Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, "Balm": The situation 'shroom

Spoilers for tonight's extra-long "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I introduce some serious people to some serious fungi...
"Blood family, hometown, all that s--t moves back a row. Once you're patched, members are your family. This charter is your home." -Juice
"Balm," the best episode so far of this exceptional second season of "Sons of Anarchy," comes along at a perfect time. "Mad Men" has just gone on hiatus. "Breaking Bad" won't be back until sometime in 2010. If you don't have DirecTV, "Friday Night Lights" won't be on TV until next summer. So "Sons of Anarchy" is, at the moment, the best drama on television, and an episode like "Balm" makes it clear the title shouldn't just be by default. Pound-for-pound, this series is as engrossing, as funny and as moving as all those others.

And what's incredible about "Balm" is that it manages to be as gripping as it is even though the season's chief villain (Ethan Zobelle) doesn't appear; even though the B-story hangs on a character (Chibs) who's been absent for a while, and a glorified extra for much of the series; and even though the big emotional moment of Gemma's confession plays out subdued, rather than as heated as we all expected it to be.

Or, really, the last part is so brilliant because it's not what we expect. Look, I love this show and all the violence and sheer bad-assery that comes with it. So I'm not ashamed to admit that when Gemma told Clay and Jax about her rape, things got very, very dusty in the Sepinwall living room. The genius of that scene - as written by Dave Erickson and Stevie Long, directed by Paris Barclay (from "In Treatment," but also someone Kurt Sutter worked with several times on "The Shield") and played by Katey Sagal, Ron Perlman, Charlie Hunnam and Maggie Siff - is that it's not about everyone getting upset and flipping over tables and swearing revenge. (Though Jax does pound his fist once before realizing that's not what his mother needs at the moment.) This is Gemma quietly, simply, telling the two men in her life about the worst day of her life - not because she wants them to go out and kill Zobelle and Weston and the others (though she wouldn't mind that), but because letting go of her pride and telling them about the rape is the best, and only, way she knows how to keep both her family and the club (which to Gemma are one and the same) from falling apart.

And it works. After Jax has spent the entire episode preparing to say goodbye to the charter, to his friends, to the life he's built for himself, he rests his hand on Clay's shoulder, and Clay takes it. And Jax takes his SAMCRO tags back on his way out the door. All the rest of it - Donna and Opie and Caracara and power plays - is forgotten, or at least put to the side. This is all that matters: this family, this wife, this mother, this need to protect her, and avenge her in time. Zobelle thought that news of Gemma's rape would have destabilized the club, and maybe if the news had come out when it happened, it would have. But by waiting this long - by making Jax and Clay realize how long she's been holding this in, for them - and telling them this way, at this crisis point, it's had the opposite effect. If anything's going to save SAMCRO from its current civil war, it's going to be this need to rally around Gemma and kick some righteous ass on the men who hurt her.

And Jax feels anger for his mother, and compassion for his stepfather. And Tara feels proud of Gemma for finally opening up and exposing her vulnerability. And Clay feels lost and hurt that his wife has suffered so greatly, and so alone.

(Excuse me. I had to pause the writing of this review to watch that scene again. Incredible. Gets me every time.)

All through this season, Sutter and company have done a good job of giving depth to club members outside the core of Clay, Jax, Tig and Opie, and the expanded running time of "Balm" allowed even more of that than usual. As Jax went on what he thought was his SAMCRO farewell tour, we got to spend time with Piney being bitter (and, based on that shot of him in the final montage, potentially dangerous to himself or others), with Juice in the hospital (not comic relief for once), and especially with Chibs.

It's really remarkable what they pull off with Chibs here. This is a guy who was one of the more minor figures of season one, who was largely on the sidelines of season two before he blew up real good and was shipped off to the hospital, and who still speaks with an accent thick enough that I sometimes need a chainsaw to cut through it... and he's suddenly this incredibly compelling central figure to whatever's going to happen through the rest of this season.

The amount of Chibs backstory they dumped on us in this one via Agent Stahl - that Jimmy O had Chibs kicked out of the IRA, gave him his scars and kept his wife and daughter as trophies - should have felt clumsy and shoe-horned, but it didn't. Credit Tommy Flanagan in his first real showcase of the series, but especially credit Titus Welliver for being so riveting and creepy (and for doing a brogue that was at least respectable) in the role. When he threatened to have his way with Chibs' daughter - "even if she does call me 'Da'" - chills ran down my spine, and made me understand why Chibs would make such a desperate, potentially suicidal move like offering to rat for Stahl.

And it was the presence of the monstrous Jimmy, and the respectable but no less monstrous Stahl, that made this episode so intense despite Zobelle and his goons being discussed but not seen. SAMCRO at this point has so many enemies or potential enemies - the League, the Mayans, True IRA, Stahl, Hale, the Nords, and, of course, each other - that we can afford to do without a few of them in any given week and things will still feel apocalyptic.

If the show didn't still have Hale as an example of a lawman who's decently and (mostly) not corrupt, I'd worry that Sutter and company were trying to stack the sympathy deck too much in SAMCRO's favor and away from the cops with the depiction of Stahl. It seemed after Donna's death, and after the way she behaved in the season premiere, that she had come to regret the tactics she used against the club, but again and again in "Balm," she resorts to the same old reckless tricks: threatening to have Abel put in foster care, to leave Chibs' family unprotected from Jimmy, to imply Edmond is a rat in the exact same way she treated Opie. If Ally Walker wasn't so good in the part - and particularly at showing how Stahl enjoys performing for her targets like this is all one big play for her - I would absolutely despise her, instead of largely despising her while admiring the actress playing her.

This is a deep, deep hole that SAMCRO is in. But with one selfless, ego-less gesture Gemma may have finally placed momentum on the club's side. And with this terrific episode - and that extraordinary tearjerking scene at the end of it - "Sons of Anarchy" has all the momentum it needs going into the season's final three episodes.

