There will be plot spoilers in this review/recap to those of you who haven't seen the episode. You have been warned.
I have been a huge fan of this show since it first started, and I've always considered the writing to be one of the strengths of the show, but last night I felt like something was missing from the season premiere. We start the season finding Jax in a heap on the floor of Abel's nursery and the rest of the main SAMCRO members coming to drag him out of his funk. While I certainly understand how that could be a valid reaction to the events of last season's finale, Jax Teller has always been a thinker and a planner, I don't see his character as the type who would just sit around and not try to find his son. A big deal was made of his reaction throughout the episode, with both Piney and Clay trying to talk to Jax about his lack of fire into finding his son, either dead or alive, and that at least shows that the writers are aware that this is out-of-character for Jax as well as for the MC in general. Hopefully there is some incentive to be found in the ending moments of the show (which I will discuss later) that can get Jax moving more and moping less.
One of the other plot points related to Jax's funk was the relationship he has with Tara. Jax clearly is not thinking properly and is very distraught because he starts to push Tara away in this episode, telling her that she never should have stayed in Charming after they killed Kohn and she should go back to Chicago. Tara handles this very well throughout the episode actually, and tells him that she never should have left Charming in the first place because she belongs there with him, and overall seems much stronger than she seemed in the first season of the show and is starting to remind me a lot of Gemma. Even Clay recognizes that Tara's involvement with Jax and the club has been vital, much to Tara's surprise. Perhaps in Gemma's absence, Tara will be serving the role of the club matriarch, which would be a welcomed event in my opinion.
Gemma is struggling with the idea of being away from her family and is fighting with Tig to get back. An incident happens when Gemma tries to hotware a car and gets caught by the car's owner, only to stab the owner in the groin with a knife. I feel like the entire scene was contrived just to create shock value and it doesn't seem like it was necessary, as it seems like there won't be any repercussions from her actions. Gemma is supposed to be laying low so she doesn't get caught by the police, so she tries to steal a car and then stabs a guy in the groin right near the femoral artery, which could very easily killed him? Gemma is much smarter than that and I don't think it was a very good direction to take her character, unless it's the beginning of a string of events that shows that Gemma is starting to lose her "grit" that she's carried around with her throughout the series. Even after being brutally raped by Zobelle's gang, she was still strong enough to keep it together and protect Clay from the truth of what happened to her (at least for a while), so I think it's a little odd that this is affecting her mentality so much. Gemma eventually forces Tig to take her to her father's house of all places, where we find her father is an elderly reverand suffering from dementia and not aware that his wife, Gemma's mother Rose, has recently passed away. We've never seen Gemma's parents prior to this scene, and I understand that Gemma is estranged from her family, but it was a little odd that she's gone back to her family, especially when that is really not a very good place to go to hide from the police. I'm sure that the FBI would know where all of her family lives, and it's not much of a stretch to imagine a woman on the run going back to the home of her parents that she hasn't spoken with in years. Just not really a good plan in my opinion.
On a side note, I also think it's weird that Gemma has Tig protecting her, considering that Gemma and Tig had a pretty passionate moment last season when Gemma was feeling lonely after revealing that she was raped. Now I know that Clay doesn't know about it, but still, there was no indication of that at all in this episode. It will be interesting to see if anything plays out with that.
Finally, we have the ending to the episode. The entire Sons of Anarchy MC shows up to pay tribute to their fallen prospect, Kip "Half-Sack" Epps. Charters from all over show up to the funeral, which I feel is a little out of place considering that Half-Sack wasn't even a patched-in member of the MC yet and theoretically hasn't been with the club for a very long time. It just seemed unlikely to me, but maybe I'm underestimating the brotherhood of an MC. At the funeral, we see what seems like hundreds of club members assembled outside a funeral home conversing while the Charming PD stands at the edge of the crowd keeping the peace. At this point, we randomly see a panel van pull up with masked men inside and the side door of the van opens, exposing multiple gunmen who open fire into the crowd. Charming PD starts to open fire at the van, and the driver lurches to one side to avoid the shots, causing one gunman to fall out of the open door and at the same time running down soon-to-be-Charming-Chief-of-Police Hale. The Charming PD subdue the fallen gunman, and then the camera pans to Jax, who was overseeing the aftermath of the gunfire, including the death of a young boy (I think it was one of Lyla's kids, but I can't be sure, the entire scene happened really fast with lots of cut shots and I can't be certain that who I saw holding the boy was Lyla or not), and he snaps. Jax runs to the handcuffed man, knocks down multiple police officers, and starts to slam the man's head over and over into the ground until he's finally stopped by Clay and a few other SAMCRO members. The show fades to black as we see Hale laying in a pool of his own blood, the back of his head opened up from being run over by the van, possibly being dead.
I really don't understand where any of this came from to be honest. Who were the shooters? There had been no club conflict throughout the entire episode, with the exception of one time when the club was following two gang bangers that showed up at the marina where Cameron's boat was docked, and the shooters were white so it couldn't have been that gang. I suppose it could have been some of Zobelle's crew, but it seems unlikely since Zobelle isn't going to be a part of this season. It also could have been the Irish, but I'm not sure that I buy that either, because Cameron was pretty much on the with Abel by himself, and I don't think the IRA infrastructure has been in a very good place since the ATF had been focusing on them. Jax pretty much prevented any interrogation of the suspect by beating the gunman to death (it seems), and I can only imagine that's going to cause additional problems for him with the police in the coming episodes. I also am a little sad about the apparent loss of Deputy Hale. I really liked where they've taken his character since the first episode. He started out as a boy scout who only saw the world from the viewpoint of the word of the law, but over time he's learned that the world of Charming isn't so black-and-white and sometimes the lesser of two evils can be the outlaw motorcycle gang that lives within his city limits. If he is in fact dead, I'm not sure what the writers are going to do because I feel like Hale was the face of Charming PD, even more so than Chief Unser, and it's going to be an enormous loss to overcome. The only positive that I can see that comes from the end of the episode is that the events that transpired seem to have snapped Jax out of his funk and he is now fired up about something, which could start the ball rolling on the rest of the season.
I am not sure how I felt about the episode to be honest. I felt like the show dragged a lot, and I'm not a fan of moody, emo Jax. I guess I will have to reserve judgement on this season premiere until more episodes are aired, because I don't know if some characters are dead or alive, and I don't know where they're going with this plotline of the gunmen. I love this show, so I hope the writers have a good plan!