Throughout season six of FX's Sons of Anarchy, SAMCRO leader Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) seemed hellbent on making viewers dislike him. Whether it was cheating on his wife, Tara (Maggie Siff), or his endless double-crosses that left the bodies piled up, Jax became less of an sympathetic antihero or more of a destructive antagonist than ever before.
But in last night's episode, "A Mother's Work," Jax earned back fans' trust by telling District Attorney Patterson (CCH Pounder) that he was ready to turn himself in for the gun charges in order to let Tara leave town and keep their children, Abel and Thomas, safe. It was noble, and the ultimate testament to the genuine love shared between Jax and Tara.
And then his mom had to get involved. Damn that Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal), Jax's unstable mother and Tara's long-time nemesis. Upon hearing about Tara's initial plan to cut a deal with Patterson, betray Jax, and take the kids away from Charming for good, Gemma—who just broke up with her lover, Nero (Jimmy Smits), and skipped out on the funeral of ex-husband Clay—drowned her sorrows in liquor. And then she went to Jax's house, where an impromptu appearance by Tara led to the worst behavior: She dunked Tara's head into a kitchen sink full of dirty dish water, grabbed a carving fork, and repeatedly drove it into the back of Tara's skull. It was an incredibly gruesome and shocking death on a show known for its brutality.
What does the tragic Gemma/Tara showdown mean for Jax? How will Gemma cope with knowing that she killed Tara for the wrong reason? And what about the emotionally fragile Juice (Theo Rossi), who covered for Gemma and disposed of the evidence? More importantly, though, what does it all mean for the seventh, and final, season of Sons of Anarchy in 2014? Here, Complex deputy editor Justin Monroe, senior staff writer Matt Barone, and contributing writer Frazier Tharpe assess the damage.
Matt Barone: Tara's death has seemed like an inevitability all season long, so when it happened, I wasn't shocked but it still hit me hard. She was that close to happiness, and, personally, I've never disliked her or felt she was in the wrong, so watching her go out like that really affected me. Did it do the same for you guys?
Frazier Tharpe: Gemma's involvement, and what that means for her and Jax going forward, affected me more, I think. The season hinted hard at Jax doing the deed—Gemma was a nice zigzag.
Justin Monroe: I was affected, but less by the loss of Tara than its effect on those around her. What moved me was Gemma, Juice, and Jax in the aftermath. Even Sheriff Eli, who's stunned for that sad moment and then, just as he's regaining his composure to call the crime in, gets slain. The looks on people's faces were devastating. Gemma's hysterics, multiplied by the grief when she learns that she just murdered her daughter-in-law for a betrayal she didn't commit and that she will, despite her ability to regain Jax's love and trust earlier in the season after the "miscarriage," lose him forever now. And Jax—to me, he'd become unsympathetic after all of his recent Machiavellian business dealings and coldness, but his willingness to go to jail for Tara, his sons, and the Sons brought me back around, and then to see him lose her and be absolutely gutted was very moving.
I also found Juice quite affecting.
Justin: Completely. That mad cry he lets out?
Matt: Very devastating, especially coming from a character who seemed like such an asshole all season, and had nearly lost all of my sympathy.
Juice's involvement in that scene is really interesting, too. For a second, I thought he was either going to off himself or wait for Jax to arrive and let Jax kill him, making him think Juice killed Tara and Roosevelt. It didn't play out like I thought it would.
Frazier: He's also got the richest history of any other character with Roosevelt. That lack of hesitation when he pulled the trigger was huge.
Justin: So often Jax's plans go off without a hitch. Just this season, we had the the prison break, Clay/IRA assassinations, IRA renegotiation, Chinese double-cross. A simpler plan this time, just that he'll take the fall for the guns, and it all goes to shit. And he has no idea how or why.
Matt: That's a good point, and really smart writing by Kurt Sutter and his team. We've been conditioned to expect Jax's elaborate schemes to work out for him, but his simplest, most humane one blows up in his face.
Frazier: Eh, I don't know, this was one that clearly had to blow up in his face. He was never going to jail, whether he wanted to or not.
Justin: From a show perspective, yes, but he was willing as a character to make the sacrifice for those he loved. I absolutely think Jax was willing and would have spent seven-to-ten years writing in his prison journal.
Frazier: It just kind of sapped the tension for me. It made Tara's death inevitable, just a question of when and how. It does seem like Jax is the first antihero in a while to be genuinely committed to his wife, which was a breath of fresh air. Walter White wouldn't have stepped up like that.
