By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
With five episodes down in this the penultimate season of Sons of Anarchy, the club has been broken and fractured more than a porcelain doll dropped from 20 stories high onto a concrete floor. The rare moments when the members got together for chapel there were beginning to be more empty seats than at a Miami Marlins home game. Jax’s leadership was being questioned because instead of bringing issues to the table for a vote, he decided his own decisions were better for the ‘good of the club’. It was the same old song and dance that the members had been dealing with for years under the rule of Clay Morrow.
In last week’s episode, Jax’s move to get the club out of the gun running business sounded smart enough, and no one seemed opposed to the idea with the mounting bloodshed and violence they’ve all suffered while transporting illegal firearms up and down the west coast. The method of how they got there became the problem, and when the IRA decided to strike back it ended with the SAMCRO clubhouse being blown to smithereens and if not for a moment of clarity in their hopes to settle a growing rivalry, every member along with their families would be found amidst the rubble of broken glass, burnt wood and shattered Harleys.
Using Gemma’s kitchen table as their new chapel, Jax and the club got on the line with the Irish kings to try and settle their differences. Galen offered up one peaceful agreement, but there would be no negotiation and this wasn’t a barter where one side gave up something for the good of the other. The deal was this — the two parties would split right here, right now. Clay would continue to run the gun operation in Northern California for the IRA, and all of the Sons of Anarchy chapters would be left alone. If not the bomb that dropped on SAMCRO’s head would then land on every charter from California to Belfast. The Sons agreed to the deal and began putting together the pieces to be able to push this out to all of the chapters in the area. Jax sends Gemma to the prison to tell Clay to ‘move forward’ with the deal to take over the Irish gun running business, and they take one step closer towards a final exit from the IRA connection.
Gemma’s visit with Clay also yields her some interesting information about Toric and his methods of abuse in torturing Otto with constant beatings and rapes. She turns the information over to the D.A. and the sheriff, but that situation will come to a head a little bit later…
While Jax and his charter are trying to keep the entire Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club from being dismantled from the ground to the ceiling, Sheriff Eli Roosevelt is attempting to keep Charming from being torn down with them. Over the years, SAMCRO kind of had an unwritten agreement with the town of Charming — they would keep their business outside of the town limits while also making sure that no criminal element ever landed on their front doorsteps. They were the outlaw police force meant to protect Charming from the real big bads out in the world. In the last few years, however, the bad things that SAMCRO got involved in started hitting them harder and harder, and always much closer to home. From Nazi cigar store owners to drive by shootings to home invasions, the Charming/SAMCRO agreement has not only failed, but the town has to be ready to pull out pitchforks and torches after watching the clubhouse explode in a fireball.
Eli tries to push for information but all he gets is that this resulted after SAMCRO tried to ‘end a relationship’. He knows it has something to do with the IRA, but no one is going to talk. Back at the police station, Nero is stuck in lockup on the trumped up charges of murder after the DNA pulled from his truck match that of the dead hooker. District Attorney Patterson is also lurking nearby and she’s out for blood. She’s got four dead children on her hands, the victims of a sick child who used an illegal firearm to gun down his classmates in a fit of tortured anguish. Her latest bargaining chip is sitting in a holding cell awaiting arraignment for murder. See Nero isn’t part of the club, and maybe his loyalty doesn’t run as deep as a member with a cut on his back.
Eli is smart enough to know, however, that Nero isn’t the criminal here, merely a victim of Lee Toric’s revenge trip. Add to that Gemma’s information about Toric’s unstable behavior towards Otto and Clay, and Eli is finding out his theory might just be fact. To prove this, Eli manages to investigate Toric’s motel room and when he arrives there the smell of bleach permeates the entire area. One of the reasons I enjoyed the character of Toric so much is because he really did wear a mask of sanity to the real world, while his demons ripped and strangled him from the inside out. He was the perfect adversary to go after a group of outlaws, but in the end his own turmoil burnt him alive (that and a shiv slicing through his neck courtesy of Otto). To keep his demons at bay, Toric was fueled by a dangerous mix of narcotics and pills found at his hotel room, and upon further investigation, Eli and his deputy found bullet holes covered up by a rug.
