The last days of Sons of Anarchy begin with a state-of-the-union montage set to a melancholy cover of the Association's ''Never My Love.'' A swastika is cut into a chest. Teeth are pulled. A message is sent: Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), grief-jacked outlaw, means business. The premiere ends with another montage and another act of violence that is disturbing, not just for its brutality (though it's ridiculously brutal) but because the perpetrator couldn't be more wrong about the things he thinks he's accomplishing. Justice. Catharsis. Satisfaction. In between bloody bookends, Jax renounces the theme that underpins so many antihero sagas: redemption. There will be no bid to ''buy back all the bad s--- I have done,'' he tells his biker brethren. ''That's a false pardon. It's dangerous, and it's selfish.''
And so Sons revs its engine and sets off toward the sunset bent on raising hell and going to hell. The premise promises Shakespearean tragedy writ pulpy. Jaxmad to the max over the murder of his wife, Tararips into a vengeance quest that threatens cataclysmic gang war. His wanting to reclaim SAMCRO's badass soul electrifies his MC family, including Lady Macbeth-ish materfamiliasand Tara's true killerGemma (Katey Sagal), who, naturally, sees no benefit in enlightening her son. Jax living out his ignorance with wanton abandon and Gemma living out her rationalized deceits drive the season and put them on a collision course. ''I don't have a vision anymore,'' he says in a later episode. ''All I see is what's right in front of me.'' He's flying blind and doesn't know it.
But we do. And what's frustrating about the early part of the season is that it keeps you waiting for its juicy ironies to be properly squeezed. The story sputters with repetitive scenarios (tedious sit-downs to negotiate truces, dull missions to secure loyalties)endgame prepping that feels like endgame stalling. Gemma's side of the saga should be more interesting. Her machinations are largely limited to keeping Juice (Theo Rossi), a Man-Child Who Knows Too Much, hidden. Something powerful is developing with Unser (Dayton Callie), who is determined to suss out the truth of Tara's murder, but again, it's a slow build.
Despite some sly touches (Marilyn Manson as a neo-Nazi creep), a somber tone permeates, perhaps too much. With only suffering or smoldering emotions to play, the actors struggle to keep things lively. The too-square style fails to express the tortured internal lives of the characters; a touch of the surrealism or subjective storytelling that the likes of Hannibal and The Leftovers (over)indulge in might help. Sons of Anarchy could be the antihero drama to end all antihero dramas, but it'll have to shift into some new gears to go out in the blaze of ingloriousness it deserves. B-