Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, "Eureka": Head out on the highway

Spoilers for tonight's "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I file the serial numbers off my extra gun...
"Charming's a special town. Not many folks take to it. I like to think the town chooses its occupants. Right ones stay; wrong ones disappear." -Unser
This killer second season of "Sons of Anarchy" just keeps getting better, doesn't it? Kurt Sutter and company (here Kurt co-writes with Brett Conrad, with Guy Ferland directing) are expanding the scope of what they can do - with this episode offering us the image of the full Samcro roster (augmented with a lot of help from Central Casting) out on their blood run, plus the action of Jax and Piney's assault on the bounty hunters' motel room - but they're also going much deeper into who these characters are and the many ways that their association with the club, and with Charming, is messing them up.

Last week, the Jax/Clay feud had to co-exist with the tension between Clay and Gemma. But with the club out on the road, and with Tig's capture by the bounty hunters complicating the gun deal, things come to a very violent head between these two. But more interesting than the fight itself, or the grousing beforehand, is seeing who's taking which side. Piney's clearly with Jax because he knows about Donna, while Opie sides with Clay precisely because he doesn't know about that, and because he's thrown himself so deeply into the club that he's going to blindly follow its leader. It made sense at the time for Jax and Piney not to tell him, but this is very bad now. The only way to get Opie on their side is to tell him the truth, at which point he may feel almost as betrayed by his father and his best friend as by his president. It's bad enough that Clay and Tig did this, but for Jax and Piney to not tell him - to let him keep liking and trusting the men who murdered Donna, and to let them stay alive when all Opie cares about is killing anyone involved - well, I just keep thinking about how good Opie is with explosives and worrying that this season is going to end with a lot of them going off.

On the flip side, I think we all assumed that one of this season's story arcs was going to be about Gemma stalking and killing (or badly hurting) AJ and the other men who attacked her. Instead, she spots his telltale tattoo in episode four, follows him, with gun in hand, and... can't pull the trigger.

Why not? Is it because she can hear AJ's conversation with his son and that humanizes him too much? Is it because he damaged her so badly that she's still afraid of him, even in a situation where she has all the power and he faces all the danger? Or has the experience - and the help and compassion she's received since from people like Unser and Tara and Neeta - altered her in a different way? Monstrous as the rape was, is it possible it's forced her to view the world in a different way? That she's not as cold and hard and vengeful as she used to be? Or is she just hanging around in the chapel because she won't have to talk to strangers in there?

Whatever the reason, Katey Sagal continues to knock it out of the park on this storyline, and I like how she played Gemma's hand tremors so they looked very much like Clay's arthritic mitts when he's in the middle of an attack.

Some other thoughts on "Eureka":

• Clay's difficulty in getting the bike up was a nice art-imitates-life moment, as Ron Perlman has struggled more than the other actors in mastering the art of riding. He's better now than he was at the start of the series ("I don’t talk to him; he doesn’t talk to me," he jokes), but when I asked him about the learning process back at press tour, he said:
Well, the interesting thing about Clay is that we’re dealing with a character whose riding days are probably coming closer to an end than a beginning. He’s got these problems with his hands. He’s got this oncoming profound arthritis which will disable him from being able to ride, which is one of the story points that we kind of revisit every once in a while. So that helps me in my disposition about my relationship with the bike. But the show is really so heavy on the presidency and all of the things that that entails that the riding of the bike, thankfully, is just, sort of an accessory to a very complex network of who the guy is.
• It's so rare to see Maggie Siff smile in character, as either Tara or as Rachel Mencken, that it was kind of startling when she flashed her teeth after seeing little Abel in his Samcro knit cap? And how soon before FX or the studio tries to merchandise those things?

• In addition to his showdown with Ethan, quoted above, I loved Unser's continued exasperation with having to be Gemma's friend and protector, particularly the way he says, "What am I supposed to do with that?" after Gemma admits to pointing a gun at the woman in the other car. And Unser later reminds us of how long he's known Gemma, and how well he knows her, while again painting a parallel between Gemma and Tara. Is one of the stories of the series going to be Gemma softening just as Tara gets harder to handle her life as Jax's "old lady"? And how soon before that hospital administrator starts being more overt in her objections to all of Tara's visitors from both sides of the law?

