TV Review: SONS OF ANARCHY 5.3 “Laying Pipe”

The tragedy continues as a brother passes in a sad and brutal episode.

I knew it was coming. That’s what happens in 2012 when you watch an episode of a popular TV series several days after its original airing. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to complain about spoilers here.) Yeah, I knew it was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for the weight of it.

We’re only three episodes in to Sons of Anarchy’s fifth season, and I already want to call this the most brutal and hard-to-watch season of the entire series. Of course, applying that label so early would probably be a mistake, but I’m sure you wouldn’t blame me for thinking about doing it, especially after all the horror we’ve seen over the past three episodes.

"Laying Pipe" didn’t knock the wind out of me, like many great episodes of SoA have in the past. This one didn’t punch me in the face and shake me up like a shot of straight whiskey – it suffocated me with its deliberately slow pace, flat and chilling mood and heavy ominous air. This wasn’t a great episode, but most of it – well, the prison stuff, really – was gripping. If the aim of director Adam Arkin and head writer-show runner Kurt Sutter was to make me dread the pain and bloodshed SAMCRO would face near the end of this episode, well, job well done guys. I really felt that bad shit coming, and it didn’t feel good. And when it finally came I felt cold, sad and hollow. I didn’t realize I’d take Opie’s death so hard.

The death scene was gut wrenching, violent and sad. It was tough to sit through, but I couldn’t help but enjoy the pulpy theatricality of it all. The way the guards left Opie alone with a crude weapon in that grimy little room. The way he got in a few good shots to the other guys’ mugs. The swiftness and shock of the deathblow. And finally, Ryan Hurst’s small smile as he said goodbye to his character and his show. That was all well done. It was a great mix of genre pulp and moving acting, storytelling and directing. Still, it was devastating.

I get why Sutter decided to kill Opie. SoA is about Jax and where he’s heading. Big, life-changing things need to happen to push Jax to a certain point and to mold him into a certain shape that Sutter has in mind. Opie’s exit was one of those big things. It’s perhaps the biggest thing that will chart Jax’s course from now until the end of the series. So the question isn’t, “Why did Opie have to die?” The question is, “What does Opie’s death mean for Jax?”

The answer is … we don’t really know. Sutter ain't saying. He spoke about this episode a few days ago, but he didn’t say anything concrete about Jax’s trajectory for the season or the series. We know Jax wants to pull his club out of the dirt and place them somewhere safe and (barely) legal. But how will he accomplish this?

Jax’s second meeting with Pope was one of the more interesting scenes of this episode. They seemed to respect each other, with Pope admiring Jax’s cleverness and knack for survival, and Jax possibly admiring Pope’s distance from the grit and blood. Pope told Jax he had what it took to be a “king,” and there’s no doubt in my mind that Jax could easily become an outlaw kingpin in a few short years. But I don’t want to see Jax turn into a “white trash biker” version of Pope. The club and its illegal dealings and cycle of retribution and violence have taken Opie and his father away from him. I want to see Jax do what John Teller couldn’t do – stop the cycle of destruction and lead SAMCRO out of the dark and into some place new. He may get there, but with the club still running guns and dope and Pope cutting in on their business, there will definitely be more bloodshed before he does.

More death and destruction will happen on SoA before all is said and done, but I doubt much of it will sting more than Opie’s exit. Opie’s death sucks because we liked him – Hurst was amazing, the character was sad but joyfully unpredictable, and we always wanted the best for him. So much had already been taken from Opie in such violent ways – Donna, Piney -- that it was only natural for most viewers to want to see the guy get a happy ending. But that didn’t happen, and it felt right. Sad but right. Sutter set things up over the past few episodes, showing us how low Opie had sunk and how he wasn’t able to love anymore and felt he had nothing left. His sacrifice was partly to save Jax, but it was also partly fueled by his own want to end it all. The big guy surrendered to the big, heaping pile of hurt life handed him.

Sorry to see you go, Ope. I hope Jesus really does ride a Harley.

Other thoughts:

Other things happened in this episode, but I felt it was appropriate to devote the bulk of this space to Opie’s exit. So let’s hit on some of the other stuff with bullet points.

- Wendy is back! No! No! No! No! No! No! No! God knows I hate Wendy just as much as Tara does. I’m not interested in watching her custody battle for the kid, even if it reminds us of how strong Tara has become.

- I’ll admit there was something rather scandalous and fun about Gemma trying to manipulate Wendy and Tara. She was basically trying get her way by ruining people’s lives. Again. But I’m not super invested in Gemma’s ongoing tantrums about the kids and day care and whatnot. Get your shit together, Gemma! Tara is your friend, and she really doesn’t want to ask Jax to kill you!

- And, yeah, I believe Jax would choose his wife over his mom. The show is all about Jax staking out his own path and starting his own family. It’s what he values. If Gemma threatens that, I’m pretty sure he’d eliminate that threat. That being typed, I don’t want to see Jax harm Gemma. That would just be … too much.

- I kind of love Tara and how she can be just as tough and dirty as Gemma but retain her grace. “I didn’t stoop!”

Note: Sorry this was posted much later than usual. Life kicked me in the balls this week, and that put me way behind schedule. But I’m kicking back! Reviews will be posted the day after the episode airs starting next week.