By Mandi Bierly
Updated November 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
To Thine Own Self
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s Sons of Anarchy episode, “To Thine Own Self,” stop reading now. Before the season began, creator Kurt Sutter said we’d see what a smart, forward-thinking leader Jax is, and after these 90 minutes, there’s no doubt. Also not up for debate: Jimmy Smits deserves an Emmy nomination. Let’s dig in.

We opened with Tara telling Jax that the pediatrics practice in Providence had made her an offer, and that after what happened the day before (Otto murdering that nurse to kill his reliability and the RICO case), she feels like this is their last chance to leave Charming. She told Jax he’s a “beautiful, loyal man” for not deserting the club a few months ago, but now, it’s time. Did Jax seem to be dragging his feet because he knew all the moves he still had to make to get the club out of the cartel deal safely, because he doesn’t consider his job done until Clay is in the ground, or because it’ll be harder to leave the brotherhood when the MC is legit? Jax said they had to talk to their lawyer first.

The lawyer made sure Tara had her story straight: Not updating her insurance forms had been an oversight; her husband had done time and the medical care was awful, so she volunteered to make a difference. Still, a prosecutor could argue Tara conspired to meet with Otto and gave him the crucifix knowing what he’d do with it. She told Jax that Tara could face serious time. “Then make sure that doesn’t happen,” he screamed at her. Am I the only one who wants to know more about this lawyer? Is she all about the money, or does she see the good in the club? Has Tig ever hit on her?

Bobby suggested Jax update Pope, but Jax said he wanted to get clear of the cartel first. Was that Jax stalling because he doesn’t really want to turn Tig over to Pope, or because he was counting on Tig’s vote at the table one last time? Jax knew the only way Romeo would let the club walk away is if the drugs and guns keep moving, so he had Chibs reach out to the Mayans and Niners, and Bobby set up a meet with Henry Lin. Meanwhile, Otto got a visit in solitary confinement from a mysterious new character, played by Donal Logue, who wanted to make sure Otto remembered both the sound of his voice and the beating he gave him.

At T-M, Jax told Juice and Gemma independently that they needed to find the documents from Clay’s safe today. Jax read Gemma into all that’s going on with RICO and Otto — minus Juice’s involvement. (I wonder how loudly Jax would’ve yelled if Gemma had mentioned she’d just told Clay about Tara visiting Otto in Stockton and bringing him something of Luann’s.) Clay made a move of his own: He called Tig over and told him he missed him. I’ve missed Tiggy, too. Kim Coates can make a simple thing, like entering a room or sitting at a table having a beer, interesting to watch. Clay thanked Tig for all he’s done for him and told him that he may be forced to create new opportunities outside of SAMCRO, so if Tig ever gets tired of watching his president suck up to the guy who burned his daughter alive, he should come to him. Tig asked what Clay was up to. Just trying to stay alive, Clay said.

Cutting from Tara watching a surgery and so clearly wanting to be in the operating room to the grand opening of the escort service reminded us just how different Tara’s and Jax’s worlds are, even without the drugs and guns in the picture. Lyla was wheeled out in lingerie and a garter-style bandage covering the gunshot wound to her leg. She told Jax that Nero was out back with his crew and didn’t sound happy. The look on Chibs’ face (like, what now) was priceless, but it’s the wink Jax gave Lyla that I rewound. So Nero’s old crew is having a hard time holding down its borders from other crews now that Nero has moved north and wants guns. Nero said no, but Jax asked him to let him sell the crew some weapons so “their d—s feel bigger” and they don’t bother them again. You knew that wouldn’t go according to plan…

Gemma pretended she was looking for copies of her boy Thomas’ birth and death certificates, since his birthday was coming up, and hoped that Clay would miraculously find one. But he didn’t bite. (Will that scene have a payoff down the road, since Clay later pieced together that Jax must have had someone looking for the documents, or was it just an excuse to give comic relief Chucky something to do, like move the boxes for Gemma and receive a death threat for rhyming?)

Tara visiting Unser, who was having chemo in the hospital, was my second favorite scene of the episode. “Mind if we get out of here? This Kenny G s—’s gonna give my cancer cancer,” he cracked. He looked sweaty and had a tough time getting up from his chair, but still, he was a gentleman who held the door for Tara. We’ve all assumed Unser is gonna die for so long that we should be prepared for it, but this scene proved how much it’s going to hurt if/when it finally happens. He had to sit down in the hallway. “I know my Stage IV charm is magnetic. But it ain’t the reason you come to see me,” he told Tara. She admitted she considers him a watcher and that she needed an impartial perspective. With tears in her eyes, she told him how she loves Jax and the boys, how she’s embraced the guys and is okay with the life. “Seems like you left yourself off that list,” Unser said. “I used to love being a surgeon,” Tara continued, with the kind of exhale you do when you’re trying to hold back tears and are about to fail. Unser tried to comfort her and, instead, had to vomit in the trash can. “You okay?” she asked. All they could do was laugh: He was on his knees wiping vomit off his mouth, and she was wiping her nose and eyes after crying. They walked off arm-and-arm to “go feed the little people.” It’s like, this is what happens when you stop and try to talk it out. It’s best to make up your own mind and keep moving. Tara would later accept the job but asked to keep the news quiet so that her husband, a “small business owner” with strong ties to Charming, had time to sit with it.

