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Let’s take a ride through the best 90 minutes of television I have watched this year.
Television doesn’t get much better. It very well might not get any better. Sons of Anarchy was already on the short list of best shows even before this episode. Now, I’d have to be convinced it isn’t in the top two or three.
Tonight, for maybe the first time, we saw Jax for who he really is: a kid. Much of “Balm” is spent leading up to the vote to make Jax a Nomad. According to Gemma, this is the equivalent to MC purgatory. It is a death sentence. Jax would essentially be on his own, riding long distances without protection through enemy territory. From the time he cried, “Nomad,” at the end of the last episode, all the way through the vote we see a character who genuinely regrets the decision but has no way to take it back. It’s a place we have all been. We know we are wrong, but don’t want to lose face by admitting the mistake. Much of Jax’s motivation in “Balm,” comes from, I feel, the need to feel wanted. He wants confirmation that he is the good guy and Clay is the bad guy. Whether it’s going to talk to Piney, getting in Bobbie’s ear, or letting Tara know about the decision, I never felt he was truly committed to leaving SAMCRO.
This was further evidenced in the two scenes with his parents. Where Jax is just a kid, Gemma is just a mom. The conversation between Gemma and Jax about the move was among the best scenes of the season (I could have just said among the best of the episode). A truly great scene that boiled the two characters down to their simplest pieces: a scared mother and scared son. Besides the emotional aspect of a mother just trying to talk sense into her baby, it also gives us deeper background into John Teller. Gemma suggesting John’s death may not have been an accident (not what you think), but instead a suicide further aligned the two Teller men. In his manifesto (page 449 according to Gemma), John Teller says, “I found myself lost in my own club. I stayed because the only way I could hold this up was to suffer under the weight of it.” This is less advice for Jax than it is a condemnation to his own future. It’s a literal rock and a hard place. There is no good answer for whether to stay or go.
The core of the problem continues to be Clay, the stand-in father. Even when Jax, tale between his legs, admits he was wrong about Caracara, Clay is a man who knows what he wants. He wants Jax gone. This scene was the exact opposite of Jax’s scene with Gemma. In both Jax was just a little kid looking for parental advice. Gemma, as a mother should, did everything she could to keep him close. Clay shows his true colors and casts him out. He is the evil stepfather. He is Claudius.
Then comes the vote. Think of those situations where someone says, “I don’t have any friends” because he wants someone to actually just step up and admit they care. In this case it backfires on Jax. It was childish, but realistic and he is voted out of the club. Only Chibs really seemed take any time thinking about Jax’s departure is something the kid actually wants. (more on Chibs in a bit) The rest just seem to want some peace in the club. The only way they know how to get it is for Jax to be on his way.
Which leads us to the balm. The healing agent comes in the form of Gemma’s pain. All season we have been wondering how her ordeal would come to the forefront. She sits, what I consider to be, the real SAMCRO council down (Gemma, Clay, Jax and Tara) and finally comes clean about her abduction and rape. A truly gut-wrenching five minutes where we got a glimpse of something Sons of Anarchy does so well. As Gemma relives her nightmare, we see the other members of Charming at their various points of transition. Piney sits contemplating suicide over the club’s loss of Jax, Opie begins to put his family back together with a most unlikely woman, Tigg continues down his path of inner devastation over Donna’s death, and a the rest of SAMCRO laughs it up in the clubhouse (Chibs aside)looking like group of bumbling fools. All of this while Charlie Hunman, Ron Perlman and Katey Sagal put on, nothing short, of award winning performances. Even Maggie Siff (Tara) gets in on the action when she offers a little smile, as if to say, “You did the right thing. You are healing.”
Ask an actor to act devastated and you will probably get some tears and sobbing. Ask an actor to BE devastated and you will get the reactions displayed in this scene. I don’t really know how else to put it. I felt, for a minute, that these characters were actually related and they felt each other’s pain. That is greatness in television pure and simple.
Thoughts, questions and highlights: - An interesting, and much needed, look into Filip “Chibs” Telford’s background. We have been waiting for a few seasons to understand how exactly a Scottish national ended up in SAMCRO. We learn that he used to be part of the IRA until the Jimmy O kicked him out, stole his wife, raised his son and gave him the scar. Chibs signaled tonight that his role in this whole thing is about to grow as he agrees to inform on the IRA. I understand his motivation. Jimmy O seems like the actual devil, but unfortunately “once a rat, always a rat” in the eyes of gangs. It doesn’t end well for him.
- I thought finding the bullets in the back of a truck was a bit too convenient. I’m all for turns of good fortune for the main characters, but things like this seem a little over the top. Even though it gave us a chance to see the prospect high on shrooms, it just didn’t jive for me.
- Agent Stahl is anything but the bumbling, federal law enforcement type. She reminds me a great deal of Forrest Whitaker’s character from The Shield. someone willing to go to any length in order to get her man. Frame someone as a rat? No problem. Turn son against father? You got it. The problem with characters like her (ask Whitaker) is that eventually their obsession in getting to the truth overcomes their ability to actually find it.
- Judging by the scenes for next week, the action in Sons of Anarchy is about to ramp up. It’s about time they took this fight to the Aryans door.