The new season of Sons of Anarchy gets off to a fiery start!
"There's an old saying that says 'that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I don't believe that. I think the things that try to kill you make you angry and sad."
"It's been a busy couple of weeks, bro."
It's been a few weeks since Jax Teller took over as President of the Sons of Anarchy. Some things have changed, while others are trying to. Tara becomes increasingly bitter at the life she feels stuck in. Gemma has been out getting drunk and going home with guys like Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits), a "companionator," that is to say, a pimp. A high-level pimp who runs his escort business like an expensive spa. Gemma doesn't remember him much the morning after (not to mention her latent lesbian tendencies), but before long, she starts to believe that he could be some help. When Jax and Chibs get identified by eyewitnesses as murderers at the end of "Sovereign," Gemma leads them to Nero figuring they can hide out there while they figure out some protection from the Black Nation when they're inside.
Speaking of that, the war with the 19'ers that started last season continues to escalate. Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), the Oakland crime boss whose daughter was accidentally killed by Tig (who was targetting LeRoy) blows into town, with visions of bloodshed on his mind. His plan is brilliant and grisly. First, he has his enforcer August Marks chop LeRoy to pieces for ignoring his "lay low" order, putting Darnell in charge of the gang ("What if I don't want to be in charge?" "Rise to it, brother! With great power comes great responsibility." "I ain't no Spider-Man!"). That doesn't last long; Darnell is set up and killed by Marks, who makes Jax and the Club think that the war is over. It isn't. Four different witnesses happen to come forward and finger Tig as the killer of Veronica (Damon Pope's daughter), and Jax and Chibs as the murderer of two other 19'ers. Jax and Chibs are able to hide out with Nero, but Tig steps into a trap. He's taken in by a cop on Pope's payroll, and the big man shows up himself. "Now you feel my pain," he sternly utters as he burns Tig's daughter to death right in front of him. It might be the most shocking, most crushing murder scene Sons of Anarchy has ever had. It's also a chance to see Tig devastated like we've never seen him. After his daughter's death, he's able to kill the crooked cop, but that's as much revenge as he can get. The rest of the night, he can only sit by her charred, burned up body and weep. Jax says it earlier in the episode: Pope is the one who decides who lives and who dies.
What's really striking is the futility of it all. Tig has to know that it should never have come to this. The only reason he went after LeRoy in the first place was because he thought the 19'ers were the ones who shot Clay. That was the story floated by Jax "for the good of SAMCRO." Tig is quietly in a rage when Clay shows up to a meeting and confesses to having killed Piney (though he lies and says it was in self-defense). Clay also lets on that he was shot by Opie out of revenge. The response from the MC is, of course, one of shock. They're embroiled in this war with the 19'ers, only to find out the reasons for being so are completely false. Jax calls for a day or two of thinking about the situation before they vote on whether to vote Clay out or not. Juice is standing by Clay, but Tig is obviously thinking something completely different. He doesn't get to express too much before he gets called away (into the aforementoned trap), but Clay hears him loud and clear. Clay occupies an odd space in this episode. He's basically left to wander the scenery, frail and hooked up to an oxygen canister, much like Piney was, and outwardly trying to make peace with Jax and Gemma. He probably has something up his sleeve, but he's also a genuinely pathetic sight now. He can't even mount a motorcycle without knocking the damn thing over. He doesn't even have to get hit that hard by Gemma to be knocked off his feet by her. It's doubtful he'll be both Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for too long, but right now, he's just kind of passing in and out of the narrative, not having much of an effect on things anymore, other than the impending vote (that now may not even happen). It is still pretty great to see him start to rebuild himself, particularly when, in his contrite speech to Gemma, he makes sure to remind her that she's keeping her involvement in JT's death a secret from Jax.
So that's where the club is right now. In the crosshairs of what is inarguably a ruthless and
sadistic crime lord as well as Sheriff Roosevelt, who vows to "make Pope look like an alter boy (Chibs: "I see what you did there!")." The RICO indictment from last season has gone kaput, but Roosevelt is still leaning on Juice for info. Jax notes to his drug cartel/CIA contacts that somebody who's currently in the club must be feeding info to somebody (it can't be Otto, he only turned Bobby in because their bad history together, not because of anything that's currently happening). It's funny how the Juice storyline was such an albatross in the beginning of last season, but has become so ominous and threatening since then.
The other little subplot running through the episode, and which comes to a head right at the end, is that of the home invasions. Roosevelt explains that there have been two of them within a week, and both victims are connected to SAMCRO. The MC says they know nothing about it, but Roosevelt figures it has something to do with Pope. The audience is meant to think the same thing, but when Unser is attacked in his home, the camera makes absolutely sure that we notice the fact that one of the masked assailants walks on a prosthetic leg. They wouldn't do that if they don't want us thinking.
"Sovereign," for all it accomplishes, also feels like it could have done a little bit more with its
(extended) running time. The episode was on the precipice of wheel-spinning, and the season really needs to push forward after this. For one thing, Pope just feels too familiar a villain at this point. Also, the show can't keep backpeddling to justify itself. Jax is starting to write a journal of his own, presumably for his kids to find, in which he writes about how it shouldn't be so hard to find happiness. The thing is, Jax isn't exactly stuck in his life. He's only sticking around in Charming out of a misguided loyalty to the Club. Everything he loves and wants to protect is everything that's making his life hell. He had his chance to walk away, and he didn't take it. That means we get to still watch a show, yeah, but hopefully it isn't a show stuffed with empty calories. Still, there is some interesting drama presenting itself here. Seeing where Tig goes from here, for example should be pretty great (not to mention how he relates to Clay from here on out). There are some great little moments with Tara as well. When she tells Jax about how she has to train her new replacement at the hospital, Jax says "I'm sorry," which she responds to with a small laugh into her coffee cup. Tara, who certainly has a legitimate gripe over how things have turned out for her, becomes so bitter that she doesn't even question having to carry a gun around anymore (even though she really doesn't want to). By episode's end, she's so embittered that she doesn't even bother to respond to her baby's cries anymore. Between her and Opie's rage, Sons of Anarchy seems to really be about how lives are just plain ruined by belief in and dedication to familial institutions.