Some other thoughts on "Balm":

• I obviously got to watch this episode on a screener, without commercials, for 55 minutes straight. How did the show play out over a 90-minute timeslot? Did the commercial breaks seem longer and/or more frequent than usual?

• The episode's title refers to the healing effects of Gemma's confession, but is it in any way supposed to tie in with the prison episode, which was called "Gilead," and which together evoke the famous Lanford Wilson play?

• It's still not clear whether Chuck and/or Darby perished in the Caracara fire, in part because some material about it had to be cut for time from last week's episode, according to Kurt Sutter. The matter will be explained in an upcoming episode.

• The song playing during Gemma's confession was "Mary," by Patty Griffin.

• The chronology of this episode was odd. We seem to be only a day or two at most past Jax's decision to go nomad at the end of last week's episode, yet Chibs (who still needed a lot of in-patient rehab) is ready to be released from the hospital? I know these are the kind of contrivances that ensemble dramas with multiple, intertwined character arcs sometimes have to go through, but I still raised an eyebrow when Chibs got out. But the fact that he had just gotten out, and shouldn't have been exerting himself the way he's been, only added to all the tension in his part of the story.

• I was remiss in my review of "Gilead" to note how incredibly arrogant and stupid it was for Jax to more or less tell Stahl that he murdered Kohn. And now it looks like that could bite him if Stahl's other avenues of attack fail.

• Despite all their mounting enemies, SAMCRO does take on one new ally (or, at least, business partner), in the Native American tribe with their own homemade bullets - and their own stock of psychedelic 'shrooms. The latter leads to one of the few light moments of a very dark episode, as Half-Sack and Tig both get blissfully, deliriously high on the stuff, Half-Sack babbling in a mud pit ("It's cwarm! Cwarm! Cwarm!") and Tig looking terrifying as he enjoys a rare moment of peace and contentment. (And, during the final montage, the trip turned bad as Tig began crying and apologizing, presumably for killing Donna.)

• Another benefit of the long run time is that we get a scene that doesn't really move the plot along but tells us a lot about the characters and the world, like Gemma trying to talk Jax away from what he'd read in John's book. We find out that John wrote it shortly after the death of their other son, and Gemma implies that John's death might have been suicide, not an accident. The previews for this episode made it seem like Gemma was suggesting he had been murdered - I guess by Clay. While I still wouldn't be surprised by that revelation down the road - it would complete the Hamlet metaphor, after all - that was one more development than this episode needed.

• Tara began the season trying to open up to Jax, understand his world, and make her peace with being an MC member's old lady. And what has it gotten her? She's suspended from her job at the hospital, and her man doesn't even bother to consult her before making a huge change like going nomad. No good deed...

• Nice to see Opie making an effort to reach out to Jax again, even if it doesn't work, and then to see him finally opening up and letting himself have sex with Lyla (albeit on the floor, not on the bed he shared with Donna). There are going to be problems with this relationship, I'm sure, given Lyla's job and drug habit, but she's helped bring him out of his suicidal spiral.

• I also liked how the table vote scene allowed each club member (the ones who weren't hospitalized or tripping on mushrooms, anyway) to have his own reaction to Jax's attempt to go nomad: Clay resigned but not displeased, Bobby quiet and frustrated, Piney outraged, Opie sad and Chibs disbelieving.

What did everybody else think?

77 comments:

Phil Freeman said...

I thought it was a really strong episode, as advertised, but I had a minor beef: showing characters getting stoned, particularly on hallucinogenics, is one of my pet peeves. It makes me impatient, because nobody but nobody does a good job of playing stoned, so it's a waste of my time as a viewer. It's even worse (the all-time killer example is of course Terry Gilliam's "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas") when directors/screenwriters attempt to depict hallucinations on screen.

Regarding the commercial breaks, yeah, I did find them intrusive and too long. But whaddya gonna do? It's no worse than when USA lets shows premiere with 90-minute "limited commercial interruptions" episodes that then become two-hour shows in reruns.

yalla said...

It's hard to describe a scene in which a woman admits to her husband and son that she was gang-raped "beautiful," but it was. Brilliantly acted by all and just heartbreaking. I just love this show.

michael said...

This episode puts SOA, for me, into the Pantheon of all-time great TV dramas. Is it bad that I almost hope the show doesn't last much longer? It would kill me for this show to overstay its welcome, a la The Sopranos or NYPD Blue or ER.

Fox said...

Too many commercial breaks. I'm used to watching the episodes on DVR and this was the first I had seen throughout so it was different watching it with commercials.

I'd still take a 90-minute episode all the time though.

Those must be some really strong and wicked 'shrooms for Prospect and Tig to be tripping until the night.

Russianator said...

I waited a half an hour and then skipped the commercials, it was worth it.

This is the best show on TV - what's amazing to me is that it began as a show where these biker characters seemingly got away with everythng under the sun, in an almost clownish fashion. However, now that we are near the end of season two the characters are so developed, even when they have a multi-gun shoot out in the middle of the street in broad day light, it doesn't seem to silly - because we need to see how the characters react next.

Katey Segal is simply outstanding.

Chris Littmann said...

Commercial breaks definitely felt more frequent. Just thought I'd echo that.

Re: the death of Jax's dad ... he said something about him dying on 580 at the beginning of the episode. At first I thought it was maybe a flight, but obviously Highway 580 makes more sense. (The flight instinct was the Lost watcher in me I guess.) And of course, Gemma says a bunch of vague stuff about his death. So yeah ... still no idea what happened there. Thought we were really going to dive into his death this week.

Either way, great episode, and the dinner table scene was a classic. When I saw there was a 90-minute ep at this point in the season, figured this had to be when that would finally come to light with the club.

NoMoreVegas said...

I can't wait for next week.

Leave it to Sutter to bring Gemma's rape full circle and have it organically end up unifying the club rather than destabilizing it.

