Review: 'Sons of Anarchy' - 'Brick': Ancient history
A review of tonight's "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I step out from behind the magic curtain...
"I had John Teller killed while I was bedding his wife." -Clay
There are three main stories in "Brick," each of them dealing in a way with a bit of ancient history for the club and/or its members. In one, Clay and Gemma each scramble to gain control of John Teller's letters, and we finally get confirmation from Clay that not only was JT's death not an accident, but that Clay was the one who orchestrated it. In another, Roosevelt continues to pressure Juice to inform on the club in exchange for keeping his bi-racial identity a secret. And in the third, Otto demands that the club finally get around to solving Luann's murder after that story was dropped like a hot rock late in season 2.
The Otto/Georgie/Bobby story was solid - once you've brought Tom Arnold into your show's orbit, David Hasselhoff isn't a significantly bigger leap - though I still don't feel like we have any idea who killed her. The club's just assuming Georgie did it, and have suspended his sentence while they take advantage of Georgie's Japanese business contacts to screw over Jacob Hale and stop Charming Heights from being built. Kurt Sutter's only an occasional actor, but he has terrific screen presence in this role (and as Margos Dezerian on "The Shield") and gives real weight to Otto's frustration at suffering so much for a club that doesn't seem to care about him as anything but a tool. His scenes with Gemma(*) and then Bobby provided gravity to the front and back ends of the episode, even if Bobby's lie almost surely promises more trouble down the road.
(*) Am I right in thinking this is the first time Sutter and Sagal have acted opposite each other on the show? My recollection is that all of Otto's previous visitors were either members of the club or feds like Stahl and Potter.
But I found the other two stories problematic in different ways, because of how much or how little they went into the ancient history.
With Juice, the show has still failed to explain why being Puerto Rican is okay with SAMCRO but being black is so terrible that Juice would risk being found out as a rat (or a thief of the cartel's coke). I know Sutter has explained it to an extent on his blog, but that's not the same thing. Juice is now doing incredibly stupid things for Roosevelt(**), all with a motivation that isn't remotely clear within the context of the show.
(**) And I hope at some point the show goes a bit deeper into Roosevelt's feelings about exploiting Juice's race to get to the club. Here, his concern seems mainly about how it'll look, but how does the man feel about going up against a club where being black (or even half-black) is such a taboo that Juice would do whatever Roosevelt tells him? Does that make him dislike the Sons even more? Give him any kind of guilt over what he's doing to Juice?
And at the risk of contradicting myself, I felt that the Clay/Gemma/Wayne plot spent too much time on backstory - or, rather, on a story I've never been incredibly interested in.
The club's origins, Clay's rise to power, the way JT turned into the man who would write that manuscript, etc., are all key parts of the show's foundation. But the way Sutter has chosen to present those details - mainly at the start of the series(***), and then again a bit during the Belfast storyline last year - has never made it feel as vital as what's happening to Jax and company in present day. Sutter doesn't seem to want to do flashbacks, and that's certainly his right - especially since other shows lean on the device as a crutch - but listening to Clay, Gemma, Wayne and Piney talk around and around about things that happened decades before the series began so often falls flat to me. This is important information for whatever conflict is coming next between Jax and Clay, so perhaps an episode like this is necessary as part of the season as a whole, but as an hour's viewing experience, it was less than thrilling.
(***) If you go back and look at my earliest reviews of the show on the old blog, you'll see that I wasn't fully on-board with the show's early episodes, which featured a lot of Jax sitting on the clubhouse roof, reading the manuscript and wondering about these old stories. This season has definitely been a return to the show's roots, but some of those roots were stronger than others.
It also doesn't help that Clay, as written and as played by Ron Perlman, is such an internalized character. He can get chesty with Piney or other rivals, but he so rarely reveals anything of himself in quieter moments. That can be useful for mystery - until now, it's been ambiguous whether Clay actually played a role in JT's death, or if it was something Gemma and Wayne were keeping from him - but is less interesting when we get a scene like the one where Clay confronts Gemma in the Teller-Morrow tow office. As with Roosevelt in the Juice storyline, I feel like I have very little sense of how Clay actually feels about any of what's going down. That may come later, along with more details about why he feels he was justified in having his buddy whacked, but a lot of Clay's scenes tonight felt flat to me. I was more invested in Opie's reaction to Lyla's birth control - a much less important story in the scheme of things - than I was about who gained possession of the letters.
Again, episodes like "Brick" are often necessary in the context of a season-long story arc. When we get to the end of the year and have a chance to watch these all again, it may seem much stronger. But in the context of the week-to-week, it wasn't one of the stronger hours of the season to date.
What did everybody else think?
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