Boy, the storytelling this season may have gone to shit, but there is some fantastic character stuff going on while the Belfast storyline unravels. (And, to be fair, the story back in Charming, with Tara/Margaret and the SAMCRO B-team is pretty solid.)
So Father Ashby tells Jax that the IRA needs proof of Jimmy O's treachery with the barn bomb, so the Sons set out to find Liam and get him to confess. At the same time, Jimmy and his hench-person are staking out Liam so they can "tie up loose ends." After Gemma and Maureen get Liam's location out of Cherry, they track him down at a warehouse, where Sean Casey (Ashby's guy) tortures a confession out of him. He also rats out McGee, before Jax puts him down. Jimmy's goons finally show up and they storm the warehouse, which the Sons have soaked in gas and set ablaze. So after literally smoking Jimmy out, there's a rooftop shootout. Jimmy escapes, but Clay nabs McGee, and is faced with the sad duty of offing a fellow original club member. He's bummed.
Jax brings the confession to Ashby and the IRA, but they tell Jax they have to deal with Jimmy internally. This, as you might expect, disappoints Jax. Ashby tells Jax they'll meet about it later, and Jax is so frustrated by this turn of events that he goes and starts making out with his half-sister Trinny. Yeah, that finally happened. Luckily, an arguing Gemma and Mo (with Cherry as a most unlikely referee) stumble upon them, half-naked but still technically pre-incestuous. The moms finally decide to come clean. Jax takes it with good humor, but Trinny's pretty shattered by the news.
Jax finally meets with Ashby again, and the good father has quite the bombshell: when John Teller was in Ireland, he confided in Ashby that he didn't want his sons to grow up in the club. Ashby couldn't save Jax from that fate, but he can save Abel. So, yes, Ashby put Abel in that orphanage so that he'd be taken away from Jax -- and the club -- forever. All of this stuff with Jimmy O was... window dressing, I suppose? Jax goes into a rage, stabbing Sean Casey and demanding the address of the convent where Ashby left his son. He gets it, but not before Ashby makes one last appeal to Jax's own wariness that maybe his son should be kept safe from SAMCRO.
Meanwhile, stateside, Salazar's got Tara and Margaret tied up, and he calls and makes his demands to Piney: he wants the Sons to kill Alvarez and steal a quarter-million dollars from him, to hand over for the women. The B-team is divided: Kozik thinks they should take this info directly to Alvarez, but Piney doesn't trust the Mayans nor the truce that was brokered before Clay and the boys left. Tig actually thinks they should go with Kozik, and so we get a tense stand-off in Alvarez's own backyard, where Kozik manages to make a heartfelt, emotional appeal and convinces Alvarez to essentially play dead for 24 hours. When Salazar calls back, they tell him Alvarez is dead, and they set up an exchange for tomorrow. Now they just need to get $425,000 in a day. Meanwhile, Margaret tells Tara the story of her back tat, which isn't much of a shocker (biker boyfriend, drug addict, shit went bad), but really deepens Margaret quite a bit. Who expected THAT to happen?
Previously on Sons of Anarchy: one season of killer story, occasionally shaky dialogue, and occasional clunky character development. Then one season of across-the-board brilliance including harrowing character beats and some of the tightest storytelling on television. Now two-thirds into this season, the characters are as strong and well-defined as they've ever been, with nearly three seasons worth of development having sharpened them into stark focus. Only that tight storytelling of Seasons 1 and (especially) 2 has given way to an unfocused, saggy Season 3, culminating in a trip to Belfast that maybe should have happened back in Episode 3. Also previously: Gemma and Maureen each had a child by John Teller, though nobody had bothered to tell those kids, Jax and Trinity, and now they're probably going to make out soon; Salazar and his girl got the jump on Tara, Margaret, and Margaret's wicked big back tattoo; Jax struck a deal with Stahl to deliver Jimmy O'Phelan to her, alive; and SAMBEL members Liam and McGee were secretly working with Jimmy against SAMCRO, including Liam detonating an explosion in the barn that killed Chibbs's cousin.
Jax gets a wake-up call from Kellan Ashby (and his goon, Sean Casey), saying he just heard about the explosion. He talks regretfully about greed having pushed Jimmy to go rogue, but all Jax cares about is finding Jimmy so he can get his son back. Ashby sends Casey out of the room, then tells Jax that they first need to find proof that Jimmy actually masterminded the bomb plot. Why? Well, now that Ashby has spoken aloud about taking Jimmy out, it's become an official IRA operation, and thus subject to the Army's oversight. Jimmy's all, "Whatever, so long as I get my kid back." First order of business is getting to someone in Jimmy's inner circle and making him talk. Ashby suggests once they find the guy, give Casey a call -- "He's quite resourceful." We all know that "resourceful" on television means "awesome at violence and torture," right? Good.
Elsewhere, Jimmy and his right-hand goon Donny meet to discuss the current situation and brogue the fuck out at each other, so your poor recapper can only understand every third word or so. Basically, Donny's worried that if Ashby can prove Jimmy has betrayed the Army, his men won't stand by him. Jimmy's indignant -- he pulled these people out of the gutter, they'll stay loyal. Besides, the only person who can definitively tie him to the blast is Liam O'Neill, and they're going to tie up that loose end right away. We all know that "tie up that loose end" means "murder the fuck outta the bastard," right? Good.
