This review contains spoilers.
7.5 Some Strange Eruption
One of the more specific patterns Sons Of Anarchy has fallen into in recent years is to open a season with a series of lacklustre or ugly episodes before everything switches into focus and it becomes a compelling ride again. Season five opened with Clay somehow still alive and meandering about with an uncertain purpose while Kim Coates showed off some embarrassingly bad acting in response to his onscreen daughter’s death. Season six gave us the ill-advised school shooting and the downright odd Lee Toric character but in both cases things quickly improved.
For season seven, Some Strange Eruption may well be the episode that marks the upward turn. While this relatively low key instalment certainly did not cure many of the issues with the series (I really did not need that cover of Age Of Aquarius over the final montage), there was a lot to like this week. Above all else, this episode managed to restore some pathos to the Sons and remind us of why Jax is acting how he has been. This is not to say that past episodes have ignored the issue of Tara’s death as such; it has been brought up in dialogue again and again. But this was the first time since the season six finale that we saw just how much it has been preying on Jax. It was a moment as simple as his voice breaking as he told Nero that the Chinese were responsible; almost subtle, but enough to illustrate that this is a human being in an unfathomable amount of pain, not a robotic monster perpetrating random acts of sadism. The raw emotion in his attack on Lin at the end only compounded this. While Jax may be brutalising the wrong target, his motivation is clear and, if not justifiable, understandable. Even a tiny bit of genuine humanity goes a long way in a series like this.
The reminder of Jax’s vulnerability also helps to solidify the stakes surrounding his inevitable discovery that Gemma killed Tara. For me, this was hanging over those final moments, and I found myself actively hoping Juice does not kill Gemma. Not because she doesn’t deserve it, but because it would rob us of the explosive confrontation that arguably this entire series has been building up toward. There was some legitimate tension hanging over the end of this episode, and I caught myself briefly entertaining the notion that Gemma will die before Jax learns what she did, robbing him of his ability to take revenge and leaving him to have to deal with his pain and rage without a receptacle for the violence it will undoubtedly manifest as. Maybe that would not be a satisfying story development, but it would be a more interesting one than Sons Of Anarchy has been prone to exploring of late.
That said, as effective as the final cliffhanger was, the way it was built towards exhibited a major flaw in the series overall. Just last week Gemma and Nero discussed the fact that he had some kind of problem with Juice. As long as she had even the vaguest understanding of conflict between these two characters, Gemma would never be stupid enough to claim that Nero was going to help them, when saying that was guaranteed to scupper her plan. This undermines the power of that ending a little bit. As an audience we cannot be questioning the validity of occurrences; good storytelling is about maintaining a convincing illusion, and leaps like this are one of the major problems with latter day Sons Of Anarchy.
Above all though, while I would hesitate to call this week a return to form, I certainly finished this episode with more anticipation for the rest of the season than I felt in any of the previous episodes. The resolution (if indeed it is a resolution) to the Chinese subplot felt a bit clumsy and anticlimactic, but if it gets us to Jax discovering the real culprit faster, then I’m okay with it. While the series is definitely still treading water, the pace has been picked up and the promise for oncoming mayhem is stronger than ever.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Poor Little Lambs, here.
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