Sons of Anarchy: “A Mother’s Work”

The title of the Season 6 finale of Sons of Anarchy, “A Mother’s Work,” gives a pretty strong hint of where the episode is heading. There’s really no need to talk about this episode without discussing the ending, so if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now.

If you’re just interested in the man hugging, this was a particularly extravagant episode. After stingily parsing out the man hugs for most of the season, the men in this episode could barely make it through a scene without hugging one another. Especially at the end of the episode, with Jax preparing to give himself up to Patterson, he gave a good tearful man hug to each every member of the club. Every type of man hug imaginable has occurred in Sons of Anarchy, but tearful man hugs remain a bit of a rarity, and this episode certainly had a bunch of them!

Otherwise, “A Mother’s Work” may be my least favorite Sons of Anarchy episode in the whole series.

This was an oddly paced episode, clocking in at an hour and twenty minutes, much of it involving soft conversations and other discussions between characters. And every scene of conversation seemed to go on and on. By the time the episode hit the hour mark, things were looking like they were going to be resolved if not happily at least satisfactorily—Jax was going to admit to being the source of the gun used in the school shooting, Tara was going to be left to do whatever she wished without reprisal from the MC as well as having the legal charges against her dropped. Then when the episode simply refused to end, but keep going on and on, I suppose this was supposed to be either building suspense or setting the audience up for a violent surprise, but, quite honestly, I just found it annoying. And the longer the episode stretched out, the more certain I became that Tara was not going to make it to the end, and that Gemma finally cracked and went after Tara in her own kitchen stabbing her to death while also holding her head under water (Gemma, at the very least, is thorough) was not much of a surprise either, at that point. At least, the murder itself wasn’t, even if the method was. A drug befuddled Gemma received a garbled version of events from Unser, and, then, rather than picking up the phone to call Jax and see what the hell was really going on, she instead lay in wait for Tara and murdered her.

The surprise was Juice coming in behind Lt. Roosevelt (who, inexplicably, as Tara’s protection, let her stay in the house by herself after spotting Unser’s truck—stolen by Gemma—in the driveway, and limiting his search of the house to yelling out “Unser” at the door) after Roosevelt belatedly realized that something might be wrong—and shooting him. And then working to cover up Gemma’s role in the murder of Tara. I’m not sure how that will all play out, but it seems that Jax, who walked into the house and discovered the two bodies just before Patterson arrived, will end up charged with the murder that his mother committed.

So, this was not my favorite Sons of Anarchy episode. It seemed forced and manipulative. I’m okay with the killing off of characters, and it certainly seemed that throughout this season that Tara’s time was coming to an end. But, the way the scenario played out just seemed senseless and clichéd (such as the moment Tara smiled in relief that all her plans had turned out—right before Gemma emerged to confront her).

Sons of Anarchy “A Mother’s Work” By the Numbers:

White Doves Cut Bloodily In Half By a Speeding Motorcycle: 1

Man Hug Count of the episode: 12

Season Six Man Hug Count Total: 32.

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SoA: You Are My Sunshine

You know, I’m not sure who artist is that performs the song “You are My Sunshine” at the end of the Sons of Anarchy episode that shares a title with song, but, man, that was the bleakest version of that song that I have ever heard. Is it possible to talk about a “dark” “Sunshine”?

The episode was not exactly a bright summer’s day either, with a goodly amount of death and destruction, a falling to pieces Juice nearly ending it all at Nero’s house of pleasure, and Tara stepping out finally on her own.

The best western moment of the episode: Jax convinces the Chinese gangster that he is giving them Conner along with the Irish guns, but, it turns out to be an ambush that leaves the Chinese dead in burst of slow motion violence that would have made Sam Peckinpah proud. “This is some real cowboy shit here,” a ruffled Conner tells Jax, and he was right about that.

Not much hugging in this episode, unless you count the supporting of a nearly unconscious Juice as a hug, but, really, it’s not, and having one of the newest members learn about the meaning of brotherhood by helping Bobby pee by holding his penis isn’t a hug either (although, it was one of the few amusing moments in this otherwise dark episode).

Sons of Anarchy By the Numbers:

Man Hugs: 2

Season Man Hug Total: 20

Number of Hands Needed to Hold Bobby’s Penis While He Urinates: 2

 

Sons of Anarchy: Aon Rud Persanta

Well, it’s pretty much impossible to discuss “Aon Rud Persanta,” the most recent episode of the motorcycle-club-soap-opera- Shakespearean-television-adaptation Sons of Anarchy without revealing spoilers, so be forewarned, spoilers follow, and if you don’t want to know who shot who, who died and who didn’t, then you should really stop reading about now.

