If Sons Of Anarchy is trying to riff on Hamlet—which, okay, it is—it’s already done a solid job of capturing a certain Prince of Denmark’s bewildering inability to act. At the end of the show’s first season, Jax Teller seemed poised on the brink of fighting back against the pernicious influence of easy gun money and chaotic violence on SAMCRO, positioning himself against Clay, his surrogate father, and, to a lesser extent, his own mother. But in the seasons since, he’s lost sight of this focus, as a series of problems, some large, some small, distracted him from his original goals. Now, unlike Hamlet, Jax doesn’t know the new king is responsible for the old king’s death. This is because if Jax knew this, Clay would be dead. (Or Jax would be dead, maybe.) But that doesn’t change the fact that he threw aside his still fresh ideals because it was easier to act in the moment than try and plan long term. He’s convinced himself that his father was an naive idiot, and that the best thing for his family is to get out of the Sons as fast as he can, whatever the long-term consequences. This is the behavior of a man who sees a crisis, but doesn’t have the faith or energy to deal with it. He’d rather run, under the guise of “being sensible.”
I’m not sure his and Tara’s plan to get gone is that sensible. SAMCRO is a troubled club, in way over its head with drug cartels and whole mess of murders, but there is good there, and the show, at its best, exploits the balance the between that good, and the numbing, seemingly necessary evils that otherwise decent people are willing to engage in to protect that good. Whereas in another story, I might think a guy trying to cut gang ties and live a clean life is a step in the right direction (even while realizing that the odds of the guy being successful are slim to none), but here, Jax’s continuing efforts to dodge responsibility are doing anyone any good. Piney’s dead, and while that isn’t Jax’s fault directly, his ignorance is what Clay is going to such extremes to protect. Clay isn’t really worried that the police are going to come after him over John Teller’s death. Old letters are hardly evidence, and that’s not the way the club’s morality works. What he is worried about (and for good reason) is Jax starting to suspect that JT’s “accident” wasn’t quite so accidental. Once that happens, Clay’s days are even more numbered than they are now. It’s arguable, then, that Jax’s inaction, however well-motivated, is growing a body count, much like Hamlet’s did. And Tara might be the next sacrifice to Clay’s paranoia.
So that’s one side of the coin: Jax needs to stop trying to dodge his problems and take the reins of the club, just to get those reins out of Clay’s arthritic, clutching hands. The other side is that he needs to take over SAMCRO because he is good building bridges and mending fences. Sons hasn’t always been as interested in showing this. That first season, Jax seemed like another pretty boy lead, a guy who faded into the background under the shadows of the far more interesting cast surrounding him. Now, though, Charlie Hunnam has the character down cold, and when Jax actually steps in, like he does a few times in “Kiss,” he gets the job done. Jax managed to handle the Niners/Lobo/Galindo situation in a way that kept it from becoming a complete bloodbath; he successfully faced down Torres, in a situation where it was all too easy to imagine Clay not bothering to make the effort. (In fact, Clay’s apathy in regards to the Niners’ fate is the reason Jax has to step in.) This isn’t Nixon-going-to-China statesmanship, but it is clear narrative evidence of just how Jax would run things if he was in charge, and how his way—which involves trying to build up relationships instead of burning friends as soon as it becomes convenient—is the direction the Sons has to go in if it wants to survive.
This may not sound like the most thrilling stuff, but “Kiss” makes it exciting, with another well-paced, high stakes game of life spinning out of control. There’s nothing here on the level of Clay gunning Piney down, but there doesn’t really need to be. Tonight was more about how people live with betrayal when they have no other options. Juice got sucked back into Linc’s clutches, in the only subplot that’s still not quite working for me; it’s better now, since Juice’s parentage is no longer the big issue, but the whole stratagem lacks a certain elegance. I accept that Linc has to be a bad-good-guy, but demanding that Juice find the location of where the IRA/cartel meet-up is going to take place doesn’t seem like a smart play on his part, however obsessed he is with nailing the Irish. Admittedly, if Juice gets himself killed (I’m almost wondering if he’ll survive the season just to mess with our heads), it’s not going to cost Linc a damn thing, but it could potentially spoke the IRA out before he can swoop in. Considering how twitchy Juice is (and the way he jumped Roosevelt when he realized the full scope of Linc’s operation), he doesn’t seem like a reliable rat. I’m more curious to see how Linc’s meeting with Otto turns out. To be honest, the whole Linc storyline this season has seemed like just a little too much, given how SAMCRO was already struggling with the cartel and Clay. (Other than getting Miles killed, I’m not sure Linc has really been responsible for much of the action.) But I’m willing to wait and see how it all plays out. The season has started to pay off well enough to earn a little faith.
More compelling, and better grounded in the rest of the show’s world, were Gemma’s attempts to run damage control after discovering Piney’s body. She immediately knows what happened, and she calls Unser in to help cover Clay’s tracks yet again. When he balks, she kisses him to try and win him over. It’s an odd moment, and while it plays off something I’ve noticed before in their relationship (namely that I think Unser has always had a thing for Gemma), the kiss could’ve come off as overly contrived. Katey Sagal sells it, though, as she’s always managed to sell Gemma’s contradictory impulses. There’s no sexual warmth in the act, but there is desperation, and it plays like someone who decides the only way to survive drowning is to swim towards the bottom rather than away from it. Her conversation with Tara (in which she learns that Piney never had the damn letters at all) reflects this. She’ll keep giving other people just enough of herself to convince them they’re seeing the truth, but the only person she’s completely open with, as she herself admits, is Clay. Which may be why they’ve lasted so long. They’re both rotten enough to deserve each other. That was enough for a while, but Clay has already made up his mind. He will lie, cheat, and kill to protect himself from losing what he has, and if that means killing Tara, so be it. After all, it’s not like he’ll be breaking his promise. He’s not going to be the one hurting her.
I suppose I could take issue with some of the more manipulative moments in tonight’s episode. It’s convenient that the crisis with the Niners rose up all at once, allowing Jax to show how much better he’d be as club president than Clay. The way Torres stresses to Clay that, once he calls Romeo's hitman, there's no turning back, is a little too directly setting up potential dramatic irony. Of course Clay's going to make that call, and of course he'll almost certainly regret it too late to do anything about it. There's no need to point this out ahead of time. (Besides, have there ever been hitmen who were easy to call off?) But while I could see those as being legitimate complaints, they didn’t trouble me too much while I was watching the episode. (Well, all right, the cell phone kind of did.) Sons is, at best, an exciting, rip-roaring, heartfelt good time, and it’s at its best (or nearly) of late. Moving in to the final episodes of the season, I find myself less worried about contrivance, and more worried about how deep the shit is going to get for the Sons, and just what’s going to happen when someone turns on the fan.
- I haven’t seen any of the upcoming episodes (didn’t even catch the preview after tonight’s), so this isn’t a spoiler: I wouldn’t be surprised if Tara dies. I don’t think she will, because we’ve already had to deal with moping Jax and there’s only so much of that the show can take, but Tara still feels like something of an anomaly on the series. Her getting gunned down isn’t off the table.
- “Clay cannot be saved.” No, he can’t, Unser. But that’s not going to stop Gemma from trying one last time. (If Tara is killed, though, you can bet your ass Gemma will switch over to Jax’s side for good.)
- Bobby came up with one of the best reasons for why Jax will never be able to leave: “Your solution to a problem will always be a club solution.” (In reference to the beat down he gave Ima.) This makes sense.
- “Doctor Pussy’s clouding your judgment, son.” Vicious line, but part of me did suddenly imagine a cutaway to a kitten wearing a stethoscope, looking grim.