After spending the entire season moving at a snail’s pace, there’s sudden sense of urgency in the early rhythms of “Suits of Woe” as Sons of Anarchy FINALLY gets around to telling the short story it wanted to tell this season: Jax’s downfall, undone by a series of mistakes predicated on Gemma’s lie. Maybe ‘urgency’ isn’t even the right word: characters simply start speaking the truth in this episode, the Early Season Filter that so many drama writers use to delay important information is removed, and truth bombs start dropping everywhere. It begins with Jax’s son, of course (who, although being the catalyst for the entire show’s endgame, is all but a ghost in this hour), but as it snowballs from Abel to Wendy, to Unser and then to Psycho Juice, “Suits of Woe” finally feels like the final season is going somewhere.
With a 73-minute running time, there’s still plenty of nonsense to sit through (Nero’s retirement, Gemma’s sudden urgency to leave/take the time to say goodbye to everyone in Charming), but “Suits of Woe” leaves plenty of room for performers to deliver on the big scenes laid out in Sutter’s script (which for the first time this season, really feels like it’s coming from the creator himself). And for the most part, they’re knockout moments, all led by Charlie Hunnam, who gives some real gravitas to Jax’s Ozymandias-like moment when he realizes his passion and his anger led to all this – and even though it can be pinned on the lies of Gemma and Juice, still comes down to his responsibilities (and ultimately, grave shortcomings) as a leader.
A lot of talk about “Suits and Woe” will be focused on the lengthy prison scene between Jax and Juice, where Juice confesses his lies and Jax breaks down listening to the truth about Tara. There’s nothing wrong with the scene (though as usual, Ortiz’s seemingly random shifts between psychotic and emotionally hollow are a little over-the-top, and stick out next to performances like Hunnam’s or Callie’s), but the real highlight comes when Unser loses his cool on Jax, talking about how he should’ve been more of a father and leader than a “thug” out for revenge. Sure, we didn’t need nine episodes of Jax Rampage 3: The Rampagening for this point to ring true, but Unser’s sudden expression of disappointment and frustration becomes an important undercurrent for the entire season, at least giving some perspective to the violent, drawn-out affairs that preceded the events of this hour.
I only wonder if too much happens in this episode: besides the chase for Gemma and the downfall of Jax, there isn’t a lot of story left to tell in the last two episodes (which between the two, will run longer than a Scorcese or Nolan film) that holds much weight. There’s so much focus paid attention to the parallel journeys of discovery Gemma and Jax are in this hour, it rips any dramatic tension from other stories: Barosky ratting out the Sons doesn’t really mean a whole lot now, neither does the lonely retirement Nero’s never going to get – or the fact that no matter how many times someone says it will be, Juice doesn’t die. These things don’t really matter anymore, now that the show’s getting back to the story it started telling seven years ago, and dealing with the ultimate of all mommy issues: as it always has when it’s front and center, Gemma vs. Jax dominates everything else happening in Charming (even overshadowing recent major events, like Jax killing August’s #2 and the death of Bobby, which feel less like actual things that happened, and more like long-faded notches on the Sons church table).
At the very least, “Suits of Woe” is an episode of Sons with focus and momentum, two things the show’s sorely lacked for the last couple of season (plus it’s got a car chase/Charger commercial set to jazz, easily the most fun thing the show’s done in years). It’s hard to determine whether this was a ‘good’ episode of the show, buried underneath the misery of this season (and just about every season since s4) – but thanks to strong performances from Hunnam and Sagal at the show’s center (and don’t sleep on Dayton Callie or Jimmy Smits, either), “Suits of Woe” is able to transcend some of the season’s time-wasting silliness, and give as much weight as it can to the events that will follow in the show’ final two episodes when Jax lays it all on his shoulders and begins to hunt down his mother. What more can we really ask “Suits of Woe” to do?
Photo via FX