Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Sons of Anarchy, "Smite": If an eye offend thee, pluck it out!

Spoilers for tonight's "Sons of Anarchy" coming up just as soon as I have a hormonal spike...
"I'm going to get us out of all those things that you're afraid of. You stay with me, I promise: you'll find your place." -Jax
Yes, Jax, and Michael was going to make the Corleone family legitimate within five years, right?

An outstanding episode like "Smite" is a reminder of what an impossible task Jax has set for himself, and the club. How do you take a group steeped in blood, violence and crime and take it back to the hippie ideals espoused by the late John Teller? How do you go peacenik when everyone is still trying to shove a knife in your back - or (in the case of Big Otto) a broken mop handle in your one good eye? And how do you scold your stepfather for being bloodthirsty and impulsive when your temper is the strongest and quickest in the club?

And how do you rein in the instant-gratification side of the club when one of the guys who voted to wait for smarter vengeance gets blown up real good by a minivan-bomb?

It's a staple of any storyline about a conflicted criminal, be it the "Godfather" movies or "The Shield," that getting clean is never as easy as the protagonist would like it to be. There are too many sins and too many people looking to avenge them. Sure, if Samcro wasn't selling guns to black and Latin gangs, they might not have run afoul of the League, but some outside group would have very happily moved into Charming to take over the gun and protection business. Darby would still hate Clay, Tig would still have outstanding warrants (and a need to cause trouble), Agent Stahl would still be after the club because Otto smashed her face into a table, etc., etc., etc. And to protect themselves against those various threats, the club members have to commit even more crimes, and create more enemies. It's a vicious cycle for this vicious group, one that Jax may not be equipped to solve and one that status quo-supporting Clay has no interest in solving.

So who, if anyone, can save the club? Could it be Bobby Elvis? He's grown in importance this season, never moreso than when he plays the swing vote in the table vote. Bobby's in a unique position in this club civil war, in that he doesn't know for sure what went down with Donna, but has a hell of an inkling thanks to what Stahl told him at the end of the first season. He's a trusted older hand, not impulsive like Tig or driven by ego like Clay, and he seems to enjoy the club more for the fringe benefits (girls, booze, freedom) than out of a desire to run guns and kick ass. Maybe he's smart enough to figure a way out of this mess - if, that is, he can calm everybody down after Chibs got hit - but hopefully not killed(*) - by the bomb.

(*) And it's here that I want to remind you about the No Spoilers section of the commenting rules for this website, and to make it very clear that I don't want any discussion of what's in the previews for next week's episode, which could very well give away whether Chibs is dead or alive. (I'm writing this review before watching additional episodes, so I have no idea.)

And while the club's alpha males jockey for position, and Clay and Ethan take indirect shots at each other, we see Tara starting to assert herself in her new friendship with Gemma. Getting a busted nose for being helpful will motivate a girl to try some tough love, and while it doesn't work here (Gemma bails on the therapy session at the last minute), you can see Tara bit-by-bit breaking through Gemma's armor. But from Tara's perspective - where her nose is messed-up, where her boss is wrongly (but understandably) suspecting her boyfriend of domestic abuse, where the club is still hip-deep in blood, and where Gemma is being stubborn as hell, it's hard not to see the change coming way too slow. Because the show is about the members of the club, even if it doesn't always take their side of certain moral issues, it would be easy for a character like Tara to be written and played as the killjoy - Why would Jax want to be with this pill? - but what the writers and Maggie Siff have done this year has been very shrewd. Tara's the "normal" point of view on the club, and because she clearly loves Jax, she wants to love the club, but it's hard not to overlook all the baggage that comes with it.

A few other thoughts on "Smite":

• After failing/refusing to pull the trigger on AJ last week, it's interesting to see Gemma so aggressive in her pursuit of the woman who set the whole abduction in motion - and who turns out to be Ethan's doting, equally ruthless daughter. So are we to take it that Gemma couldn't shoot AJ because she's still afraid of him (even in a position of total safety/power) due to her PTSD, while she feels confident in going after a younger, smaller woman who enabled, but didn't participate in, the rape?

