‘Sons of Anarchy’ – ‘Fruit for the Crows’: Juice in a box

A review of tonight’s “Sons of Anarchy” coming up just as soon as I embrace the stereotype…

“You don’t have a normal life, baby. You have this one.” -Gemma

The sense I couldn’t shake throughout “Fruit for the Crows” – for my money, the strongest episode of season 4 by a long stretch – is just how inescapable the box the various Sons have built for themselves.

On the biggest level – and the one that drives Bobby to demand a vote for a leadership change – they’re in bed with the cartel now, and while Romeo has been a useful ally so far (helping end their Russian problem), stepping up to the big leagues brings along big league opponents in the rival cartel, and also something of a lifetime contract. The Sons are in for as long as the cartel says they’re in, and it seems like they’ll only get out if/when they’re too devastated to be of use to their friends from the south. And bigger stakes lead to bigger messes, like that fiasco in the apartment where an innocent woman gets shot in the head, and possibly the rest of her family in Mexico marked for death. The Sons shouldn’t be in situations like this, but they have to back their various allies in this war, and war brings with it collateral damage.

Clay putting Romeo in charge of killing Tara, in the way that he did, seems a bit like pointing the Terminator at someone. There’s no way to call this off without Clay making himself vulnerable, and we know he’s not going to do that, ever. Unser’s taking a convoluted approach towards protecting Tara, and I imagine at some point Wayne will be forced to choose the good doctor over himself, but someone’s dying here.

And then there’s poor Juice. Regardless of whether you believe the show has done a good job selling his motivation for going along with Roosevelt, he went along, killed a fellow club member, stole property from the club and gave the cops information on the clubs’ deal with the cartel. Whatever his reasons for committing the sin, he’s committed it, and he’s screwed. Potter, like Stahl before him, doesn’t seem to care if Juice gets killed as a result of their interaction, and while Roosevelt feels bad about what he’s doing, he goes along with it.(*) And now he’s damned. He can either help destroy the club he loves, or he can be killed as a rat. He tries to choose a third option by taking his own life, but if the sound of the limb breaking as we faded out to the SAMCRO logo means what I assume it meant(**), then even that escape route didn’t work out.

(*) Like the racism angle, I felt like Roosevelt going along with Potter was more a case of the show forcing a necessary outcome without making it believable. Maybe Potter can hurt Roosevelt with his boss, and maybe he can’t, but I would think a cop with what we’re told is Roosevelt’s spotless record could very easily walk out of that meeting, pick up a phone and tell his superiors that he’s been asked by Potter to do something unethical/illegal (even if he doesn’t say what it is because of the non-disclosure agreement), and that any harsh report from Potter would be read in that light. Maybe it works, and maybe it doesn’t, but he would at at least consider options before making himself a party to this. But the show needs Juice to be squeezed some more, and so Roosevelt just does it. The scenes that came out of that were great, but even at the best of times this is a show where you can still see the puppet strings. 

(**) It’s at this point that I should remind you about the usual No Spoilers rule for the blog, and specifically the part about discussing the previews. I’m assuming Juice is alive when we come to next week’s episode, but whether the previews for next week show him still being ambulatory, or the Sons attending his funeral, or just don’t feature him at all, I don’t want to see it discussed at all in the comments. Any discussion of the previews, or things you’ve read/heard elsewhere about the fate of Juice and other things upcoming in the season, are strictly forbidden and will be deleted ASAP. Got it?

The thing is, Kurt Sutter specializes in putting his characters into seemingly inescapable boxes and then figuring out a way for them to get out – or at least to escape to a slightly bigger box. While I don’t expect everyone to survive the season (and would find it a cheat if all the cast regulars do, to be honest), I imagine some of these wounds will heal and some of these problems will be solved. I know this intellectually, having watched 7 seasons of “The Shield” and 3 and a half seasons of this show. Emotionally, though, an episode like “Fruit for the Crows” does such a good job of selling the end times nature of things that I’m able to put my awareness of this as a TV show aside (mostly, anyway; see the footnote above about Roosevelt) and put myself into the same apocalyptic frame of mind that characters like Tara, Unser and, especially, Juice are feeling.

It took the show three years to figure out something for Theo Rossi to do, and even if I haven’t liked everything about how we got to this point, this point was pretty great for him and the show. The way he plays Juice’s empty, defeated nature was terrific, and he was especially strong in the scene where Clay gave him the “Men of Mayhem” patch (worn, I believe, by members who have killed someone for the sake of the club) and told him he loved him. Because we get to see everything Clay is up to, we know what a selfish, cruel bastard he is, but a scene like that is a reminder of how he’s maintained such a strong grip on the club’s leadership for so many years, because he knows when to show the iron fist and when to wrap it in a velvet glove.

So Tara knows someone’s trying to kill her, Clay knows Unser’s not on his side anymore, Juice knows he’s damned (assuming he’s still alive), Piney is arming up for something crazy, and everyone else knows that the club is in the middle of a big old mess with Romeo’s cartel, their rivals, and this upcoming vote.

We’ll see how everybody gets out of it, but this week? Damn, that was good.

Some other thoughts:

In case you missed yesterday’s news, FX has ordered a fifth season. As this is FX’s biggest hit ever, and is having its best ratings ever this season, the renewal was a formality, and it’s hard to imagine a circumstance in which Sutter doesn’t get to tell his planned 7-season arc.

The episode’s title comes from the song “Strange Fruit,” most famously recorded by Billie Holiday and featured in the closing montage.

Whether the show is actually doing more motorcycle chases than previous years, they’re definitely doing them better before. TV car/bike chase scenes tend to bore me, because there’s only so much you can do that’s new and interesting given the schedule, budget and thousands of similar chase scenes done before them. But the ones this year have been very good, here with the bike vs. car scene being enhanced by Jax (and/or his stunt double) having to ride through a cloud of dust and exhaust the whole time. (On the other hand, would the club members have really let Jax chose those guys by himself?)

I know Kozik being the one sent north to fetch the guns is an easy way to not have to spend money on an actor who’s not a series regular in weeks when the show doesn’t really need him, while keeping everyone else close to home for bits of drama, but it sure seems like an important gun shipment like this one is the sort of thing the club would insist on sending one of its oldest and/or most trusted charter members to oversee, not the guy who lost a truck full of guns because he had to go shoot hoops.

With Miles dead, and assuming Juice is still alive, does that bring the voting members of the club back to an even total? Clay, Jax, Tig, Chibs, Bobby, Juice, Happy, Kozik, Piney, Opie. I don’t think I missed anybody, which means we could very easily wind up with a stalemate if the vote is actually held in the next episode.

Some of you predicted last week that Ima might wind up doing Clay’s dirty work for him before the season’s out. Maybe she’ll get there eventually, but tonight she mainly seemed terrified of everything and everyone SAMCRO-related.

What did everybody else think?