By Mandi Bierly
Updated November 27, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Credit: Prashant Gupta

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode, which ended with a montage set to “The Whistler” by the White Buffalo (you’re welcome), stop reading now. Big moves were made to get us in position for next week’s season finale. Let’s dig in.

We opened with Jax journaling to his boys, telling them that being a man means you’re aware of all the things you touch and taking action on the needs of others before your own. (Guess that’s why this episode concluded with Jax seeking out Wendy, for Tara, instead of Clay, for himself.) Jax knew this would be a defining day, but he had no idea that it would start with Bobby wanting to bring Clay to the table because he was ready to confess. Clay came clean to the club about the home invasions, and while he admitted greed and pride were his motivation, he said he also believed that Jax wasn’t ready to lead. Now, he knows he was wrong — Jax has proven himself a better leader than he ever was. I can always tell when a show’s writing is good because I start getting angry that I have to pause and take notes.

The votes had to be unanimous. Everyone agreed that Clay should lose his patch. This episode had to be 90 minutes so everyone could take their time answering after Jax said “All in favor of Clay Morrow meeting Mr. Mayhem…” And they should deliberate — it is a man’s life in their hands. Even though Kurt Sutter has said repeatedly (and correctly) that the reason people tune in to SOA is to hopefully watch Clay die, therefore he’ll be riding that train as far as he can, you were still on the edge of your seat from the weight of the moment. Everyone was in favor of Clay dying, even teary-eyed Juicey — until Bobby. Jax wouldn’t even look at him. He just walked out of the room and tried to strangle Clay outside the garage before beating him.

Afterward, Bobby came in to see Jax and put Clay’s cut on the table. I remember Ron Perlman telling us after the season 4 finale, “the gesture of cutting off the president’s patch is one step short of murder. It’s a complete castration of a character. It’s removing the teeth from the snake and rendering it without a reason d’être.” Being forced out completely is worse. That explains why we later saw Clay ask Gemma and Unser to give him a moment alone and then break down into tears. You felt his pain.

Jax was so angry/upset, his jaw trembled as he confronted Bobby about making a deal with Clay behind his back. Bobby made sense: He told Jax he didn’t have the proof to tie Clay to the home invasions, and if Clay stayed at the table, Jax would’ve killed him behind the club’s back — which would turn Jax into Clay and render the brotherhood pointless. Bobby did this because he loves Jax and wants him to lead the club the right way. Jax teared up himself when he admitted he’s had a hard time feeling love for brotherhood since Opie died, and that Opie was right: “The gavel corrupts. You can’t sit in this chair without bein’ a savage.” In your mind, why was he emotional? Because he realized what his hatred of Clay had made him? Because he missed Opie and what life was like before all this? (If you’d like to see Charlie Hunnam cry over Opie’s death in real life, watch this video here.) Or because he knows what awaits Tig won’t be received well by the brotherhood? And on cue, Pope wanted to meet at Charming Heights.

Once there, Jax had an interesting conversation with Auggie about his title within Pope’s organization. We found out he’s not “VP of Special Deeds” or “Heir to the Blood Throne,” officially. He’s been with Pope since he was 17 — which told Jax that Auggie’s loyal or patient. Jax asked Pope for his advice on what to do about Clay: Follow the counsel of people he trusts (his VP) and let it go, or take more than Clay’s patch. “Democracy’s overrated. Revenge is never about the greater good,” Pope said. “It’s a visceral need that has to be satisfied or the strong lose focus.” Pope’s solution to scratch that itch but not tear apart the club: payback by proxy. And speaking of payback, Pope said he wants Tig now. Jax told him he’d deliver him tomorrow, after he’s dealt with Lin and the Irish. Pope reminded him if he doesn’t keep his promise, the cartel-Lin deal is dead, along with Charming Heights and SAMCRO. The way Jax told Pope he’d never see Tig as anything but Clay’s righthand man — convincing.

NEXT: The battle at the barn

At the meet with the cartel and Lin, Romeo and Luis liked everything they heard except that it would take Lin’s supplier two to three months to buy off enough people to secure a route to bring in the quantity of weapons we’re talking about. The deal will move ahead, but the cartel will need one last shipment from the Irish to get them over that hump because they’ve got problems they’re dealing with at home.

