TV Review: SONS OF ANARCHY 5.2 “Authority Vested”

Jax bonds with Jimmy the Pimp in a calm but satisfying episode.

“Charmed life, aint it?” – Wayne Unser

You said it, Unser. Your cutting, sarcastic remark at the start of this episode sure summed things up quite nicely. SAMCRO is in shambles with half the crew hiding in a pimp’s “therapy room” and the other half either struggling to stand up or headed to a jail cell where a hit squad awaits. Oh, and Tigy’s still broken. But that’s what happens when a guy’s teenage daughter is burned alive right in front of his eyes.

But despite all the terrible things that have happened to these characters lately, there was a surprising optimistic spirit that surfaced in this episode. It felt rewarding watching Jax, a man marked for death, find confidence and focus through his love for Tara. Their rushed whorehouse wedding was lovely and funny, and the lead up to the nuptials gave Gemma a reason to drop her bossy act for a minute, nicely subverting expectations a bit. Also rewarding was watching Unser rebound from that nasty beating determined to get to the bottom of Charming’s home invasion problem. It’s hard not to root for the guy, especially when you remember that his pride in protecting Charming is pretty much all he has left. Well that and a blossoming friendship with Gemma’s bird, of course.

This episode wasn’t nearly as dramatic or action packed as the season opener, but that was to be expected. The scenes took their time, and the actors got to breathe a bit and deliver some excellent work here (especially Ryan Hurst as Opie). Not every episode of Sons of Anarchy needs to be an adrenalized thrill ride from start to finish, and slowing things down mostly worked. And even though there wasn’t a lot of flash, blood or gunplay here, “Authority Vested” still boasted some considerable emotional weight.

One of the most interesting scenes of the night featured Jax taking a joyride with Nero, the pleasant pimp played by Jimmy Smits. The boys bonded while playing chicken with the bad guys (“That was fun!”) and financial ups and downs of running things like whorehouses and guns. Some of the dialogue here was funny and clever, but some of it was stock. Nero’s code switching felt less than authentic and more like a cheap way to remind us that, hey we’ve got a Latino here! But Smits comes off cool and relaxed, and he seems to be having a blast, which makes watching Nero stride across the screen a lot of fun.

We learned a little more about Nero here -- he’s a reformed gang member who has a son who suffers from the birth defect spina bifida. Nero blames himself for his son’s condition because the kid’s mom was a junkie he didn’t keep close tabs on. This reminds Jax of his first son’s mom, Drea de Matteo, aka She Who Makes The Show Much Shittier. Jax and Nero have a lot in common; they both think about the bigger picture, and they’re both family men. I like their budding friendship, but seeing Jax bond with a father figure type should make any long time SOA fan nervous.

There were daddy duties to take care of elsewhere in the episode. Jax and crew were tasked with tracking down Tig’s daughter Faun (sister of Dawn!) and getting her out of harm’s way. Tig is still dealing with an ocean of grief, pain and regret over Dawn’s death, and Faun had no problem adding to his burden. Kim Coates, who plays Tig, didn’t do a lot of talking here, but his performance, which was all in the eyes, was real and heartbreaking. Same goes for the pre-credits image of Tig holding the charred remains of his daughter. Even Bobby seemed shaken by that sad and macabre scene.

While Tig struggled to hold it together, Tara and Opie showed strength and character when their devotion to Jax and the club was tested. Tara, who has been through hell over the past four seasons, should be lauded for putting up with SAMCRO’s constant craziness. And Opie, who received a visit from Clay, made a surprising and spectacular return to the club at episode’s end. The show set us up to believe that Ope was gonna disappear again after his awkward visit with Lyla, but expectations were subverted again when Opie arrived at SAMCRO HQ to join his brothers behind bars. I guess the idea of becoming Jax doesn’t bother him so much after all.

Something that may be bothering viewers this season, as it did during Juice’s arc last season, is the dramatized racial tension on the show. Because of their conflict with Pope, SAMCRO is now looking at every black face with suspicion, and references to “black” are tossed around in place of people’s names or affiliations. In this episode, Tig pulled a gun on a group of black men he perceived to be gangsters out to hurt his daughter. Turns out they were his daughter’s friends and boyfriend. It’s never easy to perceive and swallow even the slightest hint of racism from fictional characters we’ve come to know and love. Still, the prejudice on the screen here feels rooted in character and plot. It may feel uncomfortable to watch and hear our SAMCRO anti-heroes spout racial slurs, but so far most of that kind of stuff seems to make sense for the show. It’s what these characters would say, so they say it. There was possibly a bit of an inversion to this as Unser wanted to pin the home invasions on white perpetrators, since the work was “sloppy, clumsy” and deliberate.

The prejudice on display in SOA may also serve another purpose, which is to remind us of a simple truth: hate breeds more hate. Prejudice, snap judgments and unsympathetic thoughts and actions always snap back around and lead death and destruction on SOA. Retaliation calls for more retaliation, and so the cycle continues. The idea that this cycle may be SAMCRO’s undoing is what’s inspiring all the action this season – the boys are running from the biggest threat they’ve ever faced because of Tig’s sloppy retaliation attempt against the Niners. Tig was inspired to strike the Niners by Clay’s eagerness to pin his shooting on “black.”

Jax, who tried to hold Tig back from jumping to conclusions about the black men he met in this episode, is painfully aware of this troubling trend. It’s his burden to try and stop the cycle of tension, violence and destruction. Jax’s struggle to pull his club out of the mud is a big part of what makes the show compelling.

Other thoughts:

- Clay Morrow as Richard III is an intriguing idea, if that’s what’s happening here. SOA reportedly started out as “Hamlet on Harleys,” but maybe all of Shakespeare is in play these days.

- The home raiders nabbed some important documents from Clay’s safe. It’s not a stretch to suspect that Clay may be the one pulling the strings on Charming’s home invasion crew.

- Danny Trejo, CIA Agent doesn’t seem as invested in SAMCRO as Jax thinks he is. There’s gonna to be trouble for the boys behind bars without the CIA protecting them.

- Chibs delivering his blessing at the wedding was my favorite small moment of the night.

- What are your thoughts on Gemma and Nero’s friends with benefits relationship? I’m still on the fence about these two pairing up.

-  I feel like I've only scratched the surface here, but that’s probably gonna be the case all season. There are so many characters to keep track of on this show and so many layers and motivations and subplots -- it’s hard not to write a 5,000 word essay every week!