Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Season One: Episode 7- "Old Bones"

After an intense and action-packed previous episode, it is clear that the FBI will play a prevalent role moving forward. To say that the FBI has been a hassle for SAMCRO would be an understatement. Over the past couple of episodes, Agent Josh Kohn has been looking into the SAMCRO organization while simultaneously stalking Tara, an intense personal relationship that I have touched on in previous blogs. In addition to Agent Kohn, Agent June Stahl has also been heading up an investigation into SAMCRO and their weapons trafficking. However, as intense as the pressure has been from the FBI, "Old Bones" focused more on the past and how past circumstances are forming the present. 

The first story line- and the overriding plot in this episode- focused on the police discovering three skeletons during a routine digging. Immediately it becomes known to the audience that Clay and SAMCRO played a role in how the bodies ended up buried years ago. Clay- the elder statesman- appears to be the only member of the club familiar with the situation, since the other members were either too young or did not rank high enough to be involved in the decisions that resulted in buried bodies. As time progresses, the audience learns that one of the bodies was the father of Lowell, a young man that Clay took under his wing despite his battles with substance abuse. Lowell had been convinced that his father had left him at a younger age, a tale

Lowell asking Clay to kill him
tthat he believed until Clay came forward with the truth after the bodies had been uncovered. Lowell's shock and despair at this news caused him turn back to drugs and alcohol, which had previously derailed his life just as it has his father. The most intense scene of the episode came when Lowell- in a foggy state because of the amount of drugs and alcohol he had- asked Clay to kill him. For a moment, it appeared as though that was the action that Clay was going to take. After all, in previous episodes we have seen Clay show very little mercy to opponents or those that oppose the mission of SAMCRO. In this case, Clay does not kill him. This sequence is important for two reasons. For one, it shows a compassionate side of Clay that the audience had not previously seen. In the past few episodes, it has been Jax who has shown compassion and often went against the orders of Clay to find more peaceful solutions. Secondly, this sequence shows Clay as a father figure. While one could argue a "father-son" relationship between Clay and Jax (especially considering the role that Gemma plays), I do not see the two as having that type of relationship. I believe that there is a mutual respect between the two, but Jax appears to have his own mind and willpower separate from Clay and the club. This is especially true considering the wisdom and knowledge that Jax seems to get from reading the words his father wrote in the memoir. 

The second story line involves Half Sack. He has finally seemed to get back in the "good graces" of Clay and  the club after the "love rectangle" (or more like "revenge rectangle") among himself, Clay, Gemma and Cherry. In "Old Bones", the audience learns that Half Sack is a skilled and technically sound boxer, and so the club plans on having Half Sack "throw a match" so that the club can bet against him and make a profit to offset some of the losses they took selling the automatic weapons to Nate Meineke at a reduced cost. The plan appears to be working perfectly, as Half Sack builds up a reputation in the boxing world as an excellent
Half Sack boxing

ffighter. When the match arrives that Half Sack is expected to lose on purpose, he agrees to do so begrudgingly and only because it benefits the club. However, in the middle of the match Half Sack sees Clay sitting next to Cherry and putting his arm around her and immediately he flies into a rage and destroys his opponent, costing SAMCRO all its investment. The hilarious part about this was that Clay was not seducing Cherry in any way. In fact, he was offering Cherry the opportunity to become Half Sack's "lady" as a way to bury the hatchet from previous instances. By the time that Clay realized what Half Sack must have thought, it was too late. I would like to mention that this is the only situation where "love" between a couple has been shown in Sons of Anarchy. The relationship between Gemma and Clay seems more about status and power than love. My instincts tell me that Jax and Tara may formulate a love story of their own based on the sexual tension exuded in these episodes, but that has not come to fruition yet. The relationship between Half Sack and Cherry appears to genuine and showcases another type of emotion in a show that typically only glorifies violence or crime. 

