Sons of Anarchy
“But this world’s life has much to dread / Not so, my Father, with the dead.” —Emily Brontë, “Faith and Despondency”
Jax’s decision to tell Abel that Wendy was his “first mommy” was reckless, considering Abel has been self-harming and the school had just called child services. It’s fairly clear that Jax isn’t reading many parenting books, or he wouldn’t have chosen that moment at the end of a traumatic day to tell Abel that he and Wendy used to be married, and Wendy’s his mommy. The kid just wanted a drink. “That’s kind of crazy, right?” Jax says to Abel. He has no idea.
“Is that why Grandma killed my other mommy? So my first mommy could be here with me?” Jax is stunned. The reaper fades in. The audience rejoices.
With three episodes left of Sons of Anarchy, the truth has finally been uttered in a monotone bedtime inquiry. We celebrate that the spotlight of guilt will finally be focused on Gemma, and we also celebrate that Abel should be safer after this episode.
When Ms. Harrison asks about the scratch on Abel’s face, she says that he needs to tell her if an adult or friend did it to him: “If they did it on purpose, they could get in trouble.” His eyes light up (well, kind of), and he says, “With the police?” Those little gears are turning, and within minutes he’s in a bathroom stall taking a fork to his arm so he can blame it on Gemma.
Abel held the truth, and Abel was falling apart. Seeing him put the pieces together and attempt to send Gemma into the arms of the law by harming himself was unsettling and impressive. His calculated critical-thinking skills reflect Tara’s. When he, in a sweet monotone, implicates his grandmother in the murder of his “other mommy,” it is an incredible relief. This episode builds tension, but the plot twists are woven throughout moments of relief and release.
“Faith and Despondency” opens with a series of graphic sex scenes, including Jax and Winsome (welcome back, female gaze). He rolls over when they finish, and starts to cry. It has only been a few weeks since Tara was murdered, and we’ve never seen Jax really process it in a human way. He’s releasing it now. As he lays himself bare, figuratively and literally, he’s opening himself up for the truth that will end the episode and direct his complicated revenge. The series is almost over, but it’s only just beginning.
The other sex scenes are brief character sketches: Gemma is bent over, looking resigned and defeated; Venus and Tig are intertwined; Rat Boy is with a “professional comforter,” not with Brooke; Tulley’s taking Juice; and Wendy is alone, as her comforter buzzes. “Faith and Despondency” is about laying it all on the table, naked and raw. Relationships are sustained, and enemies are eliminated.
Tyler excels as a double agent in this episode. With Marks still locked up (Jax acknowledges that the DA is “dragging their feet, making him sweat”), Moses says he has a job he needs to complete: Talk to Loutreesha and Grant and get them to retract their statements. Moses doesn’t buy that Tyler doesn’t know where they are, so Tyler says he’ll track down T.O. (the Grim Bastards president) and get info. “Let’s do that together,” Moses says.
Rat Boy and T.O. are together, and Moses takes them to the torture chamber to get the information he wants while Tyler stands back and watches. After some brutal punches (and the threat of a grapefruit spoon, the “perfect little tool for taking out an eye”), T.O. says that the mother and son are at a cabin, and gives Moses directions.
The directions are, however, to a different hideaway: T.O. sends Moses and his men to the Aryans’ country home, where a camper explodes in their faces and Sons burst out of the cellar with machine guns. Moses — not yet dead — gets the Bobby treatment. Jax pops his eye out — with his thumb, not a grapefruit spoon, thus leaving it dangling; Chibs cuts off his fingers; Jax shoots him in the head. Another pile of dead bodies, and Bobby’s death is avenged.
Jax thanks Otis — a reasonable (relatively speaking) neo-Nazi — for the backup. “A favor for a favor,” Otis responds, acknowledging that Jax basically set up Leland’s death. This entire scene could only work because the Sons were working in tandem with the Grim Bastards. Otherwise, the firefight between the Aryans and Sons vs. Marks’s crew (and the fact that the Aryans were on the “good” side) would have been too much to handle. Right now, the One Niners, Grim Bastards, Mayans, and Sons are working together quite nicely, eliminating the threat of Marks’s crew and picking off the worst of the neo-Nazis (see: the transphobic and cop-killer neo-Nazis). Lin and Marks aren’t dead, though, and certainly they’ll make bail soon.
The complexity of the “goodness” and “badness” of characters has always been one of the best aspects of Sons of Anarchy. While the gangs and clubs are segregated, and the “old ladies” don’t ride, the complexity and allure of the antihero isn’t afforded only to the white male characters, as is so often the case in drama. The gender, racial, and ethnic segregation in Charming reflects a world in which those lines are clearly drawn. However, the fact that the groups are not reduced to stereotypes and are drawn both with sympathetic and horrifying motivations adds multiple dimensions to what can, on the surface, seem like a testosterone-fueled soap opera.
