For all the startling and ugly acts of violence on Sons of Anarchy, there has never been an incident that put the potential impact of guns in the viewer’s face like season six’s devastating opener, “Straw.”
The episode opens on a young blond boy with Abercrombie and J.Crew catalogue genes writing in his marble composition notebook while SAMCRO President Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) talks about leadership and isolation in one of his journal voiceovers. The boy fades into Jax, who’s writing the words he speaks. Like his father, murdered Sons of Anarchy co-founder John Teller, Jax wrestles with fatherhood and the direction of his motorcycle club. John died, conspired against by his cuckolding best friend Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and wife Gemma (Katey Sagal), in part because he wanted to steer the Sons away from the lucrative gun-running business, which he felt was corrupting the once freedom-seeking brotherhood. Jax, who has recently lost his best friend Opie (Ryan Hurst) to gang violence and saw his doctor wife Tara (Maggie Siff) arrested for club-related conspiracy to commit murder, puts his thoughts in writing so his two sons can know his mind the way reading John’s posthumously uncovered manuscript, The Life and Death of Sam Crow: How the Sons of Anarchy Lost Their Way, revealed his disillusionment.
The school shooting, heard but not seen directly, is horrifying, and well earned and well placed by showrunner and writer Kurt Sutter.
Throughout the episode, the boy, who it turns out is not young Jax but the 11-year-old son of his business partner Nero’s cousin’s old lady, pops up in his blazer-and-khakis Catholic school uniform looking innocent, if sad. The viewer, recalling all the terrible shit that has happened on SoA, from the rape of Gemma to the punitive immolation of Tig’s (Kim Coates) daughter before his eyes, can’t help but wonder what horrible fate awaits this cherub. Will a motorcycle run him down? A stray bullet strike him? A child molester abduct him?
At last, the boy arrives to school, where he takes off his blazer, neatly folds and lays it on a bench, and rolls up his shirt sleeves to reveal a stack of scars from cuts that are likely self-inflicted. When the bell rings, the boy produces one of the KG-9 machine pistols the Sons deal, enters the school, and opens fire. Shots of his notebook show dark drawings of dismemberment, vengeful angels of death, and the words of a bullied child who believes in God’s wrath and doing his will. Suddenly the preceding scene, where Gemma, who helped SAMCRO become a full-on gun-running criminal enterprise, gifts her lover Nero’s (Jimmy Smits) delighted son a water-squirting machine gun, which he then sprays his friend with, seems 180 degrees less innocent.
The school shooting, heard but not seen directly, is horrifying, and well earned and well placed by showrunner and writer Kurt Sutter. This is a story he’s said he wanted to tell for a long time. His restraint, knowing that a SAMCRO gun in the hands of a juvenile school shooter signals the beginning of the end, is admirable. The law has always been on the club’s back, but this is the first time exploring the other consequences of its illegal actions. This is one of the realistic outcomes when guns are released into the world, and a conflicted father like Jax can’t simply shrug his shoulders and go on dealing death. Nor will the outside world look upon the Sons as friends anymore.
Instead of closing with the screams of the school, which would have been haunting to sit with for a week, Sutter ends with a montage that, while plot-furthering, feels like a comedown.
As far as the episode goes, the climactic moment totally overshadowed everything else, which is saying something considering how far Sutter pushed the envelope. To get right with Jax’s pardon of Juice (Theo Rossi), who ratted, stole from the club, and killed a brother, new SAMCRO Vice President Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) beats his close friend, who clearly consents and feels he deserves every blow. Former U.S. Marshal Lee Toric (Donal Logue) arranges the daily sodomization of blind, tongue-less Otto (Sutter), who murdered Toric’s nurse sister to get out of testifying against SAMCRO in a RICO trial. In one of those conflicts that lets noble and outraged sex profiteer Jax claim moral high ground—and also makes the show look a bit racist with its cardboard ethnic stereotype adversaries—the Sons shut down some undeniably creepy Iranian smut peddlers who make torture and rape porn with unsuspecting actresses. (The bastards maintain a tub full of urine, for fuck’s sake, and Tig drowns one particularly stupid “Persian” in it, then relieves himself on the goon’s head, after the guy tells him that he hopes Tig sees his daughter raped in one of their movies.)
Instead of closing with the screams of the school, which would have been haunting to sit with for a week, Sutter ends with a montage that, while plot-furthering, feels like a comedown. Rescue workers tend to the school scene. Clay settles into protective custody, having accepted a deal with Toric to stay out of gen. pop. with its many hitters waiting to shank him. Chibs lovingly patches up Juice. Jax’s displaced former VP Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) ponders going Nomad. Tara assaults the inmate who steals her bed cover because she’s nobody’s bitch and brimming with rage at the possibility of spending years in prison. And, shut out by Tara, typically faithful Jax beds his motherly and comforting new partner in prostitution, the madame Colette (Kim Dickens). It’s all important but, man...the kids.
Sons of Anarchy is its own kind of torture porn, living for these moments when sensational bad shit happens to people. Lyla (Winter Ave Zoli), Opie’s porn star widow who shows up with burns and bruises, describes the Iranians’ abuse like this: “The more I asked them to stop, the more they hurt me.” And you can imagine the character voices in Kurt Sutter’s head begging for mercy similarly. Bless the man, he isn’t granting them any.