Jax’s meet with the Irish went brilliantly — at first. Galen was fully onboard with phasing Galindo out and returning to business as usual without Clay. But then Galindo showed up. They’d heard about Clay from Pope and didn’t trust Galen to play nicely with Jax. Insults were thrown, and Galen told them not to touch the guns. “We all want the same thing here!” Jax yelled. Galen shot a cartel member who dared to move toward the shipment, and gunfire rang out. Jax had to shoot a cartel member to save Bobby. When the dust settled, Romeo told Jax the MC was paying for that shipment because of the lives lost. Galen told Jax, “This is on you, boy. Sons is gonna feel this in both continents.” Jax just can’t win. And it’s just like Romeo to swoop in and change everything in a second (flashback to the season 4 finale, anyone?).

Jax assumed Galen was gonna try to hurt the club until he got paid for the guns. He wanted T-M on lock down, families notified, and Tacoma to be called in. As soon as he called Juice and said he wanted Gemma to phone him, I thought he also wanted to create an opportunity to have someone (read: Clay) get caught in the crossfire.

Over at escort HQ, Gemma arrived looking for Nero.

Gemma: How’s the ass?

Lyla: How’s it look?

Gemma: Like a snack.

Levity! Gemma interrupted Nero as he was talking to a couple of his crew — which now includes Dave Navarro as the cousin Nero started the Byz-Lats with 25 years ago — about the rival gang Triple Twos. Gemma wanted to see if Nero’s doctor client could look at Clay (Tara wouldn’t want to help, and neither would Chibs now, I suppose). Nero said he’d ask. And then he had a question of his own: Did Gemma mean what she’d said the night before, that she loved him? She did. If Lyla wouldn’t have come in to tell them Tig had called about the lock down, we would’ve seen a hot kiss.

Over at Clay’s, Juicey was helping Clay pack up anything with a Reaper on it, including that gun we saw once before and couldn’t ID. Piney gave it to Clay for his five-year. Clay always thought he’d give it to Ope. Now giving it to Juice is his way of saying thank you. Tig arrived and told them about the lock down. He insisted Clay come to T-M as well because he wasn’t safe alone. Juice took the gun with him. Oh god, did Jax tell proxy Juice to kill Clay and make it look like the Irish did it? But the Irish like Clay, and he wasn’t even at the meet. So what’s that about? Chekhov’s gun: You introduce a gun in Act I, it’s gotta go off in Act III. Does Jax want Juice to kill Clay (with the gun Piney gave him, poetic!) because Jax can make sure he has an alibi and no one would suspect Juice? Or should we have Juicey on suicide watch again?

No time to worry about that. At the hospital, Jax and Chibs walked in on Wendy, who Tara had allowed to see Abel, with Abel at a vending machine. Jax told Wendy to meet him outside. The second you heard the sound of screeching wheels, you knew the Irish guy who’d followed Chibs and Jax into the hospital had abducted Wendy. Jax actually seemed to care. Inside, the mysterious Donal Logue character was waiting for Tara in her office. I started applauding at this point because this is going off the rails, fast. We found out he’s Lee Toric, a former U.S. Marshal who just so happens to be the brother of the nurse that was killed. BAD LUCK. At the clubhouse, Tara told Jax what Lee had said about Otto giving his statement the next day. She explained the fear of being charged is why she called Wendy. Tara’s lawyer had asked her earlier in the episode who’d get the boys if something happened to her and Jax. After Tara had been questioned about Otto, she’d met with Wendy at the hospital and told her she might be going away from Charming (to Stockton to Portland) and has no family or anyone she trusts to care for her boys. (Not Lyla? Kidding!)

NEXT: Clay cuts another deal

Galen had reached out to Clay and said he wants the guns or the money or he’d kill Wendy. They know she’s not his wife, which is why they said Plan B was taking Abel back to Belfast. NO ONE WANTS THAT AFTER SEASON 3! Knowing Romeo’s not giving the guns back, they had to come up with $475,000. Nero managed to eavesdrop while playing pool with Lyla, and he said he might have a solution — his savings to buy his uncle’s farm. If it’s true that Nero could have bought it a year ago but didn’t because deep-down he’s not ready to leave the game, then him getting sucked back into it is tragic but bearable. That would explain why he was so willing to help Jax, as Nero said: “You can’t stay in uniform and not play the game, man.” He told Jax to consider the money a down payment for weapons he’s gonna need to push back against the Triple Twos. Another new partnership. They shook on it. Jax went to see Gemma, but we didn’t get to hear the conversation…