What was destabilizing for me however, were the frequency of these brutal commercial breaks this time around. It just seemed really jarring - you'd catch a few minutes of a scene and then it be back off to "Sunny" ads or ads for the new spy cartoon.

While I can't say that I think SoA is better than Mad Men or Breaking Bad, I think it's definitely catching up to "The Shield." The thing was that for me, "The Shield" truly hit the ground running from episode one, and was remarkably consistent in terms of maintaining a uniformly high level of storytelling throughout its entire run, which was amazing for as long as it ran. When I started watching SoA, it seemed to take a while to find its footing for me. But at this point, it really feels like SoA has a great blend of dramatic depth, action and occasional comedy that makes me thankful its still around.

One of my favorite small moments - Gemma mentioning the existence of the second manuscript with a wink. Caught myself smirking just the same way Jax did.

Kimmy said...

Katey Sagal is brilliant. 90 minutes of my life, and at the end, her depth of character give me a great sadness and tears. With all the story lines, hers grabs me and doesn't let me go. She is the glue of that club tonight proved it.

Rabble Rouser said...

-For some strange reason the most intriguing character to me in this ep was/ is Piney. I feel like he has a major impact in the next few eps. My shot in the dark guess is that he does committ suicide most likely with no note, cuz that's his style. But I'm assuming that his suicide over something like Jax going Nomad will raise some red flags and eventually lead to the truth about Donna.

-My only beef with this show (which is my favorite going right now) is that there is no SERIOUS eye candy, which makes me get super excited for the scenes with Agent Stahl. Kinda of like "The Wire" did with Rhonda Pearlman. But I guess the show feels more realistic that way, which is good.

-RR

Trautman said...

The commercial breaks were frequent, however with such a compelling episode it didn't really bother me.
I too got misty eyed in the final scene of the episode.
So now revenge is definately on the agenda for SAMCRO. I hope they learned from their previous botched attempt at the church and really put some thought into it. A bigger question to come, assuming they get revenge on Zobelle in whatever form (death, send him to jail, etc) what happens with the whole Jax/Clay feud? Tig is cracking and Piney is not going to off himself without saying something. I think we are getting prepped for a Opie finding out season finale.
This show is the best thing on TV right now hands down!

HautieTx said...

Well I can say it was just as powerful having to watch it in close caption format.

My idiot cable company had the sound distorted for FX all day. So I sat and read the subtitles for 90 minutes.

But as I was saying... very powerful episode.

Even between reading subtitles and lips... Gemma explaining what happen to her was just devastating to watch.

Even the moment when Chibs is having to listen to that jackoff Jimmy explain how he plans to violate Chibs daughter was equally heart breaking.

I hope Stahl finally gets her man this time. And gets the hell out of Charming.

PCR34 said...

This episode was outstanding. Alan, I was pumped to see that you got a little dusty too. I am man enough to admit I was one more grueling detail away from crying like a baby. Powerful, powerful stuff.

At the beginning of season one I couldn't imagine that the creator, writers, directors would take this show to where it's at now. Amazing.

Chazz said...

Wow- first time commenter, compelled by this episode to share my thoughts. I really believed they had written themselves into a corner with the Jax/Clay conflict, after all, what could possibly bring them together with Donna's murder between them? The outside threats to the club though formidable really aren't enough to let Jax or Clay forget their beef, even temporarily- and they did well in showing the tension underlying every exchange between them.

But the final scene, wow, definitely a little dusty in my apartment as well. Moreover, only Gemma's disclosure about what happened to her, and only the place, time and manner in which she revealed it to Clay and Jax, could possibly be what brings them together, and at least temporarily let go of their own conflict. Absolutely brilliant- between this episode and the finale of Mad Men its been a great two days of television.

Also- thanks for the heads up on the song used at the end. I can't think of a better closing scene / song combination since the Two Cathedrals episode of the West Wing (with Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits).

Finally- I wasn't sure what the significance of Unser's scene in the closing montage- was it just him reflecting on his career, potential / wasted potential?

carly said...

Still digesting, so nothing deep to offer here - but a few episodes back the choir in the church was singing "There is a Balm in Gilead" -- which made me giggle, because as a kid, we used to sing "there is a bomb..."

kinda apropos for SOA too though, really.

Jake said...

I'm still sitting here sorting out everything that happened...I knew there were going to be a lot of commercials..But I was so engrossed in the story that 90mins just flashed by..

As for Gemma finally coming clean..I *love* the way that happened..I got choked up when it happened. I could see the hurt and pain in Clay's eyes..Felt good to see Jax and Clay have a moment.

Just a brilliant show all around. I say it every week but this was the best episode of SoA I've seen.

Carolyn said...

Fantastic episode.

The solo scene between Gemma and Jax = perfectly played.

The final scene = outstanding.

I'm blown away. How do I get through 7 days waiting for the followup?!? Unbearable!!

Anonymous said...

It's funny, you wonder how FOX squeezed 14 seasons out of "Married with Children" and then you see Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy (and also Ed O'Neil on 'Modern Family') and it starts to crystallize. Good actors are good actors no matter the length or breath of the material.

(P.S., not digging the new 'Avatar' movie, at least via the "FX special extended perview" that helped beef up sweeps period.

Jim Treacher said...

When he walks over and kisses her hands... lot of that dust goin' around.

If Darby had died in the fire, Unser would've mentioned finding a body, right?

And ditto on the ad breaks.

Ryan W said...

Loved the episode as a whole, but I have to disagree with the consensus on Gemma's confession. As the scene began, my fiance and I both tensed up in anticipation, but immediately cringed at each other as soon as the music started. Setting that confession to music was a travesty because there should have been so much power in what she had to say and in everyone else's reactions that we didn't need the sentimental music to hold our hands. This show generally does well the time-worn trope of ending each episode with what amounts to a music video, and the closing sequence to season 1 set to "John the Revelator" is proof of the power of music properly used. Great ep, but bad stylistic choice.

Brandon said...