Hale with Tara
Jax and Tara (with Gemma in background)

The final story line I will touch on is the triangle between Jax, Tara and Agent Kohn. As I mentioned earlier, Kohn had a prior relationship with Tara and has been stalking her in Charming. What the audience learned this episode is that Kohn was not in Charming on an official FBI assignment like we had been led to believe. Rather, Kohn was on vacation from his post and spent the time in Charming violating the privacy of Tara and attempting to gather information on her while simultaneously trying to "win her back." Jax receives word from Tara that Kohn has been following her, and so Jax enlists the help of Sheriff Hale for protecting Tara. This is an interesting move from Jax, considering that SAMCRO has notoriously been known for taking matters into their own hands. Additionally, Hale and Jax are typically on opposite sides of the spectrum, especially considering Hale's partnership with FBI investigating SAMCRO. To me, this reaching out by Jax and the acceptance to help by Hale proves two things: 1) Jax has feelings for Tara and 2) Hale has feelings for Tara. In Jax's case, he was willing to "dance with the devil" to protect a woman that he cares about. In Hale's case, it is obvious from watching the episodes that he cares about Tara. In prior episodes, Hale has been engaged during his conversations with Tara more than he has been when he discusses matters with other characters. Additionally, Hale's motivation to assist Tara and stop Kohn from harassing her is very strong, especially considering how he enlists the FBI to help. Is this a love triangle? Will Tara reciprocate feelings for one of the two? My money is that she ends up with Jax, although we will have to wait and see how the rest of the season plays out! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Season One: Episode 6- "AK-51"

Jax and Piney (background) selling AKs 

One might not think that an episode aptly entitled "AK-51" as a reference to an automatic weapon would focus on moral decisions, but that is exactly what transpired in this episode. At the start of the episode, Jax and Piney are watching two individuals testing out the machine guns. We quickly learn that the elder of the two men is Nate Meineke, an old friend of Piney's who Piney trusts wholeheartedly. Jax and Piney sell the weapons to the two men, despite Jax having reservations due to his unfamiliarity with the two. As you all know from my previous posts, SAMCRO is desperate for finances since the first episode of the season when the warehouse was blown up containing SAMCRO's weapons stash. This had to have undoubtedly
factored into Jax letting the deal progress despite his reservations. One has to wonder if he would have raised more questions had the club been more financial sound. Nevertheless, the deal between the two groups seems to go off without a hitch until word reaches SAMCRO that the weapons were used in a prisoner bailout that resulted in the death of multiple members of law enforcement.

Nate Meineke assisting with prisoner escape

With the situation escalated due to the death of men in uniform, SAMCRO is obviously investigated because of their previous incidents throughout the years. In fact, Clay is taken into custody and held for questioning despite a lack of evidence originally. This scene ones again portrays the brotherhood that was touched on in my last blog. In the same way that Opie did not "give up" Kyle or the other members of SAMCRO, Clay did not mention Jax, Piney or any of the other members during his time in interrogation. This is especially telling considering that Clay had no real involvement with the selling of the weapons to Nate Meineke, as that was a relationship Piney had forged in the past.

