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September 1, 2015

'Sons of Anarchy' Season 4, Episode 12 Recap (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 22nd 2011 11:00PM
['Sons of Anarchy' - 'Burnt and Purged Away']

Well, that had to happen.

The pace of the generally compelling hour was excellent and though there were developments in quite a few story threads, they all had room to breathe. It was executive producer Paris Barclay's last time in the director's chair this season, and you could tell that his steady hand was on the tiller.

Still, I'm betting all you want to talk about is what happened in the gripping closing seconds of the hour. I know I have a lot to say on the matter, in the post below and in this week's 'Sons of Anarchy' podcast (which you can find here and here).

So Opie shot Clay, and I'm betting we all thought the president of Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club had it coming.

I can't overpraise Ryan Hurst's work in this episode, which was a continuation of his fine performance last week (and all season). Opie is the poster child for the fallout from the club's activities -- he's a walking reminder that being a member of SAMCRO takes away as much as it gives, if not much more. What has happened to him reveals what's really at the core of the club. It's not about brotherhood and solidarity anymore (if it ever was): It's about greed, expediency and selfishness. The club was supposed to be a refuge from the hypocrisy and compromises of the straight world, but the Sons of Anarchy have hurt Opie and his family more than the Man ever could.

Hurst is wonderful at conveying Opie's pain in not only what he says, but also in how he carries himself. Wisely, the writers know not to give him too much dialogue, not because the actor can't handle it, but because Opie's presence speaks so eloquently and his eyes and face are so expressive. Hurst's performance made it clear that Opie's pain was about more than his old man: His father, his wife, his friendship with Jax are gone or hopelessly compromised. His family might be intact and relatively content had Jax not made sure Opie stayed in the club. He's a man with nothing left to lose, and killing Clay might not bring him peace, but it was hard not to feel that he deserved that moment of vengeance.

His former best friend Jax is certainly a different man this season, and that's been my favorite aspect of the overall story. The final scene -- which I'll talk about more below -- was certainly very important, but one of the most crucial moments was Jax telling Gemma to step off. So much of this show has depicted characters not telling the truth to each other out of what they think is love or loyalty or a desire to protect the club.

Jax has finally realized how much of that his hogwash. Sure, yes, there are times when its better to hold your counsel and keep your powder dry, but he's realized that the secrets and lies he's been drawn into have usually been about others trying to control him. In her mind, Gemma has been all about helping her son, but the truth is, she's a control freak, and the more Jax and Tara reject her machinations and secretiveness, the more it drives her nuts.

But that's what I like about Jax and Tara, and why their story still interests me: They don't want to be Gemma and Clay. Jax and Tara tell each other the truth, at least to the extent that doing so is sane and possible. They're trying to become what Gemma and Clay are not (and can never be): A couple that prizes clarity and truthfulness over repression and iron-fisted control. She may have shown up at exactly the wrong time, but Wendy did speak the truth: Children are ruined by lies. And Jax knows that extracting his own kids from that world is the only way to give them a real future. But he and Tara are keeping a few secrets of their own, and getting away from what the previous generation created will be even harder now.

Will they be successful? At the very least, they'll probably pay a heavy price for what they're attempting. There's no doubt Clay's lies and his attempts to control the people around him have backfired in a huge way, and that will ultimately blow back on Jax. Clay's arrogance has turned into a kind of disease: How can he think that the murder of a fellow club member's wife is "old business"? It's a credit to Ron Perlman's charisma, presence and skill that I'm still interested in what happens to Clay, even though, as Clay said those words to Opie, I hated the guy. How dare he be so cavalier with everyone else's lives, just so he can make enough money to walk away?

At that point, after all Clay has done to him, the only credible thing Opie could do is shoot Clay. It was a shocking moment but, as I said, it absolutely had to happen. And it's interesting to note that, just before Clay ate lead, a look of resignation and even regret passed over his face. Even he recognized that it was time for him to pay for all the things he'd done. It was as if he'd been expecting this to happen, and was almost relieved that the waiting was finally over.

So of course, the question is, is Clay actually dead? Will it be one of those situations where the bullets missed all the major organs and he pulls through and lives to plot another day? Given how much craziness the club has experienced, I wouldn't be surprised if he were wearing a bulletproof vest as he sat on the Iron Throne.

Regardless of whether he was sporting Kevlar, it's just like 'SOA' to double back and undo something we thought was done. I can't help but recall Juice's "suicide" and think that once again, maybe a club member's death isn't actually a death.

My two cents on the Clay situation: The best thing for the show would be for Clay to die and for Jax to be forced into taking the gavel and leading the club through the post-Clay chaos. In his mind, it'd be temporary, but what if the next few seasons found Jax trying hard not to turn into Clay Morrow -- or John Teller? That could be the stuff of high drama.

But my guess is, Clay will be alive and well (or alive and injured) next week, and I also think there's a strong possibility that he'll be alive at the end of the season, though I can't envision a scenario in which he's an active member of the club. Will 'SOA' find a credible way to keep both Jax and Clay in each other's lives? I don't know. That would be a very, very hard thing to pull off, and given how sketchy the machinations and justifications on this show can be at times, I'm really wondering whether 'SOA' will be able to create a believable season 4 endgame. I am very much hoping it does, of course.

