’re going to have to sell a lot of gummy bears to get back in good graces with the town. (3) Wendy and Unser. Their conscience is weighing heavily on them and if they spill Tara’s secret to Jax (or to Gemma) that’s going to rip Jax and the club to shreds. (4) Charlie. DA Patterson and Roosevelt put the heat on Charlie and he did warn Jax that if any pressure came his way, he was going to look out for himself. So what does Charlie have right now? Oh, just physical evidence that Jax murdered someone. That can’t be good.
The Silver Lining
In an episode crowded with damaged sons, reprehensible mothers, and helpless fathers, there was one bright spot: Venus and Tig. How interesting is it that a show with such a bro-positive attitude, a show that seems to revel in violence, pornography, and machismo, is also home to one of the most interesting and nuanced depictions of a transgender character? Though Venus was originally brought on for laughs last season, I am astonished by how much care and attention her character was given this year. Hats off, of course, to Walton Goggins, to the besotted Tig, and to the most liberal-minded motorcycle gang in the west.