Those white tennis shoes. Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) has worn his trademark ivory sneakers throughout Sons of Anarchy. Those pearly kicks have been privy to many a bad deed, and sometimes they’ve gotten splattered in blood for good measure, looking like some minimalist Jackson Pollock painting. The guy must have a whole closet full of them on standby. “Red Rose” opens on the SAMCRO president lacing up his shoes, a quiet warning that his pristine foot canvases will once again be tainted by the carnage to come.
Jax spends much of “Red Rose” trying to mend the bursted gangland seem that he was entirely responsible for opening. He sits down with Nero (Jimmy Smits), Marcus (Emilio Rivera), and Tyler (Mo McRae) to divide up the territory once owned and operated by the now deceased Henry Lin (Kenneth Choi) and incarcerated August Marks (Billy Brown). With so many players in the game, a hiccup is inevitable, and that’s exactly what happens when Jax tries to bring his newly minted “black and brown” alliance to the IRA’s representative, Connor Malone (Scott Anderson), the man responsible for fueling Charming, Oakland, and Stockton with guns. The Irish outrage is just a poisoned portion of the complicated pie that’s being divvied up by Jax and SAMCRO. Tyler fears that the outliers still loyal to Lin will recruit Triad members from down south, sending even more uncertainty into this mangy transitional strategy.
Similar power plays are going on behind bars. After finally revealing the truth about Gemma (Katey Sagal) to Jax, Juice (Theo Rossi) knows his fate is set in stone. When cornered by Ryu (Ron Yuan) and the other thugs still loyal to Lin, he thinks the end has arrived. Instead, Ryu tries to use Juice as a weapon to kill Tully (Marilyn Manson), the Aryan Brotherhood leader responsible for helping kill Lin.
The way this seemingly straightforward thread evolves over the course of just a few quick sequences proves why series creator Kurt Sutter and his writing staff are so good at tweaking narrative expectations to profound affect. Having been abused both sexually and mentally by all parties, Juice turns the tables on Lin’s goons and asks Tully to kill him instead, one last misguided act of loyalty to Jax. There, in a crowded mess hall full of rioting thugs, the exiled SAMCRO member gets his throat punctured by a shiv and finally finds peace. Watching Juice die is rough, but it’s also somewhat of a relief when you consider how long he’s been tormented by guilt and doubt. The other two major demises in “Red Rose” are far tougher to stomach, mostly because director Paris Barclay doesn’t rush things.
Gemma makes her way up to Oregon to visit her Alzheimer’s-riddled father (Hal Holbrook) in a nursing home for one last dash down memory lane. Along the way, she casually meets a trucker named Milo (Michael Chiklis) and shares a strangely serene and melancholic conversation that covers everything from blow jobs to mortality. Meanwhile, Jax stews about Gemma’s whereabouts and clues Wayne (Dayton Callie) in on her guilt. The aged sheriff’s reaction is striking, a level of disappointment that knows no bounds. Afterward, Jax calmly sits down with the other club president’s and confesses to murdering Jury, striking an under-the-table deal with them in order to confirm the mayhem vote against him.
Wendy (Drea de Matteo), always an unknowing lynchpin in the show’s deceitful nastiness, informs both Jax and Nero separately of Gemma’s whereabouts after being contacted by administrators from the nursing home asking to confirm her identity. Afraid of confronting Jax and screwing up SAMCRO’s plan to reunite the different gangs, Nero asks Wayne to drive north in his stead and bring Gemma in. As both Jax and Wayne race to Oregon for very different reasons, “Red Rose” takes on a quietly nefarious tone.
Wayne gets to Gemma’s childhood home first, finding his friend knee-deep in old pictures. Having just conversed with her father, the nostalgia is running deep for the SAMCRO matriarch. Wayne’s attempts to evacuate Gemma before Jax arrives ultimately fail, leading to a triangular standoff that reveals Wayne’s desperate and pathetic heroism. Jax gives him a chance to leave, and when Wayne refuses, shoots him in cold blood.
What follows is a most disturbingly peaceful murder sequence. Jax and Gemma share brief words, then she asks to be let out into the garden. Under the moonlight and flanked by dozens of white roses, Gemma looks off into the distance and walks Jax through her own assassination. “You have to do this. It’s who we are, sweetheart.” Seconds later, the roses, like Jax’s shoes, are painted crimson. Losing Gemma was expected, but Wayne’s death can only be described as a gut punch, one that will be hard to grapple with for some time.
Jax returns home, takes off his shoes, and proceeds to fuck Wendy into submission. She’s unaware of his actions, once again a pawn in someone else’s Shakespearean tragedy. Chibs leads a hit squad against the final pockets of Lin supporters, freeing Tyler and his crew up to take control of Oakland. Despite his tears shed over Gemma’s death, Jax seems strangely at peace with his own impending demise at the hands of his brothers in arms. Does he have one more double cross up his sleeve? It might not matter, since all the heart and soul of Sons of Anarchy has been wiped out in one fell swoop.
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