Am I the only one that thought the montage was intrusive at the end? I'm not sure what the point was of breaking up Gemma's revelation, but montage is such an easy way to conclude an episode, and FX has a habit of overindulging their montage fetish. It didn't bother me really, but what was the point? There was no association between the scenes, and most importantly, it distracted from the important item on the agenda, Gemma. I think the scene would have been more powerful if they showed the Gemma scene in full and then showed the rest of the club.

JanieJones said...

I am so bloody depleted but wide awake. The last scene was absolutely devastating but necessary. I felt a grief like one of my own family members had come upon some traumatic and life altering experience when I watched the scene between Siff, Sagal, Perlman and Hunnam.
-Balm is the strongest episode to date, imho.
-Alan, you stated very eloquently how Chibs and his story has now evolved into something very strong.
-Titus Welliver did an excellent job as a menacing thug (although high up on the organization). When he spoke of Chib's daughter, Carrie Ann, I felt disgusted (which is know was the right feeling).
-Ally Walker, I have a new appreciation for the actor, because she is doing her job so well and makes me despise her. Her threats (which I'm curious as to how ethical)undeniably sent a shiver down my back. I know different agencies often use tactics of manipulation but should she start keeping a body count of those who she effects?
-Opie is climbing out of the hole but I foresee more difficulties ahead with the new woman in his life and other complications.
Ryan Hurst has a very subtle way of conveying emotions through his eyes.
-I liked how the table vote was handled. The scene was a bit heartbreaking to me also as I watched Jax cut off his tags.
-I've seen people take very strong hallucinogenics such as shrooms. Half-Sac and Tig weren't far off the mark, imho, if they were as strong as contended. I even felt emotion for Tig, Mr. I will do anything regardless of what it is and who it is to, when his trip turned bad and he was sobbing and apologizing.
-Gemma was moved to do the thing she thought best for her family. She is the backbone, albeit, tough at times.
-Balm in Gilead (the play)I did a bit of research on and I would honestly have to read more about before I could compare and contrast. However, I would love to read this play. It looks exceptionally good. I had already seen broadway and off broadway as a young adolescent but now I feel cheated that I did not know about this play until recently.
-I was getting extremely antsy with the constant commercials and started to whine a bit but it was well worth it, in the end. I channel surfed and caught reruns of sitcoms in between the show. It helped ease my tension because things were building and it was house of cards in regards to the Sons.
The writing was almost impeccable and with Paris Barclay at the director's helm, I found an utmost satisfaction with the entire episode.
Wow, I'm just blown away right now. I'm re-watching and dvr'd it too as I do every Sons ep this season.
Also, Patty Griffin's, "Mary", was a good choice.
Two other notes-consequences to Tara (I felt bad for her, she is certainly paying her dues) as she was suspended.
Piney, during the ending montage, with the large glass of strong booze and a gun with him taking a gasp was disturbing. I had/have a bad feeling.
-John Teller's death-there is definitely more to the story than he let the road take him.
Three more episodes to savor and I will feel lost.

zodin2008 said...

The Gemma scene may have been the single best scene in Television this year, and I can't believe I could even say that after the brilliant last hour of season 3 that "Mad Men" just gave us 2 days earlier. Amazing.

Katey Sagal's performance has been terrific throughout the run of the show, but tonight in particular, if she doesn't get an Emmy nomination, I will likely be as pissed off and dismayed by the entire emmy voting process as I was when Forest Whitaker didn't get a nomination for his season 4 or 5 performance on "The Shield".

I agree with the sentiment that the scene was made all the more powerful by her quiet delivery and yes, my eyes got rather misty too watching it.

But it had to be done. She literally was watching Jax walk out the door for good and this was Gemma's version of a hail mary pass. And the aftermath next week will be very bloody.

Brian said...

I'm going to blame the four fingers of whiskey for my bloodshot eyes. Yup, that's what happened.

XanxiuZ said...

I have several 'favorite' shows this TV season. But, this one is the only one I would actually marry, if I could.

My thoughts are a bit scattered because I just finished watching the episode. I watched on DVR, so, I sped through the commercials like a maniac.

I really do need to rewatch this episode because, right now, the only thing I remember is the final montage where Gemma reveals what actually happened to her.

Those closing scenes were masterfully done. The looks of confusion, pain and rage on the faces of Clay and Jax, as Gemma revealed that she was attacked and raped by Zobelle's thugs, will stay with me for awhile. Clay, especially, was just heart breaking.

Like most of you, I anticipated that this scene would play out loud and violently. BUT, the way it actually did play out was... sublime, powerful and, yes, even beautiful.

My take on the montage at the end was that we were being shown the way everybody's life is before knowing about what happened to Gemma, because once the rest of the club finds out, all hell is going to break loose and things will never be the same for SAMCRO.

Katey Sagal is a joy to watch. She deserves some Emmy love for her work this season for sure.

Now, going to rewatch.

Jersey said...

I've always, I guess because of the Hamlet connection felt that Clay had a hand in John's death which is why Gemma's story ran a little hollow for me.
That aside Katey Sagal put in another wonderful performance. Ever actor stepped up this episode and every scene was compelling. Watched it once live and the 2nd time via dvr the time just flew by.
I doubt that next week is the death match we all want. It seems that the this will definitely bind the club but hopefully moving smarter not faster is the new strategy.
I wonder if Unser and Piney are going to make it to season 3.

Anonymous said...

Alan, to answer your question... the commercial breaks were BRUTAL... even with a DVR. At one point, I timed it. There was 6 min of action and 4 min of commercials in a 10 min span. But, thanks for the heads up, at least I was expecting it. And it was an AWESOME episode.

newtoast said...

Ryan W is completely right about the music over Gemma's confession. I was also bugged by another cue in the episode, but I can't remember which one.

In both cases I think music could be found that would work, but the blandly sentimental songs that were chosen seemed out of character for the show and threatened to suck the gravity out of the scene.

