"Would not this, sir, and a forest of feathers — if the rest of my fortunes turn Turk with me — with two provincial roses on my razed shoes, get me a fellowship in a cry of players, sir?" (Hamlet 3.2. 250–252)
“This has to end. Here.”
There are many endings in the penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy, but it’s not over yet. Jax is still waiting on the Mayhem vote to decide his fate, but he has decided the fate of Gemma and Unser, and ordered Juice’s. Kurt Sutter tweeted that “Red Rose” is — in his opinion — the “best” episode of the season, and he commended the performances and Paris Barclay’s direction. While we don’t know what next week holds, his pride in the excellence of this episode is well earned. The story, the acting, the direction, the cinematography — “Red Rose” delivers. (Read our interview with Katey Sagal here.)
Jax puts on his rings at the beginning of the episode and touches his wedding ring, as if to remind himself who this is all about. Tara’s presence is felt throughout this episode — from the ring to the paperwork at Gemma’s father’s nursing home — and Jax’s need to “clean up” the mess is put back in focus.
Everything is descending upon him. The Sons are working on reorganizing the streets: getting rid of what’s left of Lin’s crew, and redistribute the guns and heroin among the One-Niners, Mayans, Byz-Lats, and the Irish. Of course it won’t be that simple. Connor Malone is on the loose, having gone rogue against the Irish, and none of the deals are finished. Tyler has played along with SAMCRO diligently, but so much hangs in the balance. Jax is planning a well-organized gun and heroin business that’s sure to make everyone (except the Chinese) happy; however, his plan relies too heavily on people doing exactly as he says, and as he says himself, “The business model changes with the street.”
Meanwhile, the charter presidents are also coming to talk to Jax about Jury’s death. Jax is honest with the presidents and says that he felt he was acting in self-defense, but also out of misplaced revenge; he agrees that it was murder. He says, “I loved Jury. And I killed him.” This bit of foreshadowing hints toward the end of the episode, when he continues to kill those he loves. A Mayhem vote is coming for Jax. He promises the presidents that he will ensure his club votes in the right way — “to protect the organization,” not him. However, he asks for something in return, an “unwritten bylaw” that he wants thrown out. We don’t know what he asks for, but we can assume that the “whites only” understanding will be a relic of the past (we hope), and the Grim Bastards will be patched over.
Juice’s “SON SHINE” tattoos were a focus as the sheet was pulled over his dead body. “Shine” is a racist term, and the corresponding white and black skulls illustrate his African-American heritage (which could have gotten him kicked out of the club if not for the deal Jax made with him). Lin’s crew beat and rape Juice but don’t kill him because they need him to kill Tulley. To avoid harming Tulley’s relationship with the Sons, Juice accepts that he needs to be killed and passes Tulley a knife. “Just let me finish my pie,” he says, and savors a bite of cherry pie before he’s stabbed in the neck by a white-supremacist rapist.
Juice’s allegiance to the MC — until the very end — is not surprising, as he’s always desperately wanted to fit in. His African-American heritage weighed on him greatly because of the racist MC policies. The most uncomfortable parts of the Sons’ world — the segregated clubs, the racism, the sexism, the prison rape — are all realistic parts of their world. In the thoughtful essay “How Sons of Anarchy Got Racism Right,” Latoya Peterson argues that the racism presented on Sons of Anarchy reflects the reality of their world, and serves to illustrate the complexity of our relationships with antiheroes. I wholeheartedly agree. Jax — as his final wish, it seems — ensuring that the club no longer excludes African-American members would be an excellent conclusion to this chapter of the Sons’ history.
Another reality of SAMCRO is the role of women, which is consistently underestimated (as we’ve seen over and over again, since Gemma has made it this far). Their roles as mothers and caretakers are fierce and respected, and although they don’t ride (maybe Abel will make that change), they drive plenty. Early in this episode, Brooke and Wendy are in Jax’s kitchen, and what has happened in that kitchen — Tara’s brutal murder and Wendy’s overdose — comes to the forefront. Wendy tells Brooke, “Right there, I almost killed my son.” Neither of them knows this at this point, but Gemma did kill her daughter-in-law, right there. “Let’s just say I’m living with more than one ghost,” Wendy says. Aren’t they all. Speaking of which, Gemma sees the homeless woman again (there is speculation that she’s Brooke’s mother, or the ghost of Brooke’s mother), this time at a truck stop, and she’s pushing a stroller. The power — both the restorative and destructive power — of motherhood is woven throughout the series.
Gemma is the ultimate fallen mother. What’s incredible about her character, and always has been, is that she’s neither virgin nor whore, and even in this darkest moments of season seven, there are moments of warmth and tenderness that allow us to sympathize with her. It’s so refreshing to see a well-drawn female antihero; we’re so used to complex male characters who are evil yet sympathetic, and we rarely get female characters who demand the same complex reaction. Gemma does.
“Red Rose” is Gemma’s last episode. In her hero’s journey, she must reach atonement with her father, which she does. Nate has Alzheimer’s, and it’s painful and devastating when she visits him. She realizes how detached from the family she really is when Tara is listed as his key conservator and Gemma isn’t even on the visitation list. After a fatal phone call, the receptionist lets her in to see her father. “I don’t see Rose anymore,” he mutters (Gemma’s mother — and Gemma has told strangers that her name is Rose). Gemma pulls up a chair and apologizes for everything that she’d done to hurt and disappoint him. She stressed that he was a good father, and a good husband.
“God forgives everyone,” he says. As she’s leaving, he says he doesn’t remember her name. “Gemma?” he repeats. “Oh, she was a sweet girl. She would play in the garden for hours. She was the one who loved the flowers.”
“Yes,” Gemma says. “She was.” She’s clearly happy to hear her father talk about her in these warm tones, as a kind of salve on the pain of her nostalgia. “Bye, Daddy,” she says. Switching to the third person and past tense, Gemma knows her fate, and she goes to her father’s home to wait and to die.
To verify Gemma’s ability to visit her father, the receptionist called Jax’s house. Wendy calls him to relay the message. (Wendy is sweet and helpful, but clueless as to what is going on with Gemma.) Before long Nero finds out, and he warns Unser that he needs to go arrest Gemma before Jax gets to her.
Jax tells Unser everything so he’ll drop the APB. As confident as viewers were early in the season that Unser knew more than he let on, he didn’t. He was clueless. Unser stresses that he was only trying to fulfill his promise to Tara — that he’d protect her and get “her and your boys away from all this shit.” He couldn’t protect her, so he wanted to find out who murdered her. He obviously could have never imagined it could be Gemma. He loved her too much.
“Holy Christ,” Unser says when Jax lays it all out to him. Jax begs him to not report it because he’s so close to cleaning everything up. He promises with “yellow gone, black, white, and brown splitting up turf,” there will be an “end to bloodshed in the city and in Charming.” It sounds like such a good plan. Jax points out to Unser that if people find out now that all of those bodies “died on a lie — that wound gets open, I don’t know where it ends.” Unser had been trying desperately to keep Jax out of the way so he could somehow keep the boys safe; however, his blindness in regard to Gemma was obstructing his ability to find Tara’s killer. When he gets into his truck and cries, we know the pain and emptiness he feels. It’s all over. Earlier, he’d paused in Gemma’s kitchen — where he’d always wanted to be as her partner — and left his keys on the counter. He knew then that it was over.
So when Nero begs him to get to Gemma before Jax does, Unser assumes it’s because of Nero’s love for Gemma. “This isn’t about saving Gemma,” Nero assures him. “It’s about saving Jax.” Chuckie wants to come along, and asks Unser to “tell her I love her.” Unser wants to save Gemma, Nero wants to save Jax from himself, and Jax wants to finally avenge Tara’s death; it’s a race between law and outlaw, although the lines have always been a bit blurry.
Gemma sits on the floor of her father’s home, looking through old family photos and journals. The shelves in the living room are all empty, as her family history is scattered around her. She’s vulnerable and open to her fate.