Justin: That much is true. You knew Sutter couldn't allow Jax to go to jail, so something had to prevent it, but what exactly was still a mystery. I did find myself thinking during that scene, "Wait, is she stabbing her in the head with a fucking carving fork?"
Matt: Seriously, Sutter gets points for dreaming up a sick, practical way to kill her. As soon as she pulled up to the house, I knew Gemma would be inside, but I like how they played it, with Gemma seeming caught off-guard by Tara being there, and reacting rather than carrying out some kind of murder plan. It all felt really in the moment, and messy.
Frazier: Yeah, Gemma didn't think she'd ever see Tara again.
Justin: Juice's actions set up so much for next season. He left the bodies but dumped all the murder weapons. Does dead-eyed Juice leverage Gemma? Probably. Gemma will pretend she's innocent, play close to Jax, and the murders will be pinned on...one of the cardboard ethnic gangs. Inevitably Jax will find out and kill both Juice and Gemma. Or he won't and Sutter will have beaten me again.
Matt: It's crazy to think of a full Sons season minus both Clay and Tara.
Frazier: It's an interesting conflict to hang the final season on. I don't think anyone expected both Clay and Tara would be gone before the final 13.
Justin: By the way, what exactly was Juice's betrayal? Mentioning Darvany while high out of his mind? Trying to kill himself?
Frazier: Yeah, more or less. In Jax and Chibbs' eyes, he can't keep his mouth shut.
Matt: And for letting Nero know that Jax lied to him, about Darvany. He's soft. Like Gemma said in the episode: In their world, "Vulnerability is a liability."
Justin: It makes sense, though, that Clay and Tara should be gone. At the heart of this drama was always Jax and Gemma. A son and a mom who planned his father's murder, then endlessly manipulated him and others to stay in a seat of power. And here Juice was back to the dead-eyed guy he was for most of the season.
Matt: Do you think Patterson suspects Jax killed Tara and Roosevelt, and will use that against him next season?
Justin: Definitely. But it won't take long to show that's not factually accurate. Different gun. Different time of death.
Frazier: I've been loving Patterson, because she's much more reasonable and smart than most of this show's law-abiding antagonists. You can already see her putting 2 and 2 together in her final scene. Someone like Toric, who I'm glad they got rid of quickly, would've immediately gone for the easy assumption.
Matt: Yeah, Patterson is a great addition. And how about "Nero, the enemy" now? I'm glad they're keeping him around.
Justin: That was sad too. Nero just wants a farm with his special needs child, dammit! On some Carlito's Way shit.
Matt: Man, when Nero dies (if he dies), that's going to be a heartbreaker.
Justin: I was anticipating that happening, but it was good that Sutter let this be about Tara. Nero will have his day.
Justin: As an aside, I have to point out that Jax's journal needs some serious editing. He is quite the over-writer. "Karmic lubrication"?
Matt: [Laughs.] Yeah, that opening voice over was a bit overdone.
Frazier: I always just imagine his sons actually reading those and going, "What the fuck?"
Justin: He got verbose in that one. I don't recall them usually being so weighty with the prose.
Matt: "Daddy needed an editor."
Justin: He's no John Teller.
Matt: John Teller, Charming's own William Faulkner.
Justin: Back to Patterson for a second. You guys think she's going to "use [the murders] against [Jax] next season", as Matt asked? Obviously he won't take the deal and won't go to jail, or she won't offer that anymore, but I feel like she will ultimately be the one helping him get the facts of the murders straight.
Frazier: Perhaps working with her in secret because he suspects foul play from his inner circle. Maybe he doesn't immediately suspect Gemma, but someone in the club instead.
Justin: Does he immediately suspect Juice? Juice was supposed to look after Tara... Does Juice come back or just leave? He seems to welcome death after all the shittiness he's experienced, so maybe he walks right up to Jax and says, "Betray deez."
Matt: I honestly can't figure out who he'll suspect. He thinks Juice is soft, and a liability, but murdering Tara seems out of character for Juice, no? It wouldn't make sense for Juice to kill Tara to only piss off Jax that much more. And I think Jax could see that about Juice. Then again, I don't know who that leaves for Jax to suspect.
Justin: Yeah. I don't know where it goes exactly but what makes the most sense to me is Gemma hiding it, with Juice's help, until she's eventually found out.
Frazier: More than likely, as you said, one of the cardboard ethnic gangs.