This is a minor quibble, though, with what was a terrific episode.

dez said...

If Darby had died in the fire, Unser would've mentioned finding a body, right?

I would think so, especially as he knows Darby's connected to Zobelle, which would cement his suspicions as to who really torched the place (I'm assuming enough time passed that they would have been able to identify a body if they found one...or two...).

Commercials didn't bother me as much since I DVR'd and waited for some time to pass before starting to watch.

As to Gemma's big scene: Wow! So much emotion bubbling up in everyone as they listen; I particularly liked the waves of emotion as Jax's expression changed while his mom disclosed the rape. Got pretty dusty in Chez dez at that point. I didn't mind the montage, either; thought it was a good counterpoint to the way life is for SAMCRO now vs. how it's going to be once Clay & Jax tell the club about the attack. Calm before the storm and all that.

I'm glad there's three more eps and I hope Jimmy the creepy bastard makes it to at least the end of the season so I can enjoy some more of Titus Welliver's delicious evil.

Alan Forkosh said...

Just a note about the 580 reference (death of Teller):

Interstate 580 starts in Marin County California, crosses the Richmond-San Rafael bridge to the San Francisco East Bay, continuing through Oakland and continuing through Altamont Pass to the Central Valley where it connects to Interstate 5, the main West Coast North South interstate. Toward the eastern end of the run, it crosses the southwestern corner of San Joaquin County, in which Charming is supposedly located.

(Note: I live a block off i-580 in Oakland).

El Reyalto said...

I knew that with the extended running time this would probably the episode where Gemma told the truth to keep the club together. However, like others I didn't expect the way it went down and that I would also be a wee bit dusty during the scene.

I liked the fact it wasn't a scene done by itself because by showing the rest of the club it set up the "balm" that Gemma was applying to heal itself.

I also liked the very Shakespearian touch of Jax genuflecting in front of his mother and kissing her hand. Powerful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Have we gotten any explanation for Fiona's apparent race? Black people were extremely rare in Ireland before the 1980s (see, example, this: http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/s_138798.html), and yet Fiona is described as being third-generation IRA. I find it a little odd that they made the somewhat provocative casting decision and then aren't explaining it or capitalizing on it.

Anonymous said...

Amazing ep. The hurt on Jax's face when Opie voted to allow his transfer was heartbreaking. And I agree the final scene where Gemma reveals what happened to her was crushing & so well done. The anger & hurt & sadness Jax & Clay felt at the truth of Gemma's attack was far more effective than a violent outburst would have been, yet I didn't see it coming. Who knew a show about a violent biker club who deals in guns & porn would handle something like a rape revelation so much better than 99% of shows would have? Kudos to everyone involved.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Two other beats I loved in the confession scene:

1)Gemma tells the guys that Zobelle's daughter "was very convincing." Even in her moment of openness and humility, she still has to protect her pride a little.

2)That long close-up on Ron Perlman as Clay tries to process this all. I think seeing this cold, ruthless bastard so broken up sold the scene just as much as everything Sagal did.

Matthew said...

Alan: "Balm," the best episode so far of this exceptional second season of "Sons of Anarchy," comes along at a perfect time. "Mad Men" has just gone on hiatus. "Breaking Bad" won't be back until sometime in 2010. If you don't have DirecTV, "Friday Night Lights" won't be on TV until next summer. So "Sons of Anarchy" is, at the moment, the best drama on television, and an episode like "Balm" makes it clear the title shouldn't just be by default. Pound-for-pound, this series is as engrossing, as funny and as moving as all those others.

me: you had me at hello.

great review opener and I fully agree. However its a sad reminder Breaking Bad wasnt flying in to pick up the slack. Guess I'm headed into a winter drought. At least I've introduced 3 people on the fringe of my network to the show - i'm getting good at selling top quality drama

carly said...

@ElReyalto "I liked the fact it wasn't a scene done by itself because by showing the rest of the club it set up the "balm" that Gemma was applying to heal itself."

I read that as "heal herself" - oops, but true. I think it works both ways.

Otto Man said...

Damn. I mean, damn.

Just phenomenal all around. This show had better get some awards recognition this year.

Matthew said...

I also raised an eyebrow at Chibs hopping up smiling out the chair like that, because I assumed at most 4-7 days since the last ep. I mean there was the crime scene lab work / clay having to speak with teh nomad charter, etc. But still suprised.

Right, Chibbs: I am not not not pleased with him working with Stahl. this is not good. I'm sitting there the whole time mentally shouting at him "THE CLUB NEEDS THIS! THE CLUB NEEDS THIS!"

As in, they get back their mainline biz / this alleviates most of the problem sources they were having / no more HAMAS / Zoebelle can't make his power play (assuming that was the play all along).

Honestly, I thought Chibbs just had to stand up to the insults as a matter of stance. Then would go back and say "Clay, Jimmy is here to make it right with the Sons; also: we're in the money".

So yea, I'm quite worried about all that Chibbs stuff. I can't decide if BECAUSE he has been out of hte loop he wouldn't realise the importance of this (and he should, he has always worked with jimmy since his ex-communication, so you can't say its because he hates Jimmy) to the club right now...

or: BECAUSE I'm a viewer, I see the importance as we all do of IRA+SOA=YAY, so I can't blame chibbs for what he did. Either way, none of the sons have ever enertained Stahl, even when to their benefit, but try try try again, she found 1... whats her record? 1-for-6?

zodin2008 said...

Even though it will be a very quiet December, January gives us back "Burn Notice", "Lost" and "Chuck" (and to a elsser extent for some us still, maybe not Alan, "24"), so it's one quiet month of Basketball and movies for me before a lot of January goodness.

That being said, last night's SOA will really make me miss this show when it ends season 2 shortly. It's just a further reminder how compelling the writing and acting is these days on cable, and what a solace Cable truly is. With the exception of a few shows (like Lost and Chuck), most 1 hour shows on the networks are pointless drivel like CSI (CBS procedurals in general...snore), Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives or any of the Law & Orders - or worse - Reality TV.

