SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s series finale of Sons Of Anarchy.
From the first moment of the final episode of Sons Of Anarchy, it was clear that SAMCRO leader Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) would have a busy day. There would be the settling of old scores; hatching a succession plan for his biker club, or at least the few members still standing; and planning a future for his two sons that didn’t involve the motorcycles, guns and gratuitous violence. That cycle turned Jax, the son of the club’s co-founder John Teller, from a redemption-seeking protagonist into an unredeemable thug whose Man On Fire routine defined the final season, destroying rivals but also just about everything he loved.
In an episode Tuesday night that ran north of 90 minutes, Jax seemed to have thought of everything, including his own escape. He settled scores with the Irish gun runners and everyone else who displeased him, including the double crossing Charles Barosky (played by Peter Weller, a regular director of Sons episodes), and August Marks (Billy Brown).
But there was no way that show creator Kurt Sutter was going to end this massively ambitious seven-year run by allowing Jax to escape his many sins. After a touching farewell to his late father whose ideals he could not live up to, Jax forced a firefight with a trooper and led a team of cops on a chase that could only end one way on the I-580. It was an appropriately bloody end for Jax, who wound up pasted to the grill of the Papa’s Goods tractor trailer driven by Michael Chiklis’ Milo character who appeared in the previous episode. There was symmetry there; Chiklis starred as the antagonist of The Shield, and creator Shawn Ryan gave Sutter his first major writing job on that series, which led him to create Sons. Sutter touched all the bases here and cleaned up all the loose ends, ending the season while it was still a strong ratings draw for FX, as opposed to hanging on and overstaying his welcome like many hot shows do.
The finale opened with Bruce Springsteen singing “Adam Raised A Cain” from his Darkness On The Edge Of Town album. When Sutter and Katey Sagal invited me into their home to live blog the last Emmy Awards, Kurt mentioned privately he thought Springsteen might lend him a song for the final episode. He was very excited and wasn’t sure which one he would be able to use. This one certainly captured the generational rage and baggage passed down from father to son. Several Springsteen songs would have fit the bill. “Born To Run” would have been too obvious a choice, but the lyrics of Springsteen’s “Blood Brothers” could also have fit well in the brotherhood theme.
He left his two rings (together they spelled SONS) on his pal Opie’s gravestone. He bid farewell and left his wedding ring on the grave of his wife, Tara, whose violent murder ended Season 6 and cast a long shadow over this final run. After Jax’s mother Gemma Teller Morrow murdered Tara and blamed it on a rival Chinese gang, it set forth a spiral of murder that claimed the lives of numerous core SOA members, including the club’s conscience Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Junior). Last week, shrapnel from Gemma’s grand lie led to the deaths of Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie), the medicinal marijuana-smoking former police chief with a soft spot for the biker club even though it wreaked havoc in the town of Charming; Gemma, and the traitorous Juice Ortiz (Theo Rossi), the weak-willed rat who helped Gemma hatch the cover-up of Tara’s murder that sent Jax on a misguided, murderous, vengeful rampage that gutted his gang and led to dozens of bloody deaths.
Gemma struggled with Tara for the soul and loyalty of Jax Teller from the moment the latter fell in love with him. With the shocking blast from Jax’s pistol that ended Gemma’s life, Tara finally won. She was a doctor with promise when she met Jax; turned a blind eye to all the blood he and his club left in their wake, and was tried for murder when the cross she gave to Otto behind bars (Sutter played that long-suffering SOA member) was used to murder a nurse. Her hand was mangled when Clay Morrow tried to have her kidnapped and, when she finally found a way to save her sons from the mayhem, she was bludgeoned through the brain with a meat fork by Gemma. By then, the gang world had sucked the life and goodness out of her.
Two years ago, Kurt asked me to moderate the Sons panel at San Diego Comic-Con, and while it was a raucous affair and the cast was all there, Ron Perlman, whose Clay Morrow had been deposed as gang leader at the end of the previous season, was subdued and somber. I saw Perlman the following year at Cannes after his character was killed by Jax, and when I brought up Comic-Con, he said, “I was subdued, because I knew what was coming. I knew it was over.”
It had to be that way for nearly all the actors on the show. Has any major TV series killed off as many core characters as Sons? The show was rough, early on, but mostly on outsiders. Once everybody’s famous Sons member Opie (Ryan Hurst) was beaten to death in prison in a shockingly violent scene, it was very clear that no one was safe. Sutter found his mojo writing for The Shield, where Chiklis revealed his stripes in the opening frame when he murdered another cop in cold blood and pronounced himself to be an awful, flawed protagonist and no super cop. Sutter carried that anything goes attitude into Sons, and his staff’s writing has always been unpredictable and fresh even if it did aspire to a Shakespearean conflict between a son and his mother.
Sutter also brought a wicked sense of humor and empathy; he brought over Shield co-star Walton Goggins to play transvestite character Venus Van Dam (and put him up for Emmy consideration as a gag). Then, after one of the most violent episodes this year, the crazy-eyed SOA member Tig (Kim Coates) announced his love for Goggins’ character, a touching display of tolerance that seemed surreal, given the extreme violence that preceded it. There was uncomfortable humor: when the rat Juice agreed to redeem himself with the Sons by going to prison to kill the Chinese gang leader falsely fingered for killing Jax’s wife Tara, Juice didn’t count on being adopted as the boy toy of an Aryan gang leader (Marilyn Manson); when Juice expected to be slipped a murder weapon, the envelope contained a container of Vaseline, a tube of lipstick and a book of love poems. In a later scene, Manson is seen curled up with Juice, reading poems as Juice snorts as much cocaine as he can fit in his nostrils.
I had hoped to speak to Sutter for this writeup, but after the screw-up on delivery of an SOA book revealed the fate of Jax before the show aired, Sutter decided to not give press briefings. He limited his words to a one-on-one with Hunnam that aired after the episode. It is very unlike the outspoken Sutter to go mime on us, but there was elegance in David Chase’s decision to let The Sopranos speak for itself. The epic themes Sutter covered in seven seasons of Sons Of Anarchy speaks loudly right there in the episodes. It would be nice if the Emmy voters noticed, but it seemed Sutter and his cohorts made it easy to marginalize the show by speaking candidly and showing biker attitude every time they were snubbed. From the writing to the direction, to the performances of cast members Hunnam, Sagal, Jimmy Smits, Boone, Coates and Tommy Flanagan, perhaps a reconsideration is in order though you know Sutter and his cohorts will never pander for votes.