As Ryan McGee and I discussed in this week's podcast, it's difficult but not impossible to envision a scenario in which Clay doesn't die, but lives on to pull strings from the sidelines (I jokingly suggested that Clay could be 'SOA's' version of 'Breaking Bad's' Tio Hector Salamanca). And as critic Alan Sepinwall pointed out in last week's 'Sons of Anarchy' podcast, it seems likely that the show will want to keep Gemma around, which would be much harder to do if Clay was dead. So while it was a big deal that Opie shot Clay, I don't necessarily think that the character is out of the picture, even if I personally think he probably should be. I think the immediate effect of the shooting will be to complicate Jax's efforts to get clear of the club.

But this hour did a good job of showing just how much important stuff will be going down in the next day or so: The mayor will try to push through his Charming Heights deal at the City Council meeting, and the Irish and the cartel -- both of whom prefer dealing with Clay -- are going to have their much-advertised summit. It was already going to be a busy, dangerous couple of days -- and now the club is imploding for real.

And as Jax helpfully mentioned (people are very specific about their plans on this show, aren't they?), he and Tara want to get out of Charming for good when those two days are up. Given that I don't see the show turning into a heartwarming dramedy about a former biker who opens a body shop in Oregon, I would estimate the chances of that happening are between slim and none.

Jax needed Clay alive and well to close those deals and to make the club transition happen smoothly, which is why he had to stop Opie. The Gemma situation was a little more jarring, though. I understand that for Gemma, Clay is her retirement plan -- if the cash from the Irish-cartel deals doesn't come through, then she's got no way of ensuring a financially prosperous future. But I have to admit, it was a bit odd to see both Jax and Gemma fighting so hard to keep Clay alive.

Don't get me wrong, I understand that Jax doesn't know that Clay put the hit on Tara, but we know that, and it felt a little odd to see him trying to save a man we know is evil (and who had threatened Tara very recently). As for Gemma, she knows about Clay's attempt on Tara's life, and I had to wonder why she was trying so hard to save Clay. Yes, intellectually I know that she wants to make sure she's financially secure before Clay dies, but given the bad blood between them, why not rely on Jax to close that deal? Still, I just went with the idea that, being Gemma, she wants Clay's death to be on her terms.

But Gemma and Clay haven't learned anything from their own history: Not a lot has happened on their terms, not even John Teller's death. Everything Gemam and Clay have done over the years has come back to haunt them, and nothing they've done has "worked" -- there's always been a hidden price to pay, and there's no escaping karma. If Jax has one advantage over his mother and stepfather, it's that he realizes that there's no way to truly settle these scores and control outcomes. The only way to stop the cycle of deception and payback is to simply walk away.

If only it were that easy. The tragedy of Jax and Tara may be that they know they don't want to be like Clay and Gemma, but they may be helpless to stop that from happening.

Clay's death certainly wouldn't fix any immediate problems; in fact, it'll make all of them worse in the short (and possibly long) term. On top of their cartel and Irish problems, Potter has built a very strong case against SAMCRO, one that may get even stronger if Bobby, as Otto did, decides that the sacrifices the club demands are just too much. I wonder how much loyalty Bobby has left, given what's gone down in recent weeks. Discovering that Clay murdered Piney might convince him to rat out the club (though there's no guarantee that Bobby will find out about that).

The incarcerated Juice and Bobby aren't the only ones in a world of pain. The best line of the night belonged to the grief-stricken, understandably furious Opie: "What table?"

Good question. What's left of the club now, and who will pick up the pieces?

Even if Jax wants to clean up Clay's mess, is that even possible anymore?

A few final notes:

* Ray McKinnon was terrific in the episode. Potter is exactly the kind of guy I'd expect to have some kind of weird inversion table in his office, and the fact that he was smoking while relaxing his back muscles was just hilarious. All in all, Potter's delight at seeing all his work come to fruition was enjoyable to watch, just as enjoyable as his palpable anxiety when he was waiting for Otto to sign those confessions.

* This week in Things That Weren't Credible to Me: Why oh why would Tara go home? Hasn't it become clear to her that when people know where she is and know her plans, it's very dangerous? Good for her that she packed up and left the hospital, but why go be a sitting duck at home? That just struck me as especially contrived; it was a very dumb thing that an otherwise intelligent character was forced to do because the plot required her to do it.

* That last kiss Gemma gave Clay -- I'm assuming it was the ultimate Gemma kiss-off and that she'll do everything to make sure Clay is dead once that cartel money is in her hands. Do you agree?

* I'm assuming Piney's death was never reported to any authorities. That makes sense for the moment, but I am assuming his Social Security checks (if he got them) will keep coming. Wonder if any bureaucrats will ever come sniffing around to see what happened to the old man.

* Both Maggie Siff and Charlie Hunnam were on fire in this episode. I loved it when they united to tell off Gemma. Damn straight: So far Gemma's "protection" hasn't given them much peace of mind. Any more "protection" from Gemma and Clay and everyone they know will be dead.

