If one of the primary themes on this show has to do with the brutal way in which power is seized from one generation by the next, the necessary counter-theme is this: The old eat the young – either by killing them outright or forcing them into the situations where they become old by necessity. Tonight, two of the younger SAMCRO members got eaten.
Making Hobson's Choice look like picking out a dessert at TGIFriday's: Let's get to the main plotline of the episode. Jax, Tig, Chibs and Opie are behind bars and everyone quickly learns they're under the protection of the Galindo cartel. Insofar as Pope is concerned, this is heresy. He has a guard on his payroll and the guard arranges a meeting wherein Pope delivers the doctrine of payback to Jax: From now on, 50 percent of the take from the Galindo runs belong to him. In addition, the two deaths related to the whole unpleasant Dawn Traeger business are bad for Pope's organization, so to soothe the worried minds of his underlings, one of the four Sons in prison has to die before the changing of the guard's shift. Actually, one of the three who is not named "Tig," because Pope wants him alive and behind bars for life, where he will presumably be used as a pincushion/lovedoll for whichever Pope-related felon deserves a toy with his Happy Meal.
The method by which the Son is going to die is particularly brutal: He gets put in "the box" with several of Pope's thugs, and the Son fights until he dies. Also, there is a betting pool on how long it will take. Jax learns this last part when he gets the boys all landed in solitary, per Pope's directions. He finally comes clean with Opie about everything from the last four seasons – ev-er-y-thing. Jax finishes with, "I had to make a choice, brother: Kill Clay or save the club." Opie immediately replies, "You made the wrong choice."
The two friends are pressured to decide who goes to a horrible death, and Jax shrugs that he'd rather not choose, but try to fight the guards. He and Ope meet up with the other two, and Jax briefly sketches in the deal, then decides that they won't make said deal. Opie, however, has noticed the guard's itchy trigger finger and decides he's going to go into the box. By the way, the box has a big glass window, so Chibs, Tig and Jax get to watch Opie get his head bashed, then have his body repeatedly battered by the thugs sent in to kill him.
That Opie – who has been looking for an excuse to die for a while now – should choose to throw his life away for Jax, after Jax chose the club over making things right for Opie last season, says something about how desperate and dumb some kinds of love are. And his death says something about SAMCRO as a whole: The club was introduced in season one as a loving gestalt for its members and their loved ones (recall, if you will, the sequence in which we see the club having a convivial feast at the Morrows' while Opie and his family eat their scanty dinner in cold silence), but over the last four years, we've seen that whatever SAMCRO gives, it takes twice as much. Nobody embodied that like Opie Winston, who never had a chance thanks to Piney and who deserved so much more. Rest in peace with Donna, Ope.
Watching his brother from another mother die as a result of Tig's ongoing homicidal impulses seems to have made an impression on Jax. He calmly promises the guard that he'll be killing him later, then goes in for a meeting with Pope, saying, "There's a new plan. I just watched my best friend get beaten to death for you. Now, I'm going to get the club to sign off on your cash. But I need Traeger outside. Him knowing I saved his life gives me an internal advantage I'm going to need. And when I'm done, you can send him out the same way you did his kid, 'cause I really don't give a shit." Pope replies almost approvingly, "There you go, finding a hidden advantage in an unfortunate circumstance; using pain to take you to the next level. Those are the things that turn players into kings."
Remember: It ain't easy being king.
