This review contains spoilers.
7.6 Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em
By its very nature, a good cliffhanger should be somewhat frustrating. You know a writer has done their job well when you find yourself yelling at the screen, outraged that you have to wait to find out what happens next. Cliffhangers are like bread and butter for shows like Sons Of Anarchy; when successful they make you desperate to find out what happens, and ultimately that is what good television should always be achieving.
Some cliffhangers, however, are just frustrating and not much else. When this episode ended with Juice finally about to meet his maker (and presumably about to reveal the truth about Gemma’s involvement in Tara’s death) I was neither outraged nor exhilarated. I just rolled my eyes. Cliffhangers only work when they have built up sufficient tension and investment in the outcome, otherwise they are just annoying. When they are tacked on to an episode of television as dry and boring as this one, they are incredibly irritating. All through this episode I figured that the time was right for Juice to die, and that all of the dull club deals and clumsy race relations issues would be soon forgotten thanks to an emotional and shocking ending that would mark the ultimate turning point into where we all know this is heading; Jax and Gemma’s faceoff.
Instead, we got lots and lots and lots of scenes of the Sons clashing with Neo-Nazis and carrying out hushed meetings with allies. Apart from being a little bit lost through all of it, I was mostly just bored and waiting for something to happen. And don’t even get me started on Gemma’s entirely pointless burgeoning friendship with Lea Michelle’s thankless guest role (while I am aware this may be setting up a future subplot, does anyone really care?). This episode was desperate water treading from the get go and couldn’t even give us the satisfaction of a decent ending. Juice blurting out the truth would have been a perfect cliffhanger; it would distinctly shift the story and mean that there was no turning back. Another truth about cliffhangers is that in ninety percent of cases the outcome is easy to predict. It defies storytelling logic to end one episode with a character on the verge of death and begin the next with them dying (unless you’re the writers of Breaking Bad and you can pull it off). Doing so robs so much impact, and it is the primary reason we knew that Gemma would be fine after last week’s conclusion.
Will Juice die in the opening minutes next week? It’s possible. He’s survived too much and is clearly still around because he’s pretty much the only way anyone will find out that Gemma killed Tara. But at this rate, at the midpoint of a season that has been so full of meandering, superfluous and downright irritating subplots, I don’t have much faith. If Juice survives only to reveal the truth in time for the finale, I’m not going to be shocked. Last week I was cautiously optimistic due to a renewed investment in these characters, but investment doesn’t count for much when there’s no sense of building up to something huge. It has become pretty clear that Sons Of Anarchy really is just out of gas, and so it is killing time with fights and convoluted politics just to hold off on exploring the few storytelling avenues left to it. At this point I can’t even remember who is double crossing who anymore, and I don’t feel the slightest bit compelled to figure it all out. Watching this series is becoming like watching the third Pirates Of The Caribbean film on a thirteen hour loop; frustrating, nonsensical and near impossible to follow.
Honestly, the only thing of any interest to happen this week was a sudden interest in painting the Sons as the equivalent of enlightened racial crusaders in a racist world. This series has always had a strange and uncomfortable relationship with depictions of race (remember how Juice almost killed himself rather than tell the club his father was black?) and to suddenly have Jax describe himself as a man ‘not living in 1956’ while Marilyn Manson refers to him as having a ‘love of all things brown’ seems to have come completely out of nowhere. All this among scenes of black men being murdered as a peace offering to some white supremacists. It all just leaves a slightly bad taste in the mouth, like every time the Sons refer to other ethnicities purely by colour. A series about bikers does not necessarily have to be politically correct, but it can’t suddenly start claiming enlightenment at the eleventh hour to engineer some artificial conflict with Neo-Nazis.
If this was not the final season, I probably would have given up by now. As it stands, I can only hope the last six episodes give me something fond to remember about this show.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Some Strange Eruption, here.
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