That's why I am so, so grateful for Cable giving me things like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Burn Notice, Sons of Anarchy, Curb Your Enthusiasm and more. Even the lighter stuff like Royal Pains and White Collar likely would be kicked to the curb too soon if they had premiered on NBC.

Anonymous said...

Response to Rabble Rouser, "-My only beef with this show (which is my favorite going right now) is that there is no SERIOUS eye candy," ...

um, the porn studio and Lyla in lingerie doesn't cut it for you?

The Doctor said...

The kudos for Sagal are obviously well deserved and go without saying, but Hunnam is on a season-long hitting streak right now. He's been killing it.

Rogers Cadenhead said...

"My only beef with this show (which is my favorite going right now) is that there is no SERIOUS eye candy"

You must be watching an alternate-universe version of Sons of Anarchy that does not include Maggie Siff. I'd call your cable company to get that fixed.

The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre said...

HautieTx, I could not imagine not having the sound. That is so lame when cable compnaies screw the pooch on that stuff, and it always turns out to be when you want to catch your favorite show.

A couple of questions regarding the ep last night.....

Does Jax have to be voted back in? Does he lose his VP status since he elected to go nomad?

Did Chibbs get that church assault charges dropped against SAMCRO? If so, won't that be a dead giveaway that someone is ratting to the ATF?

Why is Half-Sack consistently in pain in the last 2 episodes? Nuticle?

Anyways, overall a great episode. I kind of got bored with Jax's tour of should I or shouldn't I with all the club members; but the other stories definitely kept me intrigued. I think Gemmas confession binding Jax's and Clay's rift will send them on a vengence mission, undoubtedly. However, this opens the door for loads of season cliffhangers and surprises. With an all out war between SAMCRO and the LOAN, pretty much any character is at risk of being offed. I just hope Sutter doesn't pull a Hearst with Zobelle. I really can't wait to see how it all plays out.

-jr
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So Cal said...

WOW...what an episode. I lost it during the last scene with Gemma Clay and Jax. So glad she was able to prevent him from going Nomad and that Clay took Jax's hand.

This is by far my favorite show on TV right now

Anonymous said...

I don't think there is any doubt Gemma's confession to Clay and Jax will be the thing that brings the club together to overcome their enemies. It does show favoritism to the "First Family" of SAMCRO, however. Otto was blinded and crippled. That didn't pull them together. Chibs was blown up. That didn't do it. I think back to last season when Piney (talking about Donna's murder) told Clay at "Church" that if it was his family there would be 10 charters on their way for revenge. Now it is Clay's family and I'm guessing there will be action the equivalent of 10 charters on the way.

I think Otto and Piney have a rightful beef with the club. Neither of their issues were dealt with in a satisfying manner for them. Piney is clearly not happy about what he perceives to be Jax giving up by going Nomad. I wonder how he will view Jax taking immediate action to avenge his mother while he never seemed to have a good plan for avenging Donna. Granted, avenging his mother is easier b/c it involves an outside enemy, but I doubt Piney will see it that way. I have a bad feeling this will not end well for Piney. I can see him either killing himself or attempting to kill Clay (perhaps with Jax stopping him just in time?). He seems too far gone and too full of hatred for Clay to come together for Gemma when no one came together for him. It's too bad, I really like Piney's character.

It will be very interesting to see where Jax goes with his relationship with Clay after Zobelle is dealt with. I've always contended, and Jax stated last night, that the only way it ends is with one of them dead or at the very least one of them out of the club (which I think would be a cop-out by Sutter at this point). I wonder if Clay will come clean to Jax about killing Donna and why he felt he had to make the decision. He did have sound reasons for it. He was trying to protect Bobby and the club and was right to question whether Opie would go back to prison given how it affected his family the last time. Still, I don't think Jax could keep that secret from Opie if he were no longer planning revenge at some point. Their relationship would never be the same if he forgives Clay. But, this is about the only way Sutter could get away with having both Clay and Jax stay in the club long term. Piney would still be a casualty, however, for reasons stated above.

One final note: I was surprised at how cavalier Tara was about being suspended. Seems she has fully accepted the consequences being associated with the club has brought her that the club comes first and is above your personal life. Makes sense for the members, but not for a doctor IMO. Her career should be more important to her than a biker gang. Funny what people do for love.

jim treacher said...

That long close-up on Ron Perlman as Clay tries to process this all. I think seeing this cold, ruthless bastard so broken up sold the scene just as much as everything Sagal did.

I was like, "That's Hellboy! Has he always been this good?"

This show is better than The Sopranos. I never cared this much about anybody on The Sopranos.

Rabble Rouser said...

"um, the porn studio and Lyla in lingerie doesn't cut it for you?"

"You must be watching an alternate-universe version of Sons of Anarchy that does not include Maggie Siff. I'd call your cable company to get that fixed."

SORRY GUYS. Maggie Siff (though not unattractive at all) just doesn't do it for me, not even close. Same goes for Lyla.

The only female in SOA that has ever really peaked my interest (besides cougar Agent Stalh) was the girl that jax picked up in Season 1: "Patch Over." To jog your memory, her bf was abusing her and jax knocked him out, threw her on his bike and took her to Nevada for a few days, and he left her there. The actresses name is Mircea Monrow, and I feel like at least in the looks department thats the type of girl that Jax would go for.

Rabble Rouser said...

Whoops, I almost forgot about Sprague Grayden as Donna. I was a big fan of her also.

Anonymous said...

I have had some problems with the back half of this season, as the pace of certain storylines seems odd -- Zobelle disappears, Piney disappears, Gemma's psychological and martial problems dissipate on the one hand, while on the other hand Chibs recovers rapidly, Tig falls apart suddenly, Opie takes up with a new woman really only months after Donna is murdered -- but most of those objections would go away if _SoA_ had a full 22 episode season.

