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Sons of Anarchy recap: ‘Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em’ revs up the chaos

Juice (Theo Rossi)
Juice may have finally run out of room to run in “Smoke Em If You Got Em.”

I have to say, my favorite part of “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” was when the Sons teamed up with the Grim Basterds to murder a bunch of black gang members, use their bodies for leverage against the Aryan Brotherhood, and then use those same bodies as a threat against August Marks, all while they arranged a divide of heroin turf involving a Mexican biker gang.

Confused yet? Cool, we’ll get along.

For the last few weeks, “Sons of Anarchy” has been a good television show again, but that by no means erased the flaws that seem to be written into the series’ DNA. After two weeks of engaging and focused chaos that seemed centered on the Jax-Triad war, the show fell victim to the worst of its habits, trying to advance storylines involving the Sons’ business with the Mayans, the One-Niners, the Aryan Brotherhood, the East-Dub Crew, August Marks and possibly the Jets and the Sharks as well.

Simply put, there are too many gangs in Charming, and Jax’s struggle to manipulate a mixture of characters we care about (Alvarez), characters we don’t (whoever happens to be leading the Niners/E-Dub etc.), and Marilyn Manson each week, well it can get a little tedious. And when you think about the far more interesting plot lines the show could be pursuing (Where is Jury?), well it’s a little infuriating as well.

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There’s nothing specifically terrible about Jax’s interactions with Leland, or T.O., or any of the show’s other B-list players.  There’s just nothing terribly interesting about it either. Jax goes through his usual list of maneuvers (lie, intimidate, barter) and by the episode’s end, the right people have been placated, scared or killed.

“Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” may have done little for me as a standalone episode, but it does manage to mark some important developments in the Juice and Gemma sagas, which should hopefully boil over soon and put the show on course for what’s going to be a frantic and bloody conclusion.

“Juice’s Song” remains my favorite storyline of this final season, and there’s a terrible irony in all the brotherly horse manure between Alvarez and Jax as they use Juice’s life as a bargaining chip. Jax has long labeled Juice a traitor, while Alvarez chest thumps in telling the Sons he would have never made a deal with a rat. Yet, of all the men in the room, Juice is actually the one who is continually loyal, and continually punished for it.

After his brief stint as a police informant in Season 4 (which was more the result of really bad writing than anything else), Juice has met Jax with an almost slavish devotion. He does his dirty work and will do anything to prove himself to the club. He only “betrays” Jax by telling Nero about Darveny’s death after being crushed by the weight of murdering an innocent woman at Jax’s behest. He protected Gemma for as long as she protected him, and nearly took a bullet in the back for that same loyalty.

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And now, poor, dead-eyed Theo Rossi is Jax’s prisoner. We’ve seen what the club does to expats in the past (for those who remember a particularly horrific Season 1 scene, Juice will likely be asked “fire or knife?” at some point soon), so Gemma is likely right to be terrified.  I don’t know if the show is ready to pull the trigger on the truth about Tara’s death just yet (there are a full seven episodes remaining in the season) but the tension level will likely shoot through the roof if Jax has Juice chained to a chair while Gemma is racing to stop the interrogation.

But, again, that’s the problem with “Smoke Em…” it’s an episode that’s only passable because it made me excited about the next episode. Let’s just hope next week’s offering doesn’t do the same.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news ... in Charming, and reality.


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