• The bald, intense club member who rode with Jax, Piney, Chibbs and Half-Sack on the rescue mission is Happy, played by technical advisor David Labrava. He appeared in several episodes last year, but it had been a while since he played a prominent role. But if you're going on an armed raid, he's clearly a guy you want on your side.

What did everybody else think?


greentara said...

Tig was really amusing this episode. "Why are you hitting me? I was cooperating!" What a psycho.
Piney with the flatbed was pretty badass, too.

I didn't really get what the Irish were saying about their colleagues coming stateside. More trouble brewing?

Anonymous said...

Piney and BA Baracus are now one for me

Cree said...

It gets better and better and better and...you get where I'm going with this?

I am still trying to figure out why Gemma didn't pull the trigger, but I think you pretty much nailed it on the head Alan. She's going to find the softer side of her soul as Tara gets harder and harder. We saw a glimpse of that Tara at the very end of last week's episode on the bathroom.

Glad to see Half-Sack get more than one line tonight. Have they ever said exactly what he has to go through to become a full member of the MC?


cgeye said...

My first thought: SAMCRO Wifebeater Onesie. Leave out the 'wifebeater' part, but you know it would sell.

cgeye said...

"There are some days I can't get my dick out of my pants."

"That's what prospects are for."

And I thought frat boys were bad....

HBO2003 said...

Eureka, CA. Being from the midwest I really enjoy the setting of the show, Northern California. The dealing with gangs from Oakland to the open road shots of the guys on their bikes riding through the wilderness.

The whole second half of this episode I was just humming to myself the Sublime song "April 26, 1992" where in the last verse the lead singer names cities that have had riots or crime problems followed by .." let it burn let it burn".... 3/4 through the verse he pairs Eugene, OR with Eureka, CA.

So the last scene of the Oregon SOA contingent grabbing the guns and taking them the rest of the way made me smile.

Anonymous said...

Seeing as how they're using Hamlet as an "inspiration", Gemma's not shooting the evil rapist reminds me of the scene where Hamlet is getting ready to kill Claudius, but hear's his confession, in which Claudius shows real remorse for what he's done. But if Hamlet heard the whole confession, he'd have heard Claudius admit that he'd do it all over again.

Also enjoyed the expression on Tara's face when she touches Jax's colors and realizes she's his old lady. There's happiness, confusion, even sadness. A nice subtle piece of acting that doesn't spell everything out for the viewer. We're left to wonder.

Hatfield said...

When you mentioned Unser reminding you of Charlie Utter last week, I made a joke about him going to confront Ethan like Utter did with Hearst, and lo and behold, here it is! Dayton Callie plays understated badass very well, but I continue to worry about his well being.

This was probably the funniest episode of the series, with all the stuff about Half-Sack's not so halved-sack and Tig's entire day. I've been paying attention to Kim Coates as a bad guy ever since Bruce Willis asked him for a cigarette in The Last Boy Scout, but he's really good at the comedy and drama on this show too.

I totally agree on Maggie Siff's smile--nice to see it once in a while, and a great "Eureka!" moment for Tara.

Another great scene: Opie telling Clay that he was with him, whatever happened. That had to hit Clay in all kinds of ways, and Perlman and Hurst nailed it.

Rich Cain said...

Overall, one of my favorite episodes of this series and it really whet my appetite for the rest of the season.

The blood run holds lots of meanings. The surface meaning of the blood drive. But also the blood that will be spilled by the guns SAMCRO is running; on American soil and overseas. Also, Tig’s blood spilled on the road. And the future blood to be spilled by either Jax or Clay.

Has Gemma ever pulled the trigger? I don’t recall her doing so in any story arcs. And I can’t recall if there’s ever been a mention of any such act by her in the past. Does anyone know? If she hasn’t, then maybe this scene is meant to show us, among other things, that killing isn’t easy; especially in cold blood with the intended’s back turned toward you.

