Sons of Anarchy, Season 7, Episode 12, “Red Rose”
Directed by Paris Barclay
Written by Kurt Sutter and Charles Murray
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX
“Red Rose” is a powerfully emotional episode built on the backs of three central deaths, most of which could be expected to occur before Sons of Anarchy takes its final bow, but weren’t assured to happen in tonight’s episode until the last twenty minutes or so. With so many central characters reminiscing about mistakes made and their pasts, there are more than enough people to choose from when guessing who says their final goodbyes, making the actual moments that much more powerful when they arrive. That doesn’t mean each passing comes as a surprise, though. A building mix of tension, regret, and resigned acceptance is present in all three instances, which lends a gravity and legitimacy to these killings that has been absent for this entire season, if not longer. Stop reading now if you have not yet watched the episode.
The most astonishing death of the three, that of Gemma in her childhood rose garden at the hand of her son, is also the most obvious. Her trip north at the end of the last episode turns out not to be an attempt to flee after all, only an attempt to buy enough time to visit her ailing father (a magnificent Hal Holbrook in his return to the show) and make peace with her imminent demise. She avoids credit cards and travels under her mother’s name in order to stay off the grid long enough to make it to her father’s nursing home, where the ghost of Tara is stirred up by her father’s medical records (as well as a receptionist, played by the always welcome Charisma Carpenter in a thankless appearance). Gemma’s attempts to jog her father’s Alzheimers-ridden mind mostly fail, except for their final moments together, when he remembers how nice a girl she used to be when playing in the garden outside their home. This mirrors her exploration of old papers and trinkets in her childhood living room, admitting that, even as a child, it was obvious what direction her life would go in, therefore making her current state entirely unsurprising. This settling affairs can only lead to one place when all is said and done, but all the foreshadowing leading up to her final moments doesn’t make the scene between her and Jax in the house and rose garden any less stunning once it finally comes.
Even though Gemma has come to terms with her fate, Jax can’t bring himself to end his mother’s life so easily. The pain and conflict that washes over Charlie Hunnam’s face during these moments is nothing short of incredible. Even taking into account the great work Hunnam has done this season, this is his Emmy episode, and his final scene with Katey Sagal is the crown jewel of his performance. Gemma’s quiet request to die in the rose garden is asked in such a way that she knows she deserves it to be denied, and Jax’s acquiescence is a final act of love for his mom. Paris Barclay initially shoots the rose garden from above, not dissimilar to the way a news camera would follow a funeral procession. The starkness of the red and white roses against the darkness, as well as the duo’s black leather clothing, is eye catching and goes a long way towards explaining why Gemma thought the garden was beautiful as a child and wishes things to end here. She spouts a few too many clichés in her final minutes, including an obvious “It’s okay my baby boy”, but Jax’s reluctance to pull the trigger makes most of them necessary. Only after Gemma finally says “It’s who we are sweetheart” and “It’s time, I’m ready” does Jax summon the will to do the deed, his hand shaking through all but the final few seconds of their interaction. It is a testament to both actors that none of this feels forced, every moment between them earned over not only the years witnessed by the audience, but all the years that came before.
Juice and Unser’s deaths mirror Gemma’s in a lot of ways, not the least of which is them giving permission to the person holding the weapon. Unser doesn’t out and out tell Jax to kill him, but makes it rather clear that his commitment to Gemma is the only thing left that matters to him, and he is more than willing to die defending her, rather than leave her to face her fate alone. Juice is more literal in his third-party-suicide request, not only giving Tully the scalpel in the cafeteria, but letting him know that he is aware that having the Chinese kill him would strain Tully’s relations with SAMCRO. Tully’s assurance that Juice did the right thing when he whispers “You went out good sweetheart” prior to the stabbing echoes Gemma’s use of sweetheart and the need to know things are okay just before it happens. Theo Rossi has a great farewell performance here, capturing a unique blend of resignation and pain flawlessly. Juice’s blood covering Tully’s pale skin is in turn an echo of Gemma’s red blood on Jax’s otherwise pristine shoes, Unser’s blood on his usual white T-shirt, and the aforementioned roses. Naturally, as soon as Jax is forced to do the one thing he never thought he would do, the rest of his plans fall into place perfectly. Juice’s sacrifice means the Chinese can no longer use him against the club as they were planning. Thus, the club still has the element of surprise when they slay the remaining members of Lin’s crew. The coast is far from clear for Jax, what with a less-than-positive club vote imminent, but heading into the series finale, things have gone as well overall as they have in a long time. It’s possible that Jax’s long term goals will finally come to fruition, even if he isn’t around to see the fruits of his labor.