Requiem for a Son.
"It just ain't fun anymore...chasing cash we don't need and spending it on staying alive."
A couple of different things happened in "Laying Pipe," but really, only one thing happened. Seeing Clay find out about Nero and inducing her to barge in on him and beat down his chosen young hooker just doesn't carry a lot of weight anymore. Neither does watching Gemma and Nero get arrested. Ditto Gemma trying to manipulate Wendy into going after Tara with the threat of a custody battle over young Abel. Gemma was a very busy lady in this episode, and it isn't that her material isn't compelling. It just feels a little inconsequential right now.
The fact is, the destruction of Opie Winston is finally culminated. There was nothing else for this show to do to him other that death, and that's exactly what's happened. In a sad way, this had to happen. How much more shit was Opie going to take simply for having been loyal to SAMCRO? When Jax comes clean to Opie about all of the secrets he's been keeping (the RICO charges, Otto giving up Bobby, Romeo being CIA, the Irish refusing to do business with anyone but Clay, even Clay killing John Teller), he tells Opie that he had a choice between killing Clay or letting the Club die. "You made the wrong choice," responds Opie. The scene where Jax tells Opie the truth is pretty much the point at which Opie's fate is sealed. Or maybe it was in last week's episode, where Opie put himself in jail with Jax, Chibs, and Tig. Really though, it happened way back in season one, with the death of Donna. Short of Jax and Tara, Opie was always the show's most tortured character, and his tale should be a cautionary one. Stay loyal to this destructive club and you meet a bloody, violent death on some dirty prison floor. Jax and Tara had their chance to get out, but Opie's death shows he was right: they made the wrong decision.
In the larger picture, SAMCRO killed Opie, but in the more immediate sense, his death comes about because of the engineering undertaken by Damon Pope. A crime lord whose reach covers all various pieces of law enforcement and runs deep into the prison system, Pope seems almost impossibly powerful. He can be anywhere he wants to be, and can get to anyone he wants to get to. Jax noticed it early on this season, when he noted that Damon Pope is the one who decides who lives and who dies. After finding out that the Galindo cartel is protecting the Sons in jail, Pope pays Jax a visit, laying out his terms. He finds the Sons "too smart, too ambitious," to kill. So instead, he wants three things: 1.) half the money SAMCRO takes in from their drug muling business, 2.) Tig stuck in jail forever, and 3.) one of the four incarcerated Sons dead. With Galindo protecting the sons, Pope manipulates events to get the Sons in the solitary ward with the four guys from his own crew. From there, the shift commander makes Jax choose which one of them, for all intents and purposes, get fed to the black gang members. Just as Jax is about to give himself up, Opie jumps in and is killed by the four black henchmen as Jax, Chibs, and Tig are forced to look on through a window, unable to help. "I got this," he whispers, just before he is taken down. It's exactly as affecting as episode director (and former cast member) Adam Arkin wants it to be. With no music, the audience is left to feel the impact of every blow delivered onto Opie's body through both sight and sound (the mood is kind of killed by a very funny but ill-timed ad for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that airs on FX right afterward). So, farewell Opie, and farewell to Ryan Hurst, who played him with such soulfulness and pity, as well as some measure of strength.
Once Opie is dead, Jax is in front of Pope once again. Jax negotiates that Tig leaves the jail with him and Chibs, noting that he has something over Tig now that he saved his life. His plan for Tig: one he secures the money for Pope, "you can set him up like you did his daughter. I don't care." The episode ends with Jax telling Tig that from now on, he backs up Jax on everything without question. He never votes against Jax again. Tig agrees, not knowing that Jax is planning to have him killed. The last shot of the episode is a close-up on Jax' face, with a weary but hardened look on his face, similar to the one Tara had on her face at the end of last week.
Speaking of whom, the other plot in the episode that does pack some meaning is that of Tara's transformation into the new Gemma, a theme so on-the-nose that it's literally pointed out to the audience three different times in "Laying Pipe." The first time is by Margaret, who watches Gemma confront Tara for barring her from seeing young Abel and Tommy in day care. Tara doesn't mince words when she says she won't be "bullied" by her, causing Margaret to comment on Tara "stooping to her level ("I'm not stooping!")." In response, Gemma goes to Wendy and tells her that Tara is developing an addiction to painkillers, something Wendy can use to get Abel back. It doesn't work, as Tara sees right through Wendy. Tara once again doesn't hold back on the verbal abuse, causing Wendy to compare her to Gemma. Just after that, when Tara confronts Gemma about her power play, Gemma refers to her as "my little Frankenstein." Opie was ruined by SAMCRO; what happens to Tara?