My first question, when seeing the episode title: What does “vaded” mean?
Turns out, it’s an archaic form of “fade,” and its most famous use comes in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 54, which compares the striking red of a rose to the canker flower, which is also brightly colored and hangs from a thorny limb. But everybody loves the rose because of its “sweetest odours,” and even in death this quality affirms it. To Shakespeare, this is the truth inherent to the rose, and he compares it to the “beauteous and lovely youth” to whom he dedicates the sonnet. It ends:
Sweet roses do not so;
Of their sweet deaths are sweetest odours made:
And so of you, beauteous and lovely youth,
When that shall vade, my verse distills your truth.
So, “sweet and vaded” is a reference to a something beautiful dying, and the way the truth in its beauty emerges at the death to exhibit the intrinsic qualities that gave it more depth than its outward appearance alone.
But if the origin of yesterday’s episode is easy, the meaning is not. “Sweet and Vaded” can’t refer to the show itself, which is as frantic and violent as ever, and those words also apply to Jax and the other Sons. There’s no stately old age to be found here, and if anything, the club’s rotten qualities have emerged as they enter the second half of their sixth season in Charming. The dispute with the Irish has cooled off (though after the IRA bombed their clubhouse to smithereens, it couldn’t exactly get hotter), and Jax finally has the Sons on the verge of leaving the gun game, but it seems very much like their previous sins won’t let them exit in peace.
On the legal side, D.A. Patterson is still on the warpath, beating down every door in an attempt to tie the Sons to the violent school shooting that kicked off the season. The insane ex-marshal Lee Toric died, but she’s carrying his torch as best she can without going over the deep end. Her latest prey is Nero, in prison on a frame-up by Toric for the murder of one of his prostitutes. He can go free, Patterson says, if he gives up the Sons. But things get complicated when Gemma tells him that Venus, a transvestite who once did the club a favor and who is like a daughter to Nero, is having trouble with her own mother, who now has custody of a boy that turns out to be Venus’ 15-year-old son.
Nero begs Gemma to get the club to set things right, and Jax reluctantly agrees when Venus tells them that her mother is sexually abusive and poses a threat to the boy. The reality turns out to be even worse; she runs a child pornography studio in Frank Borowski’s warehouse by the piers, and when the club corners her, the boy is drugged and in trouble. The Sons chase off her lackeys, but the mother stays to deliver a hate-filled speech to Venus, calling her a freak and assuring her that the boy will grow to despise her. Disgusted, Jax shoots the woman in the head, and Borowsky, angry at what’s been happening under his nose, promises to clean things up. The problem, though, is that Patterson is onto him too, threatening to harass and disturb the various illegal-but-harmless enterprises that make up his “retirement fund.”
On the criminal side, August Marks accepts for the moment that the Irish are too racist to run guns through his black syndicate, but his parting look lets Jax know that there’s still a debt to be paid. Whether that comes in blood, guns, or money, it has to come. And despite the fact that Jax releases his IRA hostage, it’s anything but clear that he’s managed to completely extricate the Sons from vengeance or (perhaps worse) further business with the Irish Kings.
Somehow, though, the personal side is treating Jax the worst. Tara has been about as successful at her husband at removing herself from harmful relationships, but the plan that’s been building all season has started to come to fruition. And man, is it diabolical. She’s been baiting Gemma all season with Wendy’s help, and the dizzying climax arrived this week, when Wendy lied about Tara’s intentions to trigger Gemma’s anger. The furious matriarch (also definitively not sweet or vaded) tears into the hospital, finally confronting Tara in her office.
But Tara, who was seen drawing blood earlier, has planted a sac of it near her stomach, and when Gemma refuses to physically attack her because of her pregnancy, Tara screams and fakes the conflict. She ruptures the blood sac, and a stunned Gemma can only watch as Unser and Wendy rush in to see the aftermath. Tara’s pregnancy was a fake all along, but now it looks very much like Gemma killed her unborn child, and Jax has no choice but to sign a restraining order against her. That was the fruit of the plan, because when Tara finally gives Wendy custody of the children, the restraining order will assure that Gemma can’t sue for custody.
Even financially, the gang is in dire straits, with the escort services on hold and Jacob Hale’s Charming Heights project at least six months from breaking ground. There’s no money coming in, and no money means no power. And that, of course, means no protection.
In the earlier episodes of the season, I noted that Jax broke bad in the sense that the moral compass guiding him in the admittedly criminal world seemed totally broken. He sacrificed his own people, killed innocents, and generally lost the quality that made him seem somehow pure in a corrupt environment. Now he’s beset on every side, and even escaping the clutch of the Irish guns hasn’t given him the peace he expected.
“Sweet and Vaded” can only be a reference, then, to the shop the gang moves into as a temporary replacement for their bombed-out clubhouse. It’s called “Charming Scoops & Sweets,” a candy and ice cream store that is the ultimate ironic setting for a club so committed to violence. In the final montage, set to Joshua James’ beautiful protest song Crash This Train (the show earlier used James’ “Coal War” to even greater effect), children can be seen rushing into the shop to steal handfuls of candy as the Sons laugh. The sweetness, though, is false, a misleading veneer for something that is dark at its core. They are not roses, and they are not even thorns. They are the canker flower, bright and soulless and damned.