A review of tonight’s “Sons of Anarchy” coming up just as soon as I give you until after “The Jetsons” to decide…
“Tell me what I can do for you.” -Jax
Factoring in what it is and everything that’s led up to it, “Hands” is one of the strongest episodes “Sons of Anarchy” has ever done. It’s an hour that lays bare exactly what the show, and the club, are all about, that features outstanding performances by Charlie Hunnam, Maggie Siff and Ryan Hurst, among others, and that felt repeatedly like a kick in the gut.
That said, the episode charts a course that I hope the series has the courage to follow up on. No half-measures, to borrow a line from another basic cable drama of some renown in these parts.
As “Breaking Bad” did with Walter, and as “The Sopranos” before it did with Tony, this is the episode of “Sons of Anarchy” that makes plain what a corrosive, inescapable effect the club has on anyone foolish enough to get involved with it. And it puts Clay on what seems like an unbreakable course towards being killed “by the hand of the son” (which could be Jax or Opie, depending on Gemma’s mood).
But now Kurt Sutter and company have to stick with that. Maybe Clay survives the events of this season, but he can’t ever plausibly lead this club again, not after all the things he’s done and not after finally scaring away his scheming queen and his most dutiful errand boy. And maybe the club as a whole comes together briefly to get out of the various nooses being set before them by Linc Potter and the cartel, but the show can’t do the moral relativism dance any longer. The Sons are bad guys, even if they’re our bad guys. And having admitted that, the show needs to move forward with that worldview, for the three more seasons Sutter says he has in mind or beyond that, if need be. Anything short of that is just maintaining a formula that’s been wildly successful so far, and that way leads to becoming “Dexter” or something like it.
Lots of people suffer in “Hands,” most obviously the club’s two pre-eminent old ladies. Tara loses the full use of her hand – and with it, the career that would have given her, Jax and the boys an easy escape from SAMCRO(*). Gemma gets her face and her illusions about Clay equally pounded. The former was an unfortunate but inevitable tragedy, the latter a long overdue (if horrific and unforgivable) wake-up call, and both seem to be setting up two indisputable facts: 1)Jax is never going to leave the club, and 2)Clay is going to be dead, in jail or exiled very, very soon.
(*) Once again, it’s hard not to consider Jax’s macho refusal to just let Tara be the breadwinner either a really unfortunate character flaw or a large plot contrivance. If Jax isn’t so hung up on letting his old lady support him, then the club never makes the deal with the cartel and most of this season’s other badness doesn’t happen.
There are no uncorrupted adults on this show, but Tara’s one of the more relatively innocent, sympathetic figures – not just as the symbol of the other life Jax could leave, but as the boys’ mother – and the show made damn sure that her fall hurt us almost as much as it did her. You could argue that the scenes of the Teller family on the road, singing nursery rhymes, frolicking in parks, and having casual, tension-free conversations with the local constabulary was too heavy-handed — too much like McBain’s partner buying a boat called “The Live-4-Ever” right before he’s murdered — but I think it was important for us and for Jax to see the life he could have had right before Clay’s actions seemingly dash any chance of that.
Jax still thinks he can leave, and has a heartbreaking, brutal conversation about it with Opie, who at least forces Jax to admit his own hypocrisy and the role he played in putting Donna on a path in front of Tig’s gun. But Tara won’t let him hold onto that illusion. She’s obviously been brought low by the injury, the ordeal of the kidnapping, the meds, etc., but is anything that she says wrong? Is it any more wrong than what Opie says to Jax, what Margaret says to Gemma, or what Gemma says to Wayne?
A lot of people in this club have done a lot of bad things to each other, and those bad things are starting to pile up to the point where no one can ignore it anymore.
In a lot of recent weeks, I’ve been worried that a lot of the plot decisions were being made to suggest danger and major upheaval, but that ultimately the show would back off and find a way to hit the reset button. But Piney’s dead, Tara’s surgical career is either in major jeopardy or over (and the cartel still wants to kill her), Clay’s two oldest allies want him dead, and Juice is still in a position where it’s hard to imagine him surviving the season.
No matter where things go in the remaining four episodes of the season (beefed up from three; see below), it’s hard to imagine this being the exact same club, and show, by the time we come back for season 5. And that, to me, is a very good thing, even if things seem so bad for everyone right now.
Some other thoughts:
• In case you missed the news yesterday, FX agreed to add an additional episode to the season, pushing the finale to December 6. In reality, this means only about 20 minutes or so of additional material, since we’ll be getting two 60-minute episodes at season’s end rather than a single 90-minute one, but Sutter had been saying on Twitter for a while that he had more story than could fit into 90 minutes. So hopefully we’ll get it all in.
• Cell phones have complicated a lot of traditional thriller-style plots, and I imagine text messaging would make it even harder. If Jax isn’t picking up his phone, why doesn’t Tig start texting him a bunch of “YOU ARE IN DANGER. COME HOME”-style messages?
• Any legal scholars in the audience want to say whether Roosevelt really could be bound by some kind of “agreement of participation” as Potter describes it? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but virtually all my legal knowledge comes from TV.
• Note the return of the mysterious homeless girl from seasons past, who catches Jax’s eye right before Tara’s abduction.
• Great make-up work on Katey Sagal’s face in the final scene.
• This is the second “Sons” of the season directed by Peter Weller, and the first script ever co-written (along with Sutter and Chris Collins) by David Labrava, whom you might know better as resident SAMCRO lunatic Happy. Hell of an introductory credit, even a shared one.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com