Well, spoiler alert "Sons of Anarchy" fans: That happened.
I don't know how you came to this episode, but my first clue that something major was about to go down was when FX didn't send the customary press screener until a few hours before the episode aired on the east coast. It was accompanied by an email warning anyone who watched not to tweet, post or breathe anything at all until after that east coast airing. So, I was watching "Aon Rud Persanta" with ... expectations.
And I'll confess that my first guess about what it meant (someone dies) and who that person would be was correct. The show has been telegraphing this for almost the whole season, but that's happened before. So it didn't make the experience of watching the episode any more predictable, or any less -- as weird, unexpected and confounding as this sounds -- emotional.
As Tara tells Nero after the fact, "Clay Morrow should've been dead a long time ago." We all know it. There's no question that when Clay made it out of Season 4 alive the show chose to go down a path many fans will never be able to forgive. He's been on borrowed time ever since. But since Kurt Sutter kept him alive this long, I started to believe that the old man might just make it to the final season. (Even now I doubt we've seen the last of Ron Perlman on the show, even if it means flashbacks/dream sequences/hauntings.)
Of course, Clay's total acceptance of the fact he could die at any moment this season (if Toric hadn't kept him in solitary, or things had gone in a different direction when he was released into the general population) has conveniently allowed him to make amends before he went out. It also gave us some space and time to let go of our collective bloodlust when it came to his fate. There was a point (certainly at the end of Season 4) that most of us probably would've applauded Clay's death.
But tonight I found myself feeling a lot like Gemma: Utterly heartbroken, no matter how much I hated the bastard.
Especially considering the coldblooded way Jax took him out. It all comes down with a unanimous club vote and the decision that it was the best (and only?) way to sever all ties with the Irish and guns. We didn't need to hear Tara detail Clay's sins to Nero to understand why it happened (although it helped, a little). Clay betrayed SAMCRO and pretty much ran the club into the ground. Jax is getting revenge on the man who killed his father. Clay himself couldn't even argue against it, ultimately putting a season's worth of preparing for that moment to use when he needs it most. But damn if the show didn't stack the deck.
Nearly all of SAMCRO was there, watching Jax take him out. Tig. Juice. Chibs. (Even Bobby was probably picturing it while he was clinging to life in the back of the truck.) And Nero, Gemma and Tara too! Tig took the time to ask Jax if they should stick to the plan when those three arrived, but Jax coldly informed him nothing would change. This time there was no turning back.
Two immediate questions: What will this do for Gemma (who witnessed her son kill his stepfather) and Tara (who witnessed her husband kill his stepfather, a man she deeply hated)? We've seen Gemma side with Jax over Clay before, but the reality of this turn of events may trouble her for longer than she thinks. (Nero warns her it's "gonna take a minute." I expect it'll be a little more than that.) Especially with both Nero and Unser doing their best to get her seeing the bigger picture beyond the blind faith she has in both her family and SAMCRO. Like, for example, what's actually best for Thomas and Abel.
Tara is at an even bigger crossroads. After Jax fails to deliver exactly as promised, Patterson puts her deal back on the table and all Tara needs is proof of a federal crime to ensure she and her boys are safe in witness protection. Jax gives her that proof when he asks her to help Bobby, and she keeps the bullet one of the sheriffs shot into him. This is a crucial moment for Tara and the show is already giving her reasons to fall back into the fold, give Jax another shot, and try to make it as a family. Jax flat out apologizes to her, saying "I'm sorry being with me took you to that place." Knowing this show, she's probably going to give in. But with the last season on the horizon I'd really love to see her turn and get a chance to watch the fallout from that. (Sadly, I suspect it's more likely Kurt Sutter wants us to remember this as the moment when Tara had her last chance and she made the wrong choice. You know, so it's even more tragic when she dies or Abel dies or Thomas dies or everyone dies next season.)
Before we see what happens next, I'll give Sutter credit for pulling this off (and keeping it quiet for as long as possible). Right now, Clay's death feels good for the show. He was at a dead end as a character. His death could (should?) be a significant turning point for several major characters. And, most importantly, killing him off actually mattered -- it carried an emotional weight that it wouldn't have before this season.
I guess I'm left feeling a bit like Nero too: Every time I think I'm out, "Sons of Anarchy" pulls me back in.
Odds and ends:
- Peter Weller isn't a part of the action on screen this week, but he got to direct the episode and does quite a nice job with it. Staging Clay's final scene on the show is no small task, and (as much as I borderline despise this show at times) that moment is going to stick with me for a good long time.
- The entire conversation between Nero and Gemma after Clay's murder was so surreal my jaw literally dropped watching it. Gemma proposes marriage within minutes of watching her son shoot her husband to death! Nero's quick response ("No thanks, mama, I've seen what happens to your husbands, it ain't pretty") was an especially fine piece of dark comedy.
- Juice really, really wants Jax to know he's not crazy. He just wants to feel like one of the good guys. Cut to: Juice mowing down a sheriff with the truck. Poor Juice.
- "I have to choose my boys or my freedom?" "There's no guarantee of either but essentially, yes, I guess that's true." Tara's new lawyer is a real buzzkill, isn't he?
- Whatever Tara decides to do, I want CCH Pounder around for the rest of the run. She and Roosevelt are a badass team, and I'd have no qualms about seeing SAMCRO go down in flames if those two set the fire.
- Chuckie speaks the truth to Unser: "It's not gonna get any better is it?"
- And speaking of Unser, he straight up confessed his love to Gemma! Now that Clay's out of the picture and Nero wisely refuses to commit, is the show seriously setting up Unser to have a chance? Maybe that's our "happy" ending: cranky senior citizens Gemma and Unser raise Thomas and Abel in "Sons of Anarchy: The Next Generation."
- We'll have an extra week to find out what happens next. The show is taking a break for Thanksgiving and then returns for two more episodes in December. Let's all honor Clay's memory during the time off, shall we?
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