'Sons of Anarchy' review: 'To Be (Act 1)" the (almost) season finale
The thematic line over the course of this week’s Sons of Anarchy was, “Do you love me?” Jax asked it of Tara. (She responded in the affirmative, but not before uttering a line that could have come from a great rock & roll/R&B song, like the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack”: “If I could stop, I would.”) Later, Tara would demand, “Gemma, tell me you love me,” love posed as a test of truth, a test that Gemma did not pass as we saw Tara looking deep into the devious woman’s eyes. Tig told Clay, “I love you, Clay, I do,” shortly before doing something stupid — but in the poetic sense, romantically, extravagantly stupid — to avenge Clay’s shooting.
Love, love, love. All you need is love. But SOA is not the Beatles — it’s more like the Rolling Stones at Altamont, with the Hells Angels spinning out of control. The most obvious example of this was Tig, who roared off believing Clay’s staged lie, venting his rage at a well-guarded group of One-Niners by ramming his car into a sidewalk cafe which resulted in a death (that of Laroy Wayne’s girlfriend) which is sure to rouse some righteous rage against all of SAMCRO.
And so Clay lives. For now. (FX’s promos kinda tipped that, didn’t they?) The two shots fired by Opie at the end of last week’s Sons of Anarchy did their damage, and the big SOB of SOA had to be hauled out of the clubhouse to avoid getting anyone in the SAMCRO club implicated in the violence. “Say it was the blacks,” gasped Clay. The bleak humor here was provided by Unser, sighing at having to clean up one more bloody scene.
This episode was an excellent lesson in how to make repeated information — in this case, different characters going over the location of JT’s letters, who’s read them, and why they’re important — interesting, fascinating: It was dialogue that only drew you deeper into the who-knew-what-when, and as Jax put it, “Why are you telling me now?”
Most of the time, Gemma was the mastermind in the manipulation of information. The way she played Jax (and has played Tara, Clay, Unser, and others) to believe what she wants them to believe about the letters and the future of the club has been transfixing. It’s a measure of how well Katey Sagal has modulated her performance that when she said this night, “Secrets are dangerous,” I didn’t laugh at the understatement — instead, I felt a chill at how well she’d kept her secrets. This week, Gemma had to press her agenda hard: “He’s a murderous traitor,” she said of Clay to Jax. In her goals to keep Jax close and get revenge upon Clay, she insisted Jax had to kill Clay, “for your father, for your family, and your club. It’s in you. It’s who you are. Clay has to die.” Gemma knows the only way to get Jax to abandon his plan to leave the violent world behind is to appeal to his blood destiny: “You take your place at the head of the table. Where a Teller belongs. Where you belong.”
A little while ago I said Gemma controlled information “most of the time.” By the end of the hour, the other most wily, intelligent character on Sons of Anarchy — that would be Tara — took control. In asking Gemma how many letters she removed before giving them to Jax, Tara seemed to prove that, in this round at least, “I’m smarter than you.” And she may be at least as smart, but she doesn’t have the ruthlessness that Gemma has had to develop to reach the age and position she has — this is at once Tara’s saving grace (she’s more humane) and her weakness.
This week’s episode was titled “To Be (Act 1)”; next week’s season-ender is “To Be (Act 2).” Creator Kurt Sutter has long nursed comparisons of his series to Hamlet, never so blatantly as here. Left dangling by implication is the rest of the Shakespeare line: “Or Not To Be.” Can we infer from that that next season will bring not only more death, but perhaps the dissolution, or drastic reorganization, of SAMCRO?
Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.