'Sons of Anarchy' review: Two deaths, a resignation, a face from the past, and another great episode?

I thought Sons of Anarchy might back away from the stakes it raised with last week’s harrowing episode “Hands.” Silly me: This week’s “Call of Duty” was 90 minutes of SOA stake-raising, hell-raising, hand-raising, and child-raising. Let me explain.

SPOILER ALERT: DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THIS WEEK’S SONS OF ANARCHY.

“It’s about my sons,” said Jax to Gemma, explaining why he was leaving. “It always is,” said the battered Gemma, as Katey Sagal filled that line with more portent than its words. She meant not only to agree with Jax about taking his sons (and Tara) to safety, but was reminding us of the curse she laid upon Clay last week — that her son Jax will be the one to give her the revenge against Clay that she now so ferociously desires.

This theme of sons — losing them, trying to hang on to them– was woven throughout the hour. Early on, we were as happy to see one familiar face that Tara was not happy to see: Drea De Matteo returning as Wendy Case, mother of Abel and, as Gemma likes to call her, “the junkie whore.” Except that Wendy’s now clean and sober, and you know how self-righteous the newly c&s can be: She wanted visitation rights with her son, visiting Tara in the hospital to place her request/demand. Tara reacted by sending her away and smashing her damaged hand all over again. (To the psych ward with Tara; I’m not sure that hospital in Oregon is really going to wait that long to keep their job offer open to her.)

Muttering that “the cartel has turned into one bloody ride,” Clay (and does anyone mutter on television more eloquently than Ron Perlman?) finally admitted to his SAMCRO minions that they had to get out of the drug business… shortly before engaging in a shoot-out with the Mexicans that made The Wild Bunch look like pikers (or Pikers, if you’re a true fan of the Peckinpah movie). In the course of this battle, Kenny Johnson returned from Prime Suspect just long enough to donate some fire-power as Kozik and get blown up, with what I think was his arm landing in Juice’s lap. (Also killed, or presumed dead in the trunk of a bullet-riddled car: Tom Arnold’s Georgie.) While SOA can’t stage a battle scene with the balletic finesse of Peckinpah, the show made up for visual adroitness with the sheer kinetic splendor of Jax zapping his enemies with a rocket launcher.

(A pause here to acknowledge the excellence of the scenes between Ray McKinnon and SOA creator Kurt Sutter as Lincoln Potter and Otto, respectively. Their quietly intense negociations, with Otto making a list of demands that included both an earlier execution date and some special treatment for a man he’s come to love in the prison, were superbly filmed for maximum intensity.)

As Jax put it to Opie, “Crazy s—, man, it’s all coming to a head.” The head of the family, that is. Clay, it’s time to heed the warning of Tig, who resigned in frustration this week: The SAMCRO leader needs to come out of his little fiber-board office and face reality. With Gemma, Jax, and even Unser manning up to issue a death threat, Clay is beleaguered in a way he’s never been before, on some levels he’s not yet even fully aware of. We are, though.

Did you watch Sons of Anarchy this week?

Twitter: @kentucker

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