[This article contains MAJOR SPOILERS!!!]
In 'Laying Pipe,' Sons of Anarchy eliminates not only a major character, but also one who was arguably the long-suffering moral compass of SAMCRO.
After heading into county lock-up, where Pope (Harold Perrineau) apparently holds considerable sway, the four members of SAMCRO know full well their time inside is going to be unpleasant. In order to make things right, Pope delivers his demands, which include: half of what the MC is getting from the Galindo Cartel for transporting its drugs; Tig (Kim Coates) in prison for the rest of his life; and either Chibs (Tommy Flanagan), Opie (Ryan Hurst), or Jax (Charlie Hunnam) must die. It's a horrific choice, with an equally horrific outcome that illustrates the breadth of Pope's power quite well.
Regrettably, this seemingly unworkable situation eliminates much of its own drama by first spelling out the ending far too soon, and then placing Jax in a position where he'll inevitably be forced to make a horrific choice. The thing is, it all plays out remarkably similar to what happened at the end of season 4. Like before, Jax finds himself in a bad situation, but is never required to make a choice of any kind; it's all done for him by elements supposedly beyond his control. And just incase someone hadn't already guessed the one guy who'd already lost his wife and father because of SAMCRO would also be the one to lose his life for the club, Jax and Opie spend several minutes of the episode basically going over the events of season 4, just like they did during the season 5 premiere.
It's true that the choices characters make are what ultimately define them, and when they are asked to make an incredibly difficult decision, that is where most rise or fall. But all that intended drama becomes inherently less interesting when it's revealed the characters are prevented from actually making a choice, or are consistently relieved of the burden of such a monumental decision altogether.
This once more exposes a troublesome spot for Sons of Anarchy: If Jax, as the series' main protagonist, never truly has to carry the burden of choice, never has to make a massive decision one way or another, then he's only reacting, and that makes him an incredibly passive character. It's not that Jax needed to have the men draw straws, or step up himself, it's that the show had Jax do what he's done several times before: Wait until the event was happening around him and rely on circumstances to justify his inaction. In the end, that passivity makes the loss of a major character feel like just another event Jax would have to react to.
It's not that Opie's death doesn't or won't carry any weight – it likely will. The problem is that while the final moment is filled with significant emotion, the episode as a whole is tempered with a series of unrelated character disputes that have essentially been around since the series began. Further distancing 'Laying Pipe' from its core event is how quickly things settle back into being business as usual for the Sons. By the end, Jax, Chibs and even Tig are mere hours away from being released from jail – although what the future holds for Tig may prove to be an interesting avenue to explore.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned disputes see Tara (Maggie Siff) and Gemma (Katey Sagal) once more at each other's throats. This time, Gemma is still reeling from not being invited to her son's wedding and is further irritated by the fact that Tara has taken her grandkids and placed them in the hospital's daycare facility – which means she requires Tara's permission in order to spend time with them. Gemma's response is to send Wendy (Drea de Matteo) after Tara in an attempt to scare her regarding the custody of Abel, but that effort only seems to reinforce Tara's decision to limit Gemma's interaction with her family.
As is the case several times a season, Tara and Gemma face off against one another, making threats the other pooh-poohs until one of them plays the trump card. This time, Tara threatens to tell Jax about Gemma's involvement in J.T.'s death – which just manages to feel like a leftover from last season. On a slightly lighter note, Clay (Ron Perlman) makes matters worse by getting caught with a young prostitute (Ashley Tisdale), which results in Gemma assaulting the young woman and costing Nero (Jimmy Smits) a good earner.
Somehow, all of this feels like unsuitable storylines to pursue in an episode that could have provided a more focused departure for such a long-time character.
While it's sad to see Ryan Hurst go, perhaps the end result will change things for the good when it comes to a certain someone's decision-making ability. How this will affect SAMCRO as a whole may not be truly known for some time, but hopefully, it will eventually feel like something more than a simple call to action for Jax.
Sons of Anarchy continues next Tuesday with 'Stolen Huffy' @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: