Gemma fingers a scapegoat for Tara's murder, and Jax's elaborate plan for revenge takes hold.

By Mandi Bierly
September 10, 2014 at 05:21 AM EDT
Prashant Gupta/FX
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Sons of Anarchy‘s final ride has begun, and judging from the premiere, the road will be full of twists and slick with blood. Jax’s revenge can’t stop at the poor Lin Triad member Gemma blamed for Tara’s murder—we still have 12 more episodes to go. But there’s something poetic about this kill for Tara being so premeditated and drawn out compared to his first kill for Tara in season 1, when he abruptly shot stalker ATF agent Joshua Kohn. It shows how much Jax has changed over seven seasons—how much thought has to go into every complicated move now, and how he’s no longer the man who sits on the edge of the bed jittery.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The opening montage: As Audra Mae and Billy Valentine’s weary cover of “Never My Love” plays, we quickly get everyone’s whereabouts: Stone-cold Jax beats a Neo-Nazi snitch in County. Gemma’s with the boys at her house, and Abel throws some serious shade. Brooke and Rat make eyes at each other. SAMCRO rides alongside the Grim Bastards (and hey, Malcom-Jamal Warner is a member). Juice does naked push-ups, which means he’s totally alone in his own personal prison—a.k.a. Wendy’s place—because when else would you do naked push-ups? Unser visits Tara’s grave, showing she’s still on his mind. Jax carves a swastika into the man’s torso. Wendy packs to leave rehab, so yes, she’s once again the healthiest person on this show. Nero’s with the Mayans in Stockton. Lyla opens the doors to the brilliantly named Redwoody porn studio. And Jax pulls out two of the Neo-Nazi’s teeth with his taped hands. In the end, you’re left wondering if the love he’s never getting over is Tara or the club. That’s why this show is so compelling: When he’s making a violent gesture to secure a sit-down with Aryan shot-caller Ron Tully (“Marilyn Manson, whose acting is perfectly acceptable”—EW), you’re almost angry the club has pulled him back in. But later, when he’s back with his SAMCRO brothers at the Reaper table, it feels as if we’re home, too.

The DA speaks to Jax, and to viewers: Both at County to visit Jax, Gemma explains to Patterson why Jax has only talked to his mother for the last 10 days: “He found the woman he loved dead. The woman he loved more than anything. What do you want him to say?” That reminds Patterson that Jax is a man who loved Tara enough to turn himself in. Now, he’s free to go—and she knows that’s dangerous. When she lost her son and a nephew to gang violence, she didn’t want anyone arrested, she wanted them all dead. It’s a natural response. (I felt it, too, 14 years ago when my mother told me someone threatened to kill my lawyer sister in court.) The difference is, in Jax’s world, where bullets frequently fly, violent retaliation is a realistic outcome. (In my world, I just fumed until I cried.) Patterson had never told someone on Jax’s side of the table about her personal life, but she wanted to connect with the man who knows the importance of family and that more violence will only destroy what’s left of his. That Jax of 10 days ago is gone, but she did connect with viewers: We can’t hate Jax for what he’s about to do because we’d have thought about it.

Gemma speaks to Juice, and to viewers: The most uncomfortable scene in the episode: The car ride home from County when Jax thanks Gemma for handling the situation he has no idea she created. Charlie Hunnam’s subtle fidgeting when Gemma says Abel only knows that his mother is in heaven shows he can still feel for the boys even if he can’t bring himself to see them: He needs to get clear on what he has to do first, he tells Gemma. After that conversation, we have the same question Juice later asks Gemma: How does she just talk with Jax about Tara? She’s not a psychopath, she tells him. She knows how awful Tara’s death is, but she’d made a decision based on the “truth” that she had, as did Juice when he decided to help her. If she comes clean, Jax would lose his mother, too, and the boys would grow up never knowing the love of a strong woman. She’s holding the family together, so it’s not selfish in her eyes—she’s doing it for Jax and the boys. She sounds like someone who’d tell you not to confess to cheating on your spouse because the admission would only make you feel better, not the spouse.

Gemma is grateful to Juice for giving her a truth that works (pinning it on the Chinese), so she’ll continue to help him. She doesn’t want to know why Jax wants him dead (which is good, because her thinking that Juice could confess her secret to Nero would be bad). Juice gets to stay at Wendy’s because Wendy wants to live at Gemma’s with the boys. One big happy dysfunctional family.