• Shortly before Chibs got blown up, I jotted down the following note: "I have no idea what this guy says 90 percent of the time."

• How much time is supposed to have passed from Donna's murder? "The Shield" tended to take place in an incredibly compressed timespan, but I don't know if "SoA" is doing the same. I ask because Opie seems at least somewhat interested in Lyla the porn actress, and I'm not sure how far removed he is from his wife's death. And one of Kurt Sutter's more stomach-churning (yet completely non-graphic) inventions is Opie's continued loyalty to Clay. If he only knew...

What did everybody else think?


kcbennett said...

Alan, I believe between two and three months have passed since Donna's murder. In the second season opener, Opie indicates he's been on the road about a month. In the season's third episode, Tara has Gemma take an HIV/AIDS test, which you can't do until a month after an assault. (Former rape hotline operator here.)

Any definitive word on a third season? I've read that SOA is the highest-rated cable drama and that the second season ratings are up dramatically, so I'm not worried, but it would be nice to have confirmation.

Chris Littmann said...

When they talked about the van being planted, I thought it was all part of them continuing a psychological assault on Gemma, hoping they could crack her. I figured the daughter showed up to the pharmacy so Gemma would see her, and the van would be there so she'd have to react in front of everyone, sort of like the mask that was sent to her at the shop.

Also, Kurt Sutter is a real glutton for punishment, isn't he? Gets Gemma raped this season and then gets his eye gouged out. Oof.

This continues to be one of my favorite hours of TV each week. Read Sutter on Twitter talking about editing the 90-minute finale which has me all the more excited for what's in store.

Tamara McRill said...

I thought Gemma refrained from shooting AJ because he was on the phone with his kids.

JanieJones said...

You wrote about one of the main things that I was thinking in this episode, change and how will it come and by whom? Jax displayed his hair trigger temper the minute his bike got tossed in "Smite" and a three on three brawl broke out.
Bobby surprised me with his vote but what he said to Clay was true about the brutal truth (Bobby being the one who will voice it). Bobby seems like he is content doing the books for the porn business (and assuming that Luanne is also servicing his needs, too), enjoying the perks. He seems the least blood thirsty to a certain point.
Maggie Siff gave a very subtle performance tonight. You've already cited how is it possible for Tara to marry the two ways of her life, being a professional doctor and supporting the club along with her love for Jax. The two come hand in hand. Gemma was right, you learn to love the club or it won't work.
She seems to want to embrace Jax but not what SAMCRO represents.
A good analogy, by the way, regarding The Godfather and The Shield and the protagnist's struggles to get out of a mess.
John Teller's peace loving memoir isn't going to lead Jax to create an equal, normal business without all of the bloodshed, gun running, etc.
It's a bloody, tangled mess.
"Smite" speaks of revenge, backstabbing and sacrifice. When change is imminent or you want it, there is sacrifice. You lose certain things while gaining other things. (Tara is sacrificing some of her ideals, Gemma sacrificed her body and piece of mind, choosing sides (re: the vote for instant retaliation).
It's going to be very interesting in how it all plays out in the remaining episodes. However, I look forward to watching each one of them.
Also, I agree with you about Chibbs-can't understand most of what he says. He has a mouth full of marbles most of the time.
I was saddened by the end.
This madness is escalating and is only going to get worse.

Also, Hale looks to be aligning himself more with SAMCRO after Unser revealed Gemma's beating and rape. Hale is supposed to be the clean one but he handed over the disc with Opie, the land information, etc. I look forward to seeing this subplot develop.
Hale will have to make some more choices down the road and I see him being conflicted.
Gemma, I think, believes she can take on a small woman. Ethan's daughter is the one who enticed her out her car and Gemma feels the bloodthirsty need for revenge. Somehow, someway, it'll happen. Her PTSD and pride prevented her from seeing the doctor.
*If I have a new patient who doesn't show, I do call to see if they are okay. Sometimes, cold feet, too emotionally distraught, and inability to voice how one feels scares some from therapy among other things.

