I totally thought it was going to be Chibs.
Oh, by the way, SPOILER ALERT!!! But hey this is a recap, so that should go without saying.
Anyway, when murmurs got loud that the new episode of Sons of Anarchy would include the death of a major character, one logically starts looking at which actors have other projects going on. That road led nowhere, so then it became a matter of deductive reasoning. It was likely to be one of the four Sons to head to prison: Jax, Opie, Tig and Chibs. Cross Jax off right away, because duh. Opie seemed to be at the beginning of a major arc, sort of just starting that part in the biopic where he spirals toward rock bottom before rising triumphantly, and Kim Coates had already done interviews referencing Tig’s role later in the season. So, that left Chibs, who has never quite made the show’s A-list, other than the Belfast subplot a couple seasons back, and we all thought he died once — for at least one commercial break anyway — from a car bomb. I didn’t shed much of a tear, did you? Plus, he had that rather elegaic recitation at Jax and Tara’s wedding last episode, which could be seen in retrospect as a nice sendoff.
In short, I thought Chibs was a dead man.
But Kurt Sutter had other plans, as he always does, and he’ll explain them on a conference call today (which I’ll be sitting in on). But for now we’re just left to wonder — SERIOUSLY, SPOILER ALERT!!! — why the bleep he decided to kill off Opie. Man, it seems so much more real now that I’ve written it out.
The specter of death was introduced pretty early, though, as Pope summoned Jax for a surprise meeting at the jail. He’d paid off all the guards, who even asked if they’d like them to handcuff Jax while they talked, but Pope declined. He was just there to talk. And made demands, which included collecting half of SAMCRO’s take on their drug cartel work. He also wanted Tig to continue making penance for the rest of his life, spending it behind bars, ready to be punished at Pope’s whim. And, finally, he insisted that one of the Sons had to die. Didn’t care who, that was up to Jax.
So while Jax stewed in a solitary-confinement cell with Opie (I know that sounds like a mistake, two guys in a solitary cell, but that’s what went down, folks), there was plenty of action on the outside. Gemma was PO’d when she went to visit her grandsons and found out she wasn’t on the list of acceptable visitors. I’ll give you an option as to what happened next: She a) went to Tara calmly and inquired as to why her name wasn’t on the list, or b) got all up in Tara’s grill and when she didn’t get her way went to Jax’s ex-wife (and Abel’s estranged mom) Wendy and tried to convince her that Tara was strung out on Oxy, hoping Wendy would use that to threaten Tara in their impending custody battle. Those who said b), you win a prize. Something obvious.
It was great seeing Drea De Matteo back as Wendy, whose complete transformation from suicidal junkie to respectable counselor always makes me want to watch a marathon of Intervention. While she seemed to know Gemma was playing her, she couldn’t resist paying a visit to Tara and poking the bear just a little bit. Tara was ready, though, seeing through the maneuver right away, and telling Wendy she hadn’t taken a painkiller in a month and that she best step off or else Tara would get really mad. Tara then dropped by to see Gemma and drop some knowledge. If she tries to hurt Tara or their family again, it might lead to Jax turning against Gemma. Better yet, he might just kill her. That left Gemma in a rare state, speechless.
She was also probably pretty pissed, which wasn’t a good time for her to get a call that Clay was up at Nero’s causing trouble. Clay had guilted Juice into telling him where Gemma was spending her time since their separation, and Clay’s first response was to head up to the high-end brothel and get himself a young hooker (why hel-lo, special guest star Ashley Tisdale!). Nero is taking it all in stride, but Gemma barges in and proceeds to beat the crap out of Clay’s hooker friend — she does have a name, Emma. Clay smiles at the chaos he has caused, satisfied that he can still provoke such a reaction out of Gemma. Later, the cops bust in on the place, and while Clay seems the likeliest suspect to have ratted out Nero, Emma is a possibility as well, seeing as how getting whooped up on prompted her to go to a different escort company.
So that’s all fine and good, but this episode was all about getting out of prison alive. Jax comes clean to Opie about the truth behind J.T.’s letters, and how that led to Clay killing Opie’s dad, Piney. Then he learned about the deadly ultimatum facing the club, and it was around then the thought started to creep in that maybe Opie would take this hit upon himself. After all the club had taken from him, his freedom, wife, his father, would he now be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice?
A particularly sadistic sergeant on a power trip was pressing Jax to decide which Son would die, or else he was going to decide. When the four Sons gathered together and Jax told them what was what, Chibs seemed to accept his fate. But Opie, as he had done to join the group in prison in the first place, yet again hit a policeman to provoke a reaction. This time he sealed his fate. As Jax, Tig and Chibs looked on — actually Tig and Chibs turned away — Opie was left to fight for his life in a dark room against a group of angry thugs, with just a length of pipe to fend them off. He did OK, getting a few shots in, but eventually his luck ran out. Yet as the final blow was about to be struck, he looked at Jax and smiled, finally at peace. Either that, or he was just trying to make Jax feel better about the whole thing.
What was even more surprising about Opie’s death is that it wasn’t the end of the episode. There was still the aftermath, some of which was satisfying — such as Jax letting the sergeant who orchestrated Opie’s death know that once Jax was out of prison, he would find out who the sergeant was, and that he would kill him — and some of which was ominous. Jax convinced Pope that he needed Tig out of prison so he could use him as a loyal subject to move the club along, but that afterward Pope could do what he wanted with Tig. “Because I just don’t give a shit,” Jax says. And you believe him. Before they leave prison, Jax tells Tig that he won’t be serving a life sentence, and that from now on Tig will support Jax’s every move. To which Tig agrees wholeheartedly. He knows he caused all this, and he’s ready to do what must be done to make it right.
So, yeah, Season 5 has not softened Sons of Anarchy. Opie’s death is tough to take, but it’s also a healthy reminder of the horrible world these characters inhabit. Despite how much we enjoy watching it, it’s a place where not even innocents are safe from brutal tragedy, and Opie was far from innocent. I can’t be mad at you, Kurt Sutter, but gimme a minute before that conference call, OK? I don’t think I’m quite ready to talk yet.
Photo: Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX