The gentlefolk of Sons of Anarchy have long had difficulties with domestic and business relationships. It’s as though riding massive motorcycles, letting one’s hair become unkempt, and constantly being arrested were impediments to leading the sort of quiet, nurturing lives so many of the show’s central characters ardently desire. These difficulties played out rather dramatically during the Tuesday night season finale.
SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS WEEK’S SONS OF ANARCHY.
Early on, a montage set to a cover of the song “To Sir, With Love” (an example of series creator Kurt Sutter tapping into the female-submissive strain in ’60s pop as a metaphor for the caste system in SAMCRO culture?) reminded us of all the storylines that needed to be addressed this week. Clay was planning a little getaway with Gemma to Ireland, where they could dodge bullets and take in the sights; Tara’s hand, needed for the new surgeon’s job she’s been offered in Oregon, is healing nicely. Nero’s problems with competitors, Tig upset witnessing a dogfight as a symbol of all the pain he was put through all season right up until his near-killing this evening – let’s face it, all that was pretty much over-shadowed by the evening’s first big show-piece: The scene in prison, in which Otto bites off his own tongue rather than give up any further information. Line of the night went to Donal Logue as Lee Toric: “Wow: Way to commit, Otto.”
One of the semi-secret ways SOA works as well as it does is that, if you tilt it just sliiiiightly in your mind, it becomes one of the funniest shows on television. Sutter designed it this way. He’s got a sick sense of humor, to be sure – I’d love to see the outtakes from the tongue-biting scene. Even the lawyer played by Robin Weigert pointed out the amusement from her point of view: “As gruesome as it is, this is good news, Tara.” And allowing Dante to get chewed by a pitbull while Nero chuckled: whatta stitch. The entire premise for the series, that of a motorcycle gang, drug-running, women-abusing law-breakers, as tragic heroes we root for, is essentially absurd. When the show isn’t running on all cylinders, it becomes downright ludicrous. But this season, it’s been pretty wonderful. Jimmy Smits’ Nero has proven a terrific addition. Manipulating the character of Gemma from – as my colleague and ace SOA recapper Mandi Bierly points out – sympathetic and tough to deceitful and slimy and back again depending upon what’s required of her, well, both Katey Sagal’s performance and the writing for this character is a splendid combination. And me, I’ve so had it with the perfidy of Clay, that seeing him, framed and morose in chains being hauled off to the hoosegow, struck me as one of the episode’s more delightful cliffhangers.
All can not be turned into a laugh, of course. Bobby’s charge to Jax – “You had a chance to be different” – and Jax’s response, “Maybe I’m not so different,” was wrenching, another example of the way SOA plays out as classic tragedy: Jax is fated not to struggle free and pursue what his father sought (redemption), but doomed to carry out the hopelessly evil hubris of his stepfather, enmeshed with his mother as loving enabler.
Tara uttered words I’ve longed to hear her say – that she wants to take leave of “this goddam cesspool” – the surgeon who also calls herself another man’s “old lady” (as in “My job as your old lady is to be strong … when you can’t be”) is once again reacting as a sane person raised in a non-outlaw culture might, were this a more regularly realistic show. That she, too, is now arrested, torn from Jax and her children, sets up a next season that is sure to find Charlie Hunnam stretched to the limits of his abilities to convey Jax’s agony. And speaking of agony: no one in this series gets to experience its opposite, ecstasy. It’s Kurt Sutter’s most bitter joke, and one he plays on the characters – and us – every season. This was a particularly exemplary one.
For more: Sons of Anarchy recap: Jax got this?