Here’s hoping David Byrne never visits Charming, because he might mistake it for Heaven; here, too, is a place where nothing ever happens. “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” is the longest episode of the season so far, just over an hour before commercials were added, and all that time adds to hardly anything at all. Here’s a summary: Jax starts his move against August Marks while solidifying his relationship with the Nazi assholes. Unser gets Gemma to testify to the Sheriff about what she “saw” before Tara’s death. Juice does something stupid and finally gets caught by SAMCRO. Nero finds out that Gemma was covering for Juice. Gemma is worried Juice might tell Jax about what really happened to Tara.

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That’s it. Oh sure, I missed some of the texture (if it helps, add ten second pauses between each sentence) and a few nice character moments, but for the most part, this was a slog bereft of tension, insight, or entertainment. The big action set-piece had the club teaming up with the Grim Bastards to finally take care of the guys they were trying to kill at the start of the season. It ended with a bunch of black dudes getting shot. Later on, Jax showed their bodies to the Nazi assholes as proof that SAMCRO has its heart in the right place when it comes to race relations. I guess it’s supposed to be cruelly funny or something, but it all seemed too ugly and stupid to enjoy. Congrats, Jax. You’ve successfully impressed that guy with the swastika tattoo. Bravo.

And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to be judging Jax for his actions now, the way all of this decisions lately end with more corpses on the ground; his “We made it right” toast to the dead women Lin’s men killed rang utterly hollow. Watching formerly decent men make awful choices can lead to great drama, but there needs to be something more than a slow, painful march to inevitable reckoning. Sooner or later, Jax has to find out that his entire revenge plan is built on a lie. (I suppose it’s technically possible that Gemma could off herself without Jax ever knowing the truth, but I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt here.) I’m sure that will be a fantastically powerful moment. But that doesn’t justify spending an entire season stalling just to get to the big reveal. That’s what this feels like so far—a lot of inconsequential throat-clearing before the big show. It’s the fireworks factory all over again.

This would be easier to take if there was a palpable sense of rising action, of events spinning out of control in the wake of Gemma’s lies. But there’s no sense of much of anything, really. The writers clearly think they’re doing something with occasional scenes of Gemma “talking” to the woman she murdered, but while these monologues make for a nice actor’s showcase for Katey Sagal, they don’t add anything. There’s no real sense of her mind coming unhinged, and her guilt and shame seem about on par with her guilt and shame in every other season of the show. Maybe she’s a little more nervous now, but “a little more nervous” doesn’t give the audience a lot to go with. Her arc this year is a frustrating mixture of the overly contrived and the basically affectless. There’s nothing organic or earned about it. (That said, Lea Michele’s guest turn as a friendly waitress was well done.)

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Then there’s Juice. What in the fuck is going on with Juice. He lets Gemma go (a scene we never see, which would’ve been, I dunno, kind of relevant), robs a convenience store (apparently killing the clerk and leaving a witness behind in the process), and then turns himself over to the Mayans, offering to give up SAMCRO information in exchange for safe passage into Mexico. None of this makes much sense, and I guess we’re just supposed to accept the idea that “Juice is crazy” at this point as a catchall explanation for any idiotic behavior. (Juice tells Nero “I’m a coward,” which, sure, but still doesn’t explain why he doesn’t just leave Charming.) Marcus’s decision to turn Juice over to Jax is about as deflating a twist as you can imagine; after multiple episodes of him trying to stay hidden, Juice just wanders in and gets himself caught, because apparently he had no idea that biker clubs don’t really like rats. It could’ve made some kind of weird sense if he was purposefully trying to surrender, or if we had any clear sense of his mindset beyond “he’s nuts in a way that makes him do whatever the writers decide he should do,” but we don’t. And Jax’s smug, dickheaded contempt for the poor schmuck reflects as poorly on him as it ever did. Juice has done some bad shit, but Jax, buddy, you’re the one who ordered him to murder that mom.

The only real reason for Juice to get caught this way is to give Nero a glimpse of what’s really going on. Marcus took him hostage earlier (another lazy-ass bit of writing; “We’re going to lock you in a closet for a bit. Then we’re going to let you out. No hard feelings!”), so Nero gets to chat with Juice, and then see that Juice is offering Gemma’s car as part of his attempt to barter for safe passage. It would be interesting if Nero was the one to finally figure out what really happened when Tara and Roosevelt died, although that has not happened yet. He just puts two and two together and realizes that Gemma was covering for Juice; Gemma breaks down in front of him in fear of what Juice might say to Jax, but everything stays hidden.

Really, that’s the main point to take away from all of this: nothing much changes. Oh sure, Jax finally has his hands on Juice, so maybe next week something will come from that. Maybe Juice will finally die. But that doesn’t change the fact that so much of this episode was just long stretches of conversation that covered the same damn ground that’s been covered a hundred times before. Unser is conflicted (although thank god he’s standing up for himself a bit, and insisting Gemma tell her story to the cops). Nero is troubled. Jax is… whatever the hell Jax is. Bobby gives a little speech to Wendy about how Jax is this precious little boy who’s different from everyone else, how he feels things more or something. It’s a nice scene, because Mark Boone, Jr. and Drea De Matteo are both talented actors who know how to make the most of this material, but it rings false. We don’t need to be told what Jax is. We can see it for ourselves: for all his wounded soul, he’s a murdering dickhead who doesn’t seem to be having much trouble from anyone. I’m sure his ascendance will make for a longer fall, but man oh man somebody better push him soon.

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Stray observations:

  • “I was raised a Catholic. Everything’s a worry for me.” -Chibs. He and the sheriff’s relationship continues, for some reason.
  • Jax to Nero: “We’re a fun family.”
  • So, to clean up the club where all the women were killed, Nero has Lyla send over some more women. All of whom came from a porn shoot where they were playing cleaners, apparently. There’s something awful about that; pretending it’s some kind of “circle of life” shit, nothing that could’ve been avoided, best to move on without ever questioning our decisions or wondering what could’ve brought us to this point.

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