Sons of Anarchy is having one heck of a season, no?
Whether or not Kurt Sutter agrees with most of the criticisms of the mediocre third season, it is apparent that he decided to push the series back towards the things it does best in season four. Now that we’re coming to the final stretch of the season, the conflicts between certain members of the club, the lies and the danger have all bubbled to arguably the highest they’ve ever been in the series’ run. “Hands,” much like the three or four episodes that preceded it, featured one gut-punch after another. So many awful things happened in this episode that I found myself legitimately sick to my stomach by the time it ended. But I guess we could say that I wanted to vomit in a good way, if that’s possible.
In my last few reviews of Sons of Anarchy, I’ve talked about the series’ inability or general desire not to take Clay to the darkest places needed to make the story even more engaging and wrenching. Sons has hinted at it before, but pumped the breaks so that external conflicts could take center stage. You know this, everyone has talked about it repeatedly over the last few seasons. But what makes this season and this last handful of episodes in particular so great is that Sutter and his team have found a way to merge both internal and external conflicts better than ever before. Season two did this somewhat with the League and Jax and Clay’s issues, but once the final push of that season got going, the men but their problems aside momentarily so that they could take on even more dangerous forces.
Not this season. In fact, this season has been very smart at constructing circumstances where not only are a half-dozen different groups at play here, but Clay is actually using the sheer number of antagonists as cover-fire for all his evil plotting. Because of all those groups, Clay was able to take out Piney and then pin the murder on one of SAMCRO’s adversaries and from the outside, it makes a lot of sense. And because the cartel is so dense and so powerful, he was able to get a hit-man that was far enough separated from who the club knows from the cartel. Had Clay’s plan worked, there would have been no way that Jax could have initially found out. Tara would have been out on the road and the blame could have gone to a number of different groups or people. He’s obviously still working that angle anyway and who knows, maybe it will work out for him, but the point is that Clay has been both supremely vicious and solidly cunning with his plans to take out members of his own family, which makes the story all that more powerful.
Again, there have been questions about Clay and his tight-rope with the dark side for a few seasons now. However, I’m not sure how he comes back from what happens in “Hands.” I know a lot of people were using the word “gamechanger” on Twitter before and after this aired and even though I hate that word, I see the sentiment.
Not only does Clay decide to go through with the attack on Tara (though he doesn’t know that Jax and the kids are with her as well), but then he takes all his frustration and rage out on Gemma once she realizes his evil plan. In one day, Clay tried to have his daughter-in-law killed and nearly beat his own wife to death. Jax might not find out about Tara’s attack right away, but I find it hard to believe that an angry Gemma is going to keep quiet for too long (I’ll come back to that in a second, though). Ron Perlman is clearly having one hell of a time playing Clay as he comes unhinged and he’s definitely doing a wonderful job. Although Clay clearly wanted to take Tara out, you could still see the remorse in his eyes once he found out about Jax and even later at the hospital he looked both upset and disappointed. Clay is the villain of the story now and Perlman is reveling in it.
Nevertheless, this is the part of the review where I wonder about the story’s future. If this episode is indeed a gamechanger, then that suggests that the series is, well, changed moving forward. This is certainly the worst Clay has ever been, there’s no question that nearly killing the series’ two lead female characters equates to “too far gone,” but Sons has found ways to back away from evil depths before. Not this evil, but still. I know that Gemma told Unser that she’ll have a “son” take care of Clay and that actually worries me a bit. We know that Clay killed Piney and I could definitely see a circumstance where Gemma plots in secret to have Opie take Clay out and Jax is therefore none the wiser. Based on Jax’s story this season, I would be pretty disappointed with that outcome, but I’m also not sure what Sons of Anarchy is about for the intended three more seasons if Clay is dead and Jax had nothing to do with it. Clearly this is just all mindless speculation, but I hope that the series doesn’t negate any of the powerful moments it has collected over the last six weeks. That would be a major shame.
Speaking of powerful moments, Clay’s actions created a number of them for Jax and Tara. Although they were probably a bit on the nose, I actually loved the short sequences with the Jax and his family on the road, singing songs in the SUV and generally having a good time. It was sort of weird to see Charlie Hunnam to be asked to smile so much, but it was charming in a goofy way and those scenes were necessary so that Jax and Tara could get a sense of what they lost once Tara got abducted (in what was a really thrilling scene on its own) and injured her hand. The post-surgery scene between the two of them was one of the most moving and uncomfortable scenes that the series has ever done and both Hunnam and Maggie Siff were fantastic in it. It bothers me that I could see Tara’s hand injury (and therefore no surgery future) coming from a far distance and that it’s a convenient way to create tension and end that possible out, but the actors made me forget about those small frustrations very quickly.
Finally, Jax’s conversation with Opie was similarly intense and stirring. It was nice that Jax owned up to his mistakes, his lies and ultimately, his hypocrisies. None of those platitudes help bring Donna back to Ope, but I loved how Jax just laid it out on the table straight with him. This is my favorite Charlie Hunnam performance in the series’ whole run. He showed a lot of different sides and nicely underplayed some scenes that I would have expected him to yell in. He was great. Not only was it just a fantastic scene between two wonderful performers, but the conversation also pointed out the differences between Jax and Clay. The latter never apologizes, not even to his own wife. He just retrenches further into his arrogance and now, he’s reached a point where too many people are going to want to take him down. There’s no way that Clay finishes this season as club president and there’s a great possibility that he doesn’t finish it alive either. Here’s to hoping that Sons of Anarchy keeps pushing forward with the gut-punches.
- There wasn’t really any place for it in the body of the review, but I also really enjoyed the way that Roosevelt and Juice’s story developed here. I wish we could learn more about Roosevelt as a person (it feels like he’ll be around for a while though), but the last few episodes have done a solid job of making him much more complicated and sympathetic. He’s legitimately worried about how Potter is going to treat Juice and he even appeared substantially upset when he visited Jax and the rest of the club at the hospital. He realizes that he’s been used and I’m curious to see if that pushes him into the arms of the Sons after all.
- In case you didn’t hear, FX decided to order a 14th episode of the season, meaning the finale will now be a week later. I think this only adds an additional 30 minutes to the story since the finales are usually 90 minutes and now there will just be two 60 minute efforts to close out the story, but getting more of a series having a great season is never, ever a bad thing.