Two weeks ago, when I wrote my review of the Sons of Anarchy season four premiere, I expressed some concerns as to how watching this season weekly, as opposed to my consuming it in chunks of three or four episodes. This is a show that tends to play much better on DVD, and in watching only one at a time I was worried that having that much time to consider the details would dull my enjoyment of the SAMCRO experience.
Last week’s episode “Dorylus” was the first indication I had that maybe my fears were well-founded, as for the first time I wasn’t quite convinced that what was going on was as strong as it could have been. That doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good – simply by virtue of having a cast as good as it has, an hour of Sons of Anarchy is still better than most other shows out there – but the storytelling had some bumps that both concerned me for both the episode and the long-term plotting of the season.
A large problem of the episode was that for most of the action, it seemed to be relatively low-stakes – or at least, stakes very separate from the main action that the show’s been building in its first two episodes. The A-plot of the story, where the club had to track down a truck of stolen hardware thanks to a bungle on Kozik’s part, didn’t have the urgency of the Russian kidnapping last week. It felt very reminiscent of some of the standalone episodes from season one, where a short-term problem was introduced and the club had to bicker amongst themselves to deal with it. Certainly it had its moments, particularly the excellent pursuit of the thieves (as it’s always a joy to see the club riding tall), but it fell into the category I find comes up on this show of plots that I forget about as soon as they’re over.
And a more long-term concern I have is Potter’s Plan B to drive a wedge into SAMCRO by singling out Juice – who it turns out isn’t Puerto Rican at all, but half-black. As Roosevelt explains (in yet another great scene from Rockmond Dunbar), that distinction could be enough to cost him his membership in the club and see the ink taken clean off his back. I’m not sure I buy that the club would do that to Juice, as we’ve seen plenty of evidence race isn’t an issue to them* – they’ve been dealing guns to the One-Niners since the pilot episode, and we saw a close relationship with the all-black Lodi MC Grim Bastards last season. Juice has proven his worth to the club time and time again, and especially in these still turbulent times for the club losing a valuable member (who they already know isn’t white) seems like a stupid move on the part of Clay and Jax.
*And I’m not the only one who’s had this problem – apparently so many critics and viewers have voiced concerns that Kurt Sutter actually took to his blog to explain the rationale behind the decision, and said that the MCs he’s dealt with “aren’t racist, yet they function within a structure that is built upon a form of segregation.” So I’ll reserve final judgment until we get deeper in, but as always I appreciate the fact that for all his faults no one thinks about SoA harder than Sutter does.
That’s not to say that “Dorylus” puts the action of the season in jeopardy. This season seems to have an ambition to turn up the heat after a somewhat meandering third season, and we do see advancement on a couple of signficant plot points. After a bit more sneaking around, Gemma finally confronted Tara about the existence of John Teller’s letters, and – in a terrific scene for Katey Sagal – made it very clear that any of the information contained therein would only further torment Jax and endanger the family. This could have dragged on for a couple more episodes, but putting the knowledge up front makes the conflict between the two more interesting, and also shows how far the relationship between the two has come since season one. I’m interested to see how on hold this conflict will be, especially given that Tara seems to have been making her own plans to bolt from Charming even before Jax mentioned it.
And of course, the final vote over the club’s collusion with Parada and the cartel was held at the close of the episode, and in a 6-5 decision agreed to become drug mules. Here, it’s clear the battle lines have been drawn for the season – Clay and Jax want the money badly enough they’re prepared to write the rest of the club off to do so, and they’ll drag the club in two to do so. Tig’s still enough of Clay’s man to follow along, but he’s looking less and less happy about Clay apparently taking his loyalty for granted. Opie’s impressed enough by Jax’s reasoned handling of the truck situation that he’s putting faith in his best friend to handle the cartel deal smartly (dragging newest member Miles along), and Kozik’s abashed enough at his screw-up that he’s prepared to give Jax a vote as reparations.*
*So in hindsight, I guess the plot did have some value to the story.
On the other side of things is where we’re really starting to get interesting, as the club’s veteran members don’t like any of this. Clay tries to sweet-talk Bobby by promising him the chair when he steps down – breaking his promise to Jax that he’d sponsor Opie for the slot – but Bobby’s too shrewd to take Clay’s word, especially after he witnesses Clay give that same word to their bullet supplier and then lie straight to his face. And Piney’s disgusted enough that he asks Gemma to negotiate with Clay, a move that leads him to threaten both his wife and his oldest friend directly to their faces. These two are smart and weathered, and far more committed to the club as an entity than they are to the actual members. If there’s an internal force of opposition more dangerous long-term to this deal, I can’t name it.
So yes, a groundwork episode for certain, but one that laid a lot of very good tension at the end. I’ll take groundwork episodes without question if it pays forward the way SoA has proven it can.
Prospects and Groupies:
- Potter said that playing Juice is Plan B for the task force, but he’s only one of two pictures in that category on the wall. I rewound and paused that scene three times to confirm, and it looks like the other half is Kurt Sutter’s alter ego Otto. Wonder how that’ll pan out – he said in the season three finale he expects to be on death row soon, and based on the scalpel skullfuck in the premiere I’ll be surprised if he’s not there now. Maybe a push for early execution?
- With such increasingly untrustworthy and violent behavior, I’m starting to seriously wonder if this could be Clay’s last season running the club, and whether or not this means we’ll have to say goodbye to Ron Perlman. I think Sutter would be an idiot to get rid of one of the show’s best, but if the story demands it, who knows.
- Looks like I was wrong about Chibs backing the deal, as he doesn’t trust the cartel. Hope to see more of that, if only because Tommy Flanagan’s one of my favorites on this show.
- The episode title “Dorylus” is a genus of army ant, which we see both in Piney’s admonition to Gemma that the club will follow Clay’s lead, and also in a scene where their Native American allies have buried a man to his neck to be eaten alive by said ants. Most unnerving visual since the “flame or blade” decision Kyle Hobart had to make in season one.
- This has been bugging me for three episodes: I know the cut is a badge of honor for the club, but it must get ridiculously hot wearing a black hoodie over a leather vest in Northern California. Just more evidence of how tough these boys are.