This post contains spoilers through the September 18 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
Wayne Unser has always been one of my favorite characters, on any television show. His backstory with the Sons would make a tremendously rich part of the backstory if Kurt Sutter ever makes his First Nine show, both personally and politically. And after four seasons of reaction and declining power, there’s something tremendous about watching him rise from a beating with new purpose. He starts from a low point. “You really come over to feed the bird?” Clay asks him as they confront Gemma’s ruined home, Wayne not entirely able to stand on his own power. “She’s on her own trip these days,” Wayne admits, acknowledging what his gestures of loyalty have often meant to a woman who has often been attracted to more violent, unstable men.
But he peels himself literally and emotionally off of Gemma’s floor and takes himself back to his old office for a conversation with Eli Roosevelt that brings both their races and their visions of the governance of Charming. Wayne kept quiet when Clay insisted that the attack must have been further black retaliation for Tig’s killing of Pope’s daughter, but it’s because he’s saving a theory for himself. “This wasn’t black retaliation,” he tells Roosevelt. “It felt more white to me.” Roosevelt is skeptical, asking him: “Really? And what does white feel like?” “Sloppy. Clumsy,” Wayne explains. “The beatdown was obligatory, not angry.” Much like Homeland and Carrie’s suspicions of Brody, this is a case where we know Wayne is right, given that we see white men dumping Clay’s safe, a white man reading the paperwork recovered from it. But it’ll be fascinating to see him prove it, and along the way, forge an identity that doesn’t involve the Sons, or Gemma. “I learned how to make it work with the Sons,” he tells Roosevelt, who has been resisting precisely that in a repudiation of Unser’s term. “And yeah, I got a little more comfortable with them than I should have. But I never did dirty work. Still don’t. I’m going to be poking around these home invasions. I find anything, I’ll let you know. I’d appreciate the same.”
That’s an idea of a partnership, rather than a real one. And it’s interesting to see that wisp of a relationship in the air, especially as Jax is finding a new mentor. Jax may be at the head of the table, but his vision for what he’ll do once he’s there remains considerably underdeveloped. Now that Clay is in exile and John Teller’s vision is in doubt, Jax needs someone new. And in Nero, he finds an ally who isn’t enmeshed with the club or its business deals, someone who’s developed an effective, independent business model, a man who seems at peace with himself and his family. He doesn’t need to scramble for more money from the Sons, telling Jax that he’s letting them hide there because “Let’s just consider this networking, okay? Maybe at some point, you get to help me.” He explains to Jax that his business deal with the women he runs doesn’t involve a huge profit margin because the long-term stability of the business is more important than the short-term gain. “I take 25 percent in house, 30 for house calls,” he says. “It don’t pay to be greedy. You got to treat your girls good. They stay happy. They got regulars. The money stays steady.” And unlike Jax, whose sons live at home, with their mother, Nero makes time for his son, who is severely disabled and lives in a facility. “My first boy was born with his insides upside down. His mother was a junkie. I wasn’t paying attention, either,” Jax admits. And despite Nero’s laid-back attitude, his mild, “Sorry. I don’t get out much,” to Jax, he’s more than capable of handling the car chase. The Sons’ model may be polluted. But Nero represents a vision of criminality governed by respect, even kindness. It doesn’t surprise me to see Gemma come back to him either. One of her husbands is dead, the other nearly dead to her. Nero, who had fun with her, gave her son shelter, found him an officiant for his wedding, represents a third attempt at a possible family.
By contrast, Tig is trying to protect what’s left of his. I was struck this week, as I was last week, by the essential tenderness with which he speaks to his daughters in contrast to the violence with which he approaches everyone else. This is a man who literally punches Fawn’s boyfriend so hard that he knocks the younger man out of his daughter and off the bed. But when he tells Fawn that her sister is dead, Tig seems to shrink. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you,” Fawn screams at her father, hitting him. “I know. I know. I’m sorry,” he tells her, taking it. Watching him withered by guilt and pain, a man who previously knew no norms except those that would prevent him from sleeping with his club president’s wife, is fascinating. Tig may have been a rotten father, but it turns out that he’s human.
Opie, too, is struggling with the consequences of his own brokenness. When he asks Lyla to take care of his children, she asks “Did you ever love me, Op? Or was I just a distraction to get you to the next exit.” His honest answer is brutal, more for what it means for him than for her: “You weren’t a distraction,” he admits. “I don’t know if I love anything.” But the closest thing he has, it seems, is the club. No matter how much it’s wounded him, no matter that it’s killed his wife and his father, SAMCRO is the only place where Opie knows how to show something akin to love. It’s easier to throw a punch than to build a relationship. It may be too late for Opie to learn that second skill. The question is whether Jax still has time.