‘Sons of Anarchy’ Open Thread: Brotherhood

This post discusses plot points from the November 13 episode of Sons of Anarchy.

There’s so much going on in this season of Sons of Anarchy that I’m glad to see the show start moving towards resolving some of its exhausting number of plotlines in an episode that was primarily concerned with the management of three separate families: Jax and Tara’s household, SAMCRO itself, and the reconstituted family Gemma is building for Clay under Jax’s orders.

In that first storyline, I was glad to see this episode center on Tara’s moral dilemmas. There’s been something of a pattern in major anti-hero shows of protagonists’ wives getting involved with their husband’s businesses, only to recoil from the reality of the work. Skyler White did precisely that on Breaking Bad, only to be drawn back in to laundering Walter’s money again. Carmela Soprano looked at what Tony did and solved her dilemma by choosing to look away. In this case, Tara’s convinced herself that she’s fully in control of her dealings with Otto Delaney as she works in Stockton to try to get him to give up his RICO testimony. “I would take you out to lunch, but I have a hot date with some inmates,” she tells a hospital administrator who’s offered her an amazing job opportunity and an escape from Charming. When Otto tells her of their encounter, “Something happened to me yesterday, with you. I haven’t cried that way since I was a kid,” she assumes the pose of a motherly authority figure, telling him soothingly, “That’s good.”

She can’t see that he’s doing a masterful job playing her. “I’ll make my part of RICO go away. I’d like one more thing. Before I went inside, I gave LuAnn this crucifix my mother gave me,” he tells her in a request that’s made mild by his references to his dead wife and his faith. “It was this ornate gold and silver piece. LuAnn promised she’d give it back to me when I got out. I know they’re not going to let me have it in here, but I’d like to wear it for a few minutes, maybe say a prayer.” When Tara complies, sure she’s on the brink of victory (though Gemma seems less sure), he asks her to put the crucifix “Next to my heart. Thank you. Can I get a minute alone? It’s been a very long time since I’ve prayed.” Of course, it’s all a scam. “Sons live, Redwood bleeds,” Otto tells Tara as he murders the nurse Tara had been duping to spend time alone with him, making the killing as bloody as possible, forcing Tara to confront his ruined eye, as he forces her to understand what he is doing to Tara and why.

At home, Tara’s reconciliation to her complicity is terrible. “They’re going to find out I gave him that murder weapon,” she tells Jax, suddenly and painfully aware that she only liked the game she was playing when she was in control of it and assured of winning. “Who I am. Why I was there. He made me an accessory to murder.” Jax tries to reassure her, saying “Babe. I’m not going to let that happen. Okay? We’re going to get through this like we do everything else.” But Tara is right to tell him “That’s what scares me the most.” She chose Jax in a moment when the violence that is his life seemed thrilling, when he killed to save her, and the two of them sexualized that violence, having sex next to Tara’s dead stalker. But now Tara is guilty, if only through her naivete, and she’s facing her first real consequences for her complicity. Just as she’s lost herself the opportunity to escape from Charming, she realizes how badly she wants to leave.

Similarly, this is an episode where Jax gives in to a great deal of emotional pettiness: leadership suits him better in victory than defeat. For the second time, he orders a member of his sworn and blood family to do an ugly task for him, one that destroys some of who they are, and threatens them with the worst fate they can imagine if they fail. “You’re going to find those documents, Juice. Because that’s going to prove Frankie’s story is true, that Clay is a liar and a murderer,” Jax tells Juice. “I think you know what killing another member gets you.”

He can be magnanimous when it suits him or satisfies him to be, telling Jacob Hale “There’s a couple of things I’d like us to be clear on. When I make this happen, TM gets the contract to all the mechanical work on Charming Heights maintenance vehicles…Subsidized housing for Lyla and her kids. She’s Opie’s widow.” But he can also be recklessly emotional. After Bobby warns him not to incite violence with the Grim Bastards, who are stuck in the miserable position of protecting their leader’s blood relative, reminding Jax “20 years we have had relationships with these people. The Grim Bastards have always backed us. Always. Maybe we need to look for a compromise,” Jax has the man killed anyway. “You shit on two decades of brotherhood,” his vice president tells him afterward, thinking strategically. “What you did back there was wrong and it hurts all of us.” Jax’s response is purely about his own satisfaction. “Maybe. But you didn’t see the pleasure on that animal’s face when he caved in Opie’s skull. We did,” he tells Bobby of his and Chibs’ experience in prison. The pain he’s feeling is real, and if he was a member of the club, it might lend his vote a raw moral authority at the table. But as a leader, there’s something unnerving by how rattled he is.

The contrast with Clay is significant. Perhaps he’s playing everyone around him, but he appears chastened. “I don’t know that I could have gotten through the past month without you,” he tells Juice, after the younger man narrowly avoids being caught searching his home for the documents Jax needs. “You reminded me of being what a brother really is. I made a lot of mistakes, Juice. I done some really heinous shit. Most of it I can’t even begin to tell you. You get to this point in your life and you start to wonder, are you chasing after shit you don’t even want anymore? I’m exhausted, son.” With Gemma, he’s gentle. “I know how bad I hurt us, Gem. I guess I’m just surprised I’m even back here at all,” he tells her when she, acting under Jax’s orders, invites him home and back to bed. “I don’t want to do this unless it’s really something you want.” He forgot that mattered when he beat her down, when he murdered Piney. Now Clay’s remembered the value of consent to the ruler, just as Jax seems to be forgetting it.