(Note: Checking In is a new weekly column designed to give Processed Media more, varied coverage of TV shows. Every week, I’ll pick a different show and look at its most recent run of episodes – and in some cases, larger portions of seasons. Enjoy!)
Sons of Anarchy
Airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET on FX
Episodes discussed: “Sweet and Vaded”, “Los Fantasmas”, “John 8:32”
As Sons of Anarchy moves into the final third of season six, the last three episodes have smartly begun folding plots into each other, revelation-heavy episodes that have slowly started to tease out some of the show’s overarching conflicts, setting the stage for the final episodes (and season) in the process. And those conflicts are some meaty motherfuckers; the Teller/Morrow/Knowles family is inches away from full implosion, just as Jax finally sees the light at the end of the tunnel for SAMCRO and his career committing multiple felonies on a daily basis. Understanding this, it makes a lot of sense that the SoA cameras have spent a lot of quiet time with Jax as he sits in various places alone – the weight of the world is finally reaching Jax’s shoulders, and it’s done wonders for the quality of the show.
Sons of Anarchy is always going to have its machinations, loud dramatics, and blood spurts: those are always fine, as long as there is something more to those empty theatrics. The last few seasons, the lengthened season orders and episode lengths have only allowed for more of these indulgences, at the expense of the show’s writing: which in turn, has continued to try and turn spectacle into narrative, with mixed results (compare Gemma’s gang rape scene in season two with the school shooting earlier this season). It’s come at the expense of Jax Teller’s character, who has continued the contradiction between his thoughts and actions in order to serve these adventures, often at the cost of his character’s likability.
The last few episodes have done one simple thing to start righting this ship: they’ve finally put Jax in situations where he doesn’t have all the answers. He can think his plan with Patterson (who continues to be a well-acted, completely one-dimensional “villain”) will work, but as his home life falls apart (“John 3:82” ends with Tara sitting at home, waiting for Jax with a gun in her lap), it becomes increasingly clear that he’s going to lose somewhere. Yes, the show’s fooled us with this before, but make no mistake: with the final episodes looming, truth isn’t going to stop coming to Jax, and his opportunities to find a happy ending will cease to exist. Sutter and company are undoubtedly setting the stage for the final season, dropping a few tidbits in recent episodes to hint towards this.
The catalyst of it all comes in “Sweet and Vaded”, which surprisingly uses Venus (a character I’ve hated) to hit Jax with some hard truth: he’s fucking up as a father, sending his kids down the same fucked-up path as the little school shooter, Venus, and a number of other disillusioned, damaged youths we’ve met over the years. What are his kids going to think of him when he grows up, and the truth inevitably comes out about their father? Sons of Anarchy has always shown us how skeletons never, ever stay buried (shit, it’s the focal point of the whole pilot – remember the girls who died underground?) and the truth is bound to come out and wreak havoc. When Jax kills Venus’s crazy, pedophile mother, he’s not just doing it to shut her up: he’s doing it because he hears the same speech in his own head about himself. He might not be an emotionally-damaged transsexual (and shout out to SoA for finally making VVD a bit more than an empty, wink-wink gimmick), but he is one fucked-up, confused creature.
With the Big Ideas looming, this streak of honesty has infected just about everyone else on Sons of Anarchy, a device that allows the writers to draw out Jax’s biggest fears (losing his family and wife), and present a number of other characters with a mirror to look at themselves in. “John 3:82” refers to the line in the Bible about “the truth will set you free”: whether it’s Gemma, Unser – or in a strictly physical manner, Lowen – knowing the truth is giving them clarity into who they are and what they’ve done. Some are clearly not able to handle this (Wendy going back to drugs is a sadly predictable turn, something I’d hoped the writers would avoid), but most of “John 3:82” (and the episodes preceding it, considering what happens with Nero, Patterson, or Venus) does a great job showing how liberating a little bit of truth can be.
Is Sons of Anarchy ever going to return to the glory of its old days? There’s certainly a suggestion that the show’s returning to its roots for the final season (another mayoral race looms as the Sons move back onto the main strip of Charming, as does the homeless woman who probably saw the death of JT), but there’s still some troubling things on the horizon. Hopefully, the prison/IRA/Patterson plot lines will converge on each other and be off the table before the end of the season – now that Gemma’s told Nero the truth about JT, Clay’s presence on the show’s grown even less important, and his existence on the fringes of the narrative should be eliminated heading into the final stretch. But for the most part, the last three episodes have been encouraging, leaning less on its violent spectacles (so much prison blood this season) and annoying machinations (like the Byz Lat attack in “Los Fantasmas”, and Juice’s behavior in that scene) and angling for more thematic unity in its plot structure.