What has really impressed me is just how well Sutter is able to manage his audience. The Chibs storyline is absurd in a lot of ways, for example -- not just his rapid healing, but the pure evil of Jimmy O. and the question of why Chibs wouldn't have sold out the bastard years ago (and why nobody in the FBI thought to ask before now) -- but Flanagan's arc over the episode is paced just right, and the scenes with Welliver and Walker are just excruciating enough, that the audience is carried along. Sutter et al. know that if they give us some good juicy character stuff and we'll forgive some plot holes. Same argument holds for Piney and Juice, who both got great scenes that made up for their relative absence this season. (Heck, even Jax believing Clay torched Caracara -- sure, it made for a great ending last week, but there's no way we (the audience) would buy Jax continuing to believe that through another episode.)

I will say that I was a little disappointed at the montage ending with Gemma. The scenes we got were truly devastating, but I thought Sagal had earned a full scene to herself rather than having to share it with a musical setpiece. (Though the analogy isn't perfect, think about Jon Hamm's confession of the Dick Whitman lie a few weeks ago on _Mad Men_.)

But again, these criticisms are in the context of _SoA_ being one of the tightest scripted dramas on TV right now.

Otto Man said...

For some reason, I can't remember exactly how Jax found out about the hit on Donna.

Can someone remind me?

Anonymous said...

I've watched a few episodes of this show and I'm still on the fence about it. I have difficulty believing that a group of outlaw bikers have empathy, compassion or respect for anything given the well documented violent history of biker gangs in general. It is hard for me to suspend disbelief when watching. This latest episode was ok although all the commercial breaks were annoying.

I like the idea of the show and some of the characters are likable so I plan to keep watching.

And I agree with the other writers that the women on the show are not very good looking.

Hatfield said...

Otto Man - Hale told Jax in the season finale what Stahl had been doing to make Opie look like a rat, and that he believed Clay had taken steps to take Opie out only to accidentally kill Donna instead. Jax then went to Clay, who denied it, but Jax saw through him.

Anonymous said...

Soa is realy stepping it up this seasons getting better after evrey episode.

Was also suprised how lightly tara took the suspension and then lie about when talking about a vaction with jax. She wasnt even the doctor that extended his stay if i remember it correctly.

Hope piney pulls through(love the charachter) but the odds are against him.

Alison D said...

Just a note to say that I also thought Ron Perlman showed how incredible he can be in this episode - he was as crucial to the emotional intensity of the revelation as the wonderful Katey Sagal. He was pretty awesome in the scene where he tells Jax he wants him to go as well.

It was also good to see Jax and Opie try to be friends again, even if not quite succeed. I suspect when Opie finds out, it will be Jax's betrayal that will kill him now - that he didn't tell Op earlier - that he didn't trust him. Particularly if Piney does kill himself/get himself killed, which could be seen as a consequence of Jax effing everything up. Actually, I think the irony is that, while he needed some time to calm down, Opie can read people and how they will react to things better than Jax can. I think Jax needs Opie to stop him floundering around.

Anonymous said...

As far as Jax's father goes... I think we're definitely headed toward the revelation at some point that Clay killed him AND I'm going to guess that Gemma was in on it or at least approved of it.

I'm basing it on Gemma's attitude towards Jax reading the diary. She just seems way too upset that he might follow in his father's footsteps.

Just my guess, but...

Jerseychick said...

@Matthew "THE CLUB NEEDS THIS! THE CLUB NEEDS THIS!"
You really think so. The ATF is all over the IRA the last thing the clubs needs is to be seen carrying a truckload of guns out of an IRA safe house with federal agents snapping pictures in the background. Hamas is clearly not a better bed to be in but for the current purposes its the best option they have if they want to continue in the gun business.

@The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre "Does Jax have to be voted back in? Does he lose his VP status since he elected to go nomad?"
I'm sure in such a democratic organization that would be the usual procedure but in light of the Gemma reveal and what has to be done, I think it may be glossed over, don't forget that Jax picked up his tags at the end of the episode

"Did Chibbs get that church assault charges dropped against SAMCRO? If so, won't that be a dead giveaway that someone is ratting to the ATF?"
The government has not been able to prove many seemingly strong cases so I'm sure that it would be presented to SAMCRO as a similar situation (the conversation that Clay had with the attorney about the tape being unclear and witnesses not willing to appear at trial alluded to those charges being less of a threat to the club)

"Why is Half-Sack consistently in pain in the last 2 episodes? Nuticle?"
Yep, thankfully he's covered by the VA system and not SAMCRO's crappy HMO. He needs to see a Dr. ASAP if the "corm" healing mud doesn't pan out

Greg said...

Great, great episode.

It also particularly struck me how they made Chibbs, a likable character who hadn't really done anything of consequence yet in the series, really compelling in a matter of minutes.

With the last scene, I didn't have a problem with the music or with the fact that they used a montage, just when they started the montage I thought they were going to skip over Gemma's revelation and leave it to everyone's imagination, and I got really worked up for a second.

One funny thing that no one's mentioned is Tig happily tripping amongst all the dolls - if you remember from the episode where Donna was killed, Tig has a fear of dolls which basically paralyzed him when he was originally supposed to shoot Opie. I wonder if Tig's breakdown in the end will actually snap him out of the funk he's been in.

Gemma does know from Hale that the girl who tricked her is Zobelle's daughter, right? I wonder if she intentionally left that part out.

Greg said...

On second thought, I think Hale got that info from someone else after talking with Gemma, so she shouldn't know.

Otto Man said...

Ah, thanks Hatfield. I couldn't remember it for the life of me.

Jerseychick said...

@Greg "I wonder if Tig's breakdown in the end will actually snap him out of the funk he's been in."
I hope so I like my Tig on the crazy side

And as of right now Hale is the only person who knows that Polly is Zobelle's daughter, that reveal is going to be great

ScottyG said...

