It’s hard sometimes trying to figure out how shocked you should be as an audience member. There are people who are shocked at everything, and who wants to be one of them; it must be terribly boring to view the world waiting for an excuse to write this week’s petition. But there are people for whom the very concept of “shock” no longer applies, and to me, that seems just as tedious. One of the reasons to engage with a drama or a comedy, or a mixed up combination of the two, is the catharsis that can come from the expert handling (which is just a nice way to say “manipulation”) of emotions. Like, say, when Gemma was gang-raped back in Sons’ second season. That was a rough, horrific scene, the sort of thing that finds a comfort zone (characters have been raped on shows before), pushes (lead characters have been raped on shows before), and then breaks through to something that feels like crossing a line. The math can come across as too cheap, too trashy, too overt—when the calculation becomes too obvious, it’s hard to retain investment in the story, because the artifice makes the exploitation too hollow to accept. But the show earned Gemma’s assault by detailing the aftermath and showing each painful, ugly step of Gemma’s recovery. It made her more important than what happened to her, which gave the event meaning.
I can’t imagine that happening in the aftermath of last week’s school shooting. Matthew, the kid, is dead. By the end of the episode, his mom is dead, smothered by Juice under orders from Jax to make everyone’s life easier; and Primo, Nero’s cousin who inadvertently gave Matthew access to the KG9 he used for the shooting, died 10 minutes earlier, via a bullet to the brain. So the direct personal connection to the event is gone, and none of the people immediately involved with the event are around to change that. It’s a plot device, and while sometimes plot devices are necessary, there’s something ugly about using an incident like this one with such calculated indifference. Jax and Nero are upset, but largely because they realize this could blow back on them. (Nero seems a little more bothered, especially by the end.) For everyone else, it’s business as usual. That means kidnapping the mother of the shooter out of fear she’ll rat to the cops (does “rat” even apply at this point? I mean, yeah, technically, but man), then having the whole thing turn into a clusterfuck and putting two more bodies into the ground.
Nobody comes out of this looking good, and sure, that’s probably at least partly by intent. Once again, our “heroes” are ruining lives in order to save their own skins, and Sutter and his writers have to be conscious of this on some level, or they wouldn’t keep rubbing it in our faces. And yet the shooting remains a stunt, a closed moment with no texture to it, no real empathy or depth. As of right now, it’s a twist whose importance lies solely in how it will make life a little harder for Jax and his crew, and that’s not good enough. As of right now, the shooting is a scene that has not been earned.
But it’s hard to know how shocked to be, because this is only the second episode of the season; the echoes of the attack on Gemma lasted for weeks before finally reaching their peak, and it would be premature to assume this isn’t going someplace deeper than a pair of murders and some frowns. So put that aside for right now, and look at what else we have. This is another plus-sized episode, which is an idea that was cool at first but is starting to show its seams; too many scenes in this episodes simply exist to check in with certain characters so they can remind us of information we already know, with little dramatic impact. (So much of Sons is characters catching each other up on earlier scenes that the show sometimes feels like a pedantic “Previously On” montage.) There are good scenes, but there’s precious little urgency, as the writing falls into one of the traps of serialization: mistaking plot for storytelling. Just because something happens doesn’t make it worth our time.
Outside of the awfulness at the cabin in the episode’s climax, most of what we see is Lee Toric once again pulling strings and drawing closer to the club. He quickly realizes the KG9 used at the school was almost certainly sold by the Sons, and starts pressuring guest star CCH Pounder (always great to see, although she doesn’t get much to do yet; neither does Lee’s ATF buddy C. Thomas Howell) to use that connection to get a more thorough kind of justice for the beleaguered community. It’s not a bad pitch, although Lee’s growing craziness means his attempts at moral outrage come across as the ravings of a psychotic fundamentalist and not the basic good sense they actually are. On the whole, Lee’s shtick is starting to wear thin, and his decision to forge Clay’s name on the confession papers is one more nail in the plausibility coffin; he’s not a human being anymore, just a threat who is willing to cheat to get what he wants. This makes him useful as a plotting tool (in that with any obstacle he encounters, there’s no real limit to what he’ll do), but less interesting as a character, regardless of how good Donal Logue is.
Thankfully, he can at least facilitate good drama in others, like when he arranges (on Clay’s insistence) for a sit-down between Gemma and her ex-old man. Given the history between the two, and the talent levels involved, it’s not surprising that the scene works; it serves as a reminder of Gemma’s complicity in Clay’s crimes without making the point overly obvious, and also reinforces the connection between them, a bond that’s at once poisonous and tragic. While Clay could’ve turned on the rage—he’s a bad guy, but Gemma did frame him for one of the few crimes he didn’t commit—he’s quiet throughout, apologetic and unsettlingly gentle. His comment on how none of what was about to happen would land on her is the sort of reassurance that sounds like it should be comforting, but is anything but, as Gemma’s increasingly horrified reaction showed. At this point in the show’s run, the relationships with the most charge are the ones that have the greatest weight of history behind them, and few can match these two: a former king fallen on hard times, and his queen, who can’t bear to look at him.
The only other scenes in the episode that come close to this are the ones between Jax and Tara, which get their power from a slightly different source; unlike Clay and Gemma, these two are still committed to maintaining their connection, even as circumstance and their own crimes draw them further apart. Jax has cheated on Tara while she was in lock-up, and while the show can take a forgiving eye towards sexual deviancy (or whatever you want to call it), this still seems like a big idea, especially since it’s hard to pretend it won’t ever happen again. Worse—much worse, really—is that Jax has gone back to lying to Tara about club business, keeping her in the dark about the kid and the gun and the dead mother, because if he told her these things… well, who knows what she’d do. She wouldn’t be happy, though.
Thankfully, Tara has her own secrets; she’s looking for a way to have Jax designated as unfit to raise their sons. This is part of a play she’s been working on for a while, although (if I remember right) this is the first time that play has specifically targeted Jax; it indicates that in spite of their protestations of love, something has gone sour between them. Jax thinks he’s protecting his wife and his family, while Tara, who is smarter than he is, understands that the only way the boys have any chance at a normal life is by living somewhere far, far away from Charming. Jax promises her the club is going legit, that they’re getting out of the gun business, which would be a good line if a.) one of their guns hadn’t already been used in a school shooting and b.) if the Irish had any intention of letting SAMCRO back out of their deal. Or really, c.) if it wasn’t a line Jax had used on his wife and himself half a dozen times already. Something’s going to get in the way, something always gets in the way, and it’s good to see Tara trying to do something, even if it will almost certainly not work out the way she wants it to. Right now, she’s about the only sane person left in Charming, and what happens to her next will be a good indication of just how much the creative team behind the show values sanity.
- Do a shot every time Jax talks about moving the club in the right direction, because at least then some good will come out of it.
- Tara cries during sex now. The scene is shot to mirror Jax’s sex with Collette in the previous episode; it’s very well done.
- I love Nero comforting Primo in Gemma’s kitchen. There, there. Poor guy. Oh hey, so next time, we maybe keep our machine guns in the cabinet with the lock. (But then Primo gets shot, so I guess no next times for him.)