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'Sons of Anarchy' review: Clay shot; how badly?

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Once again, Sons of Anarchy upended my expectations this week. I had figured that the episode just before the start of next week’s two-part, season finale might just be a putting-things-in-place hour; the setting of a few traps; a building-up of dread. Well, this edition, titled “Burnt and Purged Away,” was all that, and quite a bit more. Including 

a startling act of violence against Clay I’ll get to in a moment. But first, I’ll note the way this episode had a theme running through it: documents that can redeem or harm people, depending on who’s reading them. In prison, Otto got his list of demands from Lincoln. (Pause here to congratulate Ray McKinnon and the show’s writers on the ways they present Lincoln visually — leaping on tables, suddenly appearing in doorways, and, this week, being introduced lying head pointed at the floor on an inversion table. The idea, as if you hadn’t figured this out, is to suggest how Lincoln keeps everyone — onscreen and at home — off-balance, as he maintains his own.)

Anyway, Otto has his list, although why he’d think that even if he’d gotten a notary public into the interrogation room with him and Lincoln to stamp the thing would guarantee Lincoln’s honor in carrying out Otto’s wishes. It proved to be sufficient, however, to get Bobby in that room, and, very quickly toward the end of the hour, carted off to the pokey. The other significant documents remain, of course, John Teller’s letters. These continue to be the great motivators, the MacGuffin with substance, in the entire Sons of Anarchy series. John Teller is the anti-Clay Morrow, the idealist versus the pragmatist; the theorist versus the cynic; the dead versus the living; the proponent of transparency versus the keeper of secrets.

The women (Gemma; Tara) believe that if Jax reads his father’s letters, he’ll kill Clay to avenge his father. At this point, Gemma doesn’t want Jax or Opie (who’s discovered that Clay killed his father, in addition to his wife) to kill Clay; she wants to orchestrate her revenge in a manner yet to become clear. Meanwhile, this week saw a helluva lot of action. The meeting with the Irish to settle their distrust of the Mexican crew and secure a continuing illegal-weapons flow resulted in one of those SOA set-pieces that are truly hair-raising. I’m talking about the punch-out/shoot-out in the supposedly safe, neutral house chosen by the Irish, which turned out to house a score of tiny children for black-market trade (excuse me: “Catholic placement for unwanted babies”). Creator Kurt Sutter has a devilishly perverse imagination in staging this violence all around these squalling little cuties.

The hour’s most dread-filling moment, however, was Clay’s visit to the hospital, to extract those damn letters from Tara. While I really want to see a floor map of the hospital to figure out why it took Gemma so long to get from the entrance to Tara’s room — time sufficiently long for Clay to make his menace known all too vividly to Tara; time enough for him to have, oh, I don’t know, pulled out a pillow and smothered her — this was one more scene that added to the tension that must soon explode.

And speaking of explosions, I’ve come to the final moment: Opie shooting Clay, two to the chest. I suppose I’m willing to believe that Clay may have been wearing a bullet-proof vest under his shirt… but not really. How severely is Clay wounded? It’s hard to believe Clay is dead, if only on the level of scheduling, not with two more episodes to go. But then again, Sutter don’t care about no stinkin’ schedule, does he?

How about you? What’d you think of this episode ending, and where do you think it goes from here? I sense the spirit of John Teller hovering over everyone…

Twitter: @kentucker