As the investigation moved forward, the FBI was able to establish a link between the IRA and oil barrels that were seen in the SAMCRO garage. Remember, SAMCRO has been working feverishly to attain money to keep their connection with IRA open for smuggling weapons in and out of the city. The oil barrels are what SAMCRO had been using to transport the automatic weapons without raising suspicion. An FBI investigation coupled with a weakened cash flow might have been a dagger in the hearts of SAMCRO's business plans, as well as mark an end to fruitful relationship with the IRA. Needing to think quickly before the FBI could attain a search warrant, SAMCRO had to find a way to remove the automatic weapons from their premises so they would not be linked with the murders.  To be honest, the next steps surprised me but I have to give credit for quick thinking. I've heard multiple people say over time to "clean your shit up" or "move your crap" but I didn't think that SAMCRO would take those words of advice so literally. In order to move the guns, they hid them in a sewage tank attached to the back of a truck. While it looked to the naked eye as if the SAMCRO garage was simply getting the sewer system cleaned out, in actuality the club members were hiding guns WITHIN THE ACTUAL sewage. The plan worked as the FBI searched the barrels and were unable to find the guns stashed in them. The worst part of this for SAMCRO may not have been the actual process of hiding the weapons, but the process of retrieving them from the sewage. As this scene was unfolding, I was trying to think of how much money I would need to be paid to dive through a pile of sewage? Thousands? Millions? Or would there be any possessions of mine that I value enough to retain if it meant sifting through gallons of waste? I think at that point it would just be easier (and certainly more hygienic) to purchase new ones! I've written a fair amount about the lengths that SAMCRO goes to protect their club and each other, and I would say that retrieving illegal weapons from a sewage tank is probably one of the higher signs of devotion I could think of.

Gemma attacks Cherry
The other storyline occurring throughout this episode was more personal. As you hopefully remember from an earlier blog, SAMCRO completed a "Patch Over" of another club in a previous episode. During that episode, Clay had slept with a young woman named Cherry to teach Half Sack a lesson after Half Sack was overheard making sexual connotations about Gemma. In this episode, Gemma learns about the affair and becomes irate when Cherry shows up in Charming. After trying to control her emotions as best she could, her feelings overcame her when she saw Cherry walking down the street. Gemma grabbed a skateboard lying on the sidewalk and hit Cherry straight across the face, causing her face to bleed and bruise. This entire interaction is actually quite remarkable for me as a viewer. I don't think anyone watching would blame Gemma for being upset about encountering the woman that slept with her husband. I also think you might be hard pressed to find someone who blames Gemma for acting physically towards her. What stuck out to me about the entire encounter is the rationale that Gemma used. Gemma's exact quote was: "What happens on a run is supposed to stay on a run." In other words, Gemma did not appear to be upset about the fact that her husband actually cheated on her. Instead, she was upset about the fact that Cherry came into "her" hometown after sleeping with Clay and Gemma viewed that as an insult, even though Cherry did not intend it as so. This speaks volumes about the way of life for SAMCRO members and their "ladies" as they are often referred to on the show. For one, the "ladies" must assume that affairs are taken place and seemingly must accept those actions from their men. Secondly, the members of the club must know that their own women know what goes on during some of the trips/missions. One has to wonder if the aura of being associated with SAMCRO or being part of the club as a "lady" is worth the potential emotional abuse. Based on this episode and the episodes before it, it looks like the answer is yes. 

Once SAMCRO was able to escape the wrath of the FBI and their investigation, they had to direct their attention toward Nate Meineke and his group. SAMCRO orchestrated a deal to have Nate purchase the remaining AK automatic weapons, except this time there was a present inside the shipment. After completing the deal and receiving payment, Nate and his crew disappeared and brought the shipment back into their camp. The final scene of the episode was Opie pulling out a trigger that detonated an explosion, with smoke being scene from over the hills. Piney was present for this entire sequenece, which once again demonstrated the importance of the SAMCRO club over all else. Piney- in essence- played a role in murdering a man that he grew up with and considered a "friend." However, the sanctity and safety of SAMCRO was more important than any other bond, even to a longtime compatriot. SAMCRO is a group of brothers, and the blood of the brotherhood is thicker than water

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Season One: Episode 5- "Giving Back"

Coming into this experience as a blogger, I understood that I would be watching a television show that portrays a semblance of violence, a questionable moral compass and perhaps vulgar language. I have to admit that I did not expect to watch an episode or a story line revolving around a chronic masturbator, but that is exactly what happened in "Giving Back." In this episode, SAMCRO was tasked with protecting Chuck Marstein who was responsible for "cooking the books" for another illegal organization. SAMCRO has been hurting financially since the warehouse was burned down, and they were expecting to gain a portion of the "cooked" money from Chuck in return for protecting him against his former organization who wanted him dead. This scenario got me to thinking about the financial implications of the decision to protect this accountant, as well as the financial implications that may have shaped SAMCRO's actions in the previous episodes. What would it be worth to you to seemingly "babysit" this person:

