Highlighting character-driven sequences that escalate in tension as they progress toward violent conclusions, “Poor Little Lambs” is a reminder of why Sons of Anarchy was so potent in the first place. Directed by Guy Ferland, it’s a nasty and sleek episode that plays off the striking tonal juxtaposition between calm and chaos.
Much of the episode’s success can be attributed to the sharp script co-written by Kem Nunn and series creator Kurt Sutter. The dialogue stings with subtext. In the opening scene, Jax (Charlie Hunnam) sits down with Arian Brotherhood boss Tully (Marilyn Manson) inside a penitentiary holding cell, and they arrange a drug deal by speaking in code, as if they were trying to impersonate the protagonists of a Michael Mann procedural. Seconds later, their cryptic language is revealed to be unnecessary: Tully had already paid off a guard to unplug the video cameras. When Jax asks the creepy white supremacist why they would go through all the hassle, Tully smiles and infers that he misses the adrenaline rush. This strange exchange reveals an important motif that extends to Jax’s recent vengeance parade as well. Eventually, the enjoyment of inflicting pain and causing havoc overwhelms whatever rationale drove one to do so in the first place.
SAMCRO’s ambitious attempt to dismantle the criminal operations of both August Marks (Billy Brown) and Henry Lin (Kenneth Choi) finally goes south in “Poor Little Lambs.” The tide begins to shift when Tig (Kim Coates) takes a shotgun blast to the side after Jax and his gang track down the wife of a sordid pastor in bed with Marks’s operation. The drug deal hatched by Tully and Jax turns unexpectedly horrific when two Charming P.D. officers are shredded in the crossfire. This sets in motion a string of costly ambushes that reveals SAMCRO’s increasing vulnerablity to the kind of betrayals they’ve been inflicting all season.
Gemma (Katey Sagal) senses an ominous reckoning early on when she again finds herself talking to the long-dead Tara (Maggie Siff) as if her daughter-in-law were alive and well. It’s obviously a manifestation of her deep-seated guilt over the murder, but Sutter also uses this device to comment on the increasing anger brewing inside Abel (Evan Londo). Speaking of Jax’s lobotomized-looking son, she confesses, “He is his daddy’s son. He knows his tribe.”
If Gemma seems at peace with her grandchild’s inevitable foray into the family business, she continues to take risks in order to save Juice (Theo Rossi) from a shallow grave. After the police put out a statewide APB out on the exiled gun-hand, plans are made to get him out of town. Still, if the tail-end of “Poor Little Lambs” represents a collective foreshadowing of the mass backstabbing to come, Gemma and Juice’s tenuous bond could be shattered by the muffled pop of a silencer.
A problematic undercurrent in Sons of Anarchy, one that often flies under the radar, is SAMCRO’s inbred racism, which is often expressed in passing and never really addressed. In “Poor Little Lambs,” the most egresgious offense comes when Gemma hounds Sheriff Althea Jarry (Annabeth Gish) for having a “black name.” Interestingly, Sutter attempts to highlight progressive fringe characters like Venus (the fantastic Walton Goggins), a transgender prostitute with a Southern drawl whose glorious return proves that the series is still fascinated by complex characters from underrepresented groups.
As it progresses, “Poor Little Lambs” masterfully builds tension out of character interaction. The moments between Tig and Venus are surprisingly resonant and romantic, even though Jax and the gang ridicule their shared intimacy. On the flipside, Althea’s ironic assessment of her new post feels poached from a classic western: “Charming: Our name says it all.” Her proclomation to Wayne (Dayton Callie) while surveying the bodies of her fallen officers is a direct indictment of SAMCRO’s impact on the community at large.
The episode ends with Diosa, the high-end brothel owned by Nero (Jimmy Smits), being turned into a human slaughterhouse by Lin’s henchmen, who spray the decadent palace with machine gun fire leaving Jax and his band of not-so merry men stunned by the aftermath. Sons of Anarchy has always been more interesting when SAMCRO is forced to go on the defensive, protecting its own with strong resolve. But “Poor Little Lambs” suggests that they were under the knife all along, blinded by their own omniscience and arrogance.
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