NEXT: Bonding

Back at the table: When Jax gets back to Scoops, there are a lot of man hugs, sweet Bobby tears, and a status report on their alliances: The Irish are set up with Marks and the One-Niners. Happy put another smiley face tattoo on his torso by helping the Italians out with an internal problem. Jax, as we know, has smoothed things over with Tully, who’s No. 3 in the Aryan Brotherhood and headed to Stockton. And Chibs and Bobby literally dragged some information out of a wheelchair-bound East Dub who fingered a hood rat’s OG as the driver who ran some Grim Bastards off the road (killing one, seriously injuring two prospects). That intel scene was fun, not only because of the GoPro action, but also because we get to see Chibs take control and the delight on Little Alex Enema’s Tig’s face.

Once the business is handled, the camera moves the length of the Reaper table and approaches Jax as the talk gets serious: He admits he could barely make the right choices for himself, let alone the club. He’d been trying to take them away from the outlaw s— to buy back all the bad that he’s done, but that’s a false pardon. It’s dangerous and selfish. His father did the same thing and lost his family and his patch. The tears in Bobby’s eyes: Is he sad to see Jax so devastated, or sad to hear Jax abandon his peaceful vision for the war replacing it? Either way, when Jax needs to know that there’s no doubt or mistrust at the table—that every single one of them would kill or die for the man sitting next to him—Chibs speaks for them all: “We’re all in, brother. We love you. We trust you. Tell us what you need.” It’s a beautiful moment… about men agreeing to kill other men. The violence and the brotherhood will peak this season (as they should).

The plan begins: Jax knows that Nero is a man caught in the middle, which is why he doesn’t hug him when Nero drops by to deliver Lin’s and Alvarez’s condolences and reiterate that they had nothing to do with Tara’s death. Jax jumps at Nero’s offer to schedule a sit-down, and the tragedy is, the audience knows everyone was actually willing to be smarter than a loaded gun—and Jax could’ve achieved his goal of getting SAMCRO clear of all the things that want to kill them. He admits he made a mistake being so focused on getting SAMCRO away from guns that he didn’t care about blowback, and he offered to make it right by helping the Mayans with Barofsky and getting Lin access to the Irish guns he needs to increase his business outside of San Juan. If only. Jax suggests the Chinese come by his welcome home party that night to talk casually with Connor. The lure of “snacks” being served by the Diosa girls is too much to resist.

The peace treaty also has Nero feeling a bit peckish. He eventually heads to Redwoody, and with the crisis averted, he’s ready to tell Gemma he loves her and take it day-by-day; she’s ready for a hot kiss. Their history of romantic moments in unromantic places (the cemetery, a porn studio) continues. That’s why you hire Jimmy Smits.

NEXT: Oops

Don’t ask for a “favor”: Favors are what outlaws trade in, what allows them to end disagreements that could attract the wrong attention. Because Jax expects to need one from the Grim Bastards at his party, he moves too quickly when the Impala believed to have run T.O.’s men off the road is located. They enter an apartment to find a black man having sex with a white man, who’s going down on a black woman while another black man wearing pantyhose tapes them on his phone. The woman grabs a gun from under her pillow and fires at Tig, who puts two in the back of one guy. She fires at Jax next, and hell no, Chibs puts a bullet in her head while Happy targets the guy with his head in her lap. The guy filming asks Jax to wait, but he shoots him anyway. They check IDs and learn they’re not East Dub—they’re two assistant pastors and a head pastor from Piedmont Grace Center for God and Apparently Women’s Lingerie (credit to Tig). Jax finishes the head pastor off and shrugs—it needed to be done. The Range Rover they thought belonged to the hood rat’s OG is registered to the church—a congregation with a lot of cash, Bobby says. That was crazy s—, but you know it’s not dropped in there for nothing. Remember it.

T.O. is sorry he led SAMCRO to this, but Jax is surprisingly chill because he understands how a club president could do desperate things to hold a charter together. Also, Jax knows T.O. owes him, big time.

Wendy is the worst at hiding people: With Jax’s blessing to help Gemma out with the boys, Wendy returns home to pack a bag, drop off some groceries and cleaning supplies for Juice, and leave him her car in case he needs to make an escape. That means Unser has to come pick her up. First of all, how does she explain not driving her own car? And secondly, why didn’t she put the orange juice in the fridge? Orange juice lasts a long time—when refrigerated—so it wouldn’t have been weird that she’d bought some when she was planning to be gone for a few days that way. The real error, of course, was asking Unser to get her a coat from the closet when she didn’t know where Juice was hiding his stuff. Unser saw a SAMCRO backpack. He came back that night to investigate, and Juice put a gun on him. Wouldn’t a retired cop have thought to clear the house before turning his back like that? We’ve already seen in promos that Unser does get out of that situation and finds himself with the new sheriff (Annabeth Gish), who comes from the organized crime unit in Stockton and could use a local historian. So don’t get too worried.

