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Even when it’s most blatantly spinning its narrative wheels, Sons of Anarchy is still rolling on a variety of different cylinders, and rarely reins in its focus to come even close to putting out what’s commonly known as a bottle episode, in which a standalone story is told through a limited number of sets and characters. “Sweet and Vaded” doesn’t quite adhere to even that loose definition, but it still feels like one of the few episodes that stands up strong as a single serving of the series as a whole, with absurdly depressing and excellent guest appearances from Walton Goggins (Justified) and veteran actress Adrienne Barbeau (Argo) both implicit in that assessment. This includes the scenes extended to Nero, which also dealt with the main story. But even where the season’s arc does come in – as with the release of Connor, and Tara revealing her whop-bang-boom of a long con – their inclusions are explained and the plot is furthered.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, the entirety of “Sweet and Vaded” works as well as the best episodes of the series, delivering set-ups and payoffs equally rather than too much of one or the other, and drawing a clear line between ample amounts of dark humor and maudlin situations. It might not rank right up top with my favorite episodes, but it’s a primer on how solid this series can be structured for maximum enjoyment. It’s no surprise that Kurt Sutter had a hand in it with co-writer Adria Lang, who also co-wrote ”One One Six” earlier this season.
One always hopes a Goggins appearance in a series will be complemented with another, so when he showed up last weekin full Venus Van Dam regalia, I silently cheered that it wasn’t too flashy a performance, which meant she might be coming back. And boy, did she, all while dragging each and every bruised and tarnished skeleton out of her deep, dark exploited closet. Custody of her nephew Joey, who we later find out is actually Venus’ son with a recently deceased woman, is given to Venus’ mother Alice (Barbeau). It sounds like more trashy drama that the show mires itself down with, and it’s almost certainly just that, but this involves a pre-adolescence strewn with videotaped molestation and a child pornography ring, most of which inevitably led to the gender swap.
And when the Sons somewhat reluctantly get involved, the shit definitely bypasses the fan and goes way out there, with a “family portrait studio” serving as a front for an ongoing child porn ring. If cages and bathtubs full of piss and vinegar in back room sadist dungeons weren’t enough for anyone, this bright and cheery office with walls covered in photographs might cheer you up…until you see the camera pointed directly into a crib. It disgusts me to the point of making me giggle, because there’s not a lot of feasibility behind that image or why they would keep that camera there in their downtime, but it’s still gross.
Incredibly, it’s all somehow grounded by Goggins and Barbeau, who add a nuanced menace to what are essentially the most hardcore soap opera scenes ever filmed, with lines like “Don’t listen to the mutation, Joey.” It’s nearly forgettable that it’s all broken up by a huge car chase that ends in bullets and wreckage. All I remember is guffawing as Venus said Joey was the product of him and his best friend Lula getting drunk and coiling in a clumsy act of confused love, all while Tig wraps a comforting arm around her shoulders. If the entire series was written and delivered as well as the dialogue Goggins delivers, this series would sweep the Emmys.
Even without the memorable performances, the showdown in the portrait studio works on two different narrative levels. For one, Jax is showing his loyalty to the imprisoned Nero by helping out Venus, who is considered family. Nero’s blessing is really needed at this point, since D.A. Patterson is trying to make him flip on the Sons for the gun used in the school shooting. Since he isn’t aware that the DNA coming back from Toric’s hotel room will probably set him free, it will probably be this act that convinces him not to rat on them. (As if it would ever come to that, really.)
Second, it isn’t quite obvious what Jax’s take on Venus’ situation is, other than general pity. But story after story about the atrocities Venus went through, combined with seeing the ugliness spewing from Alice’s mouth, ended up driving Jax over a psychological ledge, He hears Alice wailing on and on about how Joey would be so disgusted if he knew Venus was his father, and Jax makes that mental connection between Joey and his own potentially damaged sons and he puts a bullet in Alice’s head, in strict opposition to his earlier views that they should be keeping out of as much trouble as possible.
And so from there we get into Tara’s big reveal, which was teased at throughout the episode. She filled an IV bag with her own blood, and she set up restraining order papers against an unknown person, eventually revealed to be Gemma, who is emotionally coerced by Wendy into causing a huge scene with Tara that ends in a faked miscarriage and Gemma behind bars, with Jax declaring he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his mother away from their boys. Now that it’s all come clear, Tara has succeeded in matching any fucked up deed that Gemma has ever been accountable for. It seemed harsh enough that she wanted to cut herself and the boys completely out of everyone else’s lives, but accusing Gemma of killing her unborn grandchild is downright depraved. And smart, I suppose. But now that we’ve seen Jax kill a woman just for talking about her own offspring in a disparaging fashion, how in the world will he be able to calmly cope with Tara ripping his children away from him?
Tune in next week. Same SAMCRO time. Same SAMCRO channel.
Stuff That Fell Off The Back Of The Bike
Congratulations, George “Rat Boy” Skogstrom! You and your mustache have earned it.
“Home is where the Reaper is.” It was fantastic to get a nice, long opening spent celebrating brotherhood and community, even one that is rising up from the ashy rabble of what it left behind.
There are few things more pleasing to me than having SAMCRO work out of a snack shop. Chuckie’s face at the end of the episode should be made into a poster.
“Maybe she’s here for the banana split.”
“Carousel’s only happy when the kids ride naked.” Wow, what a line.
Did anyone else thing that maybe this episode felt tighter was because they dropped at least one act break with the shortened 75-minute runtime?
Hale, you old son of a bitch. Get out.
“It was her latest spousal diversion, however, that showed me the door.”
I’m calling an S.O.A. moratorium on using the word “whole” to refer to being alive, as in, “Is everybody still whole?” or “You guys stay whole.” There were at least six examples in the last two episodes alone.
You’d think August and Jax would just talk on a secure line instead of repeatedly meeting up just so Jax can say something didn’t work out as planned. Even coded messages in newspapers would work.
“That ginger gash.”
Possible Seinfeld reference? Patterson and Roosevelt talk to Barosky about getting his help while eating a black-and-white cookie. “If only people would look to the cookie. All our problems would be solved.”