"Something will go wrong. Somebody will get hurt. I promise you, it will end badly. - Gemma
"The king is gone but he's not forgotten." - Neil Young
This past weekend, my buddy James and I spent a solid hour discussing Sons of Anarchy. I wish I had a transcript as we waxed on the numerous inconsistencies, missed chances, utterly ludicrous scenarios, incomprehensible turns of events and other major frustrations of season three. This conversation was important for two reasons. One: it highlighted the obvious and glaring problems with the show this season. But two: it illustrated that Sons of Anarchy still has viewers, like us, passionate for a great product. And though the previous 12.1 episodes (the series started getting iffy in the last ten minutes of season two) have been generally disappointing, the opportunity for greatness still exists. Because unlike last season, where they took brilliance and compromised it with a hokey ending. Tonight, Sons of Anarchy took a season of hokey and wrapped it in such a phenomenal way I'm almost at a loss for words. Almost.
The level of investment on our (and many others') part is a testament to a show exploring Shakespearean tragedy of family against the backdrop of a crooked motorcycle club. It's handled the gritty and the grim with a deftness few shows could pull off. It's turned family against itself and in doing so turned everyone inside out. But much of that was lost this season amidst a tsunami of crisis. Crisis everywhere. Crisis strictly for crisis' sake, and it's been a problem. Tonight's season finale though has me forgetting the sins of the past because in the last half hour, the storylines wrapped up so tightly not just for this season, but for the series as a whole. The last half hour was brilliant television plain and simple. And though a great deal happened this episode, for space and time's sake we'll focus primarily on the final act. There's material there to fill more than enough space.
I wrote a few weeks ago that we've spent episode after episode missing out on conversations. We never quite knew the whole story of Abel, or Maureen, or Magee, or the priest, or really anyone. So of course we would end "NS" being kept in the dark until the very end.
It was easy to think Jax's deal with Stahl had that "this ends bad" line written all over it. Hell, Gemma warned him as much. Relationships built on lies never work out. And the Jax/ Stahl saga was a "who can trust who less" affair right until the very end. Stahl's embodiment of everything evil made it entirely probable that she'd turn on Jax, but it still caught me a bit off guard. After the first Jimmy O - Russian exchange (with an convenient assist from Chucky) it was tough to see Jax sign on the dotted line and officially declare himself a rat. Rats don't work out in the gang world, and though the writers have written themselves into boxes before (umm Abel on a boat and Gemma wanted for murder, oh my) having Jax turn state's evidence and make it out alive would just have been too much.
Of course Stahl duped him, and smiled all the way through it. Hell, this is the woman who shot her lover in the neck to get out of a bind. Did we really expect her to follow through with any class? Of course not. And while she claimed her ratting out the rat was simply to ensure his testimony, it was much more than that. Who harbored more of a grudge against SAMCRO than Stahl? She's been beaten by them (remember Otto?), discredited, embarrassed, threatened and harassed to the point that if she had kept the deal a secret I would have probably screamed foul.
So watching Stahl get her comeuppance was both gut-wrenching and bittersweet. Without getting into the Opie/ Donna/ Stahl backstory I can just say - it had to be Ope. And when she put her hands on the steering wheel and whimpered for her life, it was the only time she actually showed her true character: a scared woman in over her head. It was a testament to Opie's character that there was a chance he didn't finish the job, but in the end Stahl's demise was eye-for-an-eye in its truest form.
Similarly, watching Chibs finally deal with Jimmy O (more on my man Titus Welliver in a bit) was the same kind of glorious revenge SAMCRO has made its bones on. Watching Jimmy O accept his fate (he knows he's a bad guy after all) while Stahl begged for her life (she never really understood what she was doing) was a nice way to juxtapose the differences between those who do bad as a job and those who just do a bad job.
But in the end it all comes back to Jax. How could it not? And as "Hey Hey My My" played in the background, I couldn't help but think Jax was actually headed, like Neil Young supposed, into the black. He came out of this affair on top, club intact, enemies thwarted, and family restored. But at what cost? Was the price he paid to become more like his father, or less? JT saw his end coming at the hands of Gemma, Clay and the life of the club. Jax's father would most likely argue the club killed him as much as his wife and best friend. And maybe Jax sees that. (Gemma at least sees the parallel, practically begging Clay to spare Jax before the fact) But unlike John Teller's submission to fate at the hands of Gemma and Clay, Jax seeks to control them in a way his father never could. Where his father was weak, Jax is strong. Where his father resigned to an idea of a better club without making any real changes, Jax seeks to take control and usher in a new era.
That is where Sons of Anarchy left us. Not with a tornado, but a calm somewhere in the eye of the storm. It took random kidnappings, explosions, some unnecessary dead-ends and more than a little hijinx, but the show left in a better place than it started. And while I can't ignore the obvious issues with season three, the ending restored my faith in the Sons of Anarchy. There are more stories to tell here. After all, Shakespeare never stopped until everyone was lying on the ground.
- Tara and the letters. What to think of this? Sons of Anarchy has often built its seasons on secrets. The first was about JT's manuscripts and eventually Clay ordering Donna's hit. The second continued with the Donna coverup as well as Gemma's rape. This season the secrets laid around the margins while we danced a new dumb jig every week. But will season four be the turning point? Will the secrets now all lie with Tara and how she deals with the letters? They are ticking time bombs.
- Police Chief Unser. I thought, halfway through this season, Unser would be at center of SAMCRO's fall. And it really looked like we were going that way. Until that is, he pulled an inexplicable 180 and started helping SAMCRO again. I'm not sure I can fully explain it. That being said, watching him light up a joint and tell Stahl she basically needed it like a prisoner headed to the firing squad was a surreal moment.
- Jax keeping the IRA files in his jacket almost had my turning off the episode in the first five minutes. Thank god it was all a set up.
- I thought Otto was completely blind. Guess not and Kurt Sutter gets one cameo this season. This time Otto and Lenny the Pimp illustrated the pathetic futures of those criminals who end up lifers (and eventual death row inmates) because they chose the life of guys like SAMCRO.
- Titus Welliver - great till the end. He had the three best moments of the episode. When he greets Clay and Jax at the exchange with an air of indignation. When he thanks the American Justice system for saving him. And when he tells Chibs to take care of the girls, and actually meant it.
- The season premiere was titled "So" and I speculated at the time that it referred to the first two letters of Jax's rings. In fact, this is exactly what I wrote:
- I racked my brain to come up with what exactly "So" meant as the title of tonight's episode and came up with two conclusions. One: I think it's almost a question posed to Jax. Akin to asking, "So, what the hell are you going to do about this?" But I also think its a reference to Jax's rings on his left hand that spell out SoNs.
Tonight's "NS" confirmed that thought. As the first episode of the season was "So" we have it bookended with NS. And Jax more than answered the question.