Good God. Last night's Sons of Anarchy episode just about had me in tears. It was relentless, brutal, at times unexpected--it was really, really rough. This show isn't about low-key relaxed TV-watching, that's for sure. If the intensity keeps ratcheting up every week, I'm going to need tranquilizers to watch it by November.
To begin, the Juice story line. Clearly, that was all going to go bad, but I was shocked at how bad it went this quickly. Watching whatever was left of Juice's naiveté crumble in the face of self-preservation struck me as the most true, relatable thing about the whole situation Sutter has put him in. At this point, I don't care in the least whether or not Juice's fears about being outed as Black make sense in the show's context--his desperate, brutal reaction is so damn good it doesn't matter.
The scene early in the episode, wherein Ima is first confronted by Gemma and Tara, then taken on by Lyla, resulting in her pulling a gun on the whole room, is another one I never would have believed would work on paper, but the strength of the way it was written and acted made it believable. Gemma's tiredness, Lyla's sorrow, and most of all, Tara's hard, bitter, "keep that .38 close, bitch," all struck me as absolutely perfect. I do hope we keep getting to see glimpses of this Tara, the same one who punched her boss in the face and said, "that was assault." I can't help but believe that after everything Tara has seen and been through, she'd have to either implode or grow a spine. The latter is certainly a more interesting concept.
The interaction between Tig and his daughter, Dawn, was my favorite part of this episode. It took me several seasons to come around to the idea of a softer side of Tig, and I still think it could very easily be taken too far, but his willingness in this episode to allow himself to be "played" for a large sum of cash struck me as likely. The scenes with Dawn, particularly Gemma's initial introduction of her to Tara as "Satan spawn," also added much-needed levity to a show that would have otherwise been oppressive in its intensity.
Which brings me to Opie. Poor, sad, fucked-up Opie, and his already-doomed marriage to Lyla. Again, I was surprised to see shit between them blow up so terrifically so soon, but it makes sense. Piney's clocking Ope and telling him he didn't even know who he was anymore seemed like exactly the right thing from the old man, who is so desperate to save what he can of his Club and family as they're killing themselves. I was also again impressed with the interaction between Opie and Jax--their friendship is so believable, and there is so much implied in the silences in their short, simple conversations. Jax's observation that Lyla may not want to leave the life she's in struck me as a reflection not only her, but on Tara and her increasing level of comfort with the Club. I'm still extremely interested to see how that plays out.
Now, my favorite thing about the episode--a small thing, but, I think, an important one--Chibs and Juice's conversation about the Club rules. Chibs' responses, about not necessarily agreeing with some of the more archaic rules, but thinking it was important to respect them, was really interesting. In many ways, this entire season is about breaking the old rules--Juice's race, the Club taking on drug running, etc. And Clay has NEVER respected the rules when they don't suit him. As per Chibs' logic, it's this disrespect for the guidelines they all signed on to that is tearing the Club apart.
The big drama, of course, is Clay's putting a hit out on Tara and Unser's feeble attempts to protect her. This situation worries me less than the Juice plot line, if only because I can't see Tara leaving the show. It certainly builds tension, though, and is one more illustration of just how far off course Clay has gotten. I can't really see Clay leaving the show either, but I have no clue how this is all going to be able to work out without somebody dying.
Finally, I have to say something about Jax's character transition. The last scene, where he smashes Ima's face and threatens her, was the most out-of-character thing I've ever seen Jax do, and I found it more than a little bit startling. The Jax that took a risk on letting the eye witness to Bobby's murder at the end of the first season, because she was a teenage girl, seems to be gone for good. Unlike the majority of his atypical behavior so far this season, there was no larger reason for last night's scene with Ima--he wasn't trying to keep anything together, or make anything better, he was just trying to make his own personal life easier. It was completely selfish brutality. Which is a whole lot like Clay.
Once again, I am in absolute awe of the story and spectacle Sutter is providing this season. This isn't just the best yet season of Sons of Anarchy, it's one of the best seasons of any show I've ever seen. The raw relentlessness of it is astounding, and the writing and acting continue to be absolute top quality. Halfway through the season, each episode really is playing out like a tiny, perfect movie. Amazing.