Tony Soprano's Mansion
SAMCRO garage
The interesting aspect of SAMCRO is that the members of the gang do not possess the material items or live the lavish lifestyles that one would expect, especially considering the illegal nature of their "activities" and the risks associated. Take The Sopranos as an example of a crime syndicate that functions in everyday society, just as SAMCRO does. Tony Soprano lives in a sprawling mansion in New Jersey, drives a Cadillac Escalade, and can afford clothes and material items for himself and his family. In contrast, there is not one member from SAMCRO that lives in anything resembling a mansion. While the members of the biker gang are likely not lining up for welfare, there is certainly a clear distinction in how they live their lives compared with the mafia members portrayed in The Sopranos. This surely has to do with the rugged and rough nature of SAMCRO, as well as the identity of the small town of Charming that the biker gang embraces. 

Another storyline in this episode was Gemma's desire to throw a fundraiser to support increased costs for the Charming schools. As mentioned in previous blogs, the show largely revolves around the challenges of SAMCRO as a gang of outlaws in society. Issues such as hiding illegal weapons, fending off police forces and keeping order in the community are typically the focal points of most Sons of Anarchy episodes. In this case, the actions of Gemma showcase the dedication that they group has to the development and maintenance of the community. Now one can always argue the rationale behind such actions. Is Gemma truly attempting to use her standing in the community to make a positive difference for the schools and the city of Charming as a whole? Or is Gemma using this fundraiser as an opportunity to manipulate the feeling that patrons have about SAMCRO and their standing in the community? In essence, is the fundraiser yet another reminder to patrons about how involved SAMCRO is in Charming and how necessary their presence is to ensure peace and harmony in the town? Gemma's act of charity is not the only example of a television character involved in illegal activities trying to create a positive impact in society or "give back" to the community through action. This past spring, we saw the debut of The Following where the main antagonist is a serial killer who worked as a college professor, seemingly to educate the youth of America. Additionally,  one of the highest rated shows on television is Dexter, in which the protagonist actually works for the local police department hunting down those responsible for many of the same crimes he also commits. While these two examples may be stretches compared to Gemma's simple act of throwing a fundraiser, the fact is that many characters use their hobbies or jobs as a way to mask their true intentions. In Gemma's case, the impression that she cares about the city of Charming (whether the impression is truthful or not) can be seen as a disguise or a diversion from what she really cares about- the status of SAMCRO.  

Another plotline from this episode revolves around a man named Kyle and Opie. Opie, who hopefully you all remember from my previous posts is a loyal member of SAMCRO who spent time in prison and reaffirmed his belief in the club when he was released, despite the wishes of his family to follow another path. In this episode, we learn that Kyle was one of the main reasons that Opie ended up in jail. Kyle was a former member of SAMCRO who went on a
Jax, Opie and Kyle
"job" with Opie and acted as the driver for the mission. When the cops showed up at the scene, Kyle drove away and left Opie to take the fall with the law. Because of his actions, Kyle was banished from Charming and his status with SAMCRO was revoked. Throughout the first few episodes of the season, it was clear that all members of SAMCRO took their allegiances to the group very seriously. However, this is one of the first instances where viewers actually SEE how just how serious the commitment is. On one hand, Opie went away to jail for his part in a failed job. He never "ratted out" Kyle or another other members of SAMCRO because of the brotherhood they had formed. On the other hand, the implications of going against SAMCRO was also clear based on how Kyle was treated. In what may have been a momentary lap of judgement or a situation where fear overwhelmed him, Kyle lost everything by leaving Opie at the scene years ago. Kyle was forced to relocate and his family stayed in Charming while Kyle left the town. The group that once gave Kyle everything to live for also took everything away once the feeling of trust had evaporated. In this episode, Kyle was given permission by the club (thanks to a vote) to come back to Charming to see his son play at Gemma's fundraiser. As the show progressed, it actually seemed as if Kyle and the members of SAMCRO were rekindling their old admiration/respect for each other when members of SAMCRO noticed that Kyle still had his tattoo. Each member of SAMCRO has a full tattoo on their back depicting the Sons of Anarchy charter logo:
Jax and his tattoo