We’ve seen Gemma supporting everyone else so often but who ever supports her? She doesn’t really have an anchor like she is an anchor to Jax and Clay and to a lesser extent Tara. So at the time she most needs an anchor of support there really isn’t anyone there for her other than Unser. Unser may be able to protect Gemma physically as he promised her, but he is not equipped to give her the emotional support she needs. The one person in her life that probably can help her is Tara and Gemma is too proud to get help from her. And Gemma can’t let Tara help her after all the tough talk Gemma has given Tara.

Could it be that Gemma resists seeing a professional counselor or therapist because she knows so much about the MC? Would it be like a mob boss seeing a psychiatrist? Does she think it would ruin her marriage?

As Alan and others have suggested, Gemma may be getting softer. Maybe as she sees Tara hardening she’ll feel comfortable with Tara as the “First Lady” of SAMCRO and Gemma will be able to step aside and have a quiet little retirement with Clay – if Jax doesn’t kill him first. Or Opie after he inevitably learns the truth.

The closing scene left me with a spine-tingling chill that was reminiscent of some of Vic Mackey’s darkest moments.

The episode is titled ‘Eureka’ and there were plenty of Eureka moments; some small, some large:
Gemma finding out she’s not as hard as she thought.
Tara figuring out she’s Jax’ old-lady.
Clay understanding he won’t be able to keep riding for long.
Tig finding out the trouble in Oregon wasn’t quashed.
Bobby realizing his beloved Fat Boy maybe isn’t the most practical ride and is actually a liability.
Tara discovering part of why Gemma is how she his by listening to Unser talk about Gemma’s past.
Ethan finding out that Unser isn’t going to be a pushover.
And the biggie – Jax realizing that in the end it’s going to be either Clay or him and Clay isn’t going to let any family matters interfere.

The early scene surrounding the teasing of Half-Sac reminded me of a lot of the scenes in ‘Rescue Me’ where the guys are just hanging out and riding each other. It’s what guys do.

Eric said...

I don't watch SOA regularly, but I would definitely watch an SOA/Eureka crossover. Just sayin'.

bsangs said...

I thought for sure you'd write..."just as soon as I get a nutical." :)

When Clay tells Jax at the end that he'll kill him if he mentions "Donna or the incident again," I got chills. Not sure how long Gemma can stay quiet about the gang rape. Have a feeling she might need to tell in order to save either Jax or Clay.

Great stuff.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I thought for sure you'd write..."just as soon as I get a nutical."

Oh, I thought about it, believe me.

Also, to get back to R's comparison to Rescue Me, they also did a storyline late in the last season where someone was going to get a neuticle.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I just looked it up. It was Teddy's dog getting neuticles.

zodin2008 said...

I think this is currently the best hour of Television on right now, even over "Mad Men". I am more and more drawn to the world of Charming and the Sons every week. Fantastic writing and acting.

And a "right on" to the glowing comments about the amazing performances by the two female leads of the show, Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff. Such great emotions both displayed this week just through facial expressions. It's criminal to me how the women on shows such as "Battlestar", "Rescue Me" and "Mad Men" have been overlooked, and here are two more actresses that are absolutely deserving of emmoy nominations in a big way over the usual network nominees from those various ABC Dramas.

I have not only spent this season felling all the warmth the character of Unser provides as kind of the 'protector' of peace in Charming, even as he's let Clay and the Sons do their thing over the years, but watching the big brother/slightly romantic way Unser looks after Gemma, and then Unser threatening Arkin's character this week, leads me to believe that Arkin's gang will murder Unser at some point this season and the continued "softening" of Gemma will END and she will gain revenge on Unser's death by murdering one of the two major villains.

It's just the way everything feels it will play out to me. They're setting us up right now with Gemma's softening behavior. Kurt Sutter and the writers are slowly leading the audience down that path, only to pull the rug from under our feet later this season when Unser is murdered which will cause Gemma to be enraged and finally take the revenge she's currently dancing around.

Just my 2 cents.

Bryan said...

Can someone enlighten me on the implications of the Irish coming stateside? I couldn't make sense of anything they mumbled in this scene, and the accent didn't help matters. Judging by the SAMCRO reactions, it will definitely come back into play at some point...

JanieJones said...

Thought on Eureka
-Kim Coates was a riot in this episode. He has a range that expands to not just being a bad guy. *Sick and twisted regarding the outstanding warrant*. I don't even want to know what Tig was doing up in Oregon in 2001.

-Opie's anger is simmering, barely contained. I felt bad for Jax and Piney in this episode because they knew what really happened to Donna and they are now in a conundrum. I think (going with this year's storylines thus far) Sutter intends for either Opie to discover the truth or go off the deep end, even further. This is a secret that seems to be barely contained. I think all hell is going to break loose.

-Katey Sagal continues to amaze me. Alan, your thoughts on her not pulling the trigger were mulling in my head last night as I watched. She seemed determined than stepped back. Was is because A.J. was talking to his kids (making him appear more human)? Or has she made a connection between the warmth that she has received from Tara, Unser and Neeta? She seemed almost relieved that she didn't pull the trigger once she shut the door. Sagal's portrayal of a rape victim and the PTSD that comes with it are very real and honest. There is a range of emotions when someone is raped. She is spot-on with her reactions.

-Unser telling Ethan off was great. However, I also fear for his life in this whole mess.

-Maggie Siff was wonderful last night. She does appear to be getting a bit harder, so to speak. I was wondering when someone at the hospital would get around to mentioning her visitor's and last night it happened. I wonder if there will be repercussions down the line if she continues to receive visitor's at the hospital.

R-you made some wonderful observations.

Lastly, the final scene was indeed spine tingling. Clay telling Jax that he would kill him if he mentioned the Donna incident again drove home (for me) that Jax might beat Clay to the punch.

The season just keep climbing higher in it's pursuit of achieving what few television dramas are able to do-weave a story, fascinate the viewer, impress the viewer and television critic and leave us begging for more.

Unknown said...

While I love this show, I'm afraid they may have taken on too heavy of a scenario too early in the series. We know that eventually it will become public about what really happened to Donna. We know that 2 of the major characters in the show are on opposite sides. It feels too much like Vic/Shane, where eventually you knew one would end up dead. And that worked because it was a series finale. So who is it going to be? I can't envision either one of them being killed, so how do they realistically resolve it? It may have been better for a lesser member to act out on his own and kill Opie (Donna.) Then, they could've resolved it in a way that would make sense on the show.
Watcha think Alan?

Anonymous said...
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Matt said...

Last week I wrote,

"Here's another possible end-of-season angle on Unser's death... Unser kills Zobelle. In case [various factors I listed are] not enough motivation for Unser to act, maybe he also finds out that LOAN, on Zobelle's orders, carried out the attack on Gemma."

This week's episode certainly didn't undercut my confidence in that prediction. Who knows -- maybe Unser just ends up killing AJ, and Clay or Jax handles Zobelle. But I'm convinced the chief will be there in the mix, and he might very well take it upon himself to resolve the problem.

I think Gemma is starting to go through an enormous transformation. We saw it last week, when there were inklings she might turn to religion (and I think she still might). And the realization that she couldn't shoot AJ -- whether it was because she never had the will to kill in cold blood, or because she lost it as a result of recent events -- is another important discovery. I don't know where that transformation will end, but clearly this is going to be a central story arc this season.

Anyone else get the feeling there might be some long-buried, unrequited love for Gemma on Unser's part?

The irony in Opie asking Jax not to drag him into the beef with Clay was incredible, and Hunnam played it really well. His face clearly said -- to anyone in the know -- what Jax refuses to say out loud: "Man, if only you knew..."

I didn't catch the part about the Irish coming to the States, either. If anyone can tell me what exactly was said -- let alone what it's supposed to mean to us -- I'd appreciate it.

I find at least one aspect of each episode that requires just a little more suspension of disbelief than I'm really comfortable with, and last night was no exception. Crashing through the motel wall in broad daylight, in a jurisdiction where SAMCRO isn't in charge, without so much as ski masks on, and leaving the four bounty hunters alive as witnesses (they're probably a little harder to intimidate than a 17 year-old girl), was sheer idiocy. Someone needs to go to prison for that, just to show that the alternate reality in which SOA is set bears at least some connection to the real world.