As I’ve noted before, and as the series makes explicit in its allusions and in commentary from series creator Kurt Sutter, Sons of Anarchy is (very) loosely based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Like Hamlet, Jax’s father, the “king” of the M/C, was killed by the man who replaced him as King and in his wife’s bed—Clay Morrow being the new King of the club, Gemma Shakespeare’s Queen Gertrude, and Jax left to avenge the death of his father by killing his murderer. The problem with this premise, as I’ve also noted, is that Hamlet merely delays the action of vengeance over the course of five acts, and, thus far, Sons of Anarchy has drawn it out for six seasons. Sooner or later, if your stated goal is to kill the King, and as the reasons for not killing him start to accumulate to a degree approaching the absurd, well, eventually, you have to kill the son of a bitch or shut up about it.

And, finally, Sons of Anarchy did it, and Jax finally killed Clay Morrow. This season, the show has lagged when Clay, stuck in prison, has been off the screen as well. So, now the question is, having killed off Clay, can Sons of Anarchy survive without him?

“Aon Rud Persanta” was also the most explicitly “western” episode in a while. Sort of like 3:10 to Yuma, the gang is getting together to spring Clay from imprisonment while he is being transported from one prison to another. Many many westerns have played out a similar scenario. Joining with the Irish, the Sons are planning to break Clay free so that he can head up the new gun-running operation. “It will be clean, fast, and easy,” one of the Irish tells Jax. Yeah, right. He’s clearly never seen a western, or a television show. The Sons are divided up into different plain delivery vans, each a different color, which causes Tig to complain, when he sees the color of the van he’s been assigned, “Why are we pink?” The shout-out here is to Reservoir Dogs, and if the allusion is foreshadowing, we would expect that this might be another heist where things go wrong.

Jax and Juice are in a van together, and Juice confesses that he wonder’s sometimes if he’s the good guy, and Jax assures him that “after this, it’s all white hats,” another western allusion (the cowboy hero is, of course, the one in the white hat), which is followed on the soundtrack by a rock song that begins with the lyrics “when I was a cowboy, out on the western plains . . . .” as the fleet of vans rides off into action.

The other “western” moment in the episode involves a conversation between Unser and Gemma, in which Unser tells her, “It’s not 1967. This life’s no path to freedom. It’s just dirty and sad.” This is a classic western lament—the frontier is closing, the outlaw life of freedom that used to available is no longer there. See, for example, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. As a lawman himself, or rather as someone who has straddled both sides of the law, Unser’s position is a little bit like Deke Thornton from The Wild Bunch, as his comments here seem to echo some of Deke’s from the film (as well as some of the conversations between Pike and Dutch).

The clean, fast, and easy part doesn’t quite work out, as Bobby is shot and wounded badly, although they do successfully free Clay (or take him into another sort of captivity). Clay does not realize until the last minute what he is walking into. When Jax pulls a gun and shoots Irish bad guy Galen in the head (almost immediately after Clay and Galen share a friendly man hug of greeting), he figures out pretty quickly what is about to happen. After some discussion and explanation, Jax shoots him in the throat, and then fires several volleys into his torso just to make sure (and, there can be no doubt, Clay is dead after this—any resurrections from the grave after this would be hard to do without seeming completely bogus). The bodies are arranged so that it looks like Clay and the three Irish gangsters shot one another as part of some falling out over a gun deal gone wrong.

Throughout the series, Clay has been the main purveyor of man hugs, and it’s a nice touch that he gets two final man hugs before he shuffles off this mortal coil (to quote Sons of Anarchy writer William Shakespeare), one with Juice, and the final one with Galen (sort of like a warped version of a Marty Robbins song, one man hug, and, Felina, good-bye). Will the death of Clay be the end of the man hug on Sons of Anarchy?

The final interesting piece of the puzzle in this episode involves Tara. She is called in to operate on Bobby, since they can’t take him to a hospital. While driving with Gemma and Nero to the hospital to pick up supplies, she receives a phone call from Patterson, who offers to meet her at her office, as the “deal” for Tara’s freedom is suddenly back on the table. There has not, at this point, been a reconciliation between Tara and Gemma, but having to work together to save Bobby’s life has at least produced, if not exactly a thawing, a little less coldness and open hostility. I’m not quite buying the plot point that they all suddenly trust Tara enough to let her go into the hospital by herself—and thus have a secret meeting with Patterson. For enrolling her and her sons in witness protection, Tara offers the possibility of evidence—the bullet she will eventually remove from Bobby during the operation.