NEXT: No more Mr. Nice Nero

Nero Padilla
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Romeo and Luis met with Clay and told him he’d been right: They’re CIA, and now that the RICO case is dead, they’re gonna take Jax out and anyone who stands in their way. Clay asked for time to talk Jax into keeping the deal alive, and they gave him 2 hours. Clay had to wait for Jax because he was off with Chibs, Happy, and Tig to sell the guns to Nero’s crew. When more guys showed up to the party than expected, Jax and Co. bailed. I’ll admit I laughed as Jax drove the station wagon in circles and the other guys fired away. I’m sure it was difficult to shoot, but it felt comically simple in a way. Then Jax drove through a barricade and sent the Family Truckster rolling down the mountain. Good thing it came to a stop right-side up. “Anyone dead?” Jax asked. “Negative,” Tig said. Happy’s head had been grazed by a bullet, but he announced he was feeling “rapturous.” Seeing their exhilaration made it worth it. I guess everything has been so complicated and calculated as of late, that spontaneous free fall would feel like a welcome adrenaline rush. And the Family Truckster kept moving.

Back at T-M, Jax told Nero about the perceived ambush and got word that Lin was ready to talk. Clay stopped him on his way out, revealed Romeo’s plan to remove Jax, and suggested he let the deal ride. After Jax asked Clay to stop calling him “son,” Jax told him he had a different plan. He’s tired of being crushed under the weight of greedy men who believe in nothing. He has to change that. Clay told Romeo he needed more time. Romeo told him he had another day, but then he gave Luis the greenlight to make a call. Jax told Bobby that Clay and Romeo know everything, so they had to move quickly — just like this episode. Clay watched Nero kiss Gemma goodbye, and Unser shared his weed with him. Ah.

While Jax road to meet Lin, we had time to watch Donal Logue’s character have a more civil meeting with Otto, who was still in his bloody clothes. “RICO is dead, bitch. I ain’t givin you s—. Whoever you are,” Otto said, recognizing the voice. This isn’t about RICO. This guy’s not a Fed. He’s just a citizen, he told Otto. “I do want something. When a man is forced to put away what he does, sometimes he forgets who he is. Thank you for giving me something to want, Otto,” he said. Then, he leaned in. “These next few months will be the most excruciatingly painful time of your sick and miserable life,” he added. He left, and Otto’s head dropped to the table. For a man who just wants to die, knowing he’s going to be kept alive to suffer is the best/cruelest form of punishment. We later saw Tara leaving the hospital with her boys, and Logue’s character sitting in the hallway and getting up to follow her. If you want to know who he is, click here. He’ll stick around for the last two episodes of the season.

Lin signed on to supply the cartel with guns comparable to what the IRA offered — and agreed to tack on a 10 percent referral fee for SAMCRO. Jax left that meet when Juice called to say he’d found Clay’s documents hidden in the air vent. Jax told Juice to put them back, then go to T-M and get Chibs and Tig to bring Clay there, and make sure Clay was not left alone in that house. Jax and Bobby would meet them. Slight problem: When Jax and Bobby pulled up to a red light — don’t you cringe now when you see one of those on this show? — two vans cornered them and grabbed Jax. Bobby called Chibs and told him to assemble the club at T-M. Clay told Juice he’d meet him there. He supposedly forgot to take his meds and stayed behind. He saw something dangling from the vent. He knew someone had found his hiding place.

Bobby had said Mexicans took Jax, so Nero went to shake down his crew. He burst through the door of a house and swiftly shot one guy who reached for his weapon. So THIS is the turn Jimmy Smits had teased for Nero. He assumed the crew took Jax after the ring of gunfire. “Ain’t nobody here, fool. Man, you been eatin’ too much old white p—-. You forget who you are, bitch,” Nero was told by the leader. “You think so?” Nero asked. The leader looked at his gun next to a bong on the coffee table. “I’m gonna shoot you in the head in five seconds,” Nero said, sliding that gun closer to him. “Let’s see if that jogs my memory. One, two, three…” The guy reached for his gun, and Nero fired two shots at his head. Blood and brains on what looked like a very comfy couch — sad. These guys wanted Nero back, he’s back, he told them. I think we were all worried that the other shoe would drop and we’d have to hate Nero, but this is kinda the best case scenario: He did this for Gemma and Jax, so while it’s tragic that he fell off the gangster wagon for nothing, we can still like him.

