Prashant Gupta/FX
Mandi Bierly
December 04, 2012 AT 12:00 PM EST

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy‘s season 5 finale, stop reading now. All season we’ve been building to the answer to this question: Can Jax sit in Clay’s old chair and not become Clay? We got our answer. For more on the season finale, read our postmortem interviews with creator Kurt Sutter and Kim Coates (Tig) and Ken Tucker’s review.

Because that morphing was the theme of season 5, it was fitting that the finale opened with a montage of Tara’s face fading into Gemma’s and Nero’s tattoo fading into Clay’s black out Reaper — and ended with Gemma replacing Tara in a pose similar to the one Tara and Jax struck at the end of season 4. It’s amazing isn’t it: How this episode leaves you hating Gemma almost as much as you did Clay last year, and feeling sorry for Clay and, you can admit it, angry with Jax? Let’s break it down.

Jax went to see Pope at Charming Heights to discuss the final details for Tig’s delivery. Worried that Pope would no longer need their working relationship after Tig was dead, Jax said he wanted Pope’s word in writing re: T-M’s maintenance contracts for Charming Heights, the subsidized housing for Lyla and the kids, and SAMCRO’s percentage for bringing Pope and Hale together. Auggie said he’d work with the lawyers to put something together for both Jax and Hale, and they set Tig’s execution for 2 p.m. at one of Pope’s rural storage garages. At T-M, we saw Juice take something out of his locker (which we assumed was the gun Clay had given him) and put it on one of the bikes in the garage. Clay didn’t notice because he was there to talk to Gemma, who told him that her suitcase was in the car. Clay thanked her and said Ireland would be a fresh start. He told her to meet at his place at 3 p.m. for their 4:30 p.m. flight with Galen.

Over at the hospital, Tara found out there was no permanent damage to her hand and she’ll be operating again within 6 months. Of course, why should she get to enjoy that good news: Wendy showed up to see her and told her what Jax had done the night before. Tara was appropriately horrified, but Wendy didn’t threaten to take Abel again — instead, she yelled at Tara to get herself and the boys out. Tara assured her that was the plan. Slight problem: The practice forgot that Tara asked them to keep the news quiet from Jax, and they sent a congratulatory basket of perishables to her home (instead of to the hospital, where they knew she was?) — and Chucky found it on the porch when he delivered mats to the house. He brought it back to T-M to be refrigerated and Gemma read the “Welcome to the practice” card.

Before that situation exploded, we caught up with Nero, who needed to deal with Dante, leader of the rival gang (Triple Twos) moving in on the Byz-Lats’ protection business. The SAMCRO boys offered to do a little recon at Dante’s dogfights to see how big his crew is now. Honestly, that dogfight was as or more painful to watch than anything else we’ve seen this season. I had to mute it. If I weren’t recapping, I would have fast-forwarded entirely. Tig was the most disturbed and followed the guy carrying the losing dog outside to put it down. When you saw the garbage bins full of dead dogs, you wanted Tig to shoot this guy and everyone else there. But Jax told him that’s not what they’re there for. They had Phil take the dog with him when he went to tell Nero it was on. After Jax paused to watch a woman speaking to a tiny stuffed animal horse in the trash like it was a child — perhaps hammering home that Tig saw Dawn in those helpless dogs — the boys found Dante counting his money. This wouldn’t go well: SAMCRO eventually got chased out of the warehouse, but Nero’s crew and the Mayans arrived to shut the Triple Twos down. Chibs, Jax, and Nero chased Dante and one of his men back into the warehouse. Chibs almost got dead, but he hacked Dante’s guy in the gut and then Jax put the dude’s face in some nails. While he wailed, Nero laughed as he chased Dante and threw him through a window into the street. Dante carjacked a lady, but oops!, she had a pitbull in her SUV and it started attacking him. Nero wouldn’t let Dante out of the car, and Jax smiled. Isn’t that what we all wish would happen to people who organize dogfights?

Jax headed back to T-M, and Tara was waiting to tell him about her hand and give him a chance to come clean about what he’d done to Wendy. He didn’t tell her the specifics, he just said no one would ever believe a junkie like her. Unser told Jax what he found out about Lee Toric (Donal Logue): Harvard grad, ex-special forces, recruited into the U.S. Marshals in ’91, high-profile arrests and honors, but forced into early retirement for excessive force, intimidation and racial profiling. The nurse Otto killed was his only family. Cut to Lee behind the glass at the prison, getting ready to watch Otto give his statement. Otto laughed. Lee laughed. Finally, when the camera was turned on and Otto was asked to state his name for the record, Otto leaned in, stuck out his tongue, and slammed his chin down on the table. HE BIT OFF HIS TONGUE. He then picked it up and threw it at the glass where Lee was. It slid down, blood trailing. “Well, way to commit, Otto,” Lee said to himself. Was Otto laughing, crying, or both as blood oozed from his mouth? That was gross, but awesome. On the FX press site, there’s a shot of Lee in that room with Otto actually talking to him. I assume that means a scene was cut from the episode, either for time or for impact. Maybe if we saw Lee threaten Otto again, it would have felt like Otto did this in defeat, as opposed to a choice he’d made on his own to stick it to Toric?

Tara really needs a secretary to keep people the hell out of her office. Gemma came to see her to discuss Tara’s exit strategy and threatened to tell the investigators that Tara had asked her to give her that crucifix and told her exactly what she’d have Otto do with it. Tara told Gemma that Jax would kill her for that, and Gemma said he might as well kill her because she’s dead without her boys. “At least I would have the satisfaction of knowing you were locked up gettin’ fist-raped until they were well into their 20s,” Gemma said. And that is the moment I officially turned on Gemma. Tara grabbed Gemma’s throat, and Gemma punched her in the gut. The bruises may not be as bad as what Clay inflicted on Gemma, but the moment was ugly. Tara told Gemma to do what she had to do, but she’s leaving Charming with her sons.

Back at T-M, Chibs worked on stitching up the dog, and Jax called Auggie to have him tell Pope he was running late but would be there soon with Tig. Jax lied and told Tig that one of Nero’s guys had called and said he’d found the breeder supplying the dogs for the fights. Tig said he had this. Jax made sure they went alone.

Over at Clay’s, Juice was helping him pack up his house when Gemma arrived early. I really hadn’t pieced this together yet. For all I knew: Juice was supposed to kill Clay, and Gemma was there to make sure it happened so she’d have more bargaining power with Jax and Tara…

NEXT: Tig’s time is up… or not

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