[This is a review of Sons of Anarchy season 7, episode 9. There will be SPOILERS.]
Well, it seems Sons of Anarchy has arrived at that place in its final season where killing off longstanding characters becomes the best way to signal the beginning of the end. To be fair, the show has killed off plenty of central characters before – especially members of SAMCRO – but at this point, with Clay and Tara already having gone off to the big motorcycle rally in the sky, there aren't too many characters whose deaths would generate the kind of lasting, meaningful impact either of their deaths could have had, so it has to settle with offing the sometimes likeable and one-time moral core of the group, Bobby Munson.
After the last few episodes were little more than the show spinning its wheels until there can be some kind of confrontation between Jax and Gemma, 'What a Piece of Work Is Man' offers the unfamiliar feeling that something is actually at stake. After days of being tortured and having body parts cut off, Bobby is on the verge of being saved, only to be snatched from salvation – he's literally in Jax's arms when he dies – by a vengeful August Marks, simply to prove a point to Jax and Grant, and to justify his ascension to the role of the season's principal outside-SAMCRO antagonist. What's crucial about the episode, though, is that it achieves more in terms of setting up the circumstances afterward, than it does in recognizing Bobby's unpleasant, but not unexpected demise.
That's not to say Bobby's death doesn't carry any weight. In fact, aside from yet another Son being brought down because of Gemma's lies, it might be just the thing the show needs to kick the final four episodes into high gear. But because there's been so much death over the course of nearly seven full seasons, finding a new way to make it resonate beyond the initial shock of "so that happened" can be difficult. It certainly is here. Furthermore, there's no evidence that episode 10 won't be filled with more stone-faced Jax seething with rage, while the audience waits for the narrative to seek its own level and cease being influenced be inconsequential forces. But at least the pieces of Jax and Gemma's spinning arcs have been moved enough that pushing them toward one another doesn't just make sense: it's either now or never.
Whatever progress there might be toward the only logical conclusion, Jax and Gemma are still a step behind Unser and Jarry. After Althea acquired the smoking gun needed to put an end to Gemma's lie about Chris Dunn being at Tara's house the night of the murder and Juice's attempt to leverage the Dunn story to snuggle up to Lin in gen pop, she and Unser conspire to give Gemma just enough rope that she might hang herself. Such an attempt will likely leave them both swinging from the gallows, but at least it's something. The same goes for watching Unser and Jarry fumble in the dark. There's no indication they'll find exactly what they're looking for, but at least the characters are being put to some use. Whatever comes from letting Gemma and Juice stew in their own lie is better than watching Unser being wasted with meaningless exercises like covering up the murder of an innocent man.
Jarry's not so lucky, though. She still gets saddled with two tone-deaf scenes that are so out of place with the supposed gravity of the episode, it's a wonder Bobby's death winds up resonating at all. The shoving match she gets into with Gemma seems like par for the course as far as Gemma's relationships with other women go, but what its purpose is other than to give Chibs something to apologize for remains something of a mystery. It makes sense to position Gemma as a threat as often as possible, but the benefit is overshadowed by how much it makes Jarry look like a buffoon. To make matters worse, the tonal shift from drama to slapstick comedy that is Jarry demanding Chibs "take her" in a parking garage to prove his feelings is so staggering it will likely leave viewers with whiplash.
Between Nero just hanging out, waiting to be free of Diosa, SAMCRO, and everything else that's brought him so much unearned grief, and Abel once again listening to his grandmother make a teary confession to someone who can't possibly understand or respond, the narrative doesn't leave much room for pathos. Maybe that was deliberate. Perhaps the emotion of Bobby's death will carry over into the next episode and beyond, as August Marks is either dealt with or enacts even more vengeance upon SAMCRO for having him arrested. But while there wasn't time to fully recognize what Sons of Anarchy will be missing now that Mark Boone Junior is gone, at least there's plenty of evidence of what was gained by his departure.
And at this late point in the season, getting a sense of things finally coming together may just prove the worth of yet another death on a show where they've seemingly ceased to matter.
Sons of Anarchycontinues next Tuesday with 'Faith and Despondency' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Byron Cohen/FX