While SAMCRO cleans up one murder scene, then stages another one, and plot threads become more twisted than Tig’s sexual fantasies, the thing that is distinguishing this final season of Sons of Anarchy is the suspense over what exactly is going to happen with Juice and with Gemma. Though there can be assumptions made about how each of their stories may end, there’s absolutely no sense of timeline, or how the truth will out. “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” had a continued sense of dread throughout its hour that escalated until its final moments. It’s also the most interesting and compelling storytelling the show has done in a long time. Hit the jump if you knew that Kiki offered a mint-flavored blowjob.
Admittedly, I tend to get disillusioned with Sons of Anarchy‘s mid-season episodes. Character development drops off completely to make room for conversation after conversation about shifting alliances and plans regarding new targets to take down (i.e. the building block episodes). While there was some great suspense regarding Juice and Gemma (more on that in a bit), most of “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” revolved around setup — conversations about updates in garages, parking lots, on the street, and by abandoned buildings — as Jax broke off the alliance he had formed in favor of Marks, and in favor of Lin, to then build a group to take on Marks and Lin.
It’s of little wonder that Alvarez and the Mayans have had enough of this. They, like Nero (but even more so), have been at the mercy of Jax’s machinations for a long time now, never being clued in to the overall plan. They didn’t know he had it out for the Chinese, so were confused and upset with Nero’s involvement in breaking down that association. Similarly, they had no idea that Jax had turned on Marks, and wanted him dead as well. But, finally, towards the end of “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em,” Alvarez was all caught up, and released Nero with no hard feelings (he, like Nero, seems to be willing to forgive Jax no matter what).
Meanwhile, Jax also gained the support of the Niners and the Grim Bastards to help solve their problems in order to gain their allegiance to take down Marks. Doing that, as well as appeasing Alvarez and the white power group led by Tully, has put SAMCRO back into drugs — at least as middle men. The gun trade deal with the Irish is also not settled anymore; Jax now has to undo the work he did to get the Irish to trust Marks, and redirect that to Alvarez (though again as a middle man — “a white face on a brown machine”).
All of this is putting Jax back on the Clay track, and away from the clean club he (and Tara) had wanted two seasons ago. Unfortunately, like most seasons around this time, it’s a little tedious to watch unfold. The new posse Jax has set up will make for some great final episode scenes, I have no doubt — it always comes together in the end. But it’s also the case that TV needs to be compelling week to week. Some of the small details, like SAMCRO’s brawl with Leland and the neo-Nazi guys, helped infuse the alliance plot with some light, character-driven moments. The rest, though, was a little dull.
What ultimately saved “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” though was the drama surrounding Juice and Gemma. “Some Strange Eruption” was one of the best cliff-hanger endings Sons of Anarchy has done in a very long time. Even though there was no chance that Gemma wouldn’t survive, there was still a genuine question of how it would play out. Juice is a ticking time bomb when it comes to the information about Gemma killing Tara, and he had multiple opportunities throughout “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” to tell that tale to Alvarez, to Nero, even to Jax and the club. Him almost telling Nero in the closet was such a tense moment, as was every one afterwards.
But even better, to Sons of Anarchy‘s credit, is the possibility of Nero sleuthing the truth out himself. Nero loves Gemma as much as Unser does, but he’s not blind to her faults like Unser is. His suspicions over Juice’s comments, Gemma’s car being used by Juice as collateral, and Gemma’s own breakdown, are potentially adding up for him. She could claim, as she did to Unser, that she didn’t want any more bloodshed, but he knows her better than that (see: Jax’s revenge on the escort’s father while Gemma watched and smiled).
Gemma is also losing her stability as the weeks wear on. She’s still talking to Tara’s ghost, and frankly, just losing her shit. Having to tell Jarry her version of events (her thin lie about seeing the Chinese leaving Jax and Tara’s house that night) makes her nervous, and even though Jarry seems to buy it, any defense attorney could rip her to shreds over the lack of detail (although she has time to dream some up). Even though “Smoke ‘em If You Got ‘em” just dragged out the will-they-won’t-they regarding the blurting of the truth, it was absolutely fine. That driving suspense made this mid-season episode something different from years past by incorporating a lot of character drama into the twisted plot, and keeping us on edge about when that truth bomb is finally going to drop.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— Another thing that bothers me about these mid-season episodes are the random one-off guest stars. In this case, Lea Michele as a diner waitress named “Gertie.” Really guys? Really? It’s just distracting. (Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson get passes because they complete a 90s nostalgia trifecta with Katie Sagal).
— Wendy witnessing Gemma’s breakdown was interesting. I’ve liked the recent development with her character (and that we seem to be done with the endless relapses), but having Bobby push the love angle between her and Jax feels so forced.
— Juice, what the ever-living fuck were you thinking going to the Mayans and thinking they wouldn’t turn you in?
— I liked the brawl between SAMCRO and “the Hitler youth” because it just seemed like such a biker gang thing to do. And for once, no guns.
— “Sorry ladies. But we made it right” – Jax.
— Jax: “Who knows, I may be calling you step daddy soon.” Nero: “Yeah, we all know how well that worked out in the past.” Jax: “Yeah, my fun family.”
— “I was raised a Catholic — everything is a worry for me” – Chibs.
— “Maybe I’m just not a white guy living in 1956″ – Jax, who wants to patch in the Grim Bastards. Remember when Juice almost killed himself and also sold out the club because he was half black? Things have sure changed quickly.
— Chibs: “Thanks for yesterday.” Jarry: “For the he sex or the heads up?” Chibs: “The heads up. You should be thanking me for the sex.”
— The scene at Diosa at the beginning was intense. I like that they took time to go back and remind viewers of the weight of that horror, though.