Millie said...

Gemma started reading the memoir, I hope she's curious enough to read the whole thing. (Wish WE could)I'm still perplexed by casting Adam Arkin as Zobell...still waiting to hear "Oy, this meshuggah town and it's fakakte bikers!"

Anonymous said...


Shows like Sopranos, the Shield, Dexter and SoA are fun for me just as a window to dysfunctional worlds that are set here in our contemporary US but so far away from our white bread, Ivy League experiences as to leave us staring agape at the end of every hour.

As to Chibbs, I have no problem understanding him as I watch every episode with the Close Captioning activated. I learned long ago to rely on the CC feature so as not to have to rewind to comprehend mumblers, odd accents or incongruous dialouge.



Matt said...

I think Gemma hesitated to shoot AJ because he was on the phone with his kids, which wasn't an issue with Ethan's daughter. (Having said that, I'm not sure that, given time to really think about it, she could hurt the girl in cold blood, either. See below.) What's more, I couldn't help wondering if Gemma might notfeel a special sort of anger at the woman set her up to be raped. Isn't there something doubly outrageous about that? A violation of some sort of feminine code or something?

Jax can't change the club by himself, and frankly I don't think anyone can. But I wonder if Gemma may be starting to come around to his way of thinking. We saw some foreshadowing of that tonight, in the wake of her encounter with Ethan's daughter, she sought out John Teler's words -- obviously familiar to her -- about the ultimate futility of revenge. Of course, leaving aside the practical impossibility of reforming the club, successfully doing so would mean the end of the show. So let's all hope that doesn't come to fruition.

I believe Unser told Hale tonight that it had been about a month since Gemma's rape, which occurred in the first episode. The first episode, in turn, was set three weeks after Donna's murder (the official SOA blog even says so). So I think it's been no more than two months since Donna's death.

Rabble Rouser said...

QUESTION: What was on the floor of Lyla's car that made Opie (and the camera) stop and stare? I see a toy, receipt, lighter, and two things and don't recognize but would assume is drugs and paraphanelia. So if it IS drugs, whats the importance of it to the story?

Paul Allor said...

My initial reaction after this episode ended is that it seemed like a quiet, transitory episode.

Then I thought: Only on "Sons of Anarchy" could an episode with a smashed nose, a street brawl, a prison beatdown and a car bomb feel like a quiet episode. But there you have it.

Anonymous said...

@Rabble Rouser

I believe it was a lighter and an empty container of meth crystals, meaning the porn actress is smoking Darby's product. But I'm not positive.

David said...

When I saw the van at the garage, I thought the plan was to blow up the club. Will be interesting to see next week if Chibbs survives. (I can't understand half of what he says either.)

Danny said...

Rabble Rouser & Anonymous...

I thought that Opie was looking at the toy. Which reminded him of his kids and his current position in life. He was flirting with her when she first pulled into the garage and once he noticed the toy, it kind of brought him back to the reality of his life.

Just my opinion though, as it seemed to of been focusing on the toy and not the scattered items.

Brad Dourif said...

How much did Zoebelles daughter remind you of Audrey Horn!

Farm Girl Pink... said...

I also saw the empty crack holders along with the child's toy. But I have no idea what Opie was thinking. He has been a little off since Donna died. A little hair triggered/reckless with his behavior.

I loved that Unser told Hale, that he had chosen Hale, for his second in command. To be the honest one in the department and to try to keep the balance of good and evil.

So in return Hale hands off the info that Samcro needed to flush out Hale's older brother. And the scam he was running with the land development. Hale might hate Samcro but the wanna-be Nazi's have p*ssed him off.

It is an interesting development that Unser did tell Hale about Gemma. Now how long will it be till Hale ends up telling Jax?

I would like to see Sutter's Twitter page. Can the direct link be posted? Thanks!

Unknown said...


As far as the timeline goes, we should be at or near the end of Unser's 6 months extension and retirement any day now. (Re-watching season 1 and catching season 2 opener, I guessed season 1 took 4 months in SOA time.)