Meanwhile, over in the B-plots, which would have been riveting in any other episode …
Ain't no in-laws like outlaws<: Gemma – who has reached the getting-hickeys portion of the relationship with Nero, which means that wearing his class ring surely can't be far behind – learns the hard way that she is not on the approved visitor list at the hospital daycare. Not having carte blanche with Jax's kids puts her in a meddling sort of mood, so she drives out to see Wendy and lies blatantly about Tara turning to hillbilly heroin to ease the stresses of single motherhood, and gosh, wouldn't this be a swell opportunity for Wendy to waltz in and rip her biological son from the only mother he's ever known? Wendy is desperate enough to fall for the play and visits Tara's office, where Tara quickly discerns what's prompted this round of "Who's Abel's momma?" She then channels Gemma by reminding Wendy that she is a surgeon and Jax's legal wife, while Wendy is an ex-junkie biker whore, and she won't hesitate to blatantly exploit every societal prejudice attached to those profiles when the custody case goes to court. Then Tara heads down to the daycare to deliver an implicit threat to Gemma: Leave her family alone, or she'll start every conversation with Jax with, "So! Have we talked lately about how your mom conspired to kill your dad, then slept with his murderer for decades? Do we really want her around the family?" Gemma considers herself served.
Won't someone think of the hookers? Because sweet, dumb Juice is a total sucker for Clay's lion-in-winter act, he drops the dime on where Gemma's been spending her ample free time, so Clay decides to check out the Best Little Cathouse In Charming. He ambles off to debauch a former Disney teen star turned hooker, as one does, and Gemma loses her shit. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Best Little Cathouse in Charming is busted later that night. If Nero and Carla are planning a long con on the Sons, they may discover that these hoopty bikers are more trouble than they're worth.
The episode opens with our four SAMCRO boys entering Gen Pop at the county lock-up, and boy, orange is not really their color. Within seconds, a giant contingent of Pope's guys on the inside is heading toward them, but they're quickly intercepted by the Latino coalition Romeo must have called upon.
And -- in keeping with the show's tradition of opening every episode with morning in Charming -- we zip to Nero's pimprageous pad, where Gemma is slowly waking up. She is either nursing a monster hangover or Nero's depleted her electrolyte levels to a staggering degree. Quite possibly both, knowing her. Nero distracts Gemma from her bitching and moaning about Jax's recent life developments by calling out the hickeys he gave her a few hours ago and cooing, "Love hurts." As will Carla, if Nero doesn't get his ass in gear and starting dealing in hooker management. Gemma quips, "I don't think your Whore Friday is keen on me occupying your time." Nero just dismisses Carla as being a Type A madam.
Inside lockup, Chibs frets to Jax that Pope's only going to find other ways to get at SAMCRO in prison. Immediately after commenting that all the guards are greedy bastards on the take, one such exemplar fetches Jax to the warden's office, where Pope is waiting.
At the SAMCRO clubhouse, Bobby is delivering the news that Luis has ensured the boys' safety on the inside. "Thank God," says Juice. "Thank vatos with shivs," Happy corrects him. (It would crack me up if we find out that Happy's a militant Richard Dawkins fanboy in his spare time.) Then everyone goes off to Lindelof Pines for a meetup. On the way out the door, they run into Gemma, who is sporting a necklace of hickeys. This does not pass unnoticed by anyone, but in a rare display of discretion, nobody says a word. They only stare.
In the warden's office, Pope tells Jax, "Relax -- we're just here to talk." Jax glares and asks, "Is that what you told Tig's girl before you set her on fire?" Pope gives Jax a Child. Please. look and says, "Let's not discuss the tragedy of dead girls. That's an argument you'd lose." Pope then gets to his next point: He thinks SAMCRO are too smart and too ambitious for him to kill. And here's where we see how smart Pope is: Rather than waste resources on killing a bunch of people who will likely be more trouble than they are worth, he's just going to twist Jax and the club as a way of teaching them not to mess with the smarter class of criminal: Fifty percent of the money the club makes on every drug shipment will now belong to Pope. Also: "Traeger, he stays inside for the rest of his life. I'll make sure he's treated accordingly. This way, every time I think about my daughter, I know where he is and what's being done to him. I need a dead Son for the Niner and the cop you killed. It maintains my relationships. I don't care who. The commander knows about it, he'll set it up. When that happens, witnesses are no longer witnesses and you get out to earn."