* This picture of Potter and Agent Grad cracks me up.

* Another Irish baby factory! Who knew the Irish Kings had such a thriving, intercontinental baby trade going. Clearly the rocket launchers are just a side business for them and adorable moppets are their main product. Next week on 'Sons of Anarchy': The Galindo cartel asks the club to transport a tractor trailer full of kittens!

* As I mentioned above, last week's 'SOA' podcast featured a visit from Alan Sepinwall; you can find that here.

* 'Sons of Anarchy's' first official soundtrack, which features tracks from all four seasons, comes out Tuesday; for details on the album, look here.

* Please don't refer to anything that happens in the previews for the next episode in comments. Thanks!

* I hope every person reading this has an enjoyable and safe Thanksgiving holiday. May your table be full of food and laughter and love. And no guns!

'Sons of Anarchy' airs 10PM ET Tuesdays on FX.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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whoops sorry, just read the thing about previews

November 28 2011 at 10:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Love the piece, but have to say that if you watch look closely when Opie shoots Clay, you see blood spattering on the wall behind him so that means even if he was wearing a vest, it didn't work. Also if you watch the promo for the next episode, you'll hear Tig claiming that it had to be Leroy that "gunned down" Clay and Unser is seen squatting by what appears to be a dead or dying Clay on the floor. All of these facts lean towards Clay being dead. The possibility that he survived still exists though and I wouldn't put it past the writers to make it so.

November 28 2011 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Love the piece, but have to say that if you watch look closely when Opie shoots Clay, you see blood spattering on the wall behind him so that means even if he was wearing a vest, it didn't work. Also if you watch the promo for the next episode, you'll hear Tig claiming that it had to be Leroy that "gunned down" Clay and Unser is seen squatting by what appears to be a dead or dying Clay on the floor. All of these facts lean towards Clay being dead. The possibility that he survived still exists though and I wouldn't put it past the writers to make it so.

November 28 2011 at 9:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maureen, this has to be the most complete prediction/discussion article about Sons of Anarchy I have ever had the privilege of reading. The way you gave us the rundown on everything was awesome, and to me the most important thing, as a reader, you did not bore me with ultra-repetitive thought, top notch article seriously.

November 28 2011 at 1:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Andre Howard

Brilliant piece you've written here. I like the way you describe Gemma's kiss to Clay. I thought more along the lines of trying to keep Clay a bit closer just to keep her hand steady on the wheel, given that she has serious control issues. Though I would miss Ron Perlman, I am in your boat as well with the story seeing him die and next season seeing Jax struggle not to become either one of his fathers. I also think Kim Coates scene where he pulled his patch and then again later turning his back on Clay when Clay asked him for help was really setting something up. I'm looking for him to really make an impact somewhere in the finale.

November 27 2011 at 7:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When Gemma kissed Clay It put me in mind of Godftaher II when Michael Corleone kissed Fredo at their mothers wake. And we know what happened to Fredo shortly thereafter!

November 25 2011 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

As I read over the place these past weeks, Unser is the one overly ripe.
Cant we get past utter,I mean unser? Talk about a seat filler, lets get on to juicier stories here.

November 23 2011 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jennifer Mcguire

i love soa n i think clay got what he deserved!! its been a long time comming i hope the bastard really is dead. i cant believe the seasons go so quickly i wish they would extened the seasons n make it so the show airs all year

November 23 2011 at 1:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jack Cross

The pivotal scene for me was Gemma kissing Clay goodbye, I don't see him surviving. I also think Gemma will get the letters next week to show Jax that Clay killed John, and this will force Jax to assume control and save Opie from any retribution.

The founding first nine are now all gone...(although Lenny might get out someday)
Dead - Kieth McGee (thrown from roof in Ireland), Piney (Shotgunned by Clay), Clay (Shot by Opie)
Prison - Lenny and Otto
Dead before the show started - John Teller, Wally Grazer, Uncle Tom Whitney, Chico Villenueva

With Booby and Juicy locked up, Opie having shot Clay, Jax will be under too much pressure from the Club to leave. The next two weeks should be fun.

November 23 2011 at 12:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Jack Cross's comment
miss juice

Juice isn't actually locked up though, he is in protective custody. As for Bobby I think Otto implicated him and he will go to jail. The rest of SAMCRO I'm not so sure. Lenny is in for life I thought on a murder rap, so I don't know if he would/could get out.

November 23 2011 at 12:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
breakoutstar IG

Otto isn't in the first 9, your thinking of Otto 'L'il Killer' Moran.

November 23 2011 at 1:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to breakoutstar IG's comment
Jack Cross

Your right, I screwed up Big Otto and Little Otto. Good Catch. So Otto should move from prison to dead before the show started...damn it.

November 23 2011 at 3:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

I didn't see last week's episode when Tara was kidnapped, so this question may be moot, but are we sure that Clay put the hit out on Tara and not Gemma? I think he has grown tired of Gemma and all her antics, silly woman, she controls NOTHING!

November 23 2011 at 12:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Priscilla's comment
miss juice

Clay took the hit out with Romeo from Gallindo.

November 23 2011 at 12:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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