The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre said...

i didnt really understand the storyline of hale's older brother. i know it's effect was to define hale's character as being for the good of charming, inevitably realizing, for the short-term, samcro has charming's best interests in mind. it would be interesting to see if the league comes after him for his recent betrayal.

i had such a feeling of suspense that the van-bomb was going to blow up the club killing gemma, clay, and bobby while they were inside. thank goodness it didnt.

poor opie, he just keeps messing himself up more and more....now starting to get involved with a crackhead porn starlet with a kid.

i liked the resurgence of the john teller manifesto. jax's constant reading of it in season 1 gave a good insight to his thought process the references reinforce his character. nice how clay said jax is becoming more and more like his father.

bobby is definitely clay's conscience.

hopefully the inevitable war between the league and samcro doesnt burn charming to the ground


Debsa said...

"Shortly before Chibs got blown up, I jotted down the following note: "I have no idea what this guy says 90 percent of the time."

Alan thank you for saying this, I thought it was just me, I often replay his scenes to really understand what he is saying.

SOA season two is firing on all cylinders. I am at the edge of my seat for each episode. I guess vengence will be swift and soon.

Tom Farley said...

I always end flipping on the CC when Chibs speaks. But that doesn't produce something decipherable all the time, either.

Brad Dourif, nice comparison, Little Miss Zobel to Audrey Horne! Although I think Ethan has a decisive advantage over Ben Horne in level of evil.

Tamara, I also thought the fact that AJ was talking to one of his kids deterred Gemma. She couldn't have it go down with his kid listening, IMO.

Gemma's shown a willingness to take revenge on smaller women. Just ask Cherry's nose.

Hale seems to have come around to the concept of The Devil You Know.

Rabble Rouser, I was clueless about the floor of Lyla's car, too. If there was drug gear there, I'm ignorant to it.

Damn, this is a great show. Tuesdays never used to put me in a "can't wait" mood.

Sutter's Twitter page is sutterink

Unknown said...

Chibs is a great character but his brogue is impossible for me to decipher – I need to just cc when he’s onscreen

Last nights episode was great for seeing how alliances are built within the club and around Charming. Its all very political unlike the mafia top down ethos.

Anonymous said...


Alan Sepinwall said...

Perhaps I need to add a seventh item to the comment rules about turning off the caps-lock key?

Danny said...

Not only is it in all Caps, it doesnt even make sense. Which maybe why it is in CAPS to outline how foolish it is. They planted the van to get towed, how were they supposed to know who was going to start the car? If anything they probably hoped it would end up closer to the shop to cause more damage. Chibs being an insider would be an interesting storyline, but it has no merit, and the assassanation ploy definitely does not make sense.

Matt said...

lmfao@Anonymous's silly conspiracy theory!

"i had such a feeling of suspense that the van-bomb was going to blow up the club killing gemma, clay, and bobby while they were inside. thank goodness it didnt."

Really? You thought last night was going to be the series finale?

Opie clearly looked disturbed about the drug paraphernalia in the porn girl's car; he would not have reacted that way if he were focused on the toys. Anyone want to put odds on this girl turning Opie into a meth freak? It'd just be another form of reckless self-endangerment. Sadly, I don't think Sutter has plans to let poor Opie off the hook anytime soon. Things will get worse for him before they get better -- if they get better.

The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre said...

perhaps it was illogical to think the club blowing with with 3 main charcters ceasing. but nonetheless, what a surprise it would be with the fallout being the rest of the season. i was just trying to highlight the suspense.


shara says said...

Great recap Alan, thanks :) I really enjoyed this episode (this season has been fantastic so far, IMO).

@Chris Littman - a 90 minute finale?! Yippee!

