Just when you think Sons of Anarchy is going to twist, it turns. When you think it will zig, it zags. And when you think an episode is going to be one thing, it turns out to be something much different and much, much better. After Gemma’s confession to Clay and Jax about her rape I fully expected an episode of full on gang warfare. Instead, “Service” was more about how people handle pain. It is a testament to the writers of Sons of Anarchy that they aren’t confined by the conventions that run deep in standard television writing. Too often writers fall into the trap of just giving the viewers what they expect. Tonight’s episode reinforced the idea that this show has transformed into drama at its best and character dissection at its pinnacle.

It would take a couple of thousand words to fully react to every little nuance of tonight’s “Service.” The episode was completely packed so I want to focus on the transformations of five characters: Gemma, , Tig, Opie Piney and Clay.

I didn’t realize that when Gemma made her admission she had much more at stake than just letting others in on her pain. It made sense that she didn’t want to tell Clay about the rape for the good of the club, but I didn’t consider she was doing it for the good of her relationship. It was heartbreaking to see her define herself as “ripped up inside” and basically claim she was damaged goods in Clay’s eyes. Gemma, more than anyone, understands bikers. She knows that letting on about the rape saved her son and husband but came at the cost of her own possible happiness. She runs the emotional gamut when she seduces Tig and then finally meets with a priest as she searches for answers. I understand her run in with Tig as a chance to feel normal again. It was a genuine, what the f#$% moment.

Where Gemma’s admission has hit the club hard, I almost felt it hit Tig the hardest. Tig’s character has been on a slippery slope of sanity all season and tonight he finally let himself fall all the way down. (It was the only way for him to stand on solid ground again.) After Gemma’s and his emotions get the best of them, he confronts Opie about killing Donna. This was another in the, “didn’t see it coming” moments. Tig takes the ensuing beating like a man who feels he deserves much worse. This scene was also a major enlightening moment in terms of the gang mentality. Tig’s excuse of basically “Stahl made me do it” and that excuse actually flying is a major glimpse into how gangs operate. SAMCRO comes first and, literally, everything else comes second. Clay and Tig thought Opie was a rat; he had to go down. Donna got caught in the crossfire. To Tig it was the price of doing business and in that sense I thought his admission got the monkey off his back more than he actually thought the act of murder was wrong.

I haven’t done a good enough job of praising the job Ryan Hurst has done with Opie’s character this season. Tonight he was at his absolute best. A phenomenal acting job, especially in his reaction to Tig. The fact that Opie actually considers Stahl the bad girl (which in many ways she is) is another sign of a moral and ethical code among the SAMCRO members gone completely ass backwards. But in the end, Opie, as he most often is, acts the good guy. He even maybe taught Stahl a lesson offering “The outlaw had mercy. You remember that the next time you try to twist the truth.” Opie’s character, no matter how maligned, broken, or solitary continues to be one of the true believers in right and wrong.

Quick sidenote: Kudos to the writers for using Opie’s flying off the reservation and going after Stahl (and Jax going after him) as a way to get as much information as possible on the other storylines in the show without detracting from the flow of the episode. It caught us up on Chibbs, the IRA, and Zobelle.

Piney is another character often times on the sidelines in Sons of Anarchy. Tonight, even though he was in basically only two scenes, his character revealed a great deal. One of the themes tonight was “Club above all.” It played out in how they reacted to Gemma’s rape, Donna’s murder and the possibility that Chibbs had turned rat. I think Piney follows this theme except in a slightly different way. His SAMCRO is one that no longer exists. To him, saving the club is only done by killing Clay. This has been a long time coming and when the truth comes out about Donna (which he already knew) it just gives him the excuse to save the club his way. Take out Clay.

And finally there is Clay. Oh Clay. Who are you? The fact that I don’t know is another testament to incredible writing and Ron Perlman’s award-winning last two episodes. Where Clay has been the antagonist most of this season, this episode saw the shift move away from Clay-as-evil to Clay-as-human. He welcomes Jax back into the fold, calls for a less reactionary retaliation to Zobelle, and actually “hears” Tig in the end. The final scene of the episode was so redeeming that I don’t know if it can be put in to words. Spurred by Tig of all people, he stood in the doorway facing his wife. He was offered two roads: biker or husband. He cleared off the desk and made himself a good guy again.

Highlights and some random thoughts:

- Some excellent shots in this episode – Tara silhouetted in the doorway with a gun, Jax kissing his son as he says, “We kill them all,” and Opie reading the Teller manuscript on the roof of shop were all master strokes.

- Expanding on the Jax and Clay scene from the opening; how fitting that they passed Jax’s son back and forth as they made amends. Jax’s son has become somewhat of an afterthought this season, but this scene made me wonder where his future lies. I think the writers want you to think about this also because it poses the ultimate question: Who is Abel most likely to become? - Great job by Hale digesting two serious bombs at the same time with Jax letting on about Opie going after Stahl and Unser telling about Gemma’s confession. Hale is one of the few guys who actually already knew these two bits of information and yet he still looked wide eyed and scared the whole time. He realized the proverbial shit had finally hit the fan.

- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Agent Stahl. If this was an episode about altering how characters approach their lives then she needs inclusion. She went from surprised, to tough, to apologetic to legitimately remorseful and devastated in the span of about 1 minute with Opie. It will be interesting to see where they take her character from here.

- Man, Zobelle is even worse than we thought. He is just a drug trafficker masquerading as a white supremacist. Maybe they will let us know he deals kiddie porn just to sink him to new depths.

- A nice comedic interlude with the Prospect’s infected fake ball. The episode needed at least one light-hearted moment. Nothing does that like a Breakfast Club reference and little puking.

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