Review: Sons of Anarchy, “Family Recipe”

 

When I checked in with Sons of Anarchy last week, I couched many of my praises with some concerns. Sons had been having a very good season that led to a number of truly great moments last week, moments that I didn’t actually expect to come until the end of the season. But amid all my enthusiasm for where the season had led to that point, I was at least somewhat concerned about how Kurt Sutter would operate moving  into the back-half of the season. How would he and the writing staff avoid taking Clay to the darkest places he really needed to go? How would the series manage the leadership vote? What are the consequences of those things and the dozens of other threads that appeared to be coming to a head? Sons of Anarchy has a tendency to sprint right up to the line it eventually needs to cross and then fairly rapidly back away from that line to focus on other, arguably less interesting plot threads. Long story short, I was very concerned that all the good possibilities last week’s episode suggested would be backed away from and more outside forces would come to the forefront.

“Family Recipe” is a complicated follow up to both those praises and those fears. In a lot of ways, tonight’s episode did many of the things I hoped that the series wouldn’t do again. But in a lot of other ways, it continued to move forward into the bleak, bloody darkness that it really needs – although there are options for more back-pedaling there as well. Basically, what I’m saying is that “Recipe” did a whole lot of things right, but my concerns about the overall end-point for where this is all headed are still very present and applicable.

Maybe I’m a hypocrite, but one of the “right” things this episode did was keep Juice alive. I see the sense of disturbed poignancy that would come with his suicide after one hell of an ordeal. Relatively speaking, Juice is a good guy and if he killed himself because of the awkward position he currently finds himself in, I think it would force the club to really look at the kind of terrible state they are in. Not that they need any more evidence pointing to that fact, but still. However, having Juice alive means having an entry point to the Lincoln Potter character and the RICO case, which has been compelling any time the season has decided to address it. Plus, Juice’s failed suicide has put in him in an even more peculiar position now that Chibs is aware of at least some of his actions (I’m guessing he can fill in the blanks as well). All Juice’s original problems still exist and now he has another half-dozen piled on top of it. I hate to see the series’ most likable character suffer, but it makes complete sense from a dramatic standpoint.

The biggest issues with “Family Recipe” stem from the character I assumed they would: Clay. As I said above and have repeated ad nauseum in anything I have written about Sons of Anarchy, the series’ has been working towards a situation where Clay is the full-blown villain and it would benefit substantially from getting there and most importantly, staying there. This season has done a wonderful job of showing how Clay’s selfish, greedy ways infect the club as a whole and last week’s vote call suggested that the club-wide tensions caused by Clay were going to be directly addressed.

Well, “Recipe” addresses some issues related to Clay and his simmering villainy, but not in the direct way that I probably would have preferred it to. Unsurprisingly, there is no vote. Right in the middle of it, with intensity at a high, the clubhouse is attacked by those pesky outside forces that Sons of Anarchy tends to pull out when it’s time to shift the narrative into a place it should go. I’m fine with SAMCRO having to face some forceful consequences for getting involved with the cartel because they only further underscore that the club should have never gotten involved and that Clay is out of control. Nevertheless, the seemingly blatant way that the leadership vote was interrupted with rival cartel gunfire felt like a giant middle finger to those in the audience who feel like I do. It wouldn’t surprise me if the vote doesn’t happen to the end of the season or doesn’t even happen at all, and that definitely bothers me.

However, this episode delivered on the Clay front in a much more dramatic way by having him finally kill Piney. This is something that we’ve all been expecting and waiting for at least since the season began (and probably going back further), but “Recipe” does a tremendous job of letting the scene breathe and making it worth the wait. It felt like there was no real way that Clay couldn’t kill Piney (but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t worried, obviously) and now that he has, one could argue that Clay is at his lowest moral point. He’s brought constant threats (well, even more constant threats) on his club and discarded his already faulty morality in the name of money, manufactured a murder threat of his step-daughter-in-law and killed one of his oldest peers for selfish reasons. He is out of control.

The thing is, though, it still doesn’t mean that the series is going to truly, properly pay off Clay’s crime against Piney. When he orchestrated Donna’s death a few seasons ago, the series found ways to back away from the pure evil that it required to actually do something like that and now when she’s mentioned by Ope, there’s never a sense that he holds Clay responsible. I would wager that Opie and the rest of the MC won’t respond in the same way to Piney’s death, but I could just as easily see a situation where the series tells us that Clay sufficiently covered his tracks and everyone thinks that the rival cartel pulled the hit. If this happens, I will be very upset. I’m begrudgingly willing to go with you when you speed away from a no confidence vote and turn the perspective outward. I’m dramatically less willing to go with you when Clay kills Piney and you do the same kind of perspective shifting.

Another week, another solid episode that suggests big things that could develop in a troubling way.

Other thoughts:

  • His horrible actions aside, Clay’s charming speech to the community leaders did its job in showing us a bit of why Clay is doing these things. He really does love and want to protect Charming, even if it means moving drugs and hushing up old friends. Good work from Ron Perlman there and in all scenes, per usual.
  • Despite my issues with how Clay was handled this week, there were some really great, necessary conversations to be had here. Jax’s conversation with Piney about responsibility and the past included some of the things I hate about the series – Jax refusing to discuss his father with Piney because the narrative requires him to – but also addressed Jax’s implicit role in all the drug-related consequences. That conversation was a nice primer for Jax’s later talk with Tara where he completely fessed up to being wrong about the drug-running and embraced her decision to get the hell of dodge and go to Oregon. Jax has always been a bit too passive for my liking and though being a man with Tara doesn’t equate to his relationship with Clay, I very much liked that bit of development. Charlie Hunnam was damn good in both scenes.
  • The bag of heads was fine. The head in the Chili was probably too much.
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2 thoughts on “Review: Sons of Anarchy, “Family Recipe”

  1. What a great episode! Between the chili, what happened to Piney, finding the Mayan Rat, and Tara leaving, so much happened this week And I can’t imagine being a DirecTV customer right now with this negotiation with FOX looming over their heads…if things go south DirecTV customers stand to lose FX, among other channels, and as a DISH customer/employee, I’m just glad I don’t have to worry about it. Bring on new SOA!

  2. Cory, I really liked your insights and I will be back next week to read more of your work. Thanks for an entertaining and actually compelling analysis of last weeks episode. You do good work!

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