My first thoughts:
There are times when you realize that you aren't just a fan of a TV show, but that a TV show has become a part of you. When one man's work huddled over a keyboard can affect you so much, you're shocked into stillness... except for the involuntary shaking deep down inside in that place you don't control. Sometimes it's the good moments that transcend the line between fantasy and reality, and others, like in tonight's episode of Sons of Anarchy, "Laying Pipe," it's the bad moments.
We're on year five of riding with the brothers of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original, and no man has deserved more respect or sympathy than Opie Winston. He died tonight. Died doing what he's always done, protecting his club members, friends, brothers.
FX had no problem heavily promoting the fact that someone would perish in tonight's episode, but even knowing that going in I thought fan-favorite Opie was untouchable. Foolishness! Opie was my favorite Sons of Anarchy—by far—and I have to admit that I'm not taking this very well at all. But in order to understand why and figure out whether it had to be done, we have to start at the top of this intensely stressful, depressing, and ultimately fantastic episode.
The decision to throw Jax, Opie, Tig, and Chibs in jail, where all the protection they had on the outside would be worthless, was a great call by series creator Kurt Sutter. Though safety is never guaranteed for SAMCRO, it had to be stripped away completely for this to work. Romeo stepped up with soldiers in jail to protect our guys, but there was no doubt that the protection wouldn't last forever and Pope's influence on everyone from the head guard to probably the cafeteria lady meant that he'd get his way eventually. And I also have to applaud the speed and pacing with which everything was executed. There was no sense in dragging it out, and the time limit forced Jax into a corner from which he could not escape. Pope told Jax that he had to choose who lived and who died, and with the demand that Tig rot in jail forever where he'd have to get used to putting his palms against a wall and spreading his legs while Pope's men took turns with him, it was between Chibs, Opie, and himself.
Jax understandably resisted until he could do so no more, and when the time came it was Jax who initially stepped up, simply because he couldn't stand to send one of his boys home in a bag. But Opie made the choice for Jax, being first to instigate the guard and being dragged off into an underground room where Pope's men would beat him to death while Jax, Tig, and Chibs watched through a pane of glass... so close to helping him out, yet unable to do anything but witness the savage beating and the finishing blow from a lead pipe that made the back of Opie's head erupt.
We may be asking ourselves why Opie did it. Why he stepped up. He has two children—same as Jax—and one more than both Chibs and Tig. The truth is Opie was done with the life and life. His father was murdered, revenge on Clay was tied up and doubtful, his first wife was killed, his second wife was a porn star and that relationship was broken at best, the MC had gone to shit with infighting and drug-running, and his best friend was becoming something he'd always feared. Even when Jax spilled his secrets to Opie in the box—which is exactly when I was sure Opie was going to die—it wasn't enough to appease the darkness that was spreading inside Opie. "You made the wrong choice," Opie said, understanding where Jax was coming from but not agreeing with it. The truth is, the good life had passed Opie by, and he didn't care to go on. Though he's remained calm on the outside, Opie has always been depressed since we've known him except for a few rare moments; the serenity of a ride, the joy of marriage. But he didn't blame Jax, or Clay, or SAMCRO, because that's just how things worked out for him. He didn't want anyone's sympathy and he didn't understand why all this happened to him. So when the time came for someone to make the tough decision, he made it. He sacrificed his life, a life that he didn't feel was going to get better, so that maybe Jax's could improve. He made the ultimate sacrifice for his best friend.
Fucking goddamn motherfucking goddamn shit fuck. I will miss you to death, Opie.
The sad thing is that Opie's death is turning Jax further into the man he didn't want him to become. An enraged Jax renegotiated the deal with Pope, working out a deal to get Tig out of jail so that he could have some more leverage to pass the vote to get Pope the $50,000 from SAMCRO's drug trade. But he also told Pope he could do whatever the fuck he wanted to with Tig when he was done, even "send him out the same way you did his kid, 'cause I really don't give a shit." It's hard to know if the words match his true feelings, but I think Jax essentially gave Tig up, perhaps because he feels Tig is responsible for Opie's death, perhaps because he's telling the truth: He simply doesn't give a shit anymore.
But one thing's for sure, and Pope laid it out plain and clear. "There you go. Finding the hidden advantage in an unfortunate circumstance. Using pain to take it to the next level. Those are the things that turn players into kings."
And it wasn't long until we saw Jax perched on top of a table and calling Tig over, Tig sitting subserviently below him. It was no mistake that those two were positioned that way; Jax is no longer playing the role of king as he was at the end of Season 4. He IS the king. Just like Pope, who's also willing to sacrifice his subjects, is king. I hate the term "game changer" because I think it's a word that gets abused by people who don't know any better, but this is that for Jax. Things will never be the same for him. Perhaps this is what he was always destined for, to follow the ruthless regal lead of Clay rather than his own father, who mirrored Opie more than Jax. Heavy lies the crown, Jax. And heavy lay our hearts.
– I'm not mad at Kurt Sutter, how can I be? This has always been his show, and we've known that were in for some real shit since this thing started. If you feel any anger toward Sutter, you're not watching the show right. Sutter did his job, and a fine one, too. We'll all miss Opie, but this is part of the story. Let Sutter prove to us that his death was worth it.
– Ryan Hurst, who plays Opie, has always been great, but I think the standout performance tonight was Charlie Hunnam's. Everything reflected back on Jax, and Hunnam captured the anger, disappointment, and frustration perfectly, echoing every sentiment that we were feeling.
– I believe "Lindelof Pines" was a shout-out to Sutter's pal Damon Lindelof. Don't worry, if I ever get my show, I'll throw in shout-outs to all of you, too.
– We all knew the Gemma-Tara fight was coming, but right now it's just a grudge match and a battle of wills. Things are going to get worse before they get better, and the situation needs some meat, something really bad to happen, to keep pace with the rest of the show.
– Ashley Tisdale actually wasn't bad! This is a great role for her to shed her current image.
– I'll admit, I was on Clay's side when he went into the brothel and Gemma came to find him and got in a fight with that whore. Clay's laugh was priceless. Yeah, he's still a huge dick, but just for a second, I had his back.
– Do old people really give each other hickeys?
– Juice was back to his old self, providing all kinds of laughs tonight.
– Kurt Sutter is holding a conference call tomorrow to talk about the episode and defend his decision, but I can't make it because I'll be talking with J.H. Wyman from Fringe. Talk about poor timing.
– Let's give Adam Arkin, who played Ethan Zobelle in Season 2, a round of applause for fantastic directing in the episode. He did a fantastic job.
– I don't think I've felt this much sadness over a character's death since [LOST SPOILER] Charlie died in the Season 3 finale of Lost. And that's saying A LOT. I may or may not have cried.
– "It just ain't fun anymore. Chasing cash we don't need and spending every dime to stay alive." I really can't wait to see Ryan Hurst in more things. He's impossible not to like. A round of applause to Hurst for a fantastic run, and here's hoping his career lasts a long, long time.
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom