“Sons of Anarchy” Episode 11 Review

11/18/2009 Posted by Admin

By our guest blogger, Eva Medoff

“Sons of Anarchy,” FX’s complex motorcycle drama, is a modern day morality play. If you’re confused as to how a bunch of biker guys could translate to serious television drama, I’d say the show isn’t really about the motorcycles at all. Residing within the storybook bubble that is Charming, Calif., the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club is a band of brothers that are sometimes, and sometimes not, the lesser of two evils in a sea of white supremacists, Mexican drug lords and Irish gun dealers. Add on top of that a possible “Hamlet” twist, and “Sons of Anarchy” is downright Shakespearean.

Jax, played with surprising humility by British actor Charlie Hunnam (formerly of Judd Apatow’s “Undeclared”) would be our young Hamlet, whose father and founding member of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) died under mysterious circumstances. Now, the club is led by his stepfather Clay, while his mother, Gemma, is matriarch. When Jax happens upon an old manifesto written by his father, yearning for another way of life free of violence, he takes it as his personal mission to reform the club and fulfill his father’s vision.

And here lies the central conflict of this season. Clay (the oddly simian Ron Perlman) is inherently violent, and hence stepfather is a hindrance to stepson’s plans. At the end of season one, Clay and his right hand man, Tig, were led to believe that one of their own, Opie, was snitching to the ATF. When Tig goes to kill him, however, he accidentally kills Opie’s wife instead. Clay and Tig cover their tracks, but Jax knows the truth and now believes more than ever that Clay must be overthrown.

At the beginning of episode 11, we have just come off an enormous confession by Gemma, played with tremendous power and grace by Katey Sagal. While in season one Gemma was more of a frightening biker queen bee, in season two she has emerged as the driving force of this show. Simultaneously fragile and badass, she comes off as the ultimate mother figure, albeit with hooker heels, peroxide highlights and a hatbox full of pistols.

Season two’s main foes are the League of American Nationalists, a group of skinheads led by SAMCRO’s arch enemy, Ethan Zobelle (the creepy Adam Arkin, son of Alan). In order to scare the club off from the league’s gun business, they captured Gemma at the beginning of the season and brutally raped her. Instead of telling the guys, Gemma realizes the news will only destabilize the club and make them do something rash. She holds it in, although it tortures her, until things have reached a boiling point with Clay and Jax, and Jax is threatening to go nomad (essentially switch to another motorcycle chapter and leave SAMCRO). And the news has the exact desired effect--all problems seem forgotten, Clay and Jax come together, even tenderly, in the face of the worst possible thing either man could imagine. The beauty of this show is that the acting is so tremendous, we can understand the love these characters feel for each other, and how venom brewing for ten episodes can suddenly be vaporized for the sake of their mother, their wife, and the true heart of the club.

Jax and Clay decide to wait out the situation and find a strategic way to unravel the white supremacists, but in the meantime, the rest of the club is dealing with the news of Gemma’s attack. Tig, in particular, played by Kim Coates with the right mixture of compassion and spinelessness, has gone slightly nuts with guilt ever since he killed Donna. A comforting hug between he and Gemma turns far too intimate, and he suddenly finds himself cheating with his best friend’s wife. In a daze, he confronts Opie and admits everything about Donna’s death. The weight of this secret has been pushing down on every episode this season, and to see the information so casually come to light is actually a relief. He also informs Opie that Agent Stahl, the ATF mastermind who planted the information that made Opie appear as a snitch in the first place, is really to blame for the whole ordeal.

Naturally, Opie (Ryan Hurst) goes after Stahl. This season, Ryan Hurst has emerged as one of the best actors on the show, next to Katey Sagal. With his wife’s death weighing down on him, he moves like a pillar of despair, his lonely, intense gaze like ice. Everyone in his presence seems affected by his nearly tangible agony, even Stahl (Ally Walker, in a far cry from her fragile housewife on “Tell Me You Love Me”), whose stone-cold independent woman shtick is put to the test when faced with the barrel of Opie’s gun. In a surprisingly intelligent move, however (Opie has appeared to be on the verge of killing someone all season), he spares her life. "The outlaw had mercy," he says. "You remember that the next time you try to twist the truth and kill an innocent."

All season, Jax has been on the outside of the club. He couldn’t talk to anyone about Donna’s death. He couldn’t talk to anyone about his father’s manifesto. And now that Opie knows the truth, and has emerged shockingly level-headed, Jax finally has a confidant. Although Opie wonders how he could possibly stay in SAMCRO with the killers of his wife, Jax convinces him to stay in order to get rid of Clay and make it the club they want it to be.

Of course, there are many other plot lines threading through the episode, and through the season, such as the level of commitment between Jax and his girlfriend Tara (Maggie Siff, formerly Don Draper’s flame on “Mad Men”), and club member Chibs’ past involvement with the IRA and the Irish gun pipeline. They are all compelling and necessary storylines that have woven together all season for what is sure to be an explosive finale (there’s one more episode to go before the grand ending). But what really makes this show is the profound performances, the complex relationships between the characters and the tough questions it asks about loyalty, family and the merits of violence. How ironic that this boiling pot of vice is called Charming.

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