[This is a review of Sons of Anarchy season 7, episode 11. There will be SPOILERS.]
Even when a show that has struggled with issues of languid pacing, vague tension, and misplaced urgency for the better part of a season delivers a fairly solid episode – as Sons of Anarchy does here – it can be difficult not to respond with questions of what might have been if things had unfolded differently.
From the moment Gemma plunged a barbecue fork into her daughter-in-law's skull, the concern has been how Tara's murder would dictate the manner in which the season progressed. The problem was: this was no murder mystery; there was no tension to be gained from questions of culpability and intent. With such a prescribed destination in mind, Tara's death became a single event in need of resolution, or at least the semblance of it. The obstacle standing in the way of that resolution, then, wasn't so much Gemma as it was the extra-long episodes standing in between the event in question and its conclusion.
To its credit, 'Suits of Woe' does what it can to lend some weight to all that has come before. After Abel asked if Gemma killed Tara to make room for Wendy, things progressed rather quickly. All that stagnant water that had been pooling around these characters all season long finally began to go down the drain, taking Gemma and her lies along with it. The speed with which Jax confirms what his son said is convenient almost to a fault, Wendy decides to repay Jax's kindness for telling Abel the truth about her being his mother by coming clean about Juice and Gemma. From there, it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to Unser and then Juice before Jax has all the information he needs.
For a series that has had its fair share of problems in the past with dialogue being too recursive, too reliant on characters telling each other what the audience already knows, the succession of scenes featuring Wendy, Unser, and Juice wind up working – despite being guilty of essentially the same thing – because for the first time in the 10 episodes, there's a compelling combination of rising tension and relief to go along with each successive encounter. That sensation is made more pronounced by Charlie Hunnam's performance, which sees Jax gradually escalate from incredulity to anger to despair, a range of emotions that have been conspicuously absent this season.
The same can be said for Theo Rossi, who is far better at making Juice seem delicately childlike than he is at infusing the character with a kind of insanity. That delicateness offers a nice contrast to Jax's swelling emotions fills the tense exchange between the two with a level of authenticity that is sometimes rare on this show.
By the time Jax gets to Juice and receives his teary-eyed confession, detailing his role in Tara and Roosevelt's murder (one of the few times anyone's acknowledged that Roosevelt was also a victim in this), a sense of relief washes over everything. Much of that relief comes from Jax finally knowing the truth, but there's also relief that the show has finally achieved the dramatic thrust and purpose hinted at way back at the end of season 4. One might say that the old adage of "better late than never" is here.
The ease with which Jax uncovers the truth winds up being something of a double-edged sword. The notion of Gemma's guilt being finally out in the open is refreshing in the sense that there won't be any more false starts, confessions to toddlers and dead men, or monologues to her victim. And while the sting of tragedy comes from the discovery of familial betrayal and the trail of bodies Jax has left in its wake, both are then made more pronounced by how fragile Gemma's deceit actually proves to be. Unfortunately, this late-game improvement does little to reconcile the problematic nature of nearly every overlong installment that has come before.
On that note, this episode actually clocks in at nearly 73-minutes, before commercials. That is one of the longest episodes of the season, overtaking even last week's drab, blood-soaked extravaganza. Now, if there were an episode deserving of some extra time to analyze everything that's going on, it would definitely be 'Suits of Woe.' But since problematic runtimes have already inundated the final season, the value these extra minutes bring is weakened considerably. In essence, the most progress-minded episode of the season winds up being hamstrung by the inefficiency of what has come before.
Still, there might be enough of a foundation to make the final two episodes into something positive. With Barosky revealed as the rat and Jax facing some serious consequences for killing Jury, there's plenty on SAMCRO's plate that extends well beyond Jax's "family thing" and hints at the uncertain future of the club. Jarry's hollow character is done absolutely no favors by suddenly taking orders from Unser, but at least the assault charges Jax is facing (or was, until he stole a car and trashed a cop car in the ensuing pursuit) positions the characters in such a way they can play some kind of role in the conclusion of the Gemma situation.
While there are concerns of what the final two episodes will bring – both in terms of content and pacing – if any of what lies ahead can deliver the same level of sincerity the exchange between Jax and Nero delivered during the episode's final moments, there might be something more to look forward to than a matter-of-fact conclusion to all of this complicated "family" stuff.
Sons of Anarchy continues next Tuesday with 'Red Rose' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Prashant Gupta/FX
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