Unser gets to Gemma first and begs her to come with him so it can all be quiet. “Not really my style,” she says. “Do what you need to do.” Jax follows soon after, and Unser says he’s arresting her, but she refuses. This scene is beautiful — Gemma’s tragic beauty comes out from the shadows, with profile shots focusing in on her humanity. Jax and Unser raise their guns at one another, wanting different outcomes. “This has to end. Here,” Unser says. Jax lowers his gun, and tells him to go home. “I can’t do that — this is all I got now.” Jax raises his gun quickly and shoots Unser in the heart. He’s lost everything for nothing.
Jax and Gemma barely skip a beat, and she shows him a photo of his grandfather from World War II. Jax smiles and looks as if he’s full of pain. Gemma assures him that Nero had no idea, and that he should stay close to him. Jax asks if she has a copy of his father’s manuscript, and she says it’s in the storage locker.
Gemma tries to talk about how much she loved Tara, and how she barely remembers that night and never saw any of the devastation coming. He stops her from attempting to explain or apologize — he can’t take it, especially since he knows what he needs to do. “I’d like to go out to the garden, if that’s okay,” she asks, and he nods. It’s dark outside, and rose bushes surround her; she sniffs one. Jax is behind her crying, raising and lowering his gun. This scene is beautiful and heartbreaking — she gives him permission to do what needs to be done, and he shoots her (white roses appear behind her, red behind him). He rides home in the dark.
Jax has told his crew that everything will work out in regard to the Mayhem vote. He’s either riding toward his ultimate death or he has another plan. If the Irish, One-Niners, and Mayans can play nice and the Triads can be eliminated (and they’re well on their way at the end of the episode), things do seem to be going Jax’s way. Wendy is taking the boys to Nero’s farm in the morning. Tara’s murder has been avenged. This could end well — or horribly. Speculating at this point would be fruitless; we just need to take a deep breath and hold on.
Gemma, channeling St. Rose, dies in the flower garden, with white roses splattered with her blood. Jax’s white shoes are once again bloodied (the same foot that he has trouble walking on in the beginning of the episode), and he sets them aside when he gets home.
• Loose ends that will need to be wrapped up next week: Barosky, Marks, Mayhem. I imagine we will also see Loutreesha and Grant again (Marks will be out on bail soon). Jarry and Venus should also return — perhaps A Midsummer Night’s Dream–esque double wedding will round out the series.
• The scene between Gemma and her father is breathtaking in its pain. Much like the perfect scene between Tig and Venus, this show is doing heart-wrenching dialogue right.
• Michael Chiklis guest-stars as Milo, a trucker who befriends and transports Gemma. “I’m a good Christian girl, just need to go home and see my daddy,” she says to him, and he — and we — believe her.
• A few Saints of Anarchy: Thérèse of Lisieux (“The Little Flower,” from the first episode’s star-crossed threesome), St. Paul (the nursing home where Nate, a retired pastor, lives), St. Rose (Gemma’s mother, Rose, and Gemma’s alias — a trucker who gives her a ride calls her “St. Rose.”)
• It’s easy to imagine Wendy and Jax’s cathartic sex will disrupt her plans to take the boys to Nero’s farm, which we know is essential to their safety. We want Nero, Wendy, Lucius, Abel, and Thomas to be safe. They should be kept away from these final bloody moments. It’s easy to imagine, however, Wendy’s temptation to fall back into Jax’s ass — um, arms. It’s a hot scene, certainly, but we know it’s also a Bad Idea.
• “It’s been a privilege to wear this president’s flash,” Jax tells the charter presidents. “I’m sorry I couldn't live up to it.” He sets aside the gavel.
• The Hummel figurine next to Unser’s dead body features a little boy and girl (Unser and Gemma have been friends since childhood); the girl is holding flowers.
• “When the sins of my father / Weigh down in my soul / And the pain of my mother / Will not let me go / Well I know there can come fire from the sky … / Even though / I know this fire brings me pain … / Make it rain …” A fitting new Ed Sheeran song (a Foy Vance cover) closes out the episode.