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Sons Of Anarchy: "Los Fantasmas"

Illustration for article titled Sons Of Anarchy: "Los Fantasmas"
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I’m not sure how long ex-cop Wayne Unser has been Charming’s voice of reason, but it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t. It’s the sort of character direction that’s so perfect it’s easy to overlook, as though Unser wasn’t even created; he just showed up on set the first day of filming and never left. Dayton Callie’s hangdog face looks like it was made out of worn leather and regret, and the actor has a fundamental sad dignity that no beating or humiliation can truly erase. Unser has suffered, and that suffering has given him a certain grace. When he pronounces judgment on a situation—usually in a semi-apologetic way, like he can’t quite believe he’s saying anything—it’s as close as we ever get to hearing what the show’s perspective is on a situation. Not even Bobby has quite the same level of authority. Not everyone listens to Unser, or follows his advice when they do listen to him, but he acts as SAMCRO’s conscience, and you ignore your conscience at your peril.

So leave it to Unser to provide some clarity to the battle between Tara and Gemma. Over the course of conversations with both women, he lays down the law in his quiet, inexorable way: He understands Tara’s reasons, but think she’s gone too far; and he advises Gemma to take the long road back to being in her grandsons’ lives, even though he has to realize that’s not going to happen. None of this is information we don’t know, but it does help contextualize Tara’s big play. In case it wasn’t already clear (and admittedly, getting your mother-in-law arrested by faking a violent miscarriage isn’t really hero behavior), Tara has gone to the dark side. Her reasons for doing so are completely understandable—to a degree, I think, that even the writers seem to have misunderestimated. After all that Tara’s been through, and all the times Jax has promised her they were getting out only to have some new catastrophe strike, it makes sense that she’d go to extreme measures to protect her children. But the play she makes is so cartoonishly cruel, with so many ways it can go wrong, that it’s as hard to root for her as it is to root against her.

The whole thing’s a mess, and Gemma’s confrontation with Wendy, in which Wendy seems to be on the verge of betraying her secrets, suggests this isn’t going to be swept under the rug any time soon. Not that there was any real hope of that. Jax and Tara get a decent scene together at the end of the episode in which Jax asks Tara if there’s any way to get back to the way things were (without realizing just how far they’ve fallen); it’s good to have a moment between the two of them, just as it was good to have a scene between Tara and Bobby earlier in the episode which reminded us these people actually have lives outside of their Machiavellian schemes. So much of Tara’s arc this season has taken place behind closed doors, and now that her plan is out in the open, there’s no real clarity. It’s possible to intellectually justify her actions, but the whole plot seems like a misfire, forcing a character who’s never been the show’s strongest into making choices that don’t quite fit her. Maybe if there was some sort of instigating incident, apart from all that alone time in prison. Maybe some connection to the school shootings, I don’t know. What I do know is that as is, these scenes are a drag, painful to watch without being exciting or suspenseful, or illuminating. If it ends well, that’d be something; but it’s hard to imagine an ending that can justify watching poor Wendy shooting up again.

The rest of the episode focuses on various ways the club is dealing with Patterson’s attempts to bring down the hammer. She leaks news of the gang connection to the KG9 to the local papers, which, at least in theory, has everyone upset about SAMCRO; all we really see are Nero’s former business associates getting nervous, until one of them is killed in a hit and run. That hit and run is the real cost of Patterson’s meddling: A father of one of the kids killed in the shooting read the article and decided to take revenge. It’s a pulpy, clumsy approach to the crisis, but it’s the most the show has engaged with the school shooting in ages, and there’s a rawness to the sequence that gives it more charge than all of the conversations about Tara’s choices. Combine that with Nero’s decision to take the heat for the gun sales—a decision which Tyne refuses to accept after the hit-and-run driver kills himself, a suicide she has to realize she’s in some way to blame for—and there’s something like a theme running through all of this. That shooting remains the one problem that’s not going to go away easily, no matter how determined Jax is to move forward. Patterson’s methods and obsessive behavior may not be entirely ethical, but her desire for justice is valid. Nero feels it too, which is why he’s willing to take the fall; there’s a weight that someone is going to have to carry.

The problem is that a school shooting is an event that has scope. It doesn’t just touch a small group of people; it changes an entire community. And Sons has always struggled when it comes to showing the fallout to people outside the normal scope of the show. If there are bikers, sex workers, and/or law enforcement involved, it’s covered. Anything else is just sort of implied. (Well, there was the Charming Heights plotline that gave us a quick look at some sketchy politicians, but even Mayor Hale has been reduced to a bit player.) Generally, that’s not a problem, but when Unser is telling Roosevelt about how SAMCRO is “woven into the fabric” of Charming like it means something, that raises an eyebrow. Coming from Unser, that’s a statement that should hold weight, but apart from the occasional explosion and giving 8-year-olds access to machine guns, what exactly are the Sons contributing at this point? The season has managed to make Jax’s commitment to the club more palatable simply by reminding us of how fun and likeable these guys are when they’re all roughly on the same page. But it has yet to make a convincing case that Charming wouldn’t be better off without them. Honestly, it wouldn’t need to bother, if it hadn’t decided to open this year with—well, you know. Maybe this is all building towards some tragic conclusion (maybe with Nero’s son?). Maybe it’ll make sense when we get there. For right now, the non-Tara/Gemma stuff moved along well, it’s fun watching Peter Weller snarl at people, and it’s good seeing the guys all on (more or less) the same page. But there’s no sense of rising action. It’s just a lot of stuff.

Stray observations:

  • Gemma demanding Wendy fill her in on the details so she’d protect her from Jax was another reminder that Gemma is not a very nice person. Nobody’s nice in this situation, really, although it’s not hard to feel bad for Wendy, who is in way over her head.
  • The scene of Tara psyching herself up in the mirror went at least a little way
  • I keep waiting for Burowski to betray Jax, and he keeps not doing it. Either he’s a decent guy for a bastard, or he’s just biding his time.