Eli knows this is proof positive that Toric was up to much more than a normal investigation, but Patterson wants no part of it. Until evidence proves otherwise, Nero is the man on the hook for the murder and they are going to put the squeeze to him until he’s forced to concede or they are forced to let him go. Patterson is just the latest in the line of law enforcement officers who want to go head on at the Sons of Anarchy by any means necessary. She’s desperate to find the illegal gun runners that put that KG-9 in the little boy’s hand leading to a slaughter at a local grade school, and much like the June Stahl’s of the world, Patterson is willing to do pretty much anything to get there. Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter knows that the line between good and evil is far from black and white. It’s always a blurred, grey area where the outlaws are sometimes the heroes and the cops can be the antagonists doing more harm than good. Even my personal favorite law enforcement officer from Sons of Anarchy — Lincoln Potter — had to twist and turn Juice to the point of suicide to try and get him to go informant for the government. The point being, whether it’s TV or real life, there are a lot more Vin Mackey‘s in the world than there are Andy Griffith‘s.
Patterson’s next attempt at drawing blood from the Sons is by going after Tara, who we all know wants out of Charming, out of her marriage and away from the bullet filled world she’s become all too accustomed to. Tara even mentions to Unser that this latest episode with a bomb blowing up and nearly killing her children didn’t hit her the way that it should. She’s become so used to the violence that her emotions are desensitized to it all like a person who grew up around war. If you wake up everyday to explosions, gunfire, body parts and blood on the streets, that’s just life. Tara is ready to get out of this world, and try to find some semblance of normalcy before her children start walking the same path as their father. She’s documenting all of the violence she’s witnessed. She has Wendy set up as a guardian if she has to go to jail. And she’s filing for divorce from Jax when this hammer finally drops. Deep down, Tara still loves Jax but at some point she either chooses to go all in or get out, no matter how much pain she might suffer, and right now her children are more important than any choice she can make for herself.
D.A. Patterson decides to come at Tara with an offer to help sweeten her exit from Charming by asking her to document the gun running she’s personally seen from her husband with the offer of full immunity. As much as Tara wants to escape, she can’t do it at the cost of her husband’s life, his club or their freedom so she turns down the deal. That’s when Patterson decides to turn up the heat — three weeks from now Tara will stand in front of a judge for her actions in the prison that led to Pamela Toric’s death, and she is personally going to prosecute the case. Without a serious intervention, Tara is headed to prison very soon and that timing will also likely destroy her plans of escaping the life with Jax with her children in tact.
Back in Charming, Gemma stop by Diosa to try and help out while Nero deals with his pending charges, but there’s a guest waiting for him according to Lyla. The mystery is deepened when Gemma heads to Nero’s room and sees a purse and scarf lying on the bed while the guest uses the facilities. When the door opens, surprise surprise — Venus Van Damme is back in our lives!
Actor Walter Goggins, best known for his roles on The Shield and Justified, made his presence felt in one of the most shocking and interesting cameos in TV history when he strapped on some prosthetic breasts, a wig and some lipstick while transforming into transsexual mistress Venus Van Damme in a moment of need to help out the Sons last season. Kurt Sutter had teased ever since his first appearance that he would love to bring Goggins back again, but only if the timing and story called for it. This time, much like last season, was a shock because not only was Goggins not teased for this episode, he hadn’t even been talked about for any kind of appearance this entire season. The amount of work that had to go into keeping this secret must have been hefty on the folks at FX, but whoever handled this one should also be in charge of future Star Wars scripts for safe keeping.
Venus’ reappearance this time around is in a much different way. She’s sporting a black eye, and a sad tale of woe where she’s in need of Nero’s help. Turns out Venus was born Vincent Noons — who grew up to be a confused teenager in desperate need of help to find his own identity, but his mother was a prostitute who was better at her job than she ever was as a mother. Vincent was eventually taken in by Nero, and with time and clarity he became she, and she became Venus. Now some will say if Nero was really looking out for young Vincent, and after watching his mother end up in prison after a life of prostitution, why would this well meaning man allow a kid to follow into the same profession as his damaged parent? The fact is well meaning or not, Nero’s business is selling flesh and like a father who catches fish and eventually watches his son become a fisherman, as odd as it sounds, this is the life he leads. As Venus explained her life to Gemma, the pain and suffering came pouring out in one of the most beautifully written and executed scenes in Sons of Anarchy history. Venus finally broke down in a river of tears after revealing that someone close to her was responsible for the black eye and in her moment of fear the only place she could turn was to Nero.
Now if you’ve noticed since the beginning of this recap, I’ve covered every subject under the sun except what’s happening with the actual club this show is focused on and that was for a very specific reason. They always say save the best for last and that’s what I’ve done here as well because the meat of this episode was some of the best writing, acting and execution in the entire run of Sons of Anarchy.
