This post discusses plot points from the November 20 and 27 episodes of Sons of Anarchy.
“You reach an age where you realize that being a man isn’t about respect or strength. It’s about being aware of all the things you touch,” Jax writes to his son in his journal in last night’s episode of Sons of Anarchy. It’s a fantastic mission statement for masculinity. And I think the test for Sons of Anarchy going forward is whether the show thinks Jax is living up to it, or if it’s aware that Jax has reached a point where he’s entirely self-deluding, where even his declaration that “You can’t sit in this chair without being a savage,” is a way of evading the person that he’s truly become. I’m at a point with Sons of Anarchy where I literally could not care less about any of the plot mechanisms, the Irish, the cartels, the CIA, etc., but I think the show’s doing some of the best work it’s ever put on screen with its characters’ emotions, and with the impact of their choices.
First, and most important, I think Sons of Anarchy‘s made important steps this season to make Tara a consistent character, and that means forcing her to reckon with the totality of her life with Jax. “I know why you couldn’t walk away a few months ago. The club’s been your whole life, you couldn’t let it die. i think I fell in love with you even more because of that. You’re a beautiful, loyal man Jax,” she told him in last week’s episode. “You’ve done everything you wanted to do, baby. It’s your turn now. we can move on. And after yesterday, I can’t help but feel like this is some kind of last chance for us.” His deflection is heartbreaking, because what it really means is that he wants Tara to turn the job down, that he may say that he’d be willing to consider a life where his wife is the primary breadwinner away from Charming, but that when that option is genuinely present, he’s not up to the task. But Charming isn’t really enough for Tara, even if it takes Unser to help her realize it. “I love Jax and my boys. I love being his wife…I’m okay with the life,” she tells the old man when she meets him at chemo, stepping back from the triumphant embrace of her role as queen that marked her last season. “Seems like you left yourself off that list,” Unser reminds her. “I used to love being a surgeon,” Tara admits.
When she accepts the job, telling the head of the practice, “It’s a perfect fit. I just want to keep it under wraps. Let Jax sit with it for a minute,” she’s acting in her own interests. But she isn’t ready, either, to face up to the fact that what’s a perfect fit for her and what’s a perfect fit for Jax may be fundamentally incompatible. Jax may promise Tara that “I’m going to give you a beautiful life.” But the two of them, at least in our viewing, have never been able to have an honest conversation about what beautiful means to either of them, to agree on a shared vision of their life. They’re good at impulse, at sex in that hotel room, at the shotgun wedding. But marriage means planning, means understanding how your touch affects things years down the road.
It’s Wendy who speaks that truth to Tara and Jax once she finds out about Abel’s accident, and his kidnapping. “You knock her up, spit out another kid, and throw your entire family against the chaos. And you, how can you live like this? What is wrong with you?” she tells them. And when they object, she doubles down, telling them “Bullshit, you know I’m right.” How Jax punishes her for telling the truth, that as a recovering addict with a partner who is out of the life, Wendy is actually better-equipped to raise Abel than Jax and Tara are, is, to me, one of the most repulsive things that’s happened in this show. Tara may have revitalized prospects of a career, and Jax may be a man. But Wendy loves her son enough not to put him in danger, not to use him as a pawn in manipulating her family. And Jax absolutely cannot handle that truth.
Instead, he decides he’s justified in attacking Wendy as a threat to her family, tells her she’ll use her genuine and legitimate fears for her child to make her seem insane rather than accepting responsibility for his own failures, and attacks her through her sobriety. Wendy is not a perfect person, of course. Her drug use endangered Abel and made his life more difficult. But as an addict, her drug use has a different moral quality than Jax’s sober bad acts. And just as Gemma took advantage of Wendy’s addiction to try to push her into suicide in the pilot, Jax has become someone who will threaten Wendy’s hard-won sobriety to avoid a reconciliation for the threat he himself poses to Abel’s safety. It’s a repulsive thing to do. And I don’t know how Jax can recover from the places he’s gone to. If he’s Hamlet, Jax’s fate may be to suffer a kind of living death, casting a cancerous shade across the people he believes he loves. Whether she knows it or not, Gemma may have seen her son’s future in Nero’s ravaged face.
Clay’s expulsion may offer some instruction. “I’m aware that we don’t just pick it up where we left off. But maybe this is a chance for us to do it different, Gem. No lies, no secrets,” he tells her. Their reconciliation may be false on Gemma’s end, and Clay may not have fully reckoned with his past willingness to commit violence against people he loved in the name of controlling them. But there seems to be some genuine shame and regret in his reactions to her return, to his expulsion from the club. “I’ll sleep at mine tonight. The ink’ll ruin your sheets,” Clay tells her as he heads off to have his tattoos covered up. He’s accepted his punishment from the club, and he’s aware of what he’s touching, even to the level of Gemma’s linens.