"‘Sons of Anarchy’ Open Thread: Denial"
This post discusses plot points for the October 2 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
After Opie’s death in last week’s wrenching episode of Sons of Anarchy, anything might have felt anti-climactic. But I thought this hour of television felt particularly opaque. It makes sense for Jax to be overwhelmed by his pain, but the miasma of that grief is obscuring a crucial question, whether he’s strong enough to wrench the sons into a new wagon track. And while Gemma had a lovely moment, stumbling down the hall after she learned the dreadful news, asking “This club. What the hell’s happening to us?” it’s irritating to watch her cause trouble for no particular reason than because she seems to take pleasure in causing other people to feel pain or to inflict pain on themselves.
There’s no question that Gemma is still working through the pain of separation from her husband, and from the violent abuse that prompted it. “You want to drink yourself stupid, you want to lay down with Spic bangers, you got it,” Clay tells her when she tells him to stop checking up on her. “I don’t know who you are anymore.” “Why don’t you bounce my face off the floor?” Gemma spits at him. “Maybe then you’ll recognize me.” But only some of the trouble she’s causing seems an attempt to exorcise those particular demons. The beating she lays on an out-of-town prostitute working for Nero, which landed his staff in the clink and got him ejected from his business, may be an echo of old jealousy, a memory of the skateboard she used to break Cherry’s nose for sleeping with Clay back in the first season. But the fight she instigates between Tara and Carla, telling Tara, “Dora the Whore in there. She almost got him killed today,” may be a way to give Tara a chance to blow off some steam. But it functions more as a distraction that lets Gemma to push conversations about Wendy and childcare and the general ugliness between her and Tara down the road.
I’ve loved Gemma as a character since I started watching the show, but her nastiness and viciousness here are hugely unpleasant. “Maybe they just realized I wasn’t a whore,” she snaps at Carla when she gets bailed out, as if being Queen Mother of a motorcycle club affords her much greater dignity than a madam. When she asks Nero whether the disaster for his business is her fault, she immediately runs from the responsibility, saying “I left my thick skin in Charming.” Carla’s bruised face when Nero, who has is contemplating splitting with Gemma anyway to seal a business deal with Jax, escorts her home is an awful accusation. But I’m not sure whether Gemma, or the show, is ready to face up to it.
The same goes for the question of whether Jax really has what it takes to run the club. He’s in command when he tells the club that “I think Opie’s been looking for a way out since Donna died. He’s never been the same since. He went out a warrior.” But the authority granted to Jax by his closeness with his late best friend doesn’t extend to club business. Clay needles him there, noting that “It’s Pope. Forcing that choice concerns me.” Tig, who owes Jax his life and freedom, and whose rage at Clay for his murder of Piney has not been abated, insists that “Jax did all he could, all he could, to push back the threat.” Jax helps tip the club, but only by emphasizing their weakness relative to Pope, an “OG sitting at a table with judges, senators, CEOs.” “He could kill us with a phone call as easily as a bullet,” Bobby affirms. “We’re just white smoke to this dude.” When Jax calls a vote on the proposal to pay Pope half their fees until they can figure a way out, he doesn’t wait for the nays: he can’t afford to see the dissent.
He chooses evasion in his personal life, too. I’m not sure the reintroduction of Wendy and a custody dispute storyline is particularly organic to this season of Sons of Anarchy, which is already overloaded with plot. But it does produce another illustration of something Jax isn’t ready to tackle head-on. After Wendy comes to see Tara at the hospital and comes face-to-face with Abel, who doesn’t recognize her, but looks at her curious as he heads down the hall to day care, Tara raises the question of whether to tell the boy she’s raising as her son the truth about who is biological mother is. “The trauma that Abel’s seen in his life. Narced up at birth, kidnapped, who knows what damage that shit’s already done,” Jax tells her. “But until then, no other woman is going to call him son but you. Wendy can stay clear of our family.” Evasion didn’t exactly help John Teller. His son is following the same policy of kicking problems down the road.
He does, however, come up with an idea for how to make Nero whole, and perhaps to provide for Lyla, too, who is facing the prospect of raising Opie’s children and managing the grief that’s turned her into a wraith, floating through the frame. “I can’t raise three kids on my own. I can barely cover me and Piper,” she tells Jax. “How am I supposed to care for those kids and earn a living?” “Like every other single mother. You get help. Family and friends,” he tells her. “Let me show you something. That’s your family. Anything you need, you just ask. Anyone says no, they answer to me.” But there’s something monstrous about offering up a family where Jax’s mother pushes Jax’s wife into a fight, where Jax’s stepfather killed the father of Jax’s best friend, who committed a kind of suicide to save Jax. And what happens next is worse: Jax offers to pay the rent on a new place for Nero and to hook him up with the Cara Cara girls, who can command higher prostitution rates because of their work as porn stars, in exchange for half of those profits. “You still have access to them?” Nero asks. “There are a few of them in the clubhouse right now,” Jax tells him, perhaps including Lyla in the deal. They’ve bonded over their dreams of end-games, Nero of buying his uncle’s farm for his son, stricken with spina bifida, who loves animals, and Jax of “moving us away from the shit that’s killing us.” They’ll earn that money by asking women like Lyla to open up their legs and earn. Being king means putting off your problems, even as other people are forced to confront their own.