It’s been a bumpy ride during the final season of Sons of Anarchy, but then comes along a poignant episode like “What a Piece of Work Is Man,” which stripped away the musical theatrics and let the natural drama play out. While I was expecting something heavy to occur, I wasn’t prepared for SAMCRO’s meeting with August Marks (Billy Brown) and the subsequent madness that followed.
Directed by Peter Weller, the cinematic style of “What a Piece of Work Is Man” caught my attention early during a pre-credits breakfast scene. As Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and Wendy (Drea de Matteo) discuss the consequences of pulling their son Abel out of school for the day, the camera circles the room, Soderbergh-Style, which seemed unusual for SOA. That’s not to say I didn’t like the shot — I loved it — and it conveyed that episode nine would not be an aesthetically-packaged product. Although I usually identify the director before viewing, I wasn’t surprised to find out that Weller, director of “Some Strange Eruption” (episode five), was responsible for the removal from standard routine.
At the heart of the story was the search for Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) and how the friction between SAMCRO and Marks would be resolved. The writers inserted the usual brief snippets of comedy (Tig’s oddities/”That’s Ripe!) along with inserting an object up the backside of Juice (Theo Rossi), while offering some unfortunate, but impactful, sound design. Beyond all that, what everyone wanted to know is whether Marks and his new henchman Moses Cartwright (Mathew St. Patrick) would strike a deal with the club and let one-eyed Bobby return to his crew. After all, the previous episode, “The Separation of Crows” ended with yet another “gift,” thus setting the stage for a meeting between a pissed-off Jax and an arrogant (but smart) August Marks.
Let’s talk about that initial negotiation. Here’s where the writing team and even Hunnam slipped up a bit. One, Jex’s reference to the “brutal” murder of his wife looks good on paper, but would he actually speak like that? It’s not a huge deal, but hearing the words come from someone like Jax sounded scripted rather than genuine. Incidentally, the Australian accent of Charlie Hunnam tinged the last few words of “I’ll give you this and the pastor’s body.” It’s clear as day. Why would Kurt Sutter keep that in the episode? I’m always expecting the usual tough-guy lines like “suck my big white d**k” (last week) and Gemma (Katey Sagal) referencing “the club’s dime and Chib’s d**k,” but these moments don’t enhance the episode. Peter Weller did something about this in “What a Piece of Work Is Man” by mixing in a bit of style amongst the usual in-your-face antics.
What I found exceptionally powerful about Weller’s directing came in the final scene. While SOA typically ends with a moment of violence laced with a slow-moving cover song, Weller offered a moment of pause as young Abel stands next to a cookie jar with the only sounds coming from crickets of the night. Before approaching his tearful grandmother Gemma, he grabs a cookie and seemingly processes the scene before him. Frustration or curiosity? Of course, as Jax noted earlier in the episode at breakfast, “He’s five years old. He shouldn’t be frustrated.” And perhaps that Weller’s point. Abel can’t process the scene. He may certainly be affected by it, but the cookie serves as a reminder of his innocence.
And Weller wasn’t done there. The true beauty of the episode came with the final shot, as Jax Teller sneers at Moses Cartwright while passing by on his ride. It goes without saying that Bobby’s death and Jax’s tearful reaction was the most powerful moment of the episode, but that final shot was the most memorable. No cover song. No pretentiousness. The visage of Jax said it all. Fade to black.
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