Kyle's Tattoo Removal
Since Kyle was no longer part of SAMCRO, he was expected to have it removed. At the conclusion of the episode, despite the seemingly good will shown toward both parties, the members of SAMCRO surrounded Kyle and gave him two options: fire or knife. Those were the two options that Kyle had to have his tattoo removed, and he chose fire. The graphic scene of a man's flesh burning was a reminder of how serious the SAMCRO bond is. It is life or death. It is blood, sweat and tears. And it is the unity that has kept them from breaking under the stress and scrutiny from outside attack.  

P.S. I know what you are all wondering- "But James, what happened with the chronic masturbator?" Don't worry- I didn't forget about him. After SAMCRO protected Chuck, they took him to the restaurant where he allegedly stashed some of the money that he had taken from his previous employers. However, the money that he had stored was counterfeit and of no use to SAMCRO. As such, SAMCRO sold Chuck back to the Chinese Mafia who wanted to ensure their previous masturbator-- errr I mean employer--- wouldn't cause them any more trouble as an informant. Unfortunately for Chuck, his time for his "favorite hobby" appeared to be very limited after he was turned over to the Chinese. 

Wave bye-bye, Chuck!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Anarchism: Is It What You Think?

Anarchism stands for the liberation of the human mind from the dominion of religion and liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals..."
-Emma Goldman

        In "Patch Over," Jax finds a quote that his father referenced regarding the term "anarchism." The voiceover of his father from the episode can be found here: 

      The reason why I decided to make this a separate post was because of the emphasis that the word "anarchy" has in that show. One might read the word "anarchy" and immediately think of negative connotations such as disobeying rules and becoming an outlaw. Does the description above change your perception of anarchy? Does it change your perception of Jax or any other member of SAMCRO? 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Season One: Episode Four- "Patch Over"

        Many of the episodes of Sons of Anarchy that I have reviewed so far have revolved around the theme of power. SAMCRO has shown the power that they exert against law enforcement in Charming, the power in numbers that they have a close knit group, and the power in loyalty that they have when uniting against their enemies. However, this episode is more about dominance than simply power. As the episode kicks off,  SAMCRO receives word that a federal agent has come to Charming to investigate the gang for their potential involvement in interstate gun smuggling (the side plot is that this agent also used to be romantically involved with Tara, who is currently the nurse looking after Jax's newborn son and also Jax's former lover). With the federal government on their turf, SAMCRO contemplates methods to hide their gun arsenal until any investigation is complete. Jax recommends that SAMCRO reach out to the Devil's Tribe, a biker gang in Nevada whose leader- Jury - was an old friend of Jax's father. 
        As Jax and Bobby ride north to meet with Jury about their assistance with storing the guns, Jax receives a call from Clay about a "Patch Over." The audience knows nothing about what a "Patch Over" would entail, and the show keeps us in the dark about its meaning for a period of time. It took a great deal of patience on my part not to Google the meaning of the term, keeping faith that the producers of the show would provide us further insight. The only hint that the audience received was from the emotion of the characters, with Jax clearly upset by this "Patch Over"  and Clay remaining stern in his stance that a "Patch Over" was necessary. 

