Episode Title: "Sovereign"
Writer: Kurt Sutter
Director: Paris Barclay
Previously on "Sons of Anarchy":
As the new President of SAMCRO, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) pontificates about becoming one with the road, we see Tara (Maggie Siff) taking a bath with a gun nearby while a newly feeble Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) stumbles around in his old home and Clay's estranged wife, Gemma (Katey Sagal) has a sexual encounter with Nero Padilla (Jimmy Smits) while two passed out blond girls lie on a nearby bed. While escorting a truckload of illicit cargo, a group of Niners ambush SAMCRO and set their truck on fire. Jax personally saves the driver, Filthy Phil (Christopher Douglas Reed) and SAMCRO manages to pull one of the crates out of the back of the truck. But the Niners get away clean and most of the truck's contents burn.
At his home, Jax is surprisingly forthcoming with Tara about what happened and she seems to be more fully in his world. Jax reminds her about Piney's memorial service, but Tara tells him that she is training her replacement at the hospital and can't make it. Elsewhere, Gemma wakes up in a strange bed and pulls a gun on Nero whens she doesn't recognize him or remember most of their encounter. Nero calmly talks her down and reintroduces himself. Nero also explains that he is a "companionator" who is running an escort service and he charms Gemma enough that she gives him her number before leaving.
Later, Jax leads SAMCRO to Piney's grave, where his son, Opie (Ryan Hurst) is waiting. Privately, Jax tells Opie that Clay will eventually be exposed for what he did to Piney and he apologizes to Opie and promises to stand by him. When Gemma returns to her home, she finds Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie) there helping Clay pack his things. In their bedroom, Clay offers his most heartfelt apology for mistreating Gemma, but when he moves to comfort her Gemma knocks Clay to the ground and warns him to never touch her again. Elsewhere, Jax meets with Romero Parada (Danny Trejo) and Luis Torres (Benito Martinez) of the Galindos drug cartel, who have used their CIA connections to get Bobby Muson (Mark Boone Junior) out of prison.
Romeo presses Jax to maintain the secrecy of his connection to the CIA and they briefly discuss their endgames for each other before Jax asserts that someone else besides Big Otto Delaney (Kurt Sutter) must have been helping the RICO investigation. Back at the auto shop, Sheriff Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar) presses SAMCRO about a series of home invasions in Charming that may be tied to their conflict with the Niners. Privately, Roosevelt slightly leans on his former snitch, Jean Carlos "Juice" Ortiz (Theo Rossi) for more info, but Roosevelt also says that he won't blackmail Juice again. At an otherwise deserted rail yard, Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) meets with the Niners about their very public strike against SAMCRO.
Disgusted with the Niners who claim that they are avenging his daughter, Pope has his second-in-comman, August Marks (Billy Brown) demonstrate that they have executed the Niners' leader, Laroy (Tory Kittles) before Laroy's replacement, Darnell (B.J. Britt) very vocally tries to back away from the leadership position. At the SAMCRO club house, Bobby is named the new Vice President and former Nomads Frankie Diamonds (Chuck Zito), Go Go (Chris Browning) and Greg the Peg (Kurt Yaeger) are added to the local charter. Clay shows up to the meeting as well and he surprises everyone by admitting that he killed Piney and that Opie shot him in retaliation.
Naturally, Clay leaves out the real reason that he shot Piney, but Tig (Kim Coates) is particularly outraged because he believed that the Niners were responsible and he accidentally killed Pope's daughter while attempting to run down Laroy. Clay asks the club to vote whether he stays or goes, but Jax delays the vote until later. In private, Clay tells Jax that he's not playing any games with his confession, but Clay doesn't understand why Jax let him live when he never really wanted the IRA and Galindos deal. However, Jax doesn't tell him about the Galindos' CIA connection that basically blackmailed him into keeping Clay alive to facilitate the deal.
Gemma also misunderstands Jax's mercy, but he privately assures her that Clay's time will come. Gemma is also comforted by a follow up call from Nero, who asks if she made it home safely. With the help of Romeo, Jax gets a face-to-face meeting with Pope... except Pope doesn't actually come and he sent August in his place. Prior to the meeting, August tells Darnell to kill Jax and gives him a gun to do so. When Darnell draws on Jax, the gun is found to be empty and Jax beats the crap out of him. August then executes Darnell himself and he tells the NIners that their war with SAMCRO is over. But August ominously tells Jax that Pope will be in touch.