Jax sent Clay with the money to meet Galen at the barn (love the way the light comes through), and Tig to back him up. Wendy was let go, and Clay told Galen that Jax would ultimately end the club running guns and pass off business to Lin. He said he’d start a crew as a free agent to pick up that business instead, and kick SAMCRO a percentage to keep it friendly. Galen said Clay’s the only American he trusts. Lord. Clay also asked for a ride to Belfast, to hide out for a while. He said he’s hoping to bring Gemma. Galen told him he’d give him a ride tomorrow. Clay offered Tig a chance to join his new venture.

Now that the Irish told Wendy about kidnapping Abel, and she herself had been kidnapped, she told Jax and Tara that she’s prepared to report it and seek custody of Abel. Tara was shaken, but Jax still thinks Wendy has no proof, so that will be fine; Gemma and Clay will work itself out, so all good; and Otto and the Marshal won’t add up to anything, so she won’t go to jail. “I’m gonna give you a beautiful life,” he told her. That soft voice of his — you want to believe it. Plus, what a great line. Tara still looked worried. But Jax, the man is such a great multi-tasker. The next second, he’s telling Unser to find out whatever he can about the Marshal and putting some plan(s) in motion…

I love how Jax never dials anyone anymore. He had Chibs dial Tig, then hand him the phone. We didn’t hear what he told Tiggy, but we know he asked Happy if they were set up — that’s scary. Bobby wanted to talk about whatever was going down, but Jax said for Bobby’s health, they shouldn’t be alone together. Gemma went to see Clay, and he gave her their personal documents from the safe. He told her Jax will kill him if he stays right now, so he’s leaving. He asked her to come, too. It would just be for a couple of months, he said. Long enough for things to cool off with Tara, too. He was so appreciative when she said she’d consider it, you almost felt bad for him.

What Happy was set up for was to black out all of Clay’s Reaper tattoos. Now we know why we saw them in the opening of the episode. Doing it publicly like that at the garage — a form of shaming. Clay would break down again if he knew Gemma went off to see Nero. This show still does the best montages on TV. The song is always perfect: “This time is different/ It’s not like the times before/ I cross my heart/ That I won’t kill no more/ Jesus watch over me/ Keep my anger at home/ You better bless these wicked hands/ ‘Cause they got a mind of their own.” “The Whistler” is slow and moody yet aggressive, plus the whistling makes you think of high noon — which is what the season finale is, really. And the action in the montage always moves the plot forward. Jax sped off by himself. Gemma and Nero danced. Happy continued his work on Clay. Tara prayed. And the Marshal read a book called “Watchfiends & Rack Screams” while sitting on the floor of his hotel room next to bottles of pills and serious guns.

Jax met up with Tig, who passed Jax something that was “ready to shoot.” Tig asked him why he was doing this, and Jax said he was “keepin’ life beautiful.” He was at Wendy’s. I assumed he was gonna kill her when she let him to talk and said her partner was out-of-town. But instead, Jax said he was going to call the rehab where she works the next day and tell them she showed up at his kids’ daycare high and babbling about Abel having been kidnapped by the IRA and her having been held hostage. He’ll say she’s a danger to his child and demand a drug test. She begged him not to use the needle, but he shot her up with drugs. “You’ll never threaten my family again,” he said. Fairly genius plan by Jax (did he think of it that quickly, or had he been dreaming it up since Wendy first returned?), but shooting up someone who worked that hard to get clean is a dick move. I don’t want to look at him right now.

Your turn. What did you think of the episode? What’s your theory for what goes down in the finale? Who does Juicey use the gun on? Does Tara get arrested? What’s going to happen by Galen’s airplane? (Clay told Gemma when he’s leaving, so I’m thinking sh– will go down there.) And does Tiggy live to see season 6? After last week’s episode, 79 percent of readers thought he would. A bad time to remind you that 81 percent of readers thought Clay would definitely in last year’s finale?

For more on Sons of Anarchy, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now. For an exclusive video of Charlie Hunnam shooting his EW cover and talking about his inspiration for Jax Teller, visit EW’s Facebook page. Check out our gallery of nine pics of Hunnam from the shoot. And to learn why Hunnam stopped talking to Ron Perlman this season, click here!

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Sons of Anarchy

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

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