What is remarkable about Sons of Anarchy is its tendency to go toward extremes of both violence and sentimentality. “Sweet and Vaded” offers examples of both—and tosses in a John Waters-esque tale of transgender vengeance against Venus Van Dame’s evil mother just for good measure.
The sentimentality: the opening montage of the club members cleaning up the damage caused by the explosion at the club house while uplifting music plays (sample lyric, the chorus: “Love is my religion,” particularly sentimental after the previous episode’s multiple declarations of love and brotherhood). This is an old TV cliché, and the sad but resolute faces of the boys as they shift through the wreckage to find significant items to save pushes the limits of sentiment—leavened by intercut scenes of Walton Goggins’ Venus Van Dam adjusting/admiring her breasts in a mirror as she dresses (or perhaps this is a scene of actor Walton Goggins admiring the remarkable craftsmanship of the prosthetic and make-up artists in preparing him for his role as a woman).
Of course, the moments of sentiment also provide a counterpoint to the violence, and perhaps the series could not go as far as it does with depictions of violence without the moments of sentiment. And vice versa.
All is not lost for the M/C as they set up in a new space, formerly Scoops and Sweets, an old ice cream shop. The juxtaposition of the reaper table and the ice cream shop also leavens the sentimentality of the sequence. At the first meeting in the new place, the three recruits Bobby brought to the table are patched in, and the club also votes to elevate Ratboy from prospect to full membership. There are man hugs all around to celebrate, and combined with a half-hug between Jax and Bobby (elevated to the status of man hug by the two sharp shoulder taps that accompany the hug), the man hug drought officially comes to an end: 4 man hugs before the opening credits. A fifth man hug comes in later when Gemma gives Bobby a hug. Granted, this is a man-woman hug, not a man-man hug, but Gemma and Bobby hugs are always man hugs in style–as they give each other two loud shoulder taps to end the hug (and Gemma does not man hug with everybody; Bobby is special).
After the sentimental opening sequence, the plot turns quickly toward a complete change in tone as the episode centers around Venus Van Dam and her efforts to protect her nephew (actually, her son, because–well, it’s complicated) from the teenager’s grandmother–Venus’s (formerly Vincent’s) own evil child-pornography-producing mother. Played, of course, by Adrienne Barbeau, because, really, who else could you cast as the mother of Venus? To say this episode goes over the top is a considerable understatement, and it’s not necessarily a criticism. At times, I find myself thinking that Sons of Anarchy provides some of the best of what television has to offer, and at times I think it provides some of the worst, and it’s probably a product of SoA‘s unique sensibilities that I often find myself thinking both at the same time. And that brings me back to John Waters (I often have the same feeling when watching his early films). This episode seems to pay in a kind of odd way homage to Pink Flamingos. Something about Divine with a gun on the Pink Flamingos poster and Venus when she can’t resist the compulsion to pick up a gun and start firing. But, compared to Pink Flamingos, perhaps “Sweet and Vaded” seems less over the top after all.
I suspect Walton Goggins is having the time of his life playing Venus.
The Episode By the Numbers:
Man Hugs: 5 (Man Hug Count Season Total: 15)