Unknown said...

Loved the episode. Did not really understand where Piney was driving Tig home, sipping on Patron through straws. Piney looked way too comfortable bonding with the guy he knows killed his sons wife(who was supposed to kill his son). Also thought there was a nice subtle moment between Piney and Gemma. Maybe foreshadowing Gemma siding with Jax and not Clay as it seemed she would in final episode of last year.

Anonymous said...

Awesome as it was to see Unser threatening Zoebell I have to think that will end badly for him. He's still only a lawman, and Zoebell is too smart to be caught. We also know just how monstrously far he's willing to go to get what he wants. Hopefully I'm wrong though!

Poor, poor Opie. There's no way things can possibly work out at all well for him. He either doesn't learn the truth and keeps chasing his death wish or he finds out and kills Clay, Tig, and probably Jax for keeping the truth from him for so long. You just got to feel so bad for the guy. Ryan Hurst has been fantastic.

Man, I watched season one on DVD when I read Alan's positive season two preview and this was the first I watched in real time. Now I got to get used to watching an episode every week instead of every day. Dang.

Brad Dourif said...

On metaphors: love how the club is falling apart both literally and figuratively; Tig and Clay biting the dust is a nice way of showing how even the most fundamental aspect of the club (i.e. bike riding) is breaking down. As someone else said, I'm curious to see how Sutter et al are going to write their way out of this mess. Not worried, though.

Anonymous said...

I know you hate this Alan, but I have to ask, where is your "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" post? I've been reading your blog for some time now, and I can't remember if you ever said why you don't blog about one of the best comedies on TV. Anyway sorry for putting this on the SOA page, but atleast they are both on the same network. SOA is getting better and better each week. Love this show, and keep up the good work Alan.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tomorrow's column will be right up your alley then, dude.

Chip said...

My fave ep this season so far. I still think you don't give this show enough shine in terms of length/analysis. Nothing to say about the mask and Gemma's interactions with Zobelle, for example? Personally I think it's making for great tv but as a plan, is it really that good? Rape and destabilize the "matriarch" of the club and then incite the club to come after them and get exposed for the violent thugs they are? All because they sell guns to "blacks and wetbacks." Eh. On the flipside tho really loving Arkin and Rollins as villains. They're eventual deaths won't be nearly as poignant if at least one of them isn't by Gemma's hands, so I'm guessing they've got more monstrous deeds up their sleeves. I'm betting on them getting Unser before the cancer. Sucks, he's been great this season

Kevin said...

Maybe it's a function of watching SOA in HD, but I noticed that Jax was drinking a bottle of "Jake Daniels" whiskey at the party before Clay threatened to kill him.

bsangs said...
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Alan Sepinwall said...

No talking about the previews, folks. Or making "guesses" that may have been inspired by the previews.

The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre said...

Great seson thus far.

I think any showdown, prior to the finale, between SOA and LOAN will be destabilized by Hale, Unser, or Clay finding about Gemma's rape. I just hope they don't carry this into a third season. Doubtful that they will, but you never know. Perhaps the knowledge of Gemma's rape will help Clay and Jax to untie and set aside their current differences. An all out war would repair the current widening rift within the club. I felt Maggie Siff's smile was a cover for fear of what she is becoming. It looks like noone could understand the Irish guys. Whatever happened to the realtionship between half-sack and the girl Gemma clipped with the skateboard? Sorry to speculate, but Im really excited to see how everythign comes together and/or unravels.

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HMM2 said...


Could you add Sons of Anarchy to the "Recommended Readings" column on the right of the home page?


Jack said...

I enjoyed the irony of the Tig Kidnapping, the two men who want him dead fighting hardest to get him free. Compared to his big protector in the club perfectly willing to risk him being shipped off to oregon to finish the gun run. I thought the motivation behind this was Clay thought it might be easier to patch thingsd over with Jax's if Tig was out of the picture for a while. Wheras Jax and Piney wanted him around to be available for their own coming justice. Which could explain why Piney was so cheerful driving Tig to hospital at the end.