Sons of Anarchy – “Oiled”

“Oiled”

September 14th, 2010

“I’m afraid the 21st Century has come to Charming”

Nothing has really changed within SAMCRO as Sons of Anarchy enters its third season: there’s little discord amongst the group, and even though Gemma’s on the run and Abel’s a hostage of sorts in Ireland there is still the sense that the club itself is as solid as it’s ever been in the wake of last season’s tragedies.

However, the problem is that the world around them is no longer bowing down to their power: as Hale’s elder brother Jacob, trying to leverage his brother’s death into a successul mayoral run, notes in “Oiled,” the sort of old-school notion of law which the Sons held over Charming is no longer effective. We saw the wheels starting to come off the train last season, but there was a sense that it was SAMCRO’s lack of cohesion that led to their struggles. And yet, even when Gemma’s rape united Jax and Clay, and Opie got over his wife’s passing, things still unraveled in the finale, and things continued to unravel last week when mysterious gunmen killed Hale and threatened the safety of Charming.

“Oiled” is certainly a more methodical hour of television compared to last week’s premiere, as the sense of urgency which we expected to take hold during last week’s hour is replaced by a more functional effort to properly interpret the situation at hand. And yet, as the club tries to piece things together, their enemies are either committed to a more dangerous course of action or are already at work obfuscating reality in an effort to throw SAMCRO off the trail.

We get to see more of the Irish this week, and as far as I can tell the story is thus: with Cameron’s son having been in with the Feds, and with Cameron’s retribution having been aimed in the wrong direction considering Gemma’s innocence, Cameron is a liability to both Jimmy (who remains on American soil and misleads the Sons in regards to Cameron’s whereabouts) and Father Kellan Ashby, whose sister Maureen ends up caring for Abel once the good Father decides that Cameron needs to be taken care of. We realize very quickly that Cameron’s is not a normal confession, and that the Council and the organization are not going to offer forgiveness so much as they are going to clean up their mess. The Irish are not in this in order to punish the Sons: in fact, they really don’t care about the Sons at all, but rather their own reputation, and their own safety amidst a volatile environment. It’s a careful negotiation, but the Irish are in a position where they can control the flow of information and do what they can to settle things (although it’s not yet clear what they plan to do with Abel).

SAMCRO, meanwhile, are stuck with little to no knowledge of the situation at hand: they know it’s bad, and they know they have to tread lightly, but there’s no clear sign of who the gunmen were, which leads to more detective work than we’re used to seeing from the Sons. What’s really interesting, though, is how Clay is encouraging Jax to let out his frustrations within the realm of investigation: while he doesn’t outright allow Jax to follow up on his vicious attack on the gunmen, he does offer him the first “crack” at the buried informant, and as he tells Bobby his goal is to help him get through the pain. However, Bobby is concerned, as we all are, that Jax is so close to the violence that he will lose sight of the situation at hand, that this could be the point where Jax loses what makes him different from Clay and from that side of the club. SAMCRO needs that balance to work, and you can see how the current focus (with everyone on board to find Abel and to solve their problem with the Mayans) could create a false sense of unity within a group still divided at a basic level.

The Sons’ attempts to discover just what the Mayans are up to aren’t particularly action-packed, but the episode is quite successful at showing their struggle to deal with a situation where they aren’t able to be aggressive. The Mayans are bringing the fight to their territory, using Charming as a supply route rather than attacking the Sons directly. And yet they can’t afford another bloodbath, and they know it, which makes Jacob Hale’s point all that much more clear: the Sons are no longer in a position to act as the sole authority within Charming, which requires the Charming PD to step up, and places Unser in the awkward position of choosing between the town’s safety and his connection with the Sons (which could, after all, remain a relationship built around safety should the Sons pull things together). And yet the botched bounty is a sign that the Sons aren’t the force they used to be: yes, Opie was distracted by seeing his girlfriend on the cover of a movie in the sex shop, but the point is that the Sons basically became a low-rent Dog the Bounty Hunter and still couldn’t get the job done, which doesn’t bode well for their future position within the growing discord within their environment.

Meanwhile, things quite quickly become very familiar for Gemma, as Katey Sagal goes from last week’s vulnerable struggle to badass pretty darn quickly. There are elements of family drama in the story (as Gemma traces her finger over the pictures from her past as she talks to her son), as well as elements of broad comedy (Tig in the bathrobe with the baby oil comes to mind), but most of all it’s the dissolution of any sort of calm within the story. With the nurse piecing together why Gemma was actually there, and logically going after the reward as opposed to continuing to clean bedpans, Gemma is forced to go into gun-toting mode, which is what this wasn’t supposed to be: it was supposed to be an escape, a chance for her to find some sort of solace within a terrible situation, but that was as misleading as the calm in “So.” The show has always done well to balance different tonal elements, and Sagal is particularly strong at being able to ground a story filled with comedy and tragedy in the show’s reality, just as Jax continues to serve that role in the Charming story (with comic beats like Chuck and his open hospital gown breaking the tension).

Speaking of Jax, even while slipping away from certain aspects of his personality he knows that Tara is on a dangerous path, or at least what he considers to be a path too dangerous for her. And while part of me feels like Tara needs to assert her independence from Jax, I have to agree that her plans to abandon her job at the hospital (a leave of absence she would likely never return from) are ill-advised, and I’m glad that Jax also found Tara’s assault and battery on her boss to be a bit overdone. Sutter is adept at making us reconsider previous actions in a new light, and while we may have originally cheered Tara engaging with her badass side, we can’t help but see things from Jax’s point of view. He loves his mother, but he doesn’t want Tara to end up like her, and yet there Tara is running off to help Gemma (becoming an accessory in the process) and allowing Gemma’s life lessons influence her non-MC workplace. There are numerous moments where Sutter (and co-writer Dave Erickson) make us wonder whether Jax will lose his temper again, like when he goes after the gunman in the hospital bed; it turns out, though, he only wanted to check for the tattoo under his lip, and his conversations with Tara show an awareness that assures us that he’s not yet gone off the deep end (which is then confirmed as he gets to breathe a sigh of relief that Cameron was still carrying Abel with him when he crossed into Canada).

And thus we leave with Maureen cradling Abel comfortably, and Cameron dead (and about to be dropped in a location where his death will become public knowledge, which should make for an interesting fallout as news hits Charming – in the meantime, though, the show is getting some great dramatic mileage from the buildup, so I wouldn’t say I’m in a rush.

Cultural Observations

  • Has there been mention of the Bloody 92 before? Either way, it’s not surprising that there’s parts of SAMCRO’s history which would be returning to the surface in the current environment.
  • Anyone get some major Friday Night Lights flashbacks here? I couldn’t get “Tig’s pulling a Saracen” out of my head.
  • Not sure what to make of Opie’s vulnerable moment in the sex shop: he’s obviously worked to block off that part of his girlfriend’s life, but we’ve spent so little time with Opie thus far this season that it seemed a bit sudden. Curious to see where that goes.
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