A review of tonight’s “Sons of Anarchy” coming up just as soon as I store my kids’ baby teeth in a wall safe…
“Your father knew the patch was a mistake, and so do you.” -Father Ashby
It took 10 episodes into the season, and apparently one episode before the Sons head back to Charming, but I finally find myself invested in a piece of the Belfast story. Better late than never?
Specifically, when Father Ashby told Jax his reasons for withholding Abel, then left Jax alone to ponder the kind of future he wants for his son, I found myself actually engaged by a part of this Irish business – in part because it wasn’t really about the Irish at all. Kellan Ashby has never really come alive as a character, but as a tool for Jax to again question the life he and his family have chosen – on a tight deadline and with incredibly high stakes – he finally accomplished something of interest.
I guess that’s been the problem with Belfast as a whole. With the exception of Maureen, who’s evolved into every bit the Belfast version of Gemma, none of the Irish characters have actually felt like characters, but like plot devices used to push SAMCRO this way and that. For SAMBEL to leave the pursuit of O’Neill almost entirely up to their American brothers – when it was their own patch members who actually got blown up in the explosion – revealed the Belfast charter for the cannon fodder they’ve unfortunately been. The Charming Sons have come across the pond and caused a whole lot or problems for their Irish comrades, and yet it wasn’t until Maureen’s rant late in the episode where anyone from this side seemed particularly troubled by it. And when Maureen complained to Gemma that Gemma has no idea about the desperate quality of their lives and the things they do to keep Charming safe, all I could think was that I wish the Ireland story had been about that, and not this contrived game of Hide the Baby.
Kurt Sutter (who gave a long interview to Mo Ryan in which she asked him about many of the complaints about this season) has said that this was a season where he really wanted to delve into the show’s mythology, but I feel like the story has gotten in the way of the backstory. I know a bit about John Teller’s time in Belfast, but know very little about the actual formation of the Belfast charter, of how Keith McGee was in Charming so many decades earlier, why he came home, etc. McGee barely registered as a character at all, other than the impressive size and mustache of the actor playing him. As a result, the moment when Clay had to kill a member of the Fist Nine didn’t have the emotional resonance it should have, even with Ron Perlman playing the hell out of it, and Sutter having Clay give McGee a Corleone-style kiss of all kisses before pushing him over the ledge.
I like the idea of using a previously-unexplored corner of the show’s history to make Jax confront his uneasiness with the MC lifestyle, which hasn’t really been on the show’s agenda since Ethan Zobelle came to town. I just don’t think this season has done an especially good job of that, in part because so much of the story has been tied to Abel, and then to coming up with different excuses to keep Jax and Abel apart until it was time for Father Ashby to present Jax with this choice.(*)
(*) Another problem with doing a present-day plot so tied to the past is that the Belfast stories have had to do a lot of “tell, don’t show.” Sutter has told me he never wants to do flashbacks to the old days, and I can respect that as a creative choice. But I think given where he wanted to take the story, devoting an episode to showing John Teller and a younger McGee in Belfast in the early ’90s would have solved a lot of problems and made the present-day Belfast scenes feel much more vital.
As for the action in Charming, I quite liked Margaret and Tara’s scene in the attic – her backstory wasn’t so one-to-one with Tara’s as to be silly, but close enough that it did its job of making their earlier interaction much more interesting – but am eager to see Tig and/or Kozik put a bullet in Salazar already. Beyond the contrivances necessary to put him in this position, he and his girlfriend are two-dimensional villains, as was made clear when we got our brief glimpse of Alvarez’s home and family. Alvarez and his fierce mama bear are how you write complicated, interesting anatgonists (or, in this case, uneasy allies) and I’d much rather see more of him and the Mayans than watch Salazar wander around figuratively twirling his mustache.
The way Sutter stretched out the Sons’ departure from Charming, I could see the Belfast story stretching out two more episodes rather than one (or one-plus, with Oswald’s plane taking off early in episode 12), but there’s still a lot to be resolved, as Jax will have to make the call on Abel (and risk Gemma’s wrath if he agrees with Ashby) and find some way to spirit Jimmy away from the IRA without getting himself and his club targeted in the process. (That, or Gemma gets to be Hannibal Lecter for the rest of the series, appearing only to give Clay and Jax advice from inside her cell.)
Regardless of how long it takes, I’m finally curious to see how some of this plays out.
Some other thoughts:
• There are two shows on television where I would not have been shocked if Jax and Trinity had been allowed to start, um, “dancing in Tig territory,” and this is one of them. (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is the other.) The revelation of their true identities to each other was used amusingly to call a brief truce in the Gemma/Maureen feud, but Jax’s understated reaction to it all makes me again wonder what the point was to keeping the truth from him for so many episodes. If the big secret Gemma was keeping (before she knew about Trinity) was simply that JT screwed around in Belfast, should she and Clay have really been this worried?
• Along similar lines, when Kozik told the other Charming-based guys that they would be better off not telling Jax about Tara, I rolled my eyes and thought, “Right. Because keeping the truth from people has worked out so well for everybody this season.”
• Happy doesn’t get much to do (David LaBrava, the guy playing him is actually one of the show’s technical consultants), but I always enjoy those little notes on the margin about his complete viciousness, here with Happy nodding enthusiastically as Bobby notes that the IRA torturer was trying some “medieval shit” on O’Neill.
• Given Chibs’ anguish last week over the murder of his nephew, shouldn’t Jax have let him be the one to put the final bullet in O’Neill?
• In addition to the “dancing in Tig territory” line, I got a big kick out of the “I need some smokes” / “I need some whiskey” / “I need a new life” Gemma/Maureen/Cherry 1-2-3.
What did everybody else think?