This post discusses plot points from the October 30 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
“What you going to do, prez?” Nero asks Jax towards the end of last night’s episode of Sons of Anarchy. “You going to beat the shit out of your mom? Ain’t that been done enough by your family?” It’s telling that, even though Nero hasn’t known Gemma and her family very long, he can already see the toxic dynamics embedded in it even more clearly than the Teller-Morrows can. One of the best things in this flawed season of Sons has been the presence of Nero and Damon Pope, men who are more competent at violence and corruption than SAMCRO is, but who also have much more clearly articulated values outside of their criminal activities. As the Teller-Morrows have become increasingly contemptible and incompetent, Nero and Pope serve to illustrate the gap between who Jax Teller is and who he might have been.
Pope, in this episode, represents the value of patience and the danger of impulsiveness. “Five years from now, this will be affordable housing. Multi-family units. Retail. Park. MARC Station,” Pope tells Jax meditatively when they meet at the rail yard. “Where do they put your bronze statue?” Jax asks him sarcastically. “Somewhere they can’t chop the hands off,” Pope tells him. Their immediate conversation is Jax’s belief that Pope targeted him for assassination, but of course Jax is both wrong about that, and missing Pope’s larger point. SAMCRO’s protected Charming from outside harm for years, but it’s rarely done much to build the town up. Jax sees Jacob Hale’s Charming Heights project as a tool rather than as a potential legacy. And even when he looks to tools, he misidentifies them. “What was I supposed to think?” Jax asks of the hit. “That someone wants you dead and hired a black guy to do it,” Pope tells him patiently. “Unemployment’s crushing the hood. Brothers need work.” If Jax wants to not just survive, but thrive, he needs to develop the ability to see around corners when right now, he can barely see what’s in front of him.
If Pope represents the possibility of becoming a criminal mastermind, Nero’s begging Jax to consider an exit strategy. “You got a beautiful wife, you got two healthy kids, you need to accelerate the end game,” he tells the younger man. “Get away from this shit that’s trying to kill you.” But Gemma and Jax may be too deeply enmeshed in their family culture to start living a new way, and making a living by new means. As Clay put it to Juice, after learning the secret of his parentage, “Everybody at that table’s done something that puts them outside the Reaper. Self-disclosure kills the group.” That’s not just a rule for the club. Gemma and Clay have long hid the secrets of John’s death from Jax, and as they’ve been revealed bit by bit, those half-truths have given the family gangrene. They’re like a patient that can’t bear to give a limb up as lost, and risk dying as a result.
When Gemma did risk honesty last night, telling Jax the truth that she was driving high, and confessing to Tara “I just didn’t want to miss my chance to be with them,” she did something no one in her family ever does, and put herself in a terribly vulnerable position. And this being the Tellers, Jax didn’t miss a chance to exploit that vulnerability, first nudging Clay to think about a reconciliation: “I’m worried about her, Clay. She’s already on edge. I’m not sure what happens to her without family. She’s going to need you.” And then he offered Gemma a terrible deal: “I want you to be with him. Sleep with him. Make him feel like a king. The dirty secrets will start to flow, just like they always did.” “What if I can’t do that?” Gemma asked him. “Then get use to living in a brothel. Because hookers and bangers are going to be your only family,” her son told her.
My boss tells me, and I think he’s probably right, that I’m a little too easy on Gemma, who is not exactly a decent person herself. But I think what this scenario illustrates for me is a larger problem with the way shows and fans treat anti-heroes wives. Gemma deserves prison time, deserves to lose access to her grandkids, deserves shame. But there’s something disturbing about the idea that being pimped out to her ex-husband, a man who beat her savagely, constitutes justice. Getting raped by her husband isn’t actually what Skyler White for helping her husband launder drug money. The idea that transgressive women should be brought to heel by submission to a violent man, rather than by the law, is a pretty disturbing assumption. And I’m having a harder and harder time liking anyone in this rotten little family.