It turns out Romeo and Luis snatched Jax. “We need to remind you how easy it is to disappear,” Romeo told him. “And yet, here I am,” Jax said with a defiant, smartass grin. Jax could afford to be cocky because, in his words, he’s an outlaw not a suicide bomber. He told them how he set them up: Mayans will mule from Arizona and distribute in northern Cali, while the Miners still push Pope’s weight into Reno. The Chinese (Henry Lin’s Lin Triad) will provide weapons from Gaza. Romeo told him to set the meet with Lin. It’s a lot of moving parts, and they better all work, Romeo said. That phrasing makes me nervous. If I’m remembering correctly, Bobby referred to the plan to get Frankie Diamonds to Eli alive as having a lot of moving parts, and we all know how that went…

NEXT: Clay escapes again

Reunited with the club at T-M, Jax and Bobby came clean to the table about the RICO case and the plan to get them out from under the cartel. The club unanimously voted in favor of handing the drugs off to the Mayans and the guns off to the Chinese. Man, Jax liked hitting that gavel. “Well done,” Clay told him. “Not yet,” Jax said. Maybe don’t poke the bear, Jax. Clay knows he was only alive because of the IRA-cartel deal. Now it’s gone. A desperate man is a dangerous man. Jax told Gemma to take Clay to her place and ordered Chibs, Bobby, and Juice to Clay’s for show and tell. Tig asked if Jax needed him there. “Not yet,” Jax said. “Still love me, Tiggy?” he asked. “I love you, boss,” Tig said. Jax kissed him on his cheek. I can’t read Jax, and it’s killing me.

At Gemma’s, as she prepared to give Clay a shot for his hands and he dodged calls from Juice (“It’s never too late to adopt,” Gemma quipped), he asked her again about Nero. She told him it was never anything real and still isn’t. As if on cue, there was a knock at the back door. The way Clay had his gun ready, you gotta think he expected someone was there to kill him. It was Nero, looking spent. After Clay pulled the ol’ “she’s changing” line, Nero said he just wanted to ask if Gemma had heard anything about Jax. (Where are their cell phones?) Clay told him Jax was fine — it’d been a misunderstanding, it wasn’t his crew. Supposedly Bobby tried to call him. I find it a little hard to believe that Clay didn’t lurk when Gemma asked him to give her and Nero a moment alone, but let’s say he didn’t. This was the best scene of the episode. Nero came in and splashed water on his face. Gemma wanted to know what had happened to him. “Ghosts, babe. Ghosts. Some very familiar ones,” he said. He went to leave and turned around, lost and losing it, to ask if Clay was really back. Gemma looked to make sure Clay wasn’t watching, touched Nero’s face, and said, “No.” I’m not sure if Nero wanted to cry or scream. Both probably. He tried to leave again, and Gemma grabbed him. “I can’t explain all this. Not yet. But please don’t go away. Please. I love you,” she said, and kissed him. It needed to be passionate enough that he’d be convinced he had a reason to hold on and not hurt himself. “It’s okay,” she said. But still, she had to shut the door in his face. Where does Nero go from there?

Over at Clay’s, Juice had to admit he’d left Clay alone in the house when they couldn’t find the papers. For now, Juice lives, but Jax punched him hard enough to send him to the floor. After Chibs escorted Juice out, Bobby realized Jax had enlisted Juice in his battle against Clay. He told Jax he has no evidence to take to the table but the word of a dead traitor and a Fed snitch. “You gotta let it go, Jax,” Bobby said. “Look, what you did for the club today, it’s epic s—, brother. Epic. Don’t let your hate kill that.” Jax told Bobby and Chibs about the few other things he can’t prove — the letters his father wrote to Maureen saying he feared Clay would kill him by sabotaging his bike, and why Clay really killed Piney and tried to kill Tara. “He’s responsible for everything,” Jax said, then calmly walked out. I love how the smoke of Jax’s cigarette floated up throughout that monologue. It was like either the fire was going out, or it was just starting. Right now, there’s only smoke, but all it needs is a spark to become a blaze again.

I guess Bobby thinks so, too. Bobby showed up at Gemma’s to see Clay and told him to keep his piece handy. “You here to kill me, VP?” Clay asked. “No, I’m here to keep you alive. Sit down,” Bobby said.

Now what? Judging from the promo for next week’s episode, “Darthy,” Jax doesn’t take Bobby making a deal with Clay behind his back well, even if Bobby says it was to save Jax from becoming the man he hates. And Pope is ready to collect Tig. Hold on, friends. Here we go…

For more on Sons of Anarchy, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands November 21st. For an exclusive video of Charlie Hunnam shooting his EW cover and talking about his inspiration for Jax Teller, visit EW’s Facebook page now. Check out our gallery of nine pics of Hunnam from the shoot. And keep checking back to our Inside TV blog where we’ll feature exclusive interviews with Ryan Hurst (Opie), who talked about his character’s tragic death this season, and Hunnam, who explains why he stopped talking to Ron Perlman (Clay) this season.

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Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.

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