Due to premiere week demands on my time, a shorter-than-usual "Sons of Anarchy" review coming up just as soon as I'm in the mood for some '80s music...
"Days like this, when I can remember everything I usually forget - these are the worst days." -Nate
The thing that Kurt Sutter does so well on this show, and that he and Shawn Ryan and the rest did on "The Shield," is to put characters into holes where they more they try to get out, the deeper they wind up digging. The trick to this kind of plotting is to make it seem organic, so that the viewers will say to themselves that of course Character A would react that way in Plot B, making Story Arc C last for an additional D number of episodes.
The danger is in doing it in a way where the audience can see the producers pulling the strings, which happened for me a few times in "Caregiver," in both the Gemma and Abel/Belfast storylines.
Abel is the big story of the season, so Jax isn't likely to get his son back by episode four, or five. But with Cameron dead, the reasons for the separation being extended have to feel natural, and I'm not sure they do here. We don't know nearly enough about what the conflict is between Father Asbhy and Jimmy O that's making the Asbhy drag this out. And when Maureen decides that she doesn't care and wants to tell the Sons about the son, she recruits Half-Sack's ex-girlfriend Cherry (Taryn Manning, reprising her season one role) to get Gemma's number, when of course Half-Sack's dead and Gemma is a fugitive without her regular phone.
Now, we established back in season one that Cherry was heading off to hang with the Belfast charter, so it wasn't a completely out of left field move, but my reaction to most of those scenes was to think, "Well, that oughta slow things down for an episode or two."
Similarly, I rolled my eyes when Tara was dumb enough to free one of Amelia's hands, and then turn her back on her. Tara's not a stone killer, nor a nutcase like Gemma is becoming(*), but she helped cover up a killing once before, has been hanging with Jax for a while, has been getting tutored by Gemma and didn't hesitate to lay the smack on Margaret in the hospital late last season. She's in so deep that I had a hard time believing, even with her medical training, that she'd let herself get suckered in by that. But Amelia was a complication who had to be dealt with, and in a way that would pull Tara in deeper into this world, and so Tara had to make a dumb mistake.
(*) One of my favorite running elements of this season is how people keep asking Gemma if she's lost her mind, and how Gemma never quite denies it. She's been through too much over the last couple of seasons that she's not even bothering to put up her usual facade most of the time.
Yet in spite of some of the plot contrivances, "Caregiver" still had a lot of the show's usual strengths.
The favor-trading storyline with the Mayans, the Grim Bastards and Lin briefly gave the episode the feel of a world that isn't being dominated by Abel's abduction (Jax even smiled a few times), and finally addressed the elephant in the room of Opie and Lyla's relationship when he lost his temper during the sex party. This season doesn't seem like it's going to be as Opie-heavy as the first two were, but man was Ryan Hurst good in the scene where he tells Lyla he doesn't want her to be "sad," when his eyes show that, as always, Opie is the saddest person in Charming.
Hal Holbrook was, unsurprisingly, fantastic as Nate contemplated ending it all with his hunting rifle, and then as he talked to Gemma about how much harder his lucid days are than the ones where the dementia overcomes him.
And "Sons" fan Stephen King had himself a perfectly twisted little cameo as Bachman (named, of course, after King's occasional pen name Richard Bachman), the corpse-disposal expert. I laughed a very long time when Bachman requested some '80s music and Tig, without missing a beat, said, "I'll make that happen."
This was probably my least favorite of the four episodes FX sent out in advance of the season, but "Sons" is still "Sons" enough when it matters.
A few other thoughts:
• As the Jacob/Oswald mayoral storyline heats up, we're starting to see the people of Charming understandably beginning to resent SAMCRO for the drama that's come to the town over the last few seasons. As Jacob told Unser last week, it's one thing to look the other way when the hooligans are helping to keep the peace, and another when they become part of the problem.
• So Maureen and the late John Teller were an item at some point? Interesting. Sutter has said he wants to take some of the halo off Jax's dad with this Belfast storyline, and I look to learning more about his time in Ireland.
• Another episode, another "Deadwood" alum, as Robin Weigert replaces Tom Everett Scott as the Sons' defense attorney. If the season ends without Weigert and Dayton Callie having a scene together, I'll be very disappointed.
• Note that Clay won't step out on Gemma due to all they've been through together lately, even though (from what I think the show has taught me about rules for old ladies) Gemma being out of town gives him license to do so. But here's my question: given how out of sorts Jax is, and how mad he is that Tara disobeyed him to go help Gemma, would he have taken Ima up on her request for a ride home (with another kind of ride implied) if Juice hadn't come up with the photo of Cameron's corpse just then?
• This week's songs included "What Do You Do When You’re Lonesome" by Justin Townes Earle, "Not Today" by Preacher Stone, "(I Don’t Think I’ll) Love You Anymore" by The Young Dubliners and "Damned" by The White Buffalo.
What did everybody else think?
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