At the end of the episode, we see Tara contemplating that bullet. Her earlier gambit to get free did not turn out well, and it was not a very good plan, ultimately. This, however, gives her a much more powerful game piece than she had earlier. The question to be resolved is: will she play it?

Sons of Anarchy “Aon Rud Persanta” By the Numbers:

Man Hugs: 2

Man Hugs Before Dying: 1

Man Hug Count For the Season: 18

Reservoir Dog Allusions: at least 1

Individuals Sorry to See Galen Dead: 0

Sons of Anarchy: Huang Wu

If Sons of Anarchy is true to its source (Shakespeare’s Hamlet), then Tara, who is Ophelia to Jax’s Hamlet, should end up following Ophelia’s destiny—to madness and death. Of course, Sons of Anarchy hasn’t been particularly attentive to fidelity to Hamlet as the last six seasons have unfolded, so Shakespeare may not provide a definitive guide to what is yet to come on SoA. Still, “Huang Wu,” episode 10 of season six, shows us a Tara who is starting to unravel (and “Let her unravel,” suggests a far from sympathetic Gemma) in multiple ways, following the complete unravelling in the previous episode of her plot to escape from Charming with her sons, leaving Jax, Gemma, and the rest of the gang behind.

She catches Jax having sex  (or, as Nero cheerfully describes Jax’s relationship with Collette to Gemma, “working out his mommy issues”) with Collette; she backs over Juice’s motorcycle; complains to Wendy that “Everything I did was right,” which is kind of crazy comment in and of itself, as Tara’s plan to frame Gemma for causing her miscarriage was hardly doing everything right. If she had done everything right, her plotting wouldn’t have come unravelled so quickly.

The two best parts of the episode for me were:

1) The appearance of Keone Young as Chinese bad guy Bohai Lin. Yes, yet another Deadwood actor (Young played Mr. Wu) makes his way onto Sons of Anarchy, joining Kim Dickens (Collette/Joanie Stubbs) and Dayton Callie (Unser/Charlie Utter) as three Deadwood actors playing good supporting roles in this episode.

2) And speaking of Dayton Callie, the scenes between Unser and Nero, including an awkward car ride where Nero tries to make small talk, were priceless. And Jimmy Smits as Nero had a particularly good episode—his sometimes sardonic, sometimes witty, sometimes kind of sweet, comments were the highlight. He’s become the chorus of the series this season, sometimes participating in the action, but really both Smits and the character Nero are at their best not when participating but when commenting about what’s going on.

This was an episode without man hugs, but there were some other notable events to count out.

Sons of Anarchy “Huang Wu” By the Numbers:

Scenes of a Naked Jax Fighting with a Clothed Tara in a Brothel: 1

Scenes of Tigg Wearing Silk Boxer Shorts With a Cheerful Skull and Crossbones Pattern: 1

Scenes of a Gun Wielding Tara: 3

Scenes of Happy with Great Dexterity Eating Chinese Food With Chopsticks While One Hand is Handcuffed to a Radiator: 1

 

Extremely Lactose Intolerant

After a fairly uninteresting episode last week, Sons of Anarchy returned this week with “John 8:32.” If not exactly a return to form, this was a thematically elegant episode, with multiple scenes playing off the Bible verse alluded to by the title. As with the previous episode, there were lots of scenes of people in rooms talking to one another, but those scenes played out more effectively. If, according to the Bible, the truth will set you free, the episode seemed to be testing out that precept. Characters continually asked one another to tell them the truth. “Any truth to that?” Nero asks Gemma—about Tara’s accusation that Gemma had killed her husband, Jax’s father. Ultimately, Gemma tells Nero the truth, but whether that set either of them free is not quite clear.

I should mention that there will be spoilers, so stop reading if you don’t want to know what other truths are revealed in the episode.

Jax learns the truth about Tara’s scheme, about the false pregnancy, the faked miscarriage, etc., and, ultimately, it’s probably for the best that he discover that his marriage in its current state is an illusion, but is that being set free?

