‘Sons of Anarchy’ – ‘With an X’: The blame game

Senior Television Writer
10.11.11 106 Comments


A review of tonight’s “Sons of Anarchy” coming up just as soon as I recommend getting knocked up and kidnapped…

“It’s not about Opie. It’s about… this.” -Tara

I didn’t love last week’s episode, which delved into important pieces of the series’ backstory, but in a way that never really engaged me. Knowing that Clay ordered John Teller’s murder is a huge piece of his character, his relationship with Jax and Gemma, the show’s history, etc., but even as he and Wayne were talking about what they might have to do to Tara, that story somehow felt like it was about facts with minimal relevance to the present-day events that the series depicts.

“With an X,” on the other hand, did a much stronger job in connecting the past to the present, whether with familiar bits of history like JT’s murder and Jax’s fling with Ima, or with something like the subplot with Tig’s daughter, whom we’d never met before. (I think his various kids have been mentioned in passing, but that’s about it.) Whatever reasons Clay had for killing JT, and whatever role Wayne played in it(*) aren’t that important at the moment; what is is that Clay has now decided to have Tara taken out, while Wayne has decidedly to covertly take action against him by alerting first Roosevelt, then Tara herself, that someone wants her dead. That’s a vital, scary, exciting story in the here and now, and a number of those scenes sent chills down my spine. Good stuff.

(*) Unser owns a trucking company; JT was killed in what seemed to be an accidental collision with a truck. That math seems simply enough, even if Wayne wasn’t necessarily driving it.

Jax’s one-nighter with Ima is something we actually witnessed, and though a lot of time has passed in both the real world and the characters’ lives, it’s not a wound that’s ever really going to heal. Having Opie try the same trick (for a slightly different reason) could have seemed repetitive, but instead it just created more tension – between Jax and Tara, Opie and Lyla, and even Opie and his sucker-punching dad – when Ima made the mistake of pointing a gun at someone inside the SAMCRO clubhouse. She has reason to be afraid of Tara, but these are people you don’t mess with in that way, as Jax showed her in very ugly fashion late in the episode.

The Juice story provided the episode with most of its narrative spine. I still think the show has fallen down on the job in terms of explaining the whys and wherefores of the club’s very specific color line, but at least his conversation with Chibs(**) alluded to both the strangeness and history of it. And though the story itself played (like the Kozik stolen truck story from a few episodes back) like a Kurt Sutter’s Greatest Hits collection – there were bits of old stories involving Vic Mackey, Shane Vendrell and Agent Stahl laid out there – it was still effectively tense throughout.

(**) If ever there’s a club member Juice should be talking to about this, it’s Chibs, who found himself squeezed in similar fashion by Stahl back in season 2.

I just wish the show had bothered to establish Miles as a character we cared about in the slightest before Juice killed him. Though the club gets into lots of violent encounters, the show has mostly managed to avoid killing off anyone of real significance within the club. Half-Sack got stabbed, but that was a case of the actor wanting to leave the show. I don’t want to cost anyone a job, but if we’re not at the point where the prospects and members of other charters are just “Star Trek” redshirts, ready to die to illustrate the danger of a situation even as all our regulars move on unscathed. We may well be moving towards a point where Juice, or Tara, or Wayne (who has, after all, been battling cancer for the life of the show) or a corpse-to-be-named-later dies before this season’s out, but in this episode, Miles’ death mainly played out as the most convenient way to get Juice out of an impossible jam.

Some other thoughts:

• As alluded to above, I really liked the Tig plot, from the jokes about his unstable brood (Bobby: “Which one?” Tig: “Crazy one.” Jax: “Which one?”) to the story taking the unexpected turn of Tig (newly-flush with cartel money) pretending to fall for the con to give Dawn/Margaux-with-an-X reason to keep visiting him.

• Ryan Hurst, as usual, was terrific in that scene on the clubhouse roof. Opie is so big and strong and efficient that it would be easy for him to become an instrument of destruction that might even freak out the likes of Tig and Happy, but he holds so much of his rage inside, and so all we got out of him learning the news about Lyla’s abortion was a small but telling mustache twitch.

• The show’s soundtrack usually features modern covers of ’60s and ’70s tunes, but here our final montage was accompanied by Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” from his sprawling ’75 album “Blood on the Tracks.”

• “This is why mothers drown baby girls.” Ah, the wit and wisdom of Gemma Teller.

What did everybody else think?

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