Jax and the crew are headed north to meet with the presidents and club members from all of the local charters to let them know their decision to move out of gun running and into more legitimate businesses. Along the way, Jax and his boys are stopped by a couple of local cops, who accuse the Sons of driving Harleys with modified parts that were stolen. The tension gets thicker when Juice decides to mouth off, and it ends with him handcuffed to his bike and its tires shot out. Juice erupts and punches the cop repeatedly, until the entire situation unravels with the club realizing these two law enforcement officers are running a dirty business on the side, chopping up bikes and cars, and selling them off.
The more explosive element that we discover is Juice’s rage that seems to be boiling over this episode. Time and again, he can’t control his anger and he explodes into violent outbursts, and it’s clear that this is not the Juice that was once a computer hacker, found wearing diapers and used as bait in prison to draw out a target. His innocence was probably destroyed years ago, but now his sanity may be out the window as well. If you remember the beginning of the season when Chibs decided that Juice needed to receive a vicious beat down for his betrayal of the club, it appeared at the time as a cathartic end to a tenuous situation. What it might have done accidentally, however, was push Juice over the edge and past his breaking point. It reminded me of the famous scene in Full Metal Jacket where all of the other Marines takes bars of soap and viciously beat Private Pyle to prove a point when he continuously causes the entire group to face harm from their brutal sergeant.
Private Pyle then fades into insanity, and is quickly molded into the killing machine that he was meant to be all along. His story ends with the death of his superior officer before he takes his own life. Juice has already walked that road, but this latest outburst could be his version of a full metal jacket loaded into a rifle and pulling the trigger. His behavior suggests that he’s broken from reality, and Chibs’ beating could be the catalyst that pushes him into madness.
The end result of Juice’s wire walk with savagery still gets the club what they want out of the cops, and one of the best lines in Sons of Anarchy history courtesy of Tig, who figures out that these cops are on the take and aren’t out for law and order.
“I’ve seen Smoky and the Bandit a thousand times,” Tig says. “I love that movie!”
As the boys escape with the cavalry bearing down on them, Juice and Rat orchestrate some Fast and the Furious moves to help evade the cops and send them over an embankment while the entire crew exits to the meeting up north with the other charters. Once they arrive, Jax tries to relay to Juice that he’s done all he needs to do to prove his loyalty, and he’s sure that Chibs’ beat down was enough for him to get over the past as well. Once again relating back to Full Metal Jacket, this reminded me of Joker trying to tell Leonard that it was all going to be alright and to just put down the gun. Juice is now on the precipice of a similar decision — who gets hit with the reign of fire is still yet to be seen.
At the meeting, Jax runs into Bobby, who is there with his new crew of guys and he asks to speak to the president of SAMCRO after this is all said and done for something important he needs to chat with him about. All season long, the signs are pointing towards Bobby recruiting his own guys and starting a new NOMAD chapter. When Bobby finally confronts the situation head on he hands over a stack of papers, which Jax believes are the transfer orders for him to leave Charming for good and start new somewhere else. Instead the tables are turned — Bobby had no intention of leaving SAMCRO — he was actually recruiting these members to return with him to Charming to help make the club whole again. Remember my reference earlier to the dwindling numbers at the club table, and with each passing episode it looked like the club was becoming even more anemic, and Bobby took notice and decided to start bringing SAMCRO back to prominence. He professes his love to Jax and the club and says throwing down his vice president’s patch was him knowing that he could no longer help them in that way. Recruiting new members to give the club a full table again was the best medicine possible. It was a real moment of happiness in an otherwise dim and dark season thus far.
In the meeting, Jax lays it out for all of the club members about the decision to move out of gun running. This isn’t something that they came to lightly, but after watching brother after brother die by the bullet, the Sons of Anarchy were being torn apart at the seems and they could either watch the clubs get ripped apart one by one or start to sew together pieces and patch up the holes to make this crew a family again.
Jax’s speech was so good, my own recap couldn’t do it justice so I’ve transcribed the entire thing here for you all to read:
“I want to say thank you for making the ride. It means a lot to me to have a full table. I’m certain you have questions and doubts — that’s what this meeting is for. I know every charter is independent, you run them as you want, but I also know the things we do in Redwood especially here in the Northwest impact your local relationships and affect the way you earn.