Matt: Hopefully not one of the cardboard ethnic gangs, though. That would be too easy. Hopefully they keep it more personal than that in Jax's eyes.
Justin: It'll be something like, "The Chinese sent us a message by using dirty dish water and a fork. You know they hate whitey and whitey's forks."
Frazier: Gemma's crazed muttering after killing Tara was chilling. She's not going to be able to compartmentalize this like she has with her past deeds.
Justin: Wait until next morning, when things settle.
Matt: Next season will be Gemma unraveling, and I suspect Katey Sagal will kill it the entire time. She's so damn good on this show. I wonder if Gemma eventually breaks and admits it to Jax. And then offs herself, rather than Jax killing her. Between Nero breaking up with her, Clay dead, and now killing Tara, she's on one hell of a downward spiral.
Frazier: She's done the downward spiral thing before though, in season five. This has got to be something fresh. If anybody's gonna break down and admit it, it's Juice.
Justin: As difficult as it may seem in that moment of hysteria and regret, Gemma's character is a world-class liar. She may break eventually but, as you pointed out, vulnerability is a liability. People have died for her manipulations before. She's fucked with Jax's life before.
Frazier: True. She'll flip it to bring Jax closer, as she always does.
Justin: She's always wanted to be by his side or standing behind him, and this, as terrible as it is, places her right there.
Frazier: Their relationship is so fascinating, as is the way she's presented on the series. The best season (season two) endeared her to the audience so much. But they've always been up front about how poisonous she is. And Jax is always back and forth with that truth.
Justin: Absolutely right.
Matt: You know who's really screwed, though? Abel and Thomas. It's looking more and more like they'll eventually end up with Wendy. Poor kids.
Frazier: Or Unser, who has to have been lying about this cancer, at this point.
Matt: Unser the Undying.
Justin: One of the chief criticisms of the show is that, while driving this crime story with all these moving parts forward, Sutter doesn't fully explore the weighty issues he introduces. Gemma's season two rape got the most attention, but her more recent rape and the effect of the school shooting were hardly touched upon. You get glimpses of these things from the actors, who maybe have a sadness in their eyes
I tell you who I hope gets the kids: Bobby. Of all the murdering thieves on this show, he's about as good of a guy as there is.
Frazier: For a guy who waxes poetic, by hand no less, as often as Jax, the school shooting barely affected him. There's that scene a few episodes ago where he looks from the gates (which is kind of creepy, out of context) but it's a bit too late.
Justin: That bothered me about this season. It definitely contributed to him becoming less sympathetic to me. In the pilot, there's the parallel of him and the boy writing in their journals. Kid turns out to be a psycho and uses one of Jax's guns to kill four children. How was there not a somber journal voice over from Jax that really addressed that? Nero seemed to be the only one shaken up by it. Jax was like, "It's a tragedy but..." and went about business.
Frazier: Not only that, his first reaction to it is only because he has to deal with Darvany...who he then ruthlessly murders.
Justin: Exactly my point. He's cold and ruthless this season, all business even as he seeks to exit the business.
Matt: Sutter does go for shock value too often, like the school shooting and the prison rape. In hindsight, the school shooting, especially, feels gratuitous.
Frazier: The prison rape really affected me in a negative way. It felt like it was there just to keep up the show's rep for ugly violence.
Justin: I thought the school shooting was a stroke of brilliance. It was the first time Sutter ever confronted fans of the show with the gun violence that occurs in the community once SAMCRO's business transactions are completed. The problem is that he introduced that weighty issue and then dropped it like it was too heavy and he'd just pulled a muscle.
Frazier: There's only one major problem I had with this season though. And it was on full display last night. This license FX has given Sutter to run wild with running times. It's strangling the show.
Justin: Sutter has claimed he needs these extra minutes to tell his story. I don't agree that every episode needed to be 1.5 hours, and two hours last night.
Frazier: It works some weeks, but last night I had no desire to re-watch. It was so excessive.
Justin: I wanted to discuss one other thing. It was affected by the viewer's knowledge that Gemma had just killed Tara and Juice had killed Eli, and that Jax would never get to prison, but that scene of the Sons saying goodbye to Jax, thinking he's going to prison as a sacrifice to save them and his family was stirring. A lot of love and leather in that scene.
Frazier: It's great that they've gotten back to that core element, the brotherhood. There had been so many double-crosses and lies.
Justin: If only Juice had been there and not off killing a sheriff and covering up Tara's murder.
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