"‘Sons of Anarchy’ Open Thread: Just Getting Started"
This post discusses plot points from the October 9 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
“You’re unbelievable,” Jacob Hale tells Jax towards the end of this episode of Sons of Anarchy as he agreed to Jax’s proposal to blackmail a member of City Council to get him to vote through approval on Charming Heights in exchange for Jacob agreeing to rent one of his properties to Nero so Nero and the Sons can restart his companion business. “Oh, I’m just getting started, Jake,” Jax tells him. It’s a fitting epigraph for an episode that began the necessary process of separating Jax’s conception of himself from objective reality. There may be part of him left that’s still the little boy who drinks milk from the carton. But more and more, he’s a man who writes letters to his son about trying to avoid caving to his hate while taking delivery of a woman’s breast and finger in an ice chest delivered by his mother.
First, there’s Jax’s dealings with Jacob. It’s a smart move for the show to translate manipulating votes around the table in the SAMCRO clubhouse to Charming politics—I’m only surprised it’s taken the show longer to do so, and I hope it does more, something that Damon Pope’s model of leadership would suggest for the Sons’ future. “I know how important Charming Heights is to you, to this town,” Jax tells him smoothly even as he proposes an ugly campaign of blackmail. “We’re going to make your dream come true.” The promise to Jacob, and to the club, is much prettier than the reality. Bobby may dream of a future that’s “pink, wet, and tastes like sunshine,” with Tig singing the glories of “Pussy. Or Italian ice.” But it’s going to take ugly work to accomplish, and the home invasions by the Nomads sworn into the charter may sink the Sons’ credibility for good. It’s not much fun listening to Clay these days, but he’s right that “the hate swings that far out, it may not swing back.”
It’s also worth considering how Jax’s plan to blackmail City Councilmen will pay off for the club in the long run. This was a tricky sequence, and I know not everyone in the audience thought Sons of Anarchy pulled it off, in particular because of the casting of Walton Goggins to play a transgender woman. The debate about whether male actors should play trans women is an important one, and I think worth separating from the discussion of this particular episode, but to me, Goggins’ turn as Venus was bravura and funny. There’s no question that Jax’s plan, to knock out a key swing vote and stage pictures of him engaged in a raunchy session with Venus, is a form of sexual assault, and I thought the show did a decent job of making that clear, particularly as Jax moved smoothly into blackmailing the man’s stepson, offering him oral sex with Venus and then telling him “How’d you like these bad boys blowing up your Facebook page?” The plot is a nasty one, and if I have a quibble with it, the plan seems too sophisticated for the Sons. But I did think that the show managed to walk a delicate line between articulating the ugliness of what the Sons were doing and its portrayal of Venus herself, who came across as self-aware about what she was participating in, and determined to extract every penny she could from the Sons. Jax may have thought he was presenting himself as liberal-minded (or at least putting up a good front for the scheme) when he told the teenager he was talking into sex with Venus “Doesn’t mean you’re gay, man. We’ve all been there.” But I appreciated the kiss Venus planted on him on the way out the door—Jax may be willing to hire a transgender sex worker, but he’s not as comfortable with her as he pretends to be.
And he’s not as in control in other parts of his dealings as he’d like to be, either. In his meeting with the Irish and the cartel, the fistfight he initiates as a point of pride and because he needs to blow off steam—”Gave you the Catholic blessing and the blood? Made you a gangster of Christ?”is a pretty stylish way to instigate fisticuffs—doesn’t go precisely as planned, and he has to watch as the Sons’ motorcycles get shot up in a test of the hardware. He may posture about sending the bill on to the IRA, but he had to concede the temporary loss of the bikes in the first place. And he’s pushing Gemma and Nero apart as much for business as to be vindictive to his mother. “You’re connected to that history. To Clay. And maybe I am having a little trouble separating my hate,” he tells her. Jax may well be right to hate his mother, but this is a manipulation that confirms the assessment of him as “arrogant, selfish, and explosive.”
But most of all, Jax can’t see around curves here, and in this episode, there are a lot of variables coming into play. Tara is making better improvements than her surgeon expected, even if, as she grumbles to Gemma after Chibs steps in for her on caring for the bite Tig received at the end of the blackmail operation, “I did shit. I can’t even sew up someone’s ass.” Her improvement could reignite her yearning to get out of Charming, an option she seemed to have surrendered last season. “I’m not sure I find that comforting,” Tara tells Gemma of the idea that extremes will become a normal part of her life. “You’re not supposed to,” Gemma tells her. Gemma and Nero clearly retain a difficult, volatile bond, made obvious in the moment when he slams her up against the wall and both of them instantly soften to each other—the relationship between violence, dominance, and attraction in Gemma’s life is something I wish the show would explore more this season, as it did in the second season as she recovered from her sexual assault.
And most importantly, the home invasions have hit the person who has the capacity to swing the pendulum permanently. As Roosevelt’s pregnant wife, a woman Gemma’s made common cause with, struggled to protect herself, a gun proving ineffective against motivated attackers, the arrangement that may have kept SAMCRO in business may have bled out on the floor along with her. “I was just reading an article on these home invasion attacks,” Hale told Jax early in the episode. “People are very scared. Most think it’s tied to the criminal element here in Charming.” Damon Pope’s learned a lesson Jax still needs to absorb: it’s hard to be a player when you’re obviously and inescapably a thug.