At SAMBEL HQ, McGee approaches Liam and asks about the bomb. When Liam plays innocent, McGee kicks the barstool out from under him -- he knows Jimmy put him up to it, and even if he believes Liam's claims of innocence, SAMCRO is going to beat the truth out of him regardless. With this truth hanging in the air, Liam gets scared. What's he supposed to do? McGee tells him to get out and lay low until Jax gets Abel back and they're all back in America. Liam flees, while McGee breaks some bottles in frustration.
Back in the States, Salazar's got Tara and Margaret tied up to a beam in his attic. He wants a phone number for the Sons, and when Tara asks why, she gets a face full of slap from Salazar's girl. Margaret's no dummy -- she knows this is Salazar looking to make his demands. She tells Tara to give them a number.
Jax is updating his brothers on his conversation with Ashby. Clay, already armed with his suspicions, says they go after Liam first. They all pretty much agree Liam had means and opportunity to set the blast, though Bobby cautions that accusing Liam -- an officer -- means accusing all of SAMBEL. McGee's been listening in and now tries to do damage control. His men are loyal, but they're right about Liam, he's turned rat for Jimmy. Clay's pissed that McGee waited 'til now to tell him, and McGee defensively says he tried to give his men the benefit of the doubt. He says Liam's gone into hiding but that what they should do is suit up and put a bullet in Jimmy's head. Jax says that won't get him his son back, per Ashby (it also won't meet the terms of his deal with Stahl, but that looks to be back-burnered this week). They need to find Liam and get the truth out of him. McGee, chagrined, knows he can't convince them otherwise. "So it's the truth we're after," he sighs, with the creeping dread of a man who knows that the truth is no friend to him right now.
Blarney-infused credits. You better look this pot o' gold in the eye, and so forth.
Belfast. The Sons pay a visit to Cherry at Maureen's little bodega. She doesn't believe it when they say that Liam -- her old man, recall -- was the one responsible for the barn explosion. They tell her they just need to find him so they can talk to him. Cherry, who seems less flighty than she used to be -- says she knows what that means. "He'll get his say," assures Clay in his least reassuring voice. Maureen prods Cherry to just tell them what she knows, but she persists -- she doesn't know about hideouts or family members or anything. "The club was his family," she says, perhaps hoping for some change of sentiment. The men all head out, each one glaring at Cherry as they pass, like she didn't get shipped off to Ireland in order to protect their asses.
Of course, with them gone, she's left with Maureen and Gemma, each one camped out at either shoulder. Gemma leads, telling Cherry that Liam was in some way responsible for Half-Sack getting killed. Cherry doesn't believe it, but an improvising Mo backs Gemma up, saying it was Cam and Liam that did it, under Jimmy's authority. I didn't think Gemma could get scarier, but with Mo as her sidekick? Yeesh. Gemma keeps laying it on: Liam was out of the MC the second he turned on his brothers; he left Cherry high and dry. Cherry's reasons to protect him keep falling away. You know, I've always had a soft spot for Taryn Manning, but it was mostly ironic. But I have to say, she's doing a bang-up job here. Cherry finally cracks, telling the women about finding bank account info and a contract for a loft down at the docks. It's barely out of her mouth before Mo grabs her in a choke-hold and hauls her across the room. "Never -- EVER -- lie to the club!" She finally lets her go, then tells Trinny to go find the boys. Gemma takes this all in, like she's sizing Maureen up. She gives her the slightest nod. Maureen returns it right back. Don't fuck with the old ladies.
Elsewhere, Jimmy's got Liam on the phone, and the unsuspecting fuck tells Jimmy exactly where he's hiding out, so Jimmy can go "pick him up."
Back in Charming, Chuckie gets a call from Salazar, who demands to speak to a member. You guys, I couldn't be more dismayed that the office phone at the bike shop isn't rotary. Talk about the one job Chuckie's perfect for (though, to be fair, he's pretty good at punching in Line 2). Anyway, he gets Piney on the phone, and after some posturing about making sure he's speaking to a patch member, Salazar puts the phone to Tara's mouth, so she can confirm he does have her hostage.
Cut to the conference table, after the phone call. Piney's explaining the situation to Tig and Kozik. That is one lonely wood carving. Anyway, Salazar wants them to kill Alvarez and steal a quarter of a mil from his home safe. Kozik thinks they have to tell Jax, but Piney and Tig shoot that idea down. Jax has enough on his mind (and, more importantly, would be helpless to do anything from Belfast anyway). They have to fix this themselves. Kozik says they need to go to Alvarez, get him to play ball. But Piney's against that -- he doesn't trust the truce between their clubs and he really doesn't trust Alvarez. Kozik doesn't see much of a choice, when the other option is whack Alvarez and start one mother of a war. Tig's more practical, worried that Alvarez will refuse to help, but Kozik says Alvarez has a family. "He'll get it." You'd expect Tig to be the one blindly opposing anything Kozik su