Last night's Sons of Anarchy, "To Be, Part One," was all about letting dozens of cats out of the dozens of bags that various members of SAMCRO had been stuffing them into. It may have been light on action (save for one unexpected bike-and-car chase), but if you're a fan of Jax following in his father's footsteps (as we've been teased with since the pilot episode), the episode did not disappoint.
Things started off right where the events of last week left off, with Clay bleeding in a chair. Opie might want to play a little more Big Buck Hunter before he goes on another murderous rampage with a target that's only four feet away from him; the son of Piney merely incapacitated Clay with two critically wounding shots, sending television's number-one villain who isn't sitting on the Iron Throne to the hospital instead of to the morgue. But it was just as well, because Opie could never be the one to off Clay. Jax, who's a much better shot than his furry best friend, did his best impression of the white-hat-wearing hero of Rustler's Rhapsody and shot Opie in the hand. Clay said to blame it on "blacks," Wayne cleaned up the scene, and the truth-exposing we've all been waiting for began with a bunch of lies and blood.
I've always said (and many of you have agreed) that Jax has to be the one to put Clay in a box—or at least to close his tenure as president of SAMCRO. Gemma is played puppet master, pulling strings to set him on that course. It's an understatement to say Jax has a quadruple-Thanksgiving-sized meal on his plate and only one more episode to polish it off. He's got to settle things with Clay, make sure a huge gun deal goes down between the Irish and the cartel, and get out of the club to protect his family. And he doesn't even know what the Niners are about to do, or what the feds have in store. Somehow, when Sons of Anarchy started wrapping things up, things got even more complicated. But the Jax of SAMCRO Present isn't the Jax of SAMCRO Past, and he's going to get things done. Why? Because certain situations have progressed so far that secrets can no longer stay buried and Jax is finally no longer in the dark. The secrets are out, and Jax is ready to wear the crown. Or is he?
The highlight of the episode for me came when Gemma sat Jax down and just unloaded the truth on him. It was a coronation of sorts, Gemma laying out the plan to take down the club's current king and leave the throne vacant for Jax's shapely buttocks (amirite ladies!?). As Gemma told Jax about Clay murdering his father and setting up the hit on Tara, Jax surprisingly didn't blow his top. Charlie Hunnam wonderfully underplayed the reaction, whether it was due to shock from the info dump or something else, and Jax thought things out in a striking display of maturity while letting the truth sink in. Gemma's insistence that Jax man up was almost a longer, less lame version of the "With great power comes great responsibility" speech from Spider-Man, where Peter Parker realizes his destiny. I half-expected a John Williams score to swell up with a hero's theme as Gemma told Jax that he has to kill Clay. "It's in you, it's who you are. Clay has to die... and when it's done, you take your place at the head of the table. Where a Teller belongs. Where you belong." I can't tell you how long I've waited to hear that conversation, and it did not disappoint.
But that conversation wasn't all for Jax's benefit. Gemma wasn't just steering Jax in the direction of step-patricide for the good of the club. Gemma, master manipulator, was looking out for herself and her own interests. She's been equal parts victim and villain this season, using what she knows to her advantage. Gemma expects Jax to kill Clay and take over the club, cementing her security as club matriarch for years, as she just so happened to leave out the secret of her involvement in JT's murder. But there's just one teeny-tiny problem: Tara. Tara ain't no spring chicken. She read the letters and she knows the truth, and if Jax actually considers staying in Charming and heading up SAMCRO, Tara can use that damning evidence against Gemma at any time (if she can get her hands on the letters for proof). It's the classic girlfriend-mother tug-of-war, except with a touch more murder and motor oil. It's no longer just about Jax taking over Clay's spot, it's also about Tara taking over for Gemma. If I were in prediction mode, I might say that Season 5 will be a lot of Tara vs. Gemma. Good stuff.
The Bonehead of the Week Award goes to Tig, who, struck with grief over not being with his friend Clay when he was shot, recklessly decided to run over the leader of the Niners. First: Tig! What the F!? Cooler heads needed to prevail in this situation! First, the Niners weren't even the ones who shot Clay. Second, just because the cover-up story is "blacks did it" doesn't mean it's the Niners, you simple-minded fool. Third, weren't you just supremely pissed off at Clay? Take the issue to the club, that's the protocol. If there's one thing Sons of Anarchy unfortunately falls back on too often to propel story forward, it's the repeated use of anger making people do dumb things. I'm very disappointed in Tig. For shame! The question now is whether the Niner story will finish out next episode, or whether it be used as the spark to ignite Season 5's flames.
There's one big question I have, and you all are going to have to help me clear some stuff up. The gun deal between the Irish and the Golindos is threatened by the presence of the feds. Jax knows this because he talked to Lemmy in prison, and Lemmy told Jax that Otto turned. So why did Romeo lie to Jax about Otto not turning his club in? Does he want the deal to go through so badly that he's willing to risk it by telling Jax what he wants to hear? Or does he have bigger plans now that Clay is out of the picture? Will he kill everyone involved in the deal and laugh all the way back to Mexico, RPGs and .50-cals under his arms? It's these little details that often have big repercussions, and I fully expect something big to come out of it next week.
However, the real "big question" for Season 4 is right there in the episode title: "To be." Even if you weren't an English major you know the second half of that line is "...or not to be," a clear reference to Jax's decision to be the man his destiny says he has to be, or to walk away from fate and be the man he's not meant to be. Given that Sons of Anarchy is coming back for another season, I'd say Jax will become that man one way or another, at least for another 13 episodes. "To Be, Part One" was a fantastic set-up for the final hour of this amazing season.
– This was originally supposed to be a 90-minute finale, but Kurt Sutter broke it into two parts, and it showed. However, the result was incredibly effective. Things were drawn out in a way that built tension instead of making them boring. Everything felt still, like the calm before the storm.
– No Bobby, no Juice, and barely any Opie. One has to believe they'll have some big parts in the next episode. It was okay they weren't around this week, though. The Jax-Gemma-Tara-Clay stuff deserved the spotlight.
– Happy: "He's got to die, like a lot."
– Will Jax kill Clay with the blood thinner Tara gave him? Will he do it another way? Shouldn't Clay die by being set on fire and shot out of a cannon toward a vat of acid while shotgun-armed SAMCRO members use him as a clay pigeon? That's how I think he should go out.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom