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Sons Of Anarchy: “Orca Shrugged”

Illustration for article titled Sons Of Anarchy: “Orca Shrugged”
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I’m having a hard time remembering “Orca Shrugged,” even though I watched it yesterday. There’s a fair amount of happenings in the episode, one over-the-top comedic setpiece, and the severe injury of a pregnant woman who just happens to be the sheriff’s wife, which will definitely have ramifications down the road. Some of this was shocking (the blackmail setup raised the most eyebrows; Rita’s gut-wound just seems like one more entry in the parade of ugliness), but none of it really sticks in the mind, because it’s all so disparate. Jax has a plan to help Major Jake, in order to get the new escort service up and running. There’s some tension at the club, but Jax shuts it down. Tara’s hand might be getting better, but she’s still so nervous she needs help sewing up Tig’s ass, which was bitten by a fat man the club is setting up for blackmail. Jax gets in a fist fight with Galen, who doesn’t much like him. Gemma isn’t happy that Jax is trying to keep her apart from Nero. And so on.

The Gemma/Nero thing is particularly odd, because it seems like such an obvious way to create drama down the line that it’s hard to understand Jax’s angle. Yes, Gemma causes problems, and she’s been unhinged lately (although, apart from the lectures from Jax and Tara about how she needs to clean up her act, Gemma doesn’t seem all that different than she’s always been), and Jax wants this new deal to go through so the club can start earning in ways that don’t lead to dead bodies. But forbidding someone from dating your mom after he’s already got something going with her is going to be a tough sell; Nero agrees to the arrangement because he needs the support and protection Jax offers, and because he needs the money to provide for his son. But Gemma? Gemma has that awful thing where she acts just sane enough to make people think she’s reasonable, and then she goes mental. Really, I’m not sure there’s any good way out of what’s sure to become one hell of a mess down the line, which makes Jax’s decision to team up with Nero all the more questionable, bonding truck ride or no. But getting heavy-handed and actively ending a relationship is throwing gas on the fire, and I can’t imagine an explosion I’m less interested in watching.

Really, though, Gemma stories should probably just be accepted as a lost cause at this point; she gets the usual sensitive moments with Tara, and her panicky terror when she realizes she’s losing Nero is sad enough (how soon before she moves back in with Clay, do you think?), and that’s about it for this week. There are more important shenanigans afoot, like a run in with Galen and the Irish that leads to some bad blood airing over Jax’s actions in Belfast. Well, “important” is somewhat questionable, as apart from getting us some punching, the sequence mainly exists to reinforce how important Clay is to the club’s relationship with their gun connection. Given that Clay’s continued existence isn’t really in question anymore, there’s no pressing need to make sure we understand why Jax lets him draw breath; still, it feeds into the growing sense that Clay is much more popular as an underdog than Jax ever was, and that Clay, when he decides to make his move, will once again pose a serious threat.

The big ticket setpiece of the episode, though, is the drugging, stripping, and molestation of a fat man. The victim, a member of the city council who intends to vote against the Charming Heights project (which is still in play, evidently), stands in the mayor’s way, and Jax needs the mayor to sign over a lease for the potential new brothel site. So Jax, Chibs, Tig, Juice, and a few others, drug the poor bastard with some tainted fudge, and then photograph him wearing a bunch of S&M gear while being straddled by a prostitute. And not just any prostitute: Venus Van Damme is basically a dude in a wig with very large breasts, which just adds to the hilarity. Walton Goggins is a terrific actor, and he gives it his all as Van Damme, but the bit goes on forever (over multiple scenes), and it crosses the line from “goofy depravity” to “cringe-inducing.” The guys laugh it up and have a good time, but what they’re doing is a fairly nasty form of assault; the episode tries to downplay it by having Goggins camp it up, having the victim be (gasp) really overweight, and having his stepson show up and assure everyone that the fat guy is just this huge asshole, but that doesn’t change the essential unpleasantness of what’s happening.

Yeah, I know: lighten up. Different viewers obviously will have different standards for this sort of thing, and it would be silly of me to rail at the episode for some kind of lapse in moral judgement. The Sons are outlaws, after all. That’s built into the DNA of the show, and likeable as they are, they frequently engage in questionable behavior; Jax’s (and to a lesser extent Tara’s) struggle to find out just how far they’re willing to go has been a long-running theme for Sons Of Anarchy, and it would be dishonest for them, or for any of the rest of the club, to suddenly turn into saints. But the blackmail scene is played entirely for comedy, and it’s driven by Jax’s need to get a piece of property for a business venture. There’s nothing particularly desperate driving him, apart from a need to earn, and no compensating sense that, without this scheme, the club would be screwed. They’re just being bullies, and that, to me, makes them less sympathetic. This could be intentional, and if there’s some kind of reckoning down the line, that would change how the sequence plays out. I don’t mean Revenge Of The Fat Man or anything specific, but some acknowledgement that running roughshod over anyone who gets in their way is part and parcel of why their lives suck so much of the time, would be cool. But I doubt that’s going to happen, which means this is just a big goofy scene of our protagonists being assholes for no other reason than they can.

I don’t mean to be a drag about this stuff, I really don’t. But shit like this can hurt the legitimately good scenes, like the final moments when Jax opens a box and finds the severed breast and finger he ordered from the crematorium last week sitting on his kitchen table. That’s not played as a joke; it’s played more as a guy coming home after feeling like he had a pretty good day, and then being reminded of all the shit he has to dig through just to get by. Sons Of Anarchy is often stressing the world-weariness of its central ensemble, and it’s generally effective, but the more obvious it becomes that they deserve what they get, the harder it is to care that they’re tired.


Stray observations:

  • “When I look at my day, I realize most of it is spent cleaning up the damage of the day before.”—Jax, in a letter to his sons. So he understands, but not enough to get out of the hole.
  • Completely misread Jax’s offer to Nero last week. I thought he was trying to set up another porno studio, but instead, he just wants to use some of the girls from the porn shoots as escorts. How big a town is Charming? How much money can a business like this bring in? Where’s the clientele coming from? Nero had a business built up, but man, Charming must be full of horny, wealthy men.
  • Rita got gut shoot by the home invaders. Whoever suggested Clay was behind all of this seems to have the right idea. At least, that would make the most sense at this point, although it wouldn’t immediately explain why they decided to target Roosevelt’s place. (Clearly they were just there to throw a scare into Rita. Unlike poor Unser, who absolutely got the shit kicked out of him.)