Sons of Anarchy, Season 7, Episode 8, “The Separation of Crows”
Directed by Charles Murray
Written by Kurt Sutter
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
Putting aside all of the violence (which packs no punch), torture (which has gone too far yet again), and killing (which has no motivation behind it) for just a minute, this week’s episode of Sons of Anarchy tries to do some interesting things with its characters for maybe the first time all season. It doesn’t always pan out, but that is a result of not committing fully rather than refusing to take the time to try something different. After weeks of dropping breadcrumbs in regards to Abel’s mental state and the club’s effect on him, there is finally a definitive incident that proves Abel’s surroundings are turning him into an indiscriminately violent and angry person, just like his father. Of course, Sons doesn’t have the restraint to discuss raising a child in this environment with any sort of tact. So instead of Wendy and Jax having a one-on-one conversation about him attacking another child with a metal lunchbox (he’s resourceful, too!), Abel gets turned into an approximation of devil spawn at the kitchen table.
His glance at Gemma when he answers her question with, “Do you?” is genuinely scary, but not in the way that it should be here. It doesn’t instill worry that Abel doesn’t understand the gravity of his actions or is too far gone to save, it makes it seem as if Sutter saw that this episode would air close to Halloween and decided to have some fun. The crux of the matter is that Abel’s mental state would be much better used as a way to explore where the relationships stand between the adults in his life. Instead, the show focuses too much on his response to it in particular, narrowing in on something the audience already knows and ignoring how Wendy feels on a level deeper than barely scolding him as if he broke a beloved family heirloom. If the writing isn’t going to flesh Abel out as a complete human being instead of just a standard toddler, then that’s fine. But it is better to admit that’s the case now and use his journey to highlight larger problems than stay in a murky middle ground.
This episode also makes good use of bookending montages, another rare occurrence in a season full of overworked emotional triggers. The deployment of “All Along the Watchtower” works for the most part here because despite doubling up on the song at the beginning and end of the episode, they use distinctly different arrangements to better reflect the mood. More often that not, Sons lucks into appropriate song choices rather than the decisions seeming deliberate. If Katey Sagal wants to sing a Neil Young B-side from 1974 she’s going to get her way. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, and the show could not care less either way. Here though, it is a specific direction and one that works in tandem with the montages, rather than overshadowing the final moments. One could argue “All Along the Watchtower” doesn’t fit seamlessly into this universe and in fact is more of a cliche than the usual classic rock choices. There’s a point there, but the opening instrumental version (by Punch Brothers) offers the kind of emotional punch that is few and far between at this point in the show’s run. Good on Katey Sagal for showing restraint, too. The ending rendition is by her band (The Forest Rangers), but the esteemed Billy Valentine takes on Hendrix rather than her singing again this season.
The violence of the episode does its best to overshadow these favorable elements and only slightly manages to do so. Some of the most emotionally rewarding scenes are of Jax and Chibbs sitting on the roof and discussing life and family. It harkens to an earlier point in the show, one more focused on character motivations and the fulfillment of long term goals. A callback to Jax finding alone time on the club’s roof and reading letters from his dad, it’s successful as a mental tie to some of the best scenes of the show’s history. It works hard to reach a point where the emotional payoff between Jax and Chibbs has any impact, and almost gets there. The “I love you Phillip…I love you too Jackson” exchange is a highlight of the episode and genuinely tear-jerking.
Chibbs loves Jax like a son but has never been able to get through to him completely; he instead works as a sort of conscience whispering in his ear, which Jax can choose to listen to or not. The cold-blooded killing of Jury White with no explanation more than “he insinuated my father killed himself out of shame for the club” is the nail in the coffin for Jax’s better judgement, as small as it may have been before this point. Before, he would have at least tried to think of a worthwhile lie to cover for the murder of a club member and maybe even have deigned to give full attention when Chibbs talked him through the repercussions. Now he barely blinks when thinking of how his actions effect the club or his family. He is a stone wall, void of emotion, going through the motions of his final battle just as the show is doing the same.