September 15, 2009
“Another magical day to be alive”
I, like I presume many others, presumed that this week’s episode title was about tiny drops of water falling from one’s eyes, alluding somewhat ironically to Gemma’s enormously emotional moment at the end of the season premiere. But in defying expectations, at least my own, the episode reveals that the real irony is not in falsely downplaying the emotional impact of the event, but rather the dichotomy between physical and emotional repercussions.
It is, in fact, a magical day to be alive, for everyone except for our heroine, Gemma. If there was ever any question about whether we are rooting for Gemma, “Small Tears” put it to rest: the entire fate of SAMCRO and the weight of this moment is placed on her shoulders, an unfair burden for anyone (even our less than ethical matriarch) to bear. We pity Gemma in some respects, and in others we respect her for refusing to allow pity to turn into anger at the Aryans, and more importantly to turn into revenge. It is no coincidence that the fallout from Gemma’s ordeal comes complete with a storyline about the danger of revenge killings, and the bloody mess that comes with it.
And if there’s anything that Sons of Anarchy wants to remind us of as the second season opens, it’s that nothing in the world of SAMCRO heals on its own.
As we open on a haunting and off-kilter version of Ruby Tuesday (which, confirming my suspicions, was performed by Sagal herself), Wade discovers what we knew he would discover: Gemma, lying on the ground bruised and broken. It was, as she points out, an anonymous tip that led him to the warehouse (the League of American Nationalists wanting Gemma to be discovered), but the immediate plan is to keep the plan from happening as the Aryans wanted it to. Instead of going to the hospital, she calls Tara; instead of telling Clay, Wade fakes a car crash (a stroke of genius) so that he can be told without him finding out the truth behind her attack. In the short term, they do everything they need to do to keep anyone from finding out the truth, a truth which would destroy the very fabric of the organization.
However, while the League seemed to think that this was because they were little boys who needed their mother, it’s actually an issue of the internal power dynamics that would simply explode were they to discover Gemma’s rape. The episode uses Clay’s speech about never killing or acting in a reactive fashion as the ultimate irony: we know that Clay reacted when he ordered Opie killed and killed Donna instead, and we know that to clean up that mess (his mess) he just ordered a fake revenge killing to keep Opie “happy.” He does things in a reactive fashion all the day, which is why we know that he would be unable to contain his anger if he were to find out about what happened to Gemma, and his reaction would not be to calmly stop selling guns to the Mayans or the Niners. His reaction would be to go into that cigar shop with guns blazing, and while the League apparently has a death wish it’s one that would force SAMCRO out of Charming if it were to come to fruition.
The story with pornographer LuAnn might seem a bit tangential, an excuse for a Tom Arnold appearance and to enjoy the “Cumdog Millionaire” poster, but what it really dials into is how an organization in trouble reacts as it finds itself under attack. I have no doubt in my mind that LuAnn has something to hide in this relationship, as the show has given us little reason to trust her and she was way too jumpy at the end for it to be just an excuse for a gratuitous (but awesome) Sopranos reference. I don’t think that Georgie actually attacked the girl that LuAnn brought into the hospital: the language was too perfect, the moment too forced, everything felt too simple. I think LuAnn was desperate for cash, and I think Georgie was certainly pressuring her girls, but she oversold the moment in order to create a reaction, and in order to spurn on a sense of revenge and violence. It’s a survival tactic that Gemma might have used if she was in the same situation, if her hurts were financial rather than emotional.
As the title of the episode states, the physical damage is a cut on her face and small tears resulting from the sexual assault; the cut she can handle (“I’ve been hit before”) and the tears will heal naturally according to Tara. But the emotional scars of that moment are going to haunt her, and have become the lynchpin of the entire series. Before, Jax was holding the keys to SAMCRO, as his knowledge of the real nature of Donna’s death could destroy the moral fabric of the organization and result in a fundamental change in leadership and design. However, that was something that was almost too volatile to be revealed in the open, a secret that he couldn’t tell everyone out of fear of what happens next. Now, Gemma has the same secret, one that she now shares with Wade and Tara and to some extent her grandson’s nanny.
The season is really all about secrets, which is why last week’s discussion between Tara and Jax now takes on so much more meaning. If the only way someone can have a relationship with someone in SAMCRO is to have complete honesty, Tara and Gemma both keeping secrets from their respective men is going to be a huge challenge. For Tara, it’s going to keep her from being entirely honest with Jax, which will increase the distance between them and threaten the semblance of a relationship they now have. For Gemma, however, she can’t hide this forever: she might be able to heal in time, but she (like LuAnn, and like pretty much everyone) doesn’t have the time. She doesn’t have time in which Clay won’t wonder why she refuses to kiss him or to make love, and the result is that she’s not going to be able to escape this as easily as she wishes she could.
Everyone on this show would love if, for just a moment, time stopped and you just had a day to figure things out. Gemma could escape to the roof for an entire day and come to terms with what happened to her. Jax could see clearly that Opie is left with a death wish and has certainly not been cured of his depression nor his anger regarding Donna’s death. Clay could find a way to keep the Niners and the Mayans, both at his throat after the revenge killing issues, from causing him more and more trouble. And perhaps all of them could see how much the League, with their influence even making its way into the prison system, is threatening their very existence.
But there’s isn’t time for any of that: there’s pornos to shoot, and guns to run, and a tenuous existence to maintain against more threats than ever before. It’s all lining up to be a really intriguing season, although certainly not a clean one for the boys and girls of SAMCRO.
- Opie’s death wish, killing every Mayan in sight, was what they were trying to avoid by putting Donna’s murder on the Mayan. Jax’s decision to add the gang sign was only necessitated by Opie’s decision to carve his own sign of sorts into the body, a decision which put it on him. He didn’t care in that moment if the murder fell on him, because in his dreams he’s back in prison, and when he wakes up he is in an empty bed. It’s a dangerous place to have a man in, and one that will explode in time.
- I, like Alan Sepinwall, found it interesting that Ethan (the Cigar shop owner) lies to AJ about being in contact with the Mayans in regards to the gun deal going down with the Niners. The show has spent too much time questioning the ability for these bureaucracies to actually unite and bring people together, so I think the show is clearly angling to disrupt any and all hierarchies in due time.
- I think “Canseco does Georgie” would be a big hit, personally.
- I’ll be curious to see what the show does with Wade. This episode ignored the law enforcement side of everything, and for good reason, but Jax is in a position where he needs to force him out to keep the incoming sheriff quiet about Donna, and obviously Wade’s secrets are now a dangerous position for them to be in should he fall out of power against his wishes.