Known for its extreme violence and savage double-crosses, Sons of Anarchy ended its sixth season with a legendary merging of the two motifs: Momma OG Gemma (Katey Sagal) plunging a grilling fork deep into the skull of her daughter-in-law, Tara (Maggie Siff), after mistakenly thinking she was about to turn state’s evidence on SAMCRO, the corrupt motorcycle club that bares the show’s name. Senseless acts of brutality are a common thread in this drama of Shakespearean proportions, and Tara’s heinous death bluntly exposed how misinformation and blind loyalty make for a poisonous cocktail that invariably leads to revenge.
In this sense, Sons of Anarchy’s seventh and final season will be a reckoning for the countless sins of its lead character and Hamlet stand-in, Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam). Having been found by police holding Tara’s mangled body in the final moments of last year’s finale, Jax begins “Black Widower” in jail already exploding with rage. During the episode’s opening shots, he tortures a fellow inmate simply to get a sit-down with the local chieftain (Marilyn Manson) of the Aryan Brotherhood. Acts of violence are often a means to an end for this young man, and it won’t be the last time in the season premiere that he uses sharp objects to inflict slow merciless pain on a victim. Scarily, it seems like he’s finding his true passion.
The investigation into Tara’s death by tenacious D.A. Tyne Patterson (CCH Pounder) has hit a brick wall, forcing her to release Jax to his family and friends back in the fictional town of Charming, CA. She does, however, make one attempt to guide him in the right direction, by warning him about the cyclical nature of vengeance. It’s sage advice that Jax disregards immediately. Returning to the hallowed confines of the SAMCRO’s clubhouse, he starts plotting revenge on the individuals responsible for his wife’s death. Gemma, herself a master chess player when in comes to deception, is already five steps ahead of her son, planning to place the blame for Tara’s death on an unsuspecting mark from another gang.
Complicating Jax’s return even further is the simmering rivalry between Oakland and Stockton’s rival gangs, each a swarming hornet’s nest of men with hair triggers. Chinese and Latino factions are disgruntled over SAMCRO’s decision to pipeline the I.R.A. gun trade through a network controlled by ruthless and efficient gangster August Marks (Billy Brown), leaving Jax caught in the middle of a precarious situation. Herein lies the central question of “Black Widower” and probably most of the forthcoming season: Can balance ever be restored to a toxic environment fueled by manipulation and violence? From the early goings of season seven, the answer is a resounding “no.” This might be a bloodbath for the ages.
All of the swelling tension between SAMCRO and its many enemies allows for “Black Widower” to take on a more resonant and less sensational feel than some of Sons of Anarchy’s other season openers. Subtext-riddled moments abound, and they’re far more telling and important than any graphic kill shot. Take, for instance, Gemma’s stout confession of pragmatic regret to her exiled accomplice, Juice (Theo Rossi). “I made choices based on the truth I had,” she says, highlighting a key theme in the series up to this point. Nobody ever plays with a full deck in Sons of Anarchy, yet that doesn’t stop these violent characters from making life-altering decisions despite knowing the consequences will be doubly bad.
A key player in the episode, and the series as a whole, is Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie), the former police chief of Charming who once again starts to question his allegiance to SAMCRO at the cost of justice. The issue of loyalty is especially important considering Wayne’s affection for Tara, a woman who came to represent life beyond the criminal world. One imagines that once Wayne finds out the truth about her death, his conflicted relationship with Gemma will reach critical mass.
Director Paris Barclay bookends “Black Widower” with another torture scene, with Jax dispatching the man he thinks killed Tara, and in the very kitchen where she met her end. It’s intercut with yet another montage (a Sons of Anarchy staple) scored to a trailer-trash version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Gemma’s long con has seemingly worked for now, but the rising turmoil in other areas of SAMCRO’s universe will eventually scrape off the scab that her lies constructed to protect Jax and his two young sons. When that cataclysmic revelation finally occurs, no one will be safe from the inevitable blowback. Hell hath no fury like a Teller scorned.
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