Juice without the sides of his head shaved? too weird

Henning said...

Great episode again! Ever since things between Jax and Clay started getting really bad, I knew that Gemma telling them about the rape was what would bring them together again (at least having a common goal), but the scene still got me.

One minor thing though: Am I the only one that thinks the "slightly open mouth, with the hint of a sneer" thing agent Stahl/Ally Walker does whenever she isn't talking looks weird? It's starting to really bug me now...

Matthew said...

haha @Henning, its her effed up mouth, it leans. either way everything about her look sells her "pyschopath-agent" demeanor.

@Jerseychick: yea now that you put it that way, I guess getting themselves cleared of allll problems and then rebooting makes more sense. Thanks for pointing out what shoulda been obvious.

Kevin said...

The last fifteen minutes were great, but I don’t know about Best. Episode. Ever. Too much superfluous Chibs/IRA stuff for that.

I’m wondering how any actual auto work ever gets done at Teller-Morrow when every five minutes you’re being told to get out from under the car so that SAMCRO members can privately discuss illegal activity.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Awesome episode. I am posting late, but I have been thinking about it for the last two days. I agree with most people's comments. The last scene, so quietly played, was incredible. I have a bad feeling in my stomach about the Chibbs deal with Stahl. She can never be trusted. And I am furious at Jax for throwing the Cohen thing in her face and tipping her off. Like the club needs more problems right now...

I don't completely agree with the assessment that Tara took the suspension lightly. I think she chose not to reveal it right now because she realizes that Jax is overwhelmed with what is going on in his head right now with the decision to go nomad. My guess is that she is really pissed about it, but realizes there is nothing she can do right now, and her instinct was probably just to get out of town for a while with Jax an Abel since her and Jax's lives are so up in the air at the moment. Just my take. And the Piney scene - that doesn't look good.

Carolyn said...

oh and p.s. i think Tara and Gemma are both stunningly attractive. so surprised other commenters don't!

dez said...

I have difficulty believing that a group of outlaw bikers have empathy, compassion or respect for anything given the well documented violent history of biker gangs in general. It is hard for me to suspend disbelief when watching.

I've been acquainted with some biker gang members and they're not all violent psychos, so I have no trouble buying the various personalities Sutter is selling.

bombaygirl said...

To the comment above re: Unser- Gemma told Unser to take care of her boys before she sat them down to tell them about the rape. She knows their reaction, once they get past the shock/grief, will be vicious and violent. She was asking Unser to make sure that they were not punished/caught. And he then looks at his wall of fame, at the awards, and he's weighing that against what she's asked him to do. And saying goodbye to his retirement into obscurity. That is how I read the final scene with Unser.

that san jose guy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alan Sepinwall said...

No talking about the previews, guys. It's one of the commenting rules.

Hatfield said...

Haha, Alan, do you have your comment above mine saved so you can bust it out whenever someone mentions the previews?

This is way late, but I think this episode suffered from the hype and the commercials. Yeah, it was really good, but not the best episode I've seen (my money's still on "The Sleep of Babies"). I'm sure watching it uninterrupted was glorious, but I can only take so many ads for the Fantastic Four movies, and it really killed momentum.

Obviously, that last scene was great, and the understated nature of it made it so much more affecting. Toss in Tig crying and Piney thinking bad thoughts and I was all kinds of affected. Very excited for the final three.

Greg said...

A late thought: I'm not sure Kohn's murder would be such a big problem, even if they find the body, as long as Jax and Tara are both willing to say that Tara fired both shots in self defense and that they panicked and dumped the body (assuming there's some type of hard evidence tying them to it). Even though there would obviously be other issues, such as tampering, I think the ATF would rather have the whole thing go away rather than dealing with the fact that an agent they were supposed to be dealing with got away and attempted a rape.

Kevin Michaels said...

Not much more to say about this one (at least nothing that hasn't already been said). Sinply awesome episode - especially if you have the luxury of DVR and can fast forward through the commercials. The pace is much better and the flow of the episode gives it a little more breathless/edginess that is lost in all of the cuts to commercials....

I love how Sutter has played the different characters throughout the course of these two seasons - minor players suddenly have bigger roles, and he has a skillful touch at bringing them in and out of the story arcs effectively (recently Chibbs but before this Bobby and even small sidebars with Hale and Happy). I also have come to appreciate Bobby's understated value and strength within the club - his role has really developed recently and his vision and perspective into right/wrong and what the club needs is excellent. Also love how Tig was tripping among the dolls (great callout by Greg re: last season). What has always worked for me is the subtlty in the scenes - much like The Shield and The Wire (and even back to Homicide), it's not always what is said but the exppressions and the looks that really convey the depth of the characters and the strength of the acting, writing, and directing. Opie's expressions, the looks that often pass between Bobby and the others, the way Unser watches/reacts to what others say and do......that's really one of the things that is at the core of this show.

Finally, that last scene was killer. It's been said before, but the way Jax kissed his mother's hand, the pain in Clay's face, and the way Gemma told about what happened (as well as the hand on the shoulder of Clay and the way he responded to Jax's touch)...it's too bad the Emmy voters often overlook all the eleements in shows like this and instead get excited about Jack bauer and 24........

Absolutely love this show. For me, Tuesday at 10PM is "can't miss TV".

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

OOOOOOPPPSSSS -- Just read the rule about not talking about previews. Sorry Alan -- please delete comment 73 at 4:03 pm

Brad Dourif said...

I just saw Juice as an american soldier, pointing a rifle at Said in season two of Lost.
http://i38.tinypic.com/2cgerrn.jpg

k-tothe-b said...

...and of course Katey Segal is John Lockes girlfriend.

Daniel said...

This episode reminds me that every once in awhile, what we are watching, is truly, art. Like the movie 25th Hour, or like standing in the Van Gough museum in Amsterdam staring at Crows on Wheatfield. It's art. Pure and simple, in it's greatness.