Editor’s note: Spoilers of the season finale are included in this review.
In the pilot episode of “Sons of Anarchy,” the show’s main protagonist, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), sits with his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal) in his living room as they discuss whether or not his young son, Abel, will live through a premature birth to his drug-addicted mother.
“Tellers don’t die easy,” Gemma says.
“No,” Jax says, “we die bloody.”
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And nobody in the history of the show died a bloodier death than Jax, meeting his end in Tuesday night’s series finale, “Papa’s Goods” — capping off seven seasons of manically-good television from creator Kurt Sutter with a decent episode that had some great moments, along with some ones that seemed out of place. If any show this season needed to be tightened-up, this was probably it.
First, the good:
▪ The pre-credits sequence was one of the best as far as season finales and maybe one of the best in show history. Jax at home, pulling on his outlaw uniform and shoving all those little Moleskin notebooks he’s been scribbling in for the entire series into a backpack. Then, off to a burned-out Teller-Morrow Automotive, the club’s old headquarters, where he finds the deed to the property and starts to put official documents together in a binder.
Once he’s done, out to the family’s storage locker, where he finds all the old pictures of his parents, of the club, finds all his dad’s old manuscripts ... the history of everything they are ... and burns it all along with his notebooks. Great stuff.
At the cemetery, a great scene without words. Jax leaves his two rings — “SO” and “NS” inscribed — on best friend Opie’s headstone. Then he leaves his wedding ring on the headstone of his dead wife, Tara.
▪ The tracking down of Connor, the rogue Irish gunrunner, was great because it gave fans one last caper to watch SOA pull off, engineered by Jax. When Connor tells Jax that killing off the entire Irish crew, including an Irish King, means the relationship with SOA is over, Jax reveals his plan had a double-pronged outcome — he wanted the relationship with the Irish to end, fulfilling his father’s wish, and he makes sure the Mayans are taken care of by leaving them as Connor’s only option to live and to keep making money. Half of the club’s problems solved in one, bloody move.
▪ Jax’s final scenes with Nero (Jimmy Smits) and with District Attorney Patterson (the great CCH Pounder) were wonderful. Jax explains to Nero that he’s leaving, he killed Gemma, and that Wendy needs to sell off his share of Teller-Morrow and his house so she can take the money and start a new life with his two sons, maybe by Nero and his farm. He just needs them to be away from Charming for good. Most importantly, he tells Nero that Wendy and the boys have to know everything when the time is right. He wants his boys to know the truth about him and his life. “I’m a criminal and a killer,” Jax tells Nero. “I want my sons to hate the thought of me.”
Nero dutifully takes everybody north, away from danger.
With Patterson, Jax is able to get the story about Tara’s murder out in the open while also buying himself some about-to-be-really-useful time. She appreciates the truthful moment and lets him leave. Bad move on her part. He tells her where to find Gemma and Unser (Dayton Callie) in Oregon. He doesn’t mention that they’re dead.
▪ Jax’s takedown of SOA’s final two enemies — crooked ex-cop Barosky (Peter Weller) and August Marks (Billy Brown) — are pretty brutal, and a fitting final salvo for the outlaw prince-turned-king. The scene on the steps of the courthouse, with a surprise attack, was especially well put-together.
▪ Patching T.O. in was a head-scratcher. It turns out that the favor Jax asked of the other club presidents in the penultimate episode was to abolish the law that African-Americans could not become SOA members. T.O., formerly of the all-black Grim Bastards, becomes part of the club. I was under the impression that this was resolved in season 4, when the club finds out that Juice (Theo Rossi) was hiding the fact he was half-black and getting blackmailed by the police with that information. Jax says they need to do away with the old laws and it’s assumed that they’ve left behind the racist rule at that point. The whole scene felt redundant and didn’t fit into the final arc.
▪ It’s understandable that Jax insists the club vote on his fate — a “mayhem” vote to determine life or death — and points out that the rules say he has to die. That there is such a large chunk of the show dedicated to the actual vote and then the faux-shooting ... and then the long explanation they’re faking his escape by gunfire ... then a weird goodbye with all of the club ... it was too much.
▪ Jax’s death was pretty strange, and included an O.J. Simpson-style chase with the cops trailing him on his dad’s old motorcycle that ended with him going headfirst into the semi, driven by Milo (Michael Chiklis), that gave Gemma a lift to see her dad in Oregon. The show skirted around religion and symbolism through most of its seasons, never hitting viewers over the head with it, but laid it on pretty heavy in the final moments, including Jax spreading his arms wide before his suicide-by-semi. However, the blood spilling across the highway, toward the crows eating a piece of wine-soaked bread, was a nice touch. That we never actually see him go, — and I know this sounds morbid — feels like a bit of a rip-off. As did the way he went out.
So, what’s next for the principals?
For Sutter, it’s a movie first – his boxing script, “Southpaw” has been made into a feature by director Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day” “Shooter” “The Equalizer”) and starring Jake Gyllenhall. Then it’s on to his next show, medieval (oh, the possibilities) drama “Bastard Executioner” which hasn’t started shooting yet.
For Hunnam, it’s also movies. He’s following up last summer’s sci-fi blockbuster “Pacific Rim” with another big role in Guillermo del Toro’s gothic horror flick “Crimson Peak.” Then, the biggie: A six-picture deal to play King Arthur with Guy Ritchie (“Sherlock Holmes”) directing.
Finales are always tricky, and while this one doesn’t veer into “Lost”-territory, it definitely falls short of some of the best. Sutter should be commended for taking the time to wrap up the show’s major storylines and staying true to his original vision.