WARNING: This article contains major spoilers.
The most epic rebel yell in television history comes to an end Tuesday night when Kurt Sutter’s “Sons of Anarchy” airs its series finale — the final chapter in the saga of a northern California motorcycle gang and its tortured, Prince Hamlet-inspired scion, Jackson “Jax” Teller, portrayed brilliantly by British actor Charlie Hunnam.
Sutter, the show’s creator, cut his teeth as a writer, producer and actor on another excellent FX show, police drama “The Shield,” and for seven seasons has crafted a beautiful, violent, gory, sometimes funny and always entertaining show — one that seemed on life support when it started in the fall of 2008 but grew to be a fan and critic favorite. Its seventh season premiere pulled in a recond 9.2 million viewers; the most watched show in FX history.
After last Tuesday’s penultimate episode, which saw Jax avenge the murder of the love of his life, Dr. Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff), by killing his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal, Sutter’s real-life wife), all that’s left is for Sutter to provide fans with the answer to the question they’ve pined over for years — will Jax live or will he die?
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And more importantly, can Sutter deliver where so many other beloved shows have failed in the final episode?
“Lost” didn’t get it right (purgatory, really?), “Seinfeld” was probably the most disappointing.
“The Sopranos” left way more questions than answers.
“Breaking Bad,” the awards darling that SOA never was, went out almost perfectly (Jesse laughing, as he drove away); as did “Friday Night Lights” (he moved to Philadelphia for her!).
What has made the show so appealing to myself, along with millions of others, has been the feeling that, somewhere in all the evil the characters do, there is still a connection.
There’s something thrilling about watching something that feels like you’re not supposed to be watching it. For cheering characters you’re not supposed to be cheering for — Hunnam has called Jax’s character a “psyschopath“ — and the rush that comes when they come out on top.
Each season, save for the slow-burn first season in 2008, has followed a very tried and true formula. The Sons find themselves facing a seemingly insurmountable foe. They seem incredibly outmatched. Somehow, Jax finds them a way out of their predicament.
At its best, it works on a “Sopranos”-like level. At its worst — see the first half of season 3 and most of season 4 — it can be a bit formulaic.
But the seventh and final season, arguably, has been its best — a slow unraveling of everything Jax ever cared for and believed in, triggered by the lie concocted by Gemma and a disgraced SOA member, Juice (Theo Rossi), after Tara’s murder — a lie that has propelled Jax from anti-hero to almost-villain at some points.
The only thing we know for sure is that no one is safe.
Sutter has been unsentimental with dispatching the characters we’ve grown close to over the years. Beloved Opie (Ryan Hurst), Jax’s best friend and conscience. Former SOA president and Jax’s stepfather, Clay (Ron Perlman), finally paying for past sins last season, dying at Jax’s hand. And Tara. And Half Sack. And Piney. And Otto. And Hale. And Roosevelt.
This season, trusted Bobby Elvis (Mark Boone Jr.) met a grisly end, losing an eye and most of the fingers on his left hand before being shot in the head just feet away from Jax. Juice’s prison experience, at the behest of Jax, was almost unwatchably brutal and ended with a last bite of cherry pie and a scalpel to the neck from Tully (Marilyn Manson).
Even old faithful, Unser (Dayton Callie) was on the wrong side of Jax’s gun as he tried to protect Gemma, who met the ultimate, Oedipal fate.
So, now what? Most SOA fans have assumed that there’s no way Jax is alive come the final, ghostly reaper image that signifies the end of each show. He’s done too much wrong. He’s burned too many bridges. He’s gone too far, too many times.
But there’s also that part of me that wonders ... what if? Sutter has long said he knew how the series was going to end, and he’s stuck to his guns. But playing against type has always been his move.
If we all think Jax is going to die, then maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe he and his two young sons, Abel and Thomas, make it to that farm Nero (Jimmy Smits) always talks about. Maybe he gets out like his dead father and the club’s founder, John Teller, always wanted him to.
Maybe there’s a twisted happily ever after in there somewhere.
But probably not. And that’s been the beauty of SOA.
I’ll miss it dearly.
‘Sons of Anarchy’ finale
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Top 5 episodes
1. “Laying Pipe” (season 5, episode 3): When Jax’s best friend, Opie Winston, sacrificed himself for Jax in prison, it left viewers shocked and set Jax on his current path of revenge and destruction.
2. “Albification” (season 2, episode 1): The game changer. Gemma’s brutal kidnapping and gang rape at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood was controversial, and brought the show into the national consciousness.
3. “NS” (season 3, episode 13): Jax’s most elaborate plan to get the club out of trouble included probably the most haunting finale. Jax, triumphant, with his father’s prophetic words of warning playing over the final scenes.
4. “Suits of Woe” (season 7, episode 11): Watching Jax break the news of Gemma’s betrayal to those closest to him was heartbreaking. And, for good measure, throw in a car chase for the ages.
5. “The Sleep of Babies” (season 1, episode 12): The show’s first “didn’t-see-that-coming” death came when Clay ordered Opie’s assassination, and Tig ended up killing Opie’s wife, Donna, instead.
5 most devastating ‘SOA’ deaths
By the time “Sons of Anarchy” reaches its tragic conclusion on Tuesday, it very likely will go down as the deadliest drama in television history.
Over seven bloody seasons, this saga about hog-straddling, gun-running, porn-loving biker dudes has bumped off so many characters that it’s near impossible to produce an accurate body count. Now, fans are left to wonder if even Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the grief-stricken president of the titular motorcycle club, will meet his maker.
Among the fallen, a certain few truly stand out. Here, then, are the five most devastating deaths on “Sons of Anarchy”:
1. Gemma Teller (Katey Sagal) – It was inevitable. The SAMCRO queen bee just had to pay the price for killing Tara and plotting a messy cover-up that resulted in a number of other fatalities. Still, it was heart-wrenching to watch a tearful Jax deposit a bullet in his mother’s brain. At least, by this point, death came as a relief for the tormented matriarch, who took her final breaths in the beloved rose garden of her youth.
2. Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) – In one of television’s most gruesome sequences, Gemma attacked Tara in her own kitchen. First, she tried to drown her daughter-in-law in a tub of dirty dishwater, and then stabbed her multiple times in the head with a carving knife. It was a heinous act made worse by the fact that Gemma falsely assumed Tara had ratted out Jax. Even for a show that wallows in violence, this was a hellacious, shocking, gasp-inducing twist.
3. Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst) – The demise of this beloved character was particularly hard to swallow for “SOA” fans – and for Jax. After the club was forced to choose a member to be killed in prison, Opie – having already lost his wife and father – volunteered to take one for the team. Jax could only look on helplessly as his best friend was clubbed to death with a pipe to the head.
4. Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) – This was the first pivotal death that proved “SOA” wasn’t afraid to eliminate a central character. After the club voted unanimously to kill its former president, Clay was gunned down at close range by Jax, the man he raised as a son. Though shocking, Clay’s demise was, for many fans, long overdue because he had repeatedly managed to escape retribution for crimes against the club.
5. Bobby Munson (Mark Boone, Jr.) – Poor Bobby. Held hostage by August Marks’ henchmen, he had already suffered the loss of an eye and some fingers, along with a broken jaw. Marks finally put an end to the torture by putting a bullet in Bobby’s skull. Like Opie, Bobby died right in front of Jax, but this one came as a major shock because Jax thought he had a struck a deal for Bobby’s release.
Chuck Barney/Contra Costa Times