The episode begins with Jax spending a little time with his reflection in the bathroom mirror, as did Tara in the previous episode, the only difference being that Jax didn’t actually have a conversation with his reflection (that, and Jax was shirtless throughout the scene, which Tara was not). Jax also pays a visit to Patterson to offer her a deal—that he will give up the IRA to her if she will back off on persecuting the Sons. I’m not sure that he’s telling the truth about the deal (and the “deal” may be concealing some other plan), but he does seem to hit the truth when he also says to her, “Neither one of us likes looking at ourselves in the mirror.”

The chess game between Tara and Gemma advances. Tara, unfortunately, seems to have mistaken her previous move for checkmate, and doesn’t seem to realize that Gemma still gets a turn. All in all, Tara’s carefully orchestrated plan doesn’t take long to fall apart. If her primary pieces on the board (the lawyer Lowen, the former junky and father of Jax’s first child Wendy, and the hospital administrator) aren’t exactly removed from play, they’re revealed to be not much more powerful than pawns, and what power they do have is neutralized—in fact, all three fold pretty quickly under just a little bit of pressure.

The episode begins with a teenager inexplicably breaking the window of the ice cream shop, which leads Sheriff Roosevelt to speculate on motive: “Extremely lactose intolerant?”  It ends up being more complicated than that, and in one of the last scenes of the episode, there’s a nice conversation in the empty ice cream shop between Jax and the girl, which, in these two episodes dominated by scenes of two people sitting and talking, may end up being my favorite scene of the group.

We also get a scene of Clay attending a church service in the prison (which also serves to present John 8:32, the text of the preacher’s sermon). His attendance has to do with his planned escape (not sure how yet), but it’s all carefully orchestrated, including Clay’s seemingly impromptu sermon, which is quite hilarious, as he testifies on the joys of female genitalia (not his words, or, rather, word), and the sweet freedom-setting qualities thereof. Then he bites a guard’s nose off and gets tossed in the infirmary after being beaten up by the other guards—all part of the plan, apparently.

Sons of Anarchy by the Numbers:

Man Hug Count for the Episode: 1

Man Hug Count Season Total: 16

Pipe-wrench Tossing Teenagers: 1

Noseless Guards: 1

Scenes of Jax and Nero Going Mano-a-Mano: 1

SoA “Los Fantasms”

Sons of Anarchy has reached that point in the season where I often start to lose interest in the series. 13 episodes may be stretching out the story too long, and episode of 8 of this season, “Los Fantasms,” really seemed to be an episode with a lot of filler. And a lot of time of people sitting/standing and talking to one another, whether in the police station with Nero and Patterson, in a truck with Gemma and Unser, or with Tara, in the bathroom by herself, talking to her reflection in the mirror (note: this is never a sign of good psychological well-being). The trouble with the Irish seems to have disappeared for the moment, so that plot line, one of the central threads of the season, was not addressed at all. Clay didn’t even make an appearance. That the one completely Clay-less episode of the season seemed to drag on so much may be a good indication of why he hasn’t been killed off yet. Only Peter Weller as Barosky brought some energy to the scenes he was in (and Weller was doing double duty as the director of this episode as well).

Part of the problem is I don’t find the chess game between Gemma and Tara to be particularly interesting, and much of the episode was devoted to the aftermath of Tara’s gambit in the previous episode (which really wasn’t a gambit since she wasn’t really pregnant and thus her forced miscarriage was not really a sacrifice). I think it seems pretty clear that Tara is turning into a Gemma clone, even as she devotes all her energy to making sure that Gemma has no interaction with the children. “I did what I did in order to protect my kids,” which is pretty much Gemma-speak coming from Tara’s mouth, and I think we recognize that Tara’s “whatever it takes to protect my family” attitude is her taking on Gemma’s philosophy of family-protection as self-justification. A later scene where Unser makes that very observation seemed superfluous. As have a lot of other scenes this season which have repeatedly showed the parallels between the two.

It’s also pretty much the philosophy (“whatever it takes”) of agent-in-charge Patterson, who speaks about the “greater justice” being served, which is a philosophy that is more self-serving than justice-serving. Most of the cops and feds in the series end up being psychopaths or sociopaths of some sort. Patterson hasn’t gone that far yet.

Even though Jax says during a meeting “You don’t have to say anything” about the club’s concern for him (they believe the miscarriage story), for an episode where “you don’t have to say anything,” there was a whole lot of talking. There was no hugging in the episode, but Jax did tell the table, “I love you all.” Love is all around in Charming. The next episode is titled “John 8:32.” I don’t know if the truth will set us free, but I do hope that the next episode brings us less talking. And more hugging.

Sons of Anarchy: Sweet and Vaded

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)