Sons of Anarchy "Toad's Wild Ride" Review: Descent/Ascent Into Addiction

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Sons of Anarchy S05E07: "Toad's Wild Ride"

After watching tonight's Sons of Anarchy, I have decided to lock up my imaginary kids in a bulletproof box and never, ever let them see their grandmother. "Toad's Wild Ride" continued Gemma's freefall into a dark pit of ridiculous behavior, with each episode this season crashing her through the floor to find a formerly undiscovered low. Sons of Anarchy has always been a soap opera, but prior to Season 5 the series operated under the guise of a legitimate drama whose name didn't come up often enough during Emmy time. Now, in Season 5, the series has become a chain of events designed to make us crap our pants, and Gemma has become the sacrificial lamb to jumpstart all the madness. Completely insane is one way to describe it, but addictive is another because this season—while not the show's finest—has been damn entertaining.

The one taking the most heat for all the ridiculousness is Gemma (Katey Sagal, rolling with the punches and dyeing her hair like a Jersey Shore girl), and deservedly so. She's at the center of a lot of SAMCRO's messes because of her whoring and drinking ways and has become almost unrecognizable from the ass-kicking grandma we knew from the old days. I love the fact that Kurt Sutter chose Gemma to be on the eternal bender, because she's the atypical choice: the old lady of the group. But holy shit, girl, get a grip! Your antics are becoming unbearable. If Gemma were my mother, I would handcuff her to a radiator to keep her in line.

The final minute of every Sons of Anarchy episode is a guaranteed doozy, but the conclusion of "Toad's Wild Ride" was a doozy-woozy! There was Gemma, trusted by Tara to take care of the kids after Jax's grumbling convinced her it would be okay, steering her SUV toward home with Jax's kids in the car on a dark and windy road UH-OH. And from the first moment we saw her SUV wobble, we knew the scene wasn't going to end with the three of them singing "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." I don't know if she was stoned, drunk, hopped up on goofballs, or all of the above, but cheezus cripes woman! You had one job to do that night and it was to not kill one or both of those kids. But apparently you couldn’t keep your lips off the bottle/bong for 20 minutes.

As her SUV swerved and tumbled off the road into a ditch (is Gemma the new Lori from The Walking Dead?), we feared the worst—no more trips to buy diapers for Jax—and it looked like we got halfway there. It was hard to tell, but Little Abel Teller became a kid-kebab, skewered by a tree branch and artistically bleeding all over his stuffed animal for maximum spirit-crushing effect, just in case we weren't already screaming our heads off. Sons of Anarchy is usually pretty transparent with its deaths, so the fact that we're not sure whether he's the show's youngest fatality is a good sign that he'll pull through and live for Tig to push him around on the swings once again.

Bringing grievous injury to a child was another right cross thrown by Sutter as he beat us into wondering what he'll do next and how far he'll go. More than ever, Sons of Anarchy is feeling the need to top itself or at least make sure we're not napping. And if that means we're part of something that's even less believable than before (and before wasn't exactly typical American living), then so be it. Sons of Anarchy is at its all-time high with regard to its addictiveness quotient because the show has gotten really comfortable being so balls-to-the-wall crazy. This type of strategy doesn't work with all shows, but in this universe of bikers and gangs and prostitutes, it fits nicely.

The series is also making good use of simpler storylines this season with Clay's busted home-invasion scheme at the center. Like I said last week, it appears Sutter learned that trying too hard to fool the audience into shock and surprise can backfire, and this season things are more up-front and the thrills are more out in the open. Even though Clay's involvement in the break-ins was merely hidden with fake glasses and a mustache and recognizable from a mile way, that didn't take away from the enjoyment of the storyline, and tonight we saw what happened when things blew up in his face.

This Clay is just as scary as the old Clay, but not because of his conniving behind-the-scenes behavior. This Clay is just as scary as the old Clay because the guy will literally do anything and kill anything for the possibility of holding the SAMCRO gavel in his hands again, even turn on his own buds. Someone please turn him in to the Better Business Bureau! I really did believe he was going to watch Unser take a bullet to the belly from the Nomads, especially when he said to Unser, (paraphrasing) "It's been great, but..." Instead, he orchestrated a risky murder set-up and ordered Greg and GoGo to run into Unser's trailer, guns-a-blazin', because what could go wrong when strangers wearing masks and brandishing guns run into a confined place containing other strangers with guns? (If the straightjacket fits...) I wouldn't be surprised if Clay hadn't even decided which side he was going to take until Unser shot first—Clay was going to win no matter how the shootout panned out—but the fact that he told Greg that he would make sure Unser wasn't armed, only to later make sure the gun Unser was holding was loaded, kind of put a damper on that. Either way, it was a crazy f'ing plan and now two of the three Nomads are dead and Unser's suspicions haven't diminished one bit. So... partial victory for Clay?

In this week's "What was the point of that?" portion of Sons of Anarchy (Carla's suicide being last week's), Joel McHale wrapped up his two-episode cameo (it's been reported that it's only two episodes long, so unless someone is lying, his character won't be returning) as a con man who took Gemma for a ride and then another ride, if you know what I'm sayin'. I love McHale, but his appearance on the show was a total aside and one more rung on the ladder Gemma is steadily climbing down. He banged Gemma, stole her car, and then got beat up, and that was it. At least we got a good banana vodka joke out of it. What I found hilarious was that Gemma woke up naked next to Joel McHale and went into the bathroom and cried. Most women I know would high-five themselves 'til they got blisters if they woke up in the same situation. Let's just all agree that this was McHale and his buddy Sutter just having some fun because they could. Was the arc important to the overall story? Not really. Was it entertaining? Somewhat.

It wouldn't have been an episode of Sons of Anarchy without one more big question raised, and this time we were left wondering who tried to turn Jax and Chibs into Swiss cheese through a hail of gunfire in the closing moments. Luckily Jax was able to show the gunman how it's done and by shooting him dead, and when he was unmasked it was... a black guy! Obviously we're supposed to believe he was one of Pope's men so it obviously he isn't one of Pope's men, right? Or at least not one of Pope's men under Pope's orders. Here's a theory that has worked out for me more than once: CLAY. The man isn't afraid to put a hit out on his family. But if it wasn't Clay, then I have no idea. Pope has no reason to want Jax dead now that they're business partners.

I wouldn't be surprised if you told me that Sons of Anarchy's fifth season is dividing its audience. Some might see the series' transformation into a violent soap opera with shorter side stories as a move made just for shock value. But that's made it a simpler viewing experience by ditching the overreaching complexity of past seasons. All I know is that I look forward to every episode, so the show must be doing something right. Now if only Gemma would stop being such an idiot...



NOTES

– Is Clay really so confident that Juice won't talk that he'd bring him so close to all his crazy plans? Juice is already showing cracks. Is Clay that careless?

– I should have known tragedy for the kids was coming as soon as I saw all the club members adorably playing with them. Filthy Phil playing Monster was especially great to see.

– The Tara-Otto story is moving sloooooooooooow. I'm not even sure what's happening with it.

– How long do we give Frankie Diamonds now that he's the last Nomad on the run? Will Clay get to him first, or will Jax?

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