Re: Gemma not shooting AJ - I would think that it is MORE likely that Gemma would go after Zobelle's Daughter (ZD) than AJ. For one thing, Gemma has shown little hesitation in the past about going after women who cross her path. For another thing, her primary trauma didn't directly involve ZD, so she wouldn't suffer as much paralyzing fear from being in ZD's presence - whereas with AJ, I think there was a somewhat different set of emotions at play - the PTSD shutdown, the terror of facing her rapist, the desire not to orphan a kid (or subject the kid to the trauma of hearing his father murdered) - that wouldn't get in the way of her vengeance against ZD. Plus, it was a different kind of betrayal - preying on Gemma's mother instincts with the fake baby choking thing, and the whole aspect of a woman setting up another woman to be gang raped. So I think its totally possible to distinguish the potential murder of ZD from the potential murder of AJ. Although, I don't necessarily think that Gemma intended to shoot her, so much as the act of pulling out the gun (as we've seen in previous episodes) is a natural and unconscious consequence of the severe PTSD and/or a realization that danger is close and she needs to protect herself. I think its closer to this latter option - that she pulled out the gun without even realizing that she was doing it.

I thought that Jax's reaction when he heard that Gemma had clocked Tara in the nose was priceless.

I liked the development with Hale's character, and LOVED the scene with Hale and Unser. I was SO SURE that Hale was gonna tell Jax there at the end, but no! Even better.

There was a moment with Gemma, and I can't remember offhand whether it was during the brawl (I think it was) or the explosion later - but there was this expression on her face watching the chaos where I thought she realized that her keeping the secret to herself wasn't doing anybody any good - that it was just allowing things to escalate, with them hurting more and more people to provoke a reaction. I don't expect the secret to stay hidden more than another episode or so, but who knows. I hope that Gemma decides to tell, rather than Hale/Unser/Tara, because the dynamics and growing rapport among the "in the know" crew is fantastic, and I don't want to see a betrayal and fallout among any of those folks - not when everything is still somewhat tentative.

I have a feeling that Jax is gonna be seriously upset when he finds out that Tara knew and didn't tell him (lots of foreshadowing with the whole "this full disclosure thing doesn't just go one way" stuff). I think that is gonna be a much bigger hiccup in their relationship than anything coming from the club.

Tom Farley said...

I have a feeling that Jax is gonna be seriously upset when he finds out that Tara knew and didn't tell him (lots of foreshadowing with the whole "this full disclosure thing doesn't just go one way" stuff).

I think you're right, shara. At the outset of their Full Disclosure phase, Jax told her something huge about a stranger. Tara is keeping Gemma's secret, but of course that's Jax's mom. He'll surely call attention to the difference.

Danny said...

Just re watched the episode from last night. I definitely switch my stance and think that Opie was focusing on the crack and not the toy. Could of been a bit of both, but the crack was definitely what he was reacting too. Just didn't notice the lighter and vials the first time through.

asadULTRAwalker said...

couple of thoughts on SOA so far:

1.)the purpose of gemma's rape was to hurt the club and cause a reaction. so far gemma hasnt bit. why doesnt the league pick up the phone and tell clay what they've done? wouldnt that accomplish the same thing?

2.)good thing it was chibs trying to start that car. ex-ira with car-bomb experience? he heard the car-bomb before it went off and got out before anyone else would have.

3.) i think the similiarities between tara and gemma are becoming apparent to both of them and i see a real friendship developing based on mutual respect. i think tara is actually turned on by her new "official" role as jax's "old lady", but, like gemma, she'll never be a typical "biker broad".

4.) obviously, soa is weak in the arena of prison politics. in cali prisons you must be affiliated with some type of racial umbrella group: white, mexican, black... i would think that, with no affiliation, their gang members would be pressed by aryan gangs on a constant basis.
they can't be getting by on their business affiliations with the mayans and the 'niners. can they? this is the one plot point i have a trouble suspending my disbelief for. as a former prison inmate myself, this would be key. any member of a organization such as soa, runs the everyday risk of incarceration. if arrested, i know exactly where my affiliation lies. in most east coast prisons, particularly dc prison, the affiliations run towards religious lines: christians, muslims, noi, 5 percenters, moorish scientists, etc.

Matt said...

"obviously, soa is weak in the arena of prison politics. in cali prisons you must be affiliated with some type of racial umbrella group: white, mexican, black..."

That's interesting. Never having been in prison, that's gone completely over my head. But there's quite a bit else that I find hard to swallow about the show. First, the income from the quantity of guns that the club seems to sell would be a pittance. The real money for MCs is in things like prostitution and drugs, but Sutter & Co. can't go there because they don't want to make SAMCRO too unsympathetic; they're supposed to be anti-heroes, not villains. So we get the porn operation (unsavory, but not criminal). And last night was the first time we had an inkling of SAMCRO being involved in other illegal profit-making enterprises -- but I find it a little hard to believe that they'd be considered local heroes if they're extorting protection money from every local business. There are lots of other little hard-to-believes, too. It's a great show, but it doesn't pay to think too hard about the details. :)

Miranda said...

I definitely agree with the commenter who suggested that Gemma may be more enraged at Zobell's daughter. I (sort of) am, myself. I mean, not really -- everyone involved in the rape deserves the full vengeance of Gemma and/or SAMCRO, IMO. But for a woman to set up another woman to get raped ... I wouldn't expect a neo-nazi woman to have any respect for the sisterhood, but still.

asadULTRAwalker said...

also, while we are on the subject of chibs: what is his deeper connection with the ira and why does he seem out of sorts when informed that some of the ira higher-ups are coming to cali?

Unknown said...

From the theme song...

"Gotta look this life
In the eye."

Why is that never going to play now without Kurt Sutter laughing at me?

Is anyone else getting a sense of Deja Vu (in a really good way) about the Adam Arkin character being in many ways similar to Forest Whitaker in Season 5 of the Shield?

Very driven, determined and strongly with the belief that he's doing the right thing, and in fact truly actually being someone that IS going after people who are doing wrong - running guns, killing etc, yet all the while thoroughly being cast as the villain of the piece and naturally hated by viewers...

I certainly sense some cool parallels there.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Test, an interesting parallel, though Whitaker never did anything remotely as monstrous as what Ethan arranged to happen to Gemma.

Unknown said...

Alan, I should certainly add that I see the parallels living on somewhat different levels. Kavanaugh had the full force of the law behind him - "more law" than any standard cop given the powers and breadth of the IAD.

But he was still very much bound by the law and carefully in his mind all his deeds were well founded in being legal, in fact at times he made an overt point of that being the case. And in some ways his gradual total abandonment or MORALITY within his actions could be seen in his self contained world as pushing his boundaries to their very limits.

Ethan doesnt have the legal boundaries, and it's true while we don't know what if any limits he does have (though the daughter aspect will almost certainty be very interesting somewhere in here) he's already pushed the ordinary person's moral limit way over the edge, yet he's also been careful to explain to Hale the drugs are a temporary means to an end (I found that earlier scene quite revealing).

He is definitely a mismatch of moralities, but to him Gemma is just a pawn owned by Clay and well within his rules for the game, given Clay is the foundation target for his attack. Again, while not on the same level morally; but really in terms of boundaries etc, exactly the same way Corrine Mackey was the direct target of Kavanaugh in his attack against Vic.

Then leave the show and ask yourself how amusing would be the private joke "Shawn whatever you can have an asshole do to your wife I can do better".

Season 3: Shawn Ryan makes a brief guest appearance as a non speaking sinister drug lord with an as yet unknown body part fetish anyone?

Anonymous said...

asad ultra walker - chibs is not irish, he's a scotsman, and was on the english side during his army service.

matt - i don't think they're extorting money from the rest of the local businesses - that was just a way to try to force zobell out of town, or at least let 'em know what's coming.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming pretty late to the party (as I recently watched soa, fell in love with and am now going through seasons 1 and 2) and I appreciate all comments. Especially from those who actually know the inner workings of mc gangs and prison systems versus the show. But does anyone honestly believe that Jax could do that much damage to Rollins? Hell no! Rollins would eat that guy and his gang for breakfast without breaking a sweat...

Anonymous said...

it's a bit lame that some scenes are almost exactly copied from the godfather, not because copying isn't right but lots of people are familiar with it so this series first episode doesn't bring any very original footage to the table.