“Some of you knew my old man. Some just knew his legacy. It’s no secret he was conflicted at the end. Questioned every decision he’d ever made. About the club, about his family. That fear, that doubt it ruined him. Made him vulnerable. I’m here to tell you that I’m not following that path. The choices that I make are not because I’m afraid or because I have any doubts about this club. I watched my best friend get his head caved in to protect what we have here. We’ve all watched brothers die in the service of this club.
“There’s two things you can do when that happens — you can run from the pain, bail, or you can allow it to burn into your heart. To leave its mark. A constant reminder of the love that brought us all here. Sons of Anarchy, it’s at a crossroads. Our clubhouse blowing up last night, that’s a sign of the times. The end result of a bloody relationship with the IRA. It would be easy for me to sit here and blame our mistakes on my predecessor but that won’t solve shit. We don’t need blame. What we need, boys, is change.
“I want us out of guns. The RICO heat, the competition, the Irish blowback, it’s just not practical. Between lawyers and repairing the damage we barely earn a profit. I’m going to move Redwood into more legitimate enterprises. Diosa’s doing great, we’re earning real money. We’re gonna open another house in Stockton. We’re going to reboot Cara Cara, we just found a warehouse down by the docks. So I guess it’s fair to say that SAMCRO’s future is in pussy, not bullets.
“We struck a deal with the Irish, one that keeps the peace. But that transition means we all take a hit. Now I know everyone here has had a taste of the gun business, whether it’s in protection, storage, or distribution. It’s going to sting at first letting go of that cash. But if we don’t, I’m telling you this club won’t have a future. We’ve had 20 members killed in the last two years. All of those deaths tied to the gun business. Outside of guns, how you earn is up to you. But if you would like my charter will do everything it can to help you move into a legitimate direction. A direction that keeps us out of jail. That keeps us whole and that keeps us alive.”
Nothing else really needed to be said. The entire crew pounded the table in voices stentorian, and with that the Sons of Anarchy left the gun business behind once and for all. While Jax made reference to his father’s doubts and indecisions as a weakness all those years ago, in reality his move to exit the club away from guns really brought John Teller’s life and death full circle. John’s desire to leave the gun trade is what got him killed, but now his son finished what he started three decades later.
On the way back to Charming, the boys decide to pay a visit to the chop shop where the crooked police that stopped them earlier are doing business. They find a slew of stolen Harleys and cars inside the building. They make the call to the boys in blue, who arrive only to find out they’ve been ambushed by SAMCRO. Instead of putting bullets into the dirty cops or asking to join their business of car thief ring, Jax decides on another punishment all together.
“I’m sorry for my behavior today”
Over and over again, the cops walk down a line like at a youth football game and apologize to each member for disrespecting them earlier in the day with the illegal stop and attempted bike jacking. It was a funny and lighthearted moment, and the perfect ending to a flawless episode. Sons of Anarchy season 6 episode 6 ‘Salvage’ may go down as one of my favorite in the entire series. It reminded everyone that at the heart of this show, brotherhood and family rule the day. It should also show that good decisions and the ties that bind can bring even this damaged group back together again. Enjoy this moment because it’s likely Sutter’s ballet of violence and tragedy will return in exactly seven days but for now bask in the glory of joy as SAMCRO is reunited and it feels so good.
— In a call back to the first season of the show portions of ‘John the Revelator’ were played throughout this episode. The track is covered by Curtis Stigers and the Forest Rangers — the same folks that perform the show’s theme song
— The song that played while the Sons ran from the cops was ‘Mind Your Manners’ by Pearl Jam from their new album just released today called ‘Lightning Bolt’.
— The title of this episode was ‘Salvage’ and while Kurt Sutter is probably the only one that could answer this, it seemed to allude to the actual definition of the word which is ‘the act of saving something that is in danger of being completely destroyed’. Pretty fitting given the state of SAMCRO going into this one.
— The director of this episode was actor Adam Arkin, who is probably best known to Sons of Anarchy fans as season 2 baddie Ethan Zobelle. He’s also directed several episodes of the series including last year’s ‘Laying Pipe’ where Opie met his ultimate end.
— The episode was written by Sutter along with Mike Daniels, who has worked on the series for a total of 13 episodes as a producer and writer. He also penned episode 11 of season 5 titled ‘To Thine Own Self’.
Come back next week for our recap of episode 7 titled ‘Sweet and Vaded’ that will land on FX Tuesday night October 22 at 10pm ET/PT