Sons of Anarchy, Season 7, Episode 3, “Playing With Monsters”
Written by Kurt Sutter
Directed by Craig Yahata
Airs Tuesday at 10pm ET on FX
Lying is a difficult thing to get away with. Once the first lie is told, the only option to successfully maintain a falsehood is to continue lying ad nauseum. Lies get caught up in one another, with obvious and perilous ambiguities presenting themselves to the offended party. Sooner or later not even another set of falsified details can save face from what has already been done even with the best intentions. Which is where Sons of Anarchy finds itself a quarter of the way through its final season, scrambling after years of character manipulations that either contradict each other or require so much fixing that everything seems too churned through to have any real emotional punch.
Jax’s confident assertion to August Marx that “there won’t be a war” all but guarantees that his master plan will fail spectacularly in the near future and place the Sons squarely in the center of a Marx/Lin crossfire that will be aimed directly at their heads instead of at Marx’s men as he hopes. The Mayans, Chinese, and 1-9ers all being involved in the same elaborate set-up will end poorly for one or more of them surely, but it will be SAMCRO that pays the steepest price because they are risking the most in these deals. Jax’s refusal to pull back on the throttle when his setup wavers is more of the same blind confidence that he has been using to guide his decision-making for years, regardless of which members of his family or club he is risking to get the job done.
The family parallels are laid on as heavy as they have been in recent memory here, to the detriment of any sentimentality they may have had even a few seasons ago. Abel not only witnessing an act of violence but then asking Gemma if his father is a bad man reeks of audience manipulation, making Gemma seem more relatable, like she was in the early seasons. It is clear the aim is to draw a line between Gemma’s upbringing of Jax in a violent environment and her care for Abel and Thomas within the club’s sphere of influence now. Everything involving her interactions with Wendy, Jax, and her grandsons is too on the nose to do much more than underline the same message about a cycle of death and violence that the show has been spouting from the beginning.
Some moments with Gemma which are included to make it seem like she is putting in the effort with her family again actually serve to make her seem more insane. Her conversation with a caged bird about her internal reasoning for Tara’s murder goes against what the show hopes it will. Instead of proving that her commitment lies with the club and Jax, it only underscores her instability. If, for example, her interactions with Abel spur her to reconsider her actions with her assailant at the end of the episode, there would be a reason for the blatancy of her time with her grandson. Instead Gemma looks directly in the face of the life she could give her grandsons and doubles down on all the bad influences that they will experience until they take over for Jax or leave the club on their own. Her behavior might mean more if Jax were still on the path to putting the club on a legal playing field, but he has committed fully to being a cartoon villain version of his former self in defense of a family he barely spends time with.
Annabeth Gish’s Sheriff Jerry goes a long way to tying this season’s disparate parts together, giving this episode a purpose plot-wise and an opportunity to have Juice interact with somebody in the club without being killed on the spot. A sheriff with less than honorable ways of getting the job done isn’t a new concept on Sons but a member of law enforcement that is upfront with the club about what she expects from them in return for some leniency is a fresh take after years of tired cop stereotypes. Gish gives Althea’s actions a certain flair that makes her willingness to interact so closely with a violent gang believable.
Thankfully the show fleshes out some details of her past as an “angry 21 year-old” tonight in her parking garage conversation with Chibbs. The sexual tension in their end-of-episode meet is the most fun the show has had with a potential hook-up in a while and it is good to see that Kurt Sutter still has a general understanding of humor and niceties between characters. There is nuance in her interactions with both Unser and the club, enough so that it isn’t entirely clear if she is pulling the wool over their eyes in regards to her willingness to cooperate with their illegal activities or if she is truly set to look the other way on certain things, as long as her investigations are completed. As the show starts putting more of its cards on the table, the season arc is on a better track than it originally appeared.