"‘Sons of Anarchy’ Open Thread: Retaliation"
This post discusses plot details of the October 16 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
There were a lot of things that happened in this episode of Sons of Anarchy, from Jax getting surprisingly easy revenge for Opie’s murder, beating the prison guard to death with a snow globe, to Tara trying to get Otto to recant his testimony, to Roosevelt’s wife’s death, to Carla’s suicide. But really, this hour of television ended up focusing on two themes for me: the extent to which the Sons are building a very bad fate for themselves they’ve evaded through luck, and the degree to which the show itself is avoiding giving Gemma responsible for her behavior.
Part of what’s fascinating about watching Pope groom Jax is the way he moves to separate him from the rest of SAMCRO. “My crew wants out of the drug game,” Jax tells him when Pope offers him a deal that would pay an extra $100,000 per run to haul in extra cocaine. “What do you want?” Pope asks him. And he gives Jax a personal incentive, promising him that “I’ll kick back 2 percent of my profits on the 30 keys to you, gentleman’s agreement. Just between us.” Given Jax’s perpetual waffling about whether to get out of the club before he took his seat at the head of the table, this is a particularly potent inducement, an offer of money that he could exempt from the normal split with the rest of the club and sock away as a nest egg that might enable him to leave with Tara and their sons without the shame of living off his wife. Later, Pope reminds him of how vulnerable Jax is. “Independent security contractors,” he advises him. “First one to kill my killer gets $5 million. Fear protects me. Greed ensures it…You don’t need money, Jaxon. Just the ability to see the inevitable.”
And so much of Sons of Anarchy is about the things that men make inevitable. No fate is so terrible as the ones the Sons are building for themselves, piece by bloody piece. “Must have been retaliation,” Clay says when he learns that Sheriff Roosevelt’s wife has died of the wounds she sustained in the invasion of her home, using the cycle of violence that the MCs have accepted as normal as a cover for his own actions. But of course, it’s been the Nomads, master-minded by Clay, who have been staging the attacks all along. “Idiots! You weren’t supposed to kill her!” The idea that he could create an acceptable level of violence in Charming that would undermine Jax and create tension with the Niners without creating extraordinary blowback that could imperil the whole club was a foolish dream. He’s made a liar of Jax, who tells Roosevelt “That was some outlaw shit, man,” after Roosevelt runs Bobby off the road to force the club to talk to him, but swears they are not involved in any way in the attacks. And Roosevelt is even righter than he knows when he promises Jax: “You reap what you sow. I’m going to crush your club.”
Speaking of reaping and sowing, I’m still trying to come to terms with Carla’s confrontation with Gemma and Nero, which felt both viscerally awful and half-baked. There’s no question that, had Carla been a longer-established character, her suicide would have been much more tragic. We’ve seen Nero choose Gemma over her, and override Carla’s preferences, and we saw Gemma set Carla up for a dreadful, painful beating at Tara’s hands. But we didn’t really know Carla except as someone Gemma was abusing. To have the last-minute revelation that she was in love with Nero, though, as Nero put it, “The sister thing made that a little messy,” caked another layer of twistedness on top of her character, lending a frisson of the forbidden but further obscuring her as a person. And to have her order Gemma, a sexual assault survivor, to “Suck his dick,” then tell Nero “I’m sorry. I just wanted to go out watching you do your thing,” before killing herself provided an opportunity for Katey Sagal to do some characteristically great acting, but stripped Gemma of an opportunity to take moral responsibility for the way she’s treated Carla or the positions she’s pushed Nero into. And, like the guard’s wife, casually shot by Tig as Jax prepares to murder the man who set up Opie’s death, she’s another disposable woman on Sons of Anarchy. There may not be a specific karmic count for murder, but the pile of dead girls on SAMCRO’s tab seems like it ought to have more consequences, somehow. And setting Carla up as a pure antagonist instead of making an effective argument that she is someone who has been deeply damaged by Gemma’s behavior served to minimize her death rather than giving it emotional impact.
Gemma doesn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted again or murdered. But she deserves to be accountable. And I appreciated that Wayne Unser, who also did a solid by sitting with Roosevelt in the hospital as he waited for news on his wife’s condition, called her out on some of her behavior. “Am I a friend, Gemma? Same kind of friend?” he demanded of her. When she tried to push off the conversation, he wouldn’t let her. “Then when should we do this? The next time you kiss me?…There ain’t no us, Gemma. And you got no friends. You just got people who do shit for you and then you throw the poor suckers a smile and a promise to keep them coming back…Open your eyes, mother. Everyone knows who you are.” It was the first time in a while where it felt to me like Sons of Anarchy was included in that everyone. And I hope that if Gemma’s going to continue down a road of dissolution, this time courtesy of Joel McHale, who sidles up to her in a bar and tells her “My therapist warned me about this. My insatiable attraction to older, abusive women,” I hope the show fleshes out why Gemma is making the choices she is, and what it would mean for her to face up to them.