       As Jax meets with Jury on his home turf in Nevada, the revelation as to what a "Patch Over" is starts coming to light. Jax mentions the phrase to Jury whose facial and body expressions immediately change. In essence, the Devil's Tribe is no longer a sustainable presence due to their rivalry with the Mayans and other outside threats. Instead of offering to assist the Devil's Tribe with their troubles and unite as allies, the Sons of Anarchy are enveloping the Devil's Tribe and turning them into a Sons of Anarchy chapter. In essence, the Devil's Tribe ceases to exist and their complete alliance lies with the Sons of Anarchy brotherhood  as showcased when Jury took off his biker vest and put on the Sons of Anarchy vest. This action showed that sense of dominance that SAMCRO has in the community and neighboring districts. A move of power might have been to show all of the resources that SAMCRO has at their disposal and use those resources to strengthen their bond with the Devil's Tribe. However, instead of exerting an action of loyalty and respect, SAMCRO made the Devil's Tribe members feel as though their situation was weak and hopeless, and that the only course of action was to surrender the name and brand that they had spent years building. This is a similar situation that you might see in corporate takeovers, but was unusual to see with biker gangs. In the same way that Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia in the banking industry,  SAMCRO engulfed the Devil's Tribe and its members.  

Jax "patching over" Jury with a SAMCRO vest
        The other aspect of dominance portrayed in this episode revolves around the treatment of women. When Jax and the other members of SAMCRO meet with Jury and the (formerly) Devil's Tribe at their local hangout, the women are shown to be either hookers or groupies. One of the local women, Cherry, has been affiliated with the Devil's Tribe for years and she hopes that she will one day become one of their "old ladies." When a women becomes an "old lady," she is no longer on the market for other men within the gang or outside the gang. Cherry strikes up a conversation with Half-Sack, a low ranking member of SAMCRO and genuinely seems to like him. However, she is summoned by Clay who obviously outranks Half-Sack and proceeds to sleep with him. Additionally, Jax meets a blonde women at a gas station and takes her to the local hangout where he proceeds to sleep with her as well. In this episode, women are seen as merely objects. Both Cherry and the blonde woman that Jax sleeps with seem to have genuine feelings for their respective men, but their actions are dictated by the leaders of the biker gangs. Rather than stand up for themselves of their feelings, they answer to the gangs with the hope of eventually becoming an "old lady." In the meantime, they are nothing more than waitresses and sex slaves for the members of the club. Once again, SAMCRO and other biker gangs in the region exert their dominance over women, who have no other alternative but to associate themselves with the groups. This is only further evidenced towards the conclusion of the episode when one of the bikers as Jax- "I thought that girl was with you"- when the blonde girl was near the bar. Jax simply replied- "Na, she is just some girl" which shows the blatant disrespect that many of the members have for women. 
Half Sack and Cherry

        While dominance continued to be the theme of this episode, there is one underlying plot line that came to the forefront that challenged that plot line. When Bobby and Jax were together heading to meet Jury, Bobby mentioned that Jax "has often second guessed Clay and that other members of the club were catching on to it." As I've mentioned in multiple posts, Jax has been consistently reading his father's memoirs and noticing that SAMCRO is not how his father envisioned it. While Jax has made decisions that audience members know might have went against Clay's initial wishes, this is the first time that another member of SAMCRO has brought it to the forefront. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Jax was not initially pleased with the decision to "Patch Over" Jury and his gang. Jax was concerned about how Jury and his crew would be able to handle the Mayans if they were to instigate the Devil's Tribe. While Clay brushed off this notion, Jax went out of his way to instigate the Mayans on his own and lead them back to the Devil's Tribe hangout where SAMCRO and the "new" SAMCRO were at. After a firefight ensued, Clay had no choice but to leave support for Jury and his men since they were now part of the SAMCRO family. Jax's blatant actions to force Clay's hand was unknown to the other members, but it further shows how heavily Jax's conscience continues to weight on him.  Will this difference in conscience between Jax and Clay become an issue as the season progresses? Will there be any tension or division among the ranks? We'll have to see, but what do you all think?