Sons of Anarchy, Season 7, Episode 10, “Faith and Despondency”
Directed by Paris Barclay
Written by Kurt Sutter
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX
Lo, the grandmother’s comeuppance begins not in the form of blackmail from a member of SAMCRO, nor an outside party seeking revenge. No, it comes at last from her own flesh and blood. Abel, who this episode goes a long way towards transitioning from “devil spawn” to “devil spawn with revenge blinders on”, single-handedly starts the avalanche that will doom Gemma in the end. The first half of “Faith and Despondency” lays the seeds well, not playing an obvious hand as to whether the reveal would come in the confines of this episode or if it would be pushed until next week again. By the last third, however, the dread builds slowly but surely until Jax’s bedtime visit could not reasonably culminate in anything besides Abel spilling the beans about who murdered his mother. Even if he is confused as to the motivations behind her killing, his wide-eyed innocence lends an ominous “accidentally on purpose” air to his line of questioning.
Even if it isn’t completely believable that a toddler would be able to specifically predict Child Services coming to his aid and giving him an open opportunity to direct false blame at Gemma, Abel knows enough from watching those around him to keep trying different attention-seeking methods before his aims can be attained. It works as both a parallel of Jax’s many missteps on the way to successful vengeance against enemies as well as the ongoing evolution of Abel as a child that cannot escape his upbringing, now that there is no one to take him away from this environment of guns and constant backstabbing. Whether Gemma fully anticipated that Abel would give away her secret or not, she is clearly on edge. If her fragile mental state this season wasn’t already plain as day, her conversation with Nero betrays how alone and close to the edge she feels. Jax finding out she is the one who killed Tara while she is not in the room is important in a few ways. Not only does he get to map out a plan without interference, he can rally any necessary parties to his side without worrying about Gemma employing her trademark sweet talk in order to convince everyone Abel is weaving a tall tale. This is the last reasonable episode to detonate this bomb, timing wise, without giving short shrift to the fireworks still to come. With August’s crew thoroughly taken care of and SAMCRO whole for the time being, the show can unreservedly put all hands on deck in the final Teller family showdown.
Even with the inclusion of a reveal almost a year in the making, Jax finally founding out about Gemma is not even the best part of this episode. A large majority of the violence is pointless, there only to wrap up loose ends of the August Marks arc and exact resolute revenge on his head of security, AKA the killer of Bobby Elvis. With one major explosion set piece and display of unflinching violence (this is the first and last reference to the “hanging eye” because that does not ever need to be repeated in words or pictures), it loosens up the rest of the episode to sink into satisfying character moments. Chibbs and Althea are far from the perfect couple, but the fact that both sides can be honest with each other and admit where the line in their relationship falls is refreshing. It isn’t an abusive partnership, nor is it one with ulterior motives. The sex is great and they like spending time with each other, making them the rare romantic pair that Sons allows to bask in the simple pleasures in life without undue complications.
Of all the included conversations between couples in healthy relationships or otherwise, the potential Emmy noms lie in the interaction between Tig and Venus. The brief confirmation that they are still intimate in the beginning of the episode works well to serve as a baseline against which all later actions can be measured. Tig’s defense of his and Venus’ relationship, when dealing with the rude comments of a rival, doesn’t come out of nowhere as much as it would without reinforcement that the two are still very much together, which in turn leads directly to the exchange where Tig proves his words are actually worth more than his actions. When confronted with a mouthy bigot, Tig is quick to resort to violence because violence is the currency with which SAMCRO barters from day to day. Being completely honest with Venus about his feelings is the more difficult path for him to take, and Kim Coates plays his wholehearted commitment to Venus perfectly. It is heartwarming, legitimately moving, and one of the few representations on television of a cisgender man unabashedly loving a transgender woman. Likewise, the way Walton Goggins plays Venus’ mix of love and heartbreak and confessions of doubt about the relationship is raw and honest on a level very few actors are able to reach.
At first glance, the opening montage including nothing but every current couple having sex seems like a misguided waste of time, there only to up the skin quotient of the hour. In the larger context of though, it works as an important framing device for an episode focusing on the current state of these pairings. With any luck, the rest of the season will take a cue from this strong installment and focus explicitly on the ever-changing relationships of SAMCRO members and their inner demons. Or it could just be seven hours of Kim Coates and Walton Goggins putting on a clinic. Either outcome is preferable to even one more machine gun ambush showdown.