Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Sons of Anarchy" - "To Be, Part One"

Spoilers for this week's Sons of Anarchy after the jump:

Up until the last couple of minutes, this week’s Sons of Anarchy happened pretty much the way I expected it to. And while too many out of left field twists can certainly be detrimental to the quality of a TV drama, to some degree the opposite has been true of this current season of FX’s series. While it’s been quite good and even brilliant at times, everything has been playing out in dramatically satisfying but mostly predictable fashion, with the ultimate goal being to get Jax Teller to the head of the table. That’s not a bad thing, particularly since this goal would lead to some serious changes to the show’s current dynamic, as well as (it would seem) cost Clay Morrow his life. But at the same time, the way it’s gone about it has been at times a bit too obvious.
For instance, in my review of “Hands” I posited that “the son” Gemma referred to in the final scene would be Jax. Why? Because it would result in him taking over after killing Clay, thus allowing for the type of change that necessitates great drama while not altering things too much. And her reaction to Unser setting Opie on Clay instead was confirmation. So her plan finally taking effect here is a bit of a letdown. It doesn’t help matters that the entire sequence in which she tells Jax everything (leaving out a few key details, of course) is basically all exposition, in which the show’s main character is finally let in on the details that we viewers have known for ages. Katey Sagal and Charlie Hunnam do a tremendous job selling it (when do the actors on this show not?), but still… it’s a fairly dry and by the book scene, which to me dilutes its dramatic potency.
I’ll talk more about that in just a second. But first, there are a handful of other storylines that merit attention, although most of the episode’s focus is on Jax finally discovering the truth. The meet with the IRA leaders is touched on briefly, but it certainly seems like something being held for part two next week. While certain aspects of the show have been predictable this year, this is one area where it’s excelled in keeping us on our toes. I have no idea how this is going to go down, although seeing as we have another season (and probably two more after that) it’s a given that most of the SAMCRO members are going to somehow get away. But Bobby certainly appears to be trapped, and what’s going to happen to Juice remains to be seen. And who knows? Chibs, Happy, or any of a number of other supporting characters could easily get swept up in it.
The Tig storyline is not quite as compelling. After Jax pins the blame for the attack on the One-Niners in order to protect Opie, he goes rouge and tries to take out Leroy, but winds up killing the woman with him instead. The high-speed chase that ensues is admittedly a pretty decent action sequence, but I’m just not sure this development was necessary at this point in the season. But I guess it does give the Sons one more problem to deal with, because who knows what Leroy (whose grief and rage are extremely well portrayed by Tory Kittles) is going to do after Jax and company showed up to help Tig escape safely. And adding another element to this increasingly complex situation is hardly a bad thing as far as storytelling goes, so there is that. Nonetheless, it fell a bit flat.
Really, though, this episode revolves around Jax, Gemma, and Tara. The title “To Be” is obviously a play on the famous soliloquy from Hamlet, and seemingly refers to the culmination of the season-long goal stated above. We get quite a few glimpses of Jax taking control of SAMCRO’s business: meeting with Romeo, calling out Tig for his ill-advised actions, and trying to find out what’s going on with Juice and Bobby, among other things. And he does a good job of it, which is obviously the point. But like the scene between him and Gemma, it’s not as subtle or as dramatically compelling as it could have been. It’s solid but unspectacular B-range material, and that’s where this episode was heading for most of its run time.
That is, until that superb final scene involving this trio of characters, which takes place directly after Jax finds out (almost) everything. Initially, I was extremely bothered by Tara so quickly giving Gemma the letters. Tara’s too smart and knows Gemma too well to just give in like that, even with the revelation that Clay’s the one who tried to have her killed. Sons of Anarchy is famous for occasionally allowing its characters to act like idiots for the sake of advancing the plot, and this appeared to be one of those times. Fortunately, appearances turn out to be wrong, as Tara reveals that she knew exactly what Gemma would do. She then gives Jax the means to kill Clay without getting caught, tells him to do it, and then to get her and the kids “out of this poisonous town”. And he agrees.
I can’t imagine anyone seeing that coming, especially since just about every Jax-related scene in “To Be, Part One” up to that point was devoted to exploring his ability to lead, and particularly after Gemma laid it all out for him (and us) in that important though somewhat inert scene just a few seconds before. And in truth, I still expect him to end up with the gavel at some point (again, we’ve still got three more seasons to go here). But I expected that point to come at the end of next week’s episode, and now I’m not so sure. More importantly, this development represents a profound change in Tara that is surprising yet extremely believable. She’s taking control of the situation, much in the same way Gemma usually does. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the episode title refers more to her than it does to Jax. I had my issues with certain other aspects of this hour, but things just got very interesting indeed.
Other Thoughts
- Predictions for the second half of the finale: Clay dies. I just can’t see him surviving given what just happened here. Other than that, though, I could see any number of different scenarios playing out next week (which is of course a credit to the show). See you then, Sons of Anarchy fans.
Grade: A-

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