Let’s get the party started: Finally, it’s party time at Redwoody, and there’s much debauchery onstage, on stripper poles, on laps. Chibs and Jax ask Connor to find out the name of Lin’s buyers and when the guns will hit the street before he agrees to sell to him. (“Favor” alert.) Note that Jax hasn’t informed August Marks of this. Have we forgotten he’s the man who helped burn Tig’s daughter alive? It’s chilling to rewatch the episode after you know that Jax believes Lin ordered the hit on Tara—Gemma isn’t the only one who can lie to someone’s face. Gemma finds a young muscular Triad who’s drinking slowly and alone and not enjoying the “snacks” because he’s still on the job. He tells Gemma she sounds like a mom, and while most moms don’t talk about “free p—y,” sure. It’s really just a segue to Gemma asking if he has any wife or kids. He doesn’t. He didn’t expect to be alive this long. It’s a nice piece of casting: The guy has big enough biceps to make us confident that he’s done stuff that could deserve death, but he’s also quiet and respectful enough that you know he’s not all bad.

Gemma nods to Jax, and Jax asks T.O. for that favor: He wants the Grim Bastards to grab the guy when he leaves and bring him to Jax, alive. T.O. needs to know more, so Gemma tells him her cover story: The night Tara was killed, she was coming over to Jax’s house to pick up some things for the boys. When she got close, she saw someone in a Mercedes waiting in the driveway. A man came running by the side of the house, via the back door. She got a good look at him—it was the young man she’d just spoken to. She didn’t know Tara was inside. She left and went looking for the club. “Chinese killed Tara,” Jax says.

NEXT: Payback

The final countdown: We’ve seen some epic montages on Sons, but this nine-minute “Bohemian Rhapsody” one has got to be one of the longest. The show’s composer/music supervisor Bob Thiele told EW that Sutter phoned him last January and said he wanted to end this episode with the Queen cover. It starts off simply with Chucky doing clean-up and Brooke and Rat dancing before three young boys ask if this is the real life or just a fantasy. The club is caught in a landslide once they get the call that T.O. delivered. Jax smiles as Lin thanks him for the hospitality and zips up his pants—he is his mother’s son.

Part two kicks off with The White Buffalo taking over vocals for the “Mama, I just killed a man” confession, as Nero comes over to Gemma’s and holds Thomas while Wendy makes his bottle. That’s the life these two both want and, I’ll say it, for a second, as Wendy looked at Nero, I shipped them. But cut to Gemma, who’s at the sink at Jax’s house doing dishes and talking out loud to Tara in the dark as it rains outside. She believes Wendy’s not trying to replace Tara or her. She trusts Wendy, for now. The door finally opens, and Gemma moves so we can see the young man bound and gagged on a chair. Who doesn’t want to die or sometimes wish he’d never been born at all—Jax, the young man, or both? Gemma tells Jax he’s all set, and they exchange a kiss and “goodnight”s like he’s a child. This is what she thinks her son needs, like it’s warm milk before bed.

Jax slowly takes off his cut and crouches down to tell the man he killed his wife. When the man mumbles a denial, Jax says he knows Lin made the call but he wants to make sure this guy feels the brutal way he chose to carry out the order. As the man whimpers, Jax takes out the tools he’ll use and the salt. Then he starts to unbutton his shirt. We still have four minutes left. (UPDATE: Director/EP Paris Barclay revealed Hunnam’s inspiration for the slow burn in our postmortem.)

The transfers bury the pastors and woman in the woods by lantern light. It’s another beautiful shot of an ugly act. Juice sits on the bathroom floor with a gun pointed in the direction of a bound and gagged Unser. Wendy holds Thomas and looks at Abel before Billy Valentine sings about seeing the silhouette of a man. Nero comes up behind Gemma as she pours herself some wine. She starts to cry, as she should, but Nero has no idea why. He tells her it’s all going to be fine.

The rock section kicks off as shirtless, blood-splattered Jax pours salt into his hand and then rubs it into a wound on the man’s chest. He takes a drag off Chibs’ cigarette and hands it back with bloody fingerprints. Cue the carving fork. Jax tells the man it’s almost over. He walks behind him, takes his time feeling for a good spot, and stabs him in the head as Franky Perez brings it back down singing, “Nothing really matters to me.” The delayed crunching sound effect, like taking a chunk out of an apple, is more disturbing than the visual.

The kill is so drawn out, it’s almost understandable how Gemma would think it’d be enough closure for Jax, but again, we know there are 12 episodes left. We’ve done polls asking people to predict who will die, especially after Sutter revealed that two club members will be dead before the series ends. But maybe the better question is who you want to live. It’ll be interesting to see if Wendy becomes the character some fans identify most with now that Tara’s gone. She doesn’t take active part in the world but dares to play in it. Will she pay the price that Tara did?

Episode Recaps

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