At his new home, Clay is confronted by Tig, who is upset that he murdered an innocent girl on Clay's behalf... and not for the first time. Clay asks Tig if they are alright, but Tig's answer is noncommittal. Tig then gets a call telling him that his daughter, Dawn (Rachel Miner) has been arrested on DUI, but the club's connection will let her go if Tig picks her up himself. At the Charming police department, Roosevelt is momentarily surprised when witnesses come forward to claim that Jax and Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) fired on an SUV... until he learns that another witness has IDed Tig as the man who ran down Pope's daughter.
Tig is lured to the empty rail yard, where the Oakland police officer draws on him and binds his hands before Pope arrives. Expecting Pope to kill him for the death of his daughter, Tig is horrified to see that Dawn is in the ditch with Laroy's body before she is doused with gasoline. Tig pleads for Dawn's life, but Pope uses his lit cigar to start the fire that burns Dawn alive. When Dawn finally dies, Pope warns Tig to keep this to himself or else his other daughter may also be killed. At Jax's home, Gemma and Tara have an argument about how to deal with Tara and Jax's children, but they hide their conflict in front of Jax.
But soon enough, Unser calls Gemma and warns her about the warrants out for Jax, Chibbs and Tig. Over Tara's objections, Jax agrees to go on the run with Chibbs as Gemma promises to take them somewhere that they won't be found. At the rail yard, Tig manages to get his hands in front of him and he chokes the Oakland police officer to death before shooting one of Pope's cleaners. Then Tig collapses in tears for his lost daughter. Meanwhile, Gemma introduces Jax to Nero, who will apparently shelter him from the warrant. At Gemma's home, Unser feeds her birds before several thugs break in and begin savagely beating him.
The most talked about scene in the "Sons of Anarchy" fifth season premiere has been the one between Tig and Pope at the rail yard. And there was some really good tension in the performances of Harold Perrineau and Kim Coates. However, Dawn's death didn't have the impact that it could have had simply because she was someone that the audience hasn't had a chance to know. I'm fairly certain that Rachel Miner's Dawn has only shown up once before; which is insufficient if Kurt Sutter expected us to really care about her death. The only person in that scene whom we are really emotionally invested in is Tig. Watching Dawn get burned alive was definitely horrifying, but she seemed to only exist as a vehicle to facilitate Pope's revenge. Dawn wasn't a character, she was a plot device.
While it's easy to sympathize with Tig, Pope was also a compelling figure as Perrineau underplayed him. We never see Pope get too angry or over-the-top vengeful and that made him seem more human. That said, it was pretty clear that Tig was heading into a trap as soon as he got that call about his daughter. And if it's that obvious to the audience, then Tig should have at least been suspicious as well. It seemed like the script had to force Tig to come to that rail yard without even fully questioning why. I'd like to think that Tig recognizes a setup when he sees one.
But my favorite scene of the night was the lone confrontation between Clay and Gemma in the home they once shared. Who knows at this point how sincere that Clay can be about what he does or why he did it. Ron Perlman carried the bulk of that dramatic weight as he poured out what was left of his heart to Gemma. And it was cathartic to see Gemma knock over Clay so easily after he savagely beat her last season. There's also a nice symmetry at play as Clay has become the new Piney of SAMCRO, a weak old man who can barely even walk, much less ride. All signs in season four seemed to point that Clay's demise was the logical way to end that story. It's a little unclear if Clay can still function as Jax's main antagonist, but no one should ever turn their backs on him.
As for the new man in Gemma's life, Jimmy Smits was really entertaining as Nero. I kept expecting some darker aspect of Nero's personality to make itself known, but maybe that will happen in subsequent episodes. Nero's a charming guy, but there's something about him that seems too good to be true.
The new status quo of Tara and Jax's relationship is interesting... and she'll probably need that gun before the end of the season. If Tara is the new Queen of SAMCRO, then maybe she'll have a larger role in the clubhouse as well. But there are only so many times that Tara and Gemma can butt heads before the show starts to repeat itself. And it seems like Tara is going to continue working at the hospital despite the limited use of her hand. Other than Tara's injury and Clay's physical deterioration, there weren't a lot of consequences for the events that happened during season 4. The loss of Tig's daughter could be sign that harder times lie ahead for SAMCRO and their friends. But it's going to take more than the death of a minor character to really make an impact on us.