‘Sons of Anarchy’ – ‘Call of Duty’: Blown up real good

Senior Television Writer
11.15.11 145 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Sons of Anarchy” coming up just as soon as I have a French bulldog named Ramon…

“Benefit of an end date. Nothing more dangerous than a guy who knows he’s already dead.” -Clay

We are watching one of two things these last few weeks on “Sons of Anarchy.” Either we’re seeing the methodical, inexorable journey towards someone putting a bullet in Clay Morrow, or we’re being set up for Clay to improbably escape the combined vengeance of Opie, Gemma, Wayne, Jax, Bobby and all the other people he’s betrayed, and remain an active, important member of SAMCRO.

Obviously, there’s a lot of territory between those extremes – including Clay getting swept up in Potter’s RICO case and landing in prison before Opie and company can kill him – but my gut now tells me it’s one or the other. After last week’s episode, I assumed Clay was heading for a pine box, because he had lost all his allies in and around the club and was hated by too many. After this one, though, the deck has been stacked so much against Clay that I fear we’re heading towards a surprising – and, to my mind, disappointing – escape from the consequences of his recent actions. Would Sutter really spend the last 4 or 5 episodes of the season telling us over and over that Clay is going to die at the hand of a Son and then actually do it? Or would it be more along his M.O. to brace everyone for that and then go in an unexpected direction(*) at the last minute?

(*) My current, possibly unsubstantiated fear: that Sutter acknowledges that Clay and Opie can no longer co-exist, and decides to turn Opie into some kind of martyr for the club’s sins, while allowing Clay to move forward unscathed.

I’m watching these episodes week to week with the rest of you, and we obviously have several weeks to go before we know exactly how it all plays out. Maybe it’s my generally cynical nature, but I’m a little worried that things are lining up too neatly for Clay’s death (or incarceration, or exile) for it to actually happen in the way I think it needs to for the show to move forward interestingly.

As for what we actually saw tonight with “Call of Duty,” it was a definite step down from the genius of “Hands” – an episode that felt overstuffed even with the 90-minute length. There were some interesting moments and plot developments, but so much was going on that the death of Kozik wound up feeling like an afterthought – a quick, sick joke designed to resolve Kenny Johnson’s double employment status.(**) When Tara acts incredulous that Wendy would choose now, of all times, to turn up, it almost felt like a meta comment about how much was piled into this one episode, which also had the end of Georgie (and the possible end of Clay’s attempt to stop Charming Heights), Otto cutting a deal with Potter, Juice revealing (part of) his secret to Chibs, Clay losing another ally in Tig, Gemma trying to keep Wayne and Jax’s bloodlust for Clay under control, and Wayne defying her to turn the large, angry, deadly Opie loose on Clay.

(**) Talk about having a bad week: Kozik blows up real good a day after NBC’s mid-season schedule leaves off “Prime Suspect,” making it clear that show isn’t long for this world.

That’s an awful lot even at the bonus length. Some of those storylines had a little more time to breathe than they normally would, and those tended to feel strong.

Chibs and Juice was particularly good, even as it revealed once again what a stupid, contrived idea it was for Juice to turn on the club over the race rules. Would a guy as smart as Juice really just throw in his lot with Roosevelt without first feeling out a close friend like Chibs or Jax about how the club as a whole would react? He sort of tried it in the episode where Miles died, but in such a half-ass fashion that of course Chibs gave him an unhelpful answer. But Theo Rossi did such a good job at showing Juice’s conflicted emotions in that scene – of anger with himself for being so stupid, and yet a weird kind of bliss and relief at realizing that the club wouldn’t have cast him out, after all – that it covered over a lot of the silly plot mechanics for a moment.

And, of course, there was that final scene at Piney’s cabin. Ryan Hurst has been one of the show’s great underutilized resources these last two seasons (his goodbye to Stahl excepted), and whatever winds up happening with this story, I’m glad that he’s going to be a prominent part of it. Opie’s primal rage and grief during that scene were incredible to behold, and if anyone can claim right to the biggest grievance with Clay, it has to be him, right?

Still, I can’t help thinking on that Clay line I quoted above. “The Shield” was never better, I would argue, than after Shawn Ryan, Sutter and company knew exactly when the end was coming and that they could let everything all hang out. But “Sons of Anarchy” isn’t terminal yet. We know we’re getting a fifth season, and chances are we’ll get the sixth and seventh that Sutter want – and maybe even more, depending on how the show is doing, how the rest of FX’s lineup is doing, etc. Even if Sutter has the whole series’ arc mapped out in his head, three more seasons is still a lot of road to travel, and I can see him taking certain safe paths for as long as he can.

I hope I’m worrying about nothing – that Sutter knows Clay has to be moved out of a power position (if not eliminated altogether), that the show’s attitude towards the club from last week’s episode is going to be its attitude from here until the end of the series – and will gladly cop to being wrong if things turn out okay. 

In the meantime, let’s pour one out for unlucky, quickly-forgotten Kozik. Bodies are dropping very fast for SAMCRO, and we may have some more memorials to plan before this season is out.

Some other thoughts:

• Though Wendy seemed like one problem too many – and an excuse to have Tara go further down the self-destructive Ophelia path – I thought Drea de Matteo did a good job of showing how much she’s changed since we last saw her late in season one. Suddenly, Wendy is in much better shape, physically and emotionally, than either of the two women who want to keep her away from Jax and Abel.

• Sutter has made his love of “Deadwood” clear in his casting choices over the years. This episode’s penultimate scene, with Clay and Gemma at opposite ends of the Teller-Morrow parking lot, was another example of how “Sons” occasionally uses that lot as its equivalent of the Deadwood thoroughfare, with characters arranged theatrically across it, everyone aware of where everyone is and what they’re doing.

• Kozik’s final words – “You gotta be shitting me” – were a tip of the hat to “The Shield,” albeit not to Kenny Johnson’s character, as that was one of Dutch’s favorite phrases.

• It did not take until the final act for Chekhov’s RPG to come into play, did it?

• Tig + Real Doll = comedy.

• Otto tells Potter that he wouldn’t understand why he’s looking out for Lenny the Pimp, and Potter replies, “I wish that wasn’t true.” Here’s a guy who wears a retro motorcycle jacket and rides an old-school bike; did he once dream of being in an MC and somehow wound up on the side of the law instead?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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