[This is a review of Sons of Anarchy season 7, episode 8. There will be SPOILERS.]
Although Sons of Anarchy clearly has a destination in mind for its final season – the details of which remain at least partially obscured – the road on which it is traveling to get there is seemingly being paved inch by precious inch, while the audience watches. There’ve been so many different storylines zipping by this season that for any of them to be worth revisiting feels less like the culmination of a clever plotline and more like a distraction from the tedious laboring of the road crew laying down asphalt in the background.
These disparate storylines, mostly revolving around the neutralization of one threat and the antagonizing of another, have become incredibly familiar by now. Even watching while Bobby remains defiant as August Marks’ security guy, Moses Cartwright (Mathew St. Patrick), liberates the finger(s?) from his clutch hand, after taking his eye last episode, lacks the kind of drama such an event would normally have. Much of the problem has to do with the fact that there’s only one avenue this series has yet to cruise, and eight episodes into the final season, the reluctance of the storyline to turn down that particular road means the show is just recycling old ideas. What would typically be a time for events to resonate and have meaning has turned into a waiting game where the expectation of decisive action is intended to elevate the tension that presumably drives the plot.
The trouble is: Any decisive action taken by the club is delivered upon the head of a minor individual. Yes, what is happening to Bobby is significant and it will irrevocably alter the character and his dynamic with the rest of SAMCRO – for the remaining five episodes. But it is so far removed from the issue of Jax and Gemma, Tara’s murder, the truth about John Teller’s death, and anything else this season’s storyline is really riding on, it falls back on the old Sons of Anarchy trick of insisting something is important simply because it happens. Unlike the school shooting at the beginning of season 6, at least this is stimulating because Bobby is a familiar (maybe even beloved – well, after his guitar playing at the end of season 4, we’ll settle for reasonably well-liked) character, and what happens to him at least motivates others to take action.
Except almost all of the action taken on behalf of Bobby occurs off-screen. Jax enlists Tyler’s help to find his friend and work out a deal with August, and then spends the rest of the episode piecing together the circumstances that led to Jury (allegedly) ratting the Sons out to Lin and his crew. Jax even has to be talked into going off and joining the SAMCRO Rat Squad. His initial disinclination doesn’t read like he’s too concerned about Bobby to think about anything else; it read more like inaction. He was probably just going to sulk on a rooftop; chain-smoking cigarettes until he either heard from Tyler or Moses had another part of Bobby delivered.
Right now, everything feels distant. There is a distance between SAMCRO and Bobby that’s similar to the distance between August Marks and the club. Marks hasn’t been seen on-screen in weeks, and somehow he’s supposed to have become an even more frightening antagonist than his predecessor. But without seeing Marks, or having him interact with, well, anyone, turns him into a shadow character, a boogeyman whose actions are diluted by the fact they have to be told to the audience, rather than experienced. There’s no essence to his character or his activities because there’s literally no one to give them any.
The same goes for Jax’s bout of insecurity and his lengthy discussion with Chibs. Such discussions land with a thud, because the series has been here so many times before, and because, the way this season’s narrative is unfolding, Jax is only partially engaged in what’s happening to him.
While it may seem as though Jax’s pursuit of a “rat” carries weight, it only does so when Jax executes Jury – more because he refused to listen to what Jury was telling him about his father than his having potentially ratted the Sons out to Lin. There’s no sense that what Jax hears changes his thinking in any way; it just becomes another excuse for him to lash out violently and for the audience to be reminded that J.T. once wrote a book. Most of the time, the interplay between Jax and Jury doesn’t act like a conversation between characters; it’s more like they’re speaking to the audience.
That adds to the feeling that Jury’s death was too hasty in the moment, and the storyline took too long to get to it. Had this confrontation happened soon after his estranged son was murdered, there may have been more impact, but at this point it, like everything else, feels too far removed from the brief moment when it was important.
Right now, that’s the problem with Unser and Juice, and especially Gemma, who spends her time dealing with an increasingly aggressive Abel (his retort to Gemma, asking whether or not she knows what an accident is came close to topping last week’s Tupperware and an iPad scene in terms of sheer hilarity). Right now, there’s nothing driving the story other than the expectation it will eventually swerve back toward Jax and Gemma. That means the season is going to continue feeling like it’s dragging its heels until the characters are wholly present in storylines that matter.
Sons of Anarchy will continue next Tuesday with ‘What a Piece of Work Man Is’ @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX