Near the end of “Greensleeves,” as they gird themselves for one more ride unto the breach, Jax assures his fellow members of SAMCRO that they are almost at the end; one more job to take care of, one more threat to manage, and there will be peace once more in Charming. The fact that he says this without any apparent sense of irony or self-consciousness is telling. Someone with more time and patience than is probably healthy could put together a supercut of every time Jax has made similar comments over the course of the show’s seven seasons, and each time his inflection, sincerity, and determination would sound about the same. (For added fun, throw in all those scenes of Jax demanding someone’s trust without having earned the right to do so. Actually, better not; there is the heat death of the universe to watch out for.) As a character trait, this makes sense. For all his fumbling attempts at self-awareness, Jax is very good at sticking to the track ahead of him and not digging too deep into where that track might lead. His will, his way, and nothing else matters.

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That’s a common trait among anti-hero protagonists. Where things get tricky is trying to figure out if the show around Jax—or, to put it better, the people creating Jax and the show around him—realize just how hollow his promises always are. To an extent, they must; the reason Jax makes this reassurance when he does is to pre-salt the wounds soon to come. Marks isn’t going to be as easy to take care of as the SAMCRO boys assume, and by the end of the episode, Pope’s former right-hand man has kidnapped Bobby, gouged out the poor bastard’s right eye, and sent the club Bobby’s patch, a tablet with a video of the gouging, and a Tupperware container with the eye itself inside. So much for the “no more violence” blackmail route.

It’s a ridiculous scene, played with the series’ usual mournful, unabashed solemnity. (Maybe we weren’t supposed to laugh when they found the Tupperware container. I like Bobby a lot, but that shit was hilarious.) And yes, there’s a clear sense of tragedy: Once again, just when everyone thought they were almost out, a villain has arrived to pull them back in. But there’s little sense of comprehension on anyone’s part as to just how familiar all this is. This is a variation on a similar twist from a few episode’s ago. The Sons seem to have the upper hand and everything is going smoothly, but then they’re stunned when their opponent turns out to be more brutal than they’d ever imagined. Before, it was the women at Nero’s club that took the hit. This time, it’s Bobby’s depth perception. Significantly lower body count, same basic narrative thrust.

It’s appropriate that Jax’s decisions would keep leading to this kind of horror. Everything bad that’s gone down isn’t his fault, exactly, but his “have a hammer, whole world is nail” approach to problem-solving is never going to provide the definitive peaceful solution he seems to crave. But these beats have become so familiar by now that there isn’t much drama left in them that doesn’t revolve around shocking us with some creative new ugliness. There’s no sense of creeping dread as we watch a once decent man grow corrupt through his best intentions. There’s no real mounting suspense, either. The same pattern repeats itself again and again. Jax makes some smart plays, the enemies suffer, regroup, hit back again; Jax finds a way to get out of it, and SAMCRO is saved once more. Maybe a few nice people die, maybe not, but either way, there’s never any real sense that the behaviors we’re watching are being seriously investigated. These guys have helped to make the world they’re struggling to live in, choice by choice, and no one involved has any interest whatsoever in critiquing, or even really justifying, those choices.

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Those rare times when something deeper does poke through rarely go well, either. Like, say, Abel overhearing Gemma’s tearful confession to Thomas about how she murdered Tara. The level of contrivance needed to arrive at this scene is bad enough; while it’s a relief that the season is finally showing how Gemma’s actions have put her in a place where she can feel threatened by the people she depends on the most, the whole situation reeked of backwards engineering authorial design. Happy and Rat’s confession that they were scared of Gemma was a nice, funny moment, but still didn’t really justify the stonewalling they gave her when they arrived at the garage to take her to the cabin. The fact that Jax couldn’t just call her his own damn self and ask for her help only makes sense in the context of “Gemma can’t know what’s happening so she’ll be scared.” It did create some tension, as there was a possibility that all the confusion might lead to something bad happening, but the tension was clumsy, and forced. And apart from poor Abel, everything worked out fine.

Abel, though… Katey Sagal has managed to find some sort of center for Gemma through all these years, but even she can’t really make sense of the character’s decision to admit her sins to an infant. It’s like Juice snapping and shooting the guy at the hotel; suddenly, these characters are supposed to be crazy, which means they’ll act consistently enough right up until the point when it becomes necessary for them to do something utterly bizarre. Gemma has been struggling with something all season, and her conversations with Tara’s not-thereness are as clear a sign as any of her inability to truly get over what she’s done. Yet those conversations never play like a natural extension of her grief and self-loathing and terror; they’re too obvious an artifice, too clearly the writers nudging you on the shoulder and whispering “See, she’s going out of her mind!” to be effective. And, while Sagal does her best to sell it, the confused monologue to Thomas is on the same basic level. Abel is as much a tool at this point as the little boy who machine-gunned a school last season; another pawn to remind us that all is miserable in the world, without digging too deep into what that misery really means.

I’m grateful that things are finally happening, at least. Another over-sized episode with little to show for it apart from a dead pimp named Greensleeves and Bobby getting screwed, but hey, sooner or later, all this stalling is going to end up somewhere. Probably. At this point, I’m less dreading the inevitable ugliness to come, and more looking forward to the quiet.

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Stray observations:

  • Nero wants out of the business. I’m sure that will definitely end well for him.
  • I guess I should mention Juice? Juice isn’t dead yet. The club had him shoot at some cops, then get arrested so he could wind up and jail and… stuff. Look, it’s all part of a plan that’s more than a little anticlimactic after everything Juice went through to get away from the Sons, so we’ll just have to wait and see what idiotic thing he does next.
  • Oh, and that cop who got shot isn’t going to testify against the club, because she loves Charming and apparently the Sons are the heart and the soul of the town. Y’know, in seven seasons, I’ve yet to see a good justification for this affection the locals apparently have for their chapter of Murderers Who Sell Guns And Sex Inc. Maybe the porn studio creates jobs, I dunno.
  • Speaking of porn studios, the scene of Unser and Jax having a serious conversation while a porn movie is shot behind them was great. Seriously, not a knock against the show at all, that was a clever juxtaposition.
  • Also great: Gemma being nice to Chuckie.

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