Case in point: that last scene between Tig and Venus. Early in the episode, after they had slept together, Tig acts distant, and Venus gazes at herself — sans makeup, bare — in the mirror. Something seems wrong, and when an Aryan brutally ridicules Tig (calling him a “tranny humper”), Tig shoots him in the crotch and follows with a fatal blow to his chest (after the man tips them off that Leland is on his way to kill Eglee).
Perhaps, we think, Tig’s relationship with Venus is too much for him to handle. When he visits her at the end of the day, she senses that he’s only with her to feed his deviance, to “dance with the freaks.” She goes on to explain that she’s fallen in love with him, but she doesn’t want surgery. Tig opens up and lays himself bare; he wants to feel, and he wants to open himself fully to how he feels with her (that he doesn’t have any secrets and that she sees everything he is). Venus calls Tig by his name, Alexander, demonstrating who she sees under that leather.
They embrace, Tig cries, and I’m tearing up even thinking about it. I’m not a sentimental viewer, but that scene is wonderful. Emmys and Golden Globes all around. The sensitivity and care with which Tig and Venus’s relationship has been treated by the writers and directors is a rare and beautiful thing.
Less so is the relationship between Jarry and Chibs. I’m going to pretend it is all a joke, because it’s just so terrible: “I can’t do this anymore … I’m an idiot. It’s not you, Filip.” “You’re a cop, and I’m a criminal.” The two speak as if they’ve been having an intense emotional affair, when we’ve only seen some sex. “When you’re not tearing apart every moment we’re together, you’re a lot of fun,” Chibs says. Fun? When? They slap each other and have sex, and it’s just as ridiculous — albeit less public — as last episode. (Although I would like to hear Chibs read this aloud.)
And then there’s Tulley and Juice, a certainly nonconsensual relationship fueled by heroin, Vaseline, and Emily Brontë. Tulley reads him Brontë’s “My Comforter” (“Was I not vexed, in these gloomy ways / To walk alone so long? … A brotherhood of misery … ”), and Juice snorts heroin. Juice’s victimization in this situation is amplified by the fact that he is of African-American descent, complicating Tulley’s actions. The fact that Juice and Gemma both are “bent over” and in some way victimized in this episode is noteworthy.
Gemma’s instability has seemed to turn away from confident mania into shaky insecurity and confusion. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” she cries to Nero, as he comforts her and promises her that she’s his “girl.” There’s a kind of tragic sympathy to her in this episode, and we have to remind ourselves to let go of that. It’s refreshing to have a complex, awful female character, as female antiheroes are too few and far between.
“Faith and Despondency,” a poem by Emily Brontë, is a dialogue between father and daughter on life and mortality. The father hears the daughter’s strength and lack of fear in the face of sorrow and despair. At the end he says, “Well hast thou spoken, sweet, trustful child! / And wiser than thy sire.” Abel’s knowledge has outpaced his sire’s, and it’s on the table now, just waiting to be dealt with.
- Winsome’s professional services are important to Jax’s self-actualization, but the dialogue between them is awkward. She jokes about her and some other new girls getting a place together “before we all get gunned down by Chinese gangsters,” and she tries to speak compassionately to him, but something seems off. There’s a moment after he leaves where she gulps nervously — it may be something, or it may be nothing.
- “Smart girl,” Jax says about Winsome. “A little unstable, but smart.” Nero responds, “That’s the way we like them.”
- Rat Boy’s indiscretion will certainly come back to haunt him. As Brooke tenderly takes care of him and stands up for him later in the episode (nursing his wounds and sternly telling Nero to talk to Jax about what happened), we remember her words from the last episode. She’s smart, but a little unstable.
- Brooke plays a smaller role in this episode, but Rat Boy plays a larger role and he betrays her. As readers pointed out last week, the homeless woman who has been seen in every episode is strongly suggested to be Brooke’s mother (whether she is a ghost — like King Hamlet, as Brooke may avenge her death — or not actually dead). Brooke and Wendy are stepping up the maternal game this season, and they’re poised to play important roles. The matriarch won’t go down quietly.
- Loutreesha and Grant serve as a kind of foil to Gemma and Jax; it’s as if Jax is trying to save and protect them to not only prove his heroism, but also subconsciously redeem a mother-and-son pair. The two are on their way home — since Marks’s team has been taken care of — but we’re not convinced of their safety.
- Unser is always wearing blue shirts, and blue typically symbolizes peace and calm. In this episode, he kills Leland, and his shirt is so dark blue it’s almost black. Unser is changing.
- Tig: “There’s a pile of dead black guys in the backyard.” T.O.: “What? Is the LAPD here?”
- Lovely: The Forest Rangers cover Bob Dylan’s “Boots of Spanish Leather.”