Friday, 2 July 2010

Sons of Anarchy 2.10 'Balm' - Review

As has probably become evident by now, I’m a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy, in my humble opinion it is without a doubt the best show on television at the moment.

So as I expand the site and try and include more reviews and the like, it seems only right that Sons of Anarchy should be one of the first shows featured in that way.

So why I have chosen ‘Balm’ as the episode to focus on? Well, being in the UK and somewhat of a traditionalist in that I watch shows as they go out on TV – mainly due to the fact my laptop is so archaic that it would probably explode if I tried to download a TV show – I had obviously been unable to avoid spoilers for a season that aired in the US coming on a whole year ago.

So, yes, I knew that the season opened with the horrific rape scene but that made it no less disturbing, I wrote at the time that I had not been affected by a TV show like that in, well, ever.

And I also knew that Gemma kept the rape to herself for most of the season before finally revealing all in an episode appropriately titled ‘Balm’. Yet nothing could prepare me for the visceral assault that this episode gave me and by the time those end credits rolled I’m not ashamed to admit I had tears in my eyes.

This was, without a doubt, an absolutely flawless piece of television.

Sons of Anarchy effortlessly holds your attention for every second it is on screen.

There doesn’t have to be the not so holy trinity of violence, sex and profanity for this show to be compelling. Sons of Anarchy is probably at its strongest when it is just getting down to some intense character exploration.

In a lesser show, Gemma’s revelation would have come the week after her attack and the rest of the season would have followed SAMCRO’s blood lust for revenge. Not Sons of Anarchy though, this was the prefect example of a slow burning arc that was hugely rewarding when it finally came to the boil, it reminded me of The Wire at its very best and if that’s not a compliment then I don’t know what it is.

That revelation scene was about the most moving thing I’ve ever seen on TV. It was perfect in every sense of the word and you felt every ounce of pain that Jax and Clay felt without them even saying a word. I was in bits by the time we faded to black and had to just sit for a few minutes to collect myself. The only thing in recent memory that had that effect on me was the Lost finale and that was the finale of a show I’d poured my heart and soul into for 6 years; ‘Balm’ was, for all intents and purposes just a mid-season episode of a show in its sophomore year.

Emotions were running deep for everyone in this episode and Gemma finally spilling the beans on her trauma was the perfect crescendo – actual tears in my eyes.

There were some heartfelt moments elsewhere as Opie finally allowed himself to be with porn star Lyla albeit not in the marital bed he shared with Donna. Opie has always been the most darkly complex character on the show and its been almost unbearable to watch him butt heads with Jax and gravitate closer and closer to the man who masterminded the botched hit on him that took his wife’s life.

Seeing Opie finally get some happiness in a season that has been tinged with so much darkness for him was welcome and the fact that he and the viewer cannot forget about his dead wife for a second even at a moment like that is both tragic and beautiful.

The majority of the episode was taken up with Jax lobbying for the unanimous vote to go nomad, which he ultimately received, and it allowed for the further reinforcement of just how strong the bond between the members of this club are.

Juice’s brief scene in the hospital as he recovered from his stabbing was both funny “I’ve still got some blood in my stool” and poignant as he reminded Jax of what he had told Juice when he joined the club in respect of the bond these men share.

It was good to see Juice used for a purpose other than light relief for a change and the same can be said of Chibs, who might not be a comedic foil usually but he isn’t ever really asked to do any heavy-lifting when it comes to the drama on the show.

But with this episode we not only got to see a great deal of Tommy Flanagan showing off that great screen presence he has but we also got to dig deeper into Chibs’ somewhat mysterious past.

Chibs’ storyline benefited greatly from the presence of one Mr. Titus Welliver – quite possibly the coolest man on TV, even when doing an admittedly half-decent Oirish accent.

Jimmy O is certainly a very sinister individual and if he can have the effect of turning Chibs into a rat then he is obviously not to be messed with in any way. Hopefully Welliver will be around now for the rest of the season and possibly beyond season 2, given that season 3 will be featuring some action actually in Ireland.

This episode wasn’t all sadness and Shakespearean tragedy though as we also got the requisite comedy as Half-Sack and Tig took some of the Native American Magic Mushrooms and bugged out in a suitably entertaining way.

Such is the strength of Sons of Anarchy though that even something that could initially be dismissed as a comedic aside such as the mushroom tripping is an important part of a character’s emotional journey.

Because even when tripping off his ass, Tig’s guilt and his continuing emotional down spiral were evident as he sobbed uncontrollably to a doll that he was sorry.

With Tig seemingly at breaking point, Chibs possibly turning rat and with Gemma’s secret now out in the open, the remaining three episodes of the season are poised on a knife edge. That said, Kurt Sutter and the rest of the team behind the show will have to pull off something special to best ‘Balm’, which for me, wasn’t just the best SAMCRO episode I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best hours (and a bit) of television I’ve ever seen.

Other Thoughts:

- Stahl has to be one of the coldest, most calculating TV characters ever. She’d be hot if she wasn’t such a ball-busting, take-no-prisoners, manipulative bitch.

- Unser’s growing relationship with Gemma has been one of the sweeter highlights of the season. The old Police chief might have been corrupted by SAMCRO over the years but he still has a good heart and I’d love to see some back-story for him in the not to distant future.

- No Zobelle or Weston in ‘Balm’ but their presence was definitely felt throughout the episode. No mention of Darby though? It looked as though he was going to be left to burn in the fire at the porn studio but there was no mention of any bodies being found, so what happened to him and Chuck?

- It’s inevitable that Tara’s going to snap on her nemesis at the hospital eventually and I for one can’t wait to see it. Maggie Siff is one of the most unsung acting talents on the show.

- As well as Tig almost being a breaking point, it also looks like Piney could be dangling by a thread, when he looked at the gun next to his bottle of booze during that closing montage it had a very ominous tone.

And speaking of which, another fantastic choice of music for the final moments of the episode, hats off to whoever is responsible for the show’s fantastic music collection.

It’ll be tough to ever top that haunting version of Ruby Tuesday that Katey Sagal did earlier in the season though.


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