Last night’s final bloodbath managed to be both predictable and shocking. The two-hour season finale of Sons of Anarchy groaned a bit, at times, under the bloated running time, but paid off with a gut-wrenching ending. We said good-bye to another major character and to the hope of a happy ending for our hero. Next season looks like it’s going to be an all-out war, and, while last night’s episode may have been all about the mothers, in the end it’s going to be the sons, Abel and Thomas, that we’re rooting for. Grab the nearest carving fork; here’s what we learned last night in “A Mother’s Work.”
A Mother of a Big Bad
I was disappointed, at first, that Donal Logue’s Lee Toric was written out of the show for scheduling purposes. I was really looking forward to seeing Logue as the big bad this season. But given that this final episode was so patently about mothers, it was much more fitting to have Jax square off with DA Patterson. She refers to herself as a “flawed mother” before giving Jax the advice that I believe (temporarily) saved his soul. She says, “Do you ever struggle with your need to be a good man? ... Whatever decisions happen today, the outcome lands on you. Are you willing to let your family pay the price? I promise you, son: It’s going to destroy you and everything else you love.” Before the episode is over, those words will haunt and decimate Jax, but for the time being they saved Tara’s life.
Giving Up the Crown
We saw this storm brewing in the last episode, but with the IRA somewhat out of the picture, it looks like the final season will focus on the warring factions closer to home. Retaliations on top of retaliations are going to rip Oakland and Stockton apart. What does that mean for Collette and Charlie’s involvement next year? How will the Sons get drawn back in? More on that in a bit.
Trimming the Fat
The extra-long running time on last night’s finale (and many episodes this season) has to make even the most die-hard fan look askance. Did Kurt Sutter really need an extra hour to tell this story? Wouldn’t the shock of the ending have hit us that much harder if we didn’t have so much downtime in the plot to see it coming? Take, for example, this scene between Wendy and Unser. I like both of these characters, and I’m all for engaging dialogue that reveals motivations. But what did we learn here? Unser is pathetically in love with Gemma? Wendy is afraid Jax is no longer the good man she once knew? We got those messages loud and clear elsewhere in the episode and the series. This scene (and a few others) just felt indulgent. That being said, the episode did need to spend some time with Wendy because she’s not done playing her part. Isn’t she still technically the legal guardian?
It wouldn’t be a Kurt Sutter show or a Shakespeare knock-off without a healthy dose of “fate” and “destiny.” In this case, Nero calls it “karma.” Tara’s fate was sealed, in my mind, from the first episode. But Nero implies that Jax’s callous treatment of Darvany (a mother) is to blame for Tara’s woes. The parallels are fairly striking. Darvany was silenced so she wouldn’t betray the club. But I’d rather believe that it’s not just that one act, but the culmination of all of Jax’s violent choices that have brought him here. To borrow a phrase from another FX outlaw, Jax’s world has a high cost of living. As for Nero, I’m not sure I’m completely sold on his arc here. I buy him pulling away from Jax and from Gemma, but I’m not sure why he’s falling into the arms of the Mayans and the Byz Lats. I understand he has old ties, but even Alvarez urged Nero to get out of the game. I feel like the lesson he should have learned from his time with the Tellers is that this world will bring him nothing but pain. The upshot of this fairly unbelievable character development is that we’ll get more Nero next year. Possibly even Nero versus Jax. That’s karma rewarding us for being good.
The King Is Dead, Long Live the King
Despite Charlie’s earlier reference to giving up the crown, it isn’t until Jax plans to give himself up that he begins to make plans of succession. His choice of Bobby Elvis is perfect. (Cementing my Fortinbras theory of earlier in the season.) But was Chibs really on board? He looked a little miffed to me. Things might not work out exactly the way Jax planned them next season, but no matter what he’s up to (defending his life? throttling his mother? getting a damn haircut?), he’s going to be too busy to run the club. Bobby’s the one most likely to carry out Jax’s vision of guns for pussy. Hey, he even got a coronation.
Among the usual Shakespearean allusions in this episode (and there were many, and we’ll get to them), the season finale was also brimming with references to The Godfather. Jax, in fact, straight up says “I don’t want to be the Godfather.” But between Tara’s failed attempt to take her kids (a very Kay Corleone move) and all the talk of Jax as a once-good and sympathetic man corrupted by this life of crime, we were primed for the confrontation between Jax and Juice. Charlie Hunnam’s mouth may have said, “You betrayed me,” but all I heard was, “I know it was you, Fredo, you broke my heart.” Betrayal was a loaded word that was thrown out all over the place in this episode (Patterson to Jax, Nero to Jax, Gemma about Tara), but the hard, unsympathetic line that Jax draws here pushes poor, broken Juice over the edge. We’ll get to that in a bit.
To Muddy Death
This was maybe one of the most unsurprising deaths in a long time. As soon as Tara took those kids, we knew she was gone. Jax’s reversal and their happy ending came much too early in the episode for this all to pan out for Tara. By the time the camera zoomed in on Maggie Siff’s beatific face after Tara walked in the door to her house, well, even the ghost of one-eyed Otto saw this one coming. I am glad it was Gemma and not Jax who committed the act. That’s much gnarlier drama. Besides, if we want to revisit our Shakespeare (Unser’s mixed-up message to Gemma being classic Romeo and Juliet), I always suspected that Gertrude (Gemma) pushed Ophelia (Tara) into that river. Kurt Sutter found a way to work drowning into Tara’s death but, of course, that would be too clean for Sons of Anarchy. So we got murder by carving fork and the unforgettably gruesome sound of Tara’s skull cracking. And that was only the beginning.
Meet Mr. Mayhem
We may have seen Tara’s death coming, but I was caught off guard by gentle Roosevelt’s end. I definitely believed this was curtains for Gemma. She’ll get her just desserts next season, I suppose, but she got a temporary stay of execution thanks to the broken damaged psyche of poor Juice. This is the pay-off for all the haunted looks and blank stares Theo Rossi has been throwing us all season. He killed a cop. The cop. He is Mr. Mayhem. Interestingly, in an episode so focused on mothers and their roles, it is Gemma’s maternal instinct that saves her here. Not the murderous one that grabbed the carving fork, but the gentler side of her that was so kind to Juice last week and at the beginning of this episode. She (and Nero for a time) were the only ones to truly show Juice compassion. So he acted as the loyal son to her. They’re not going to get away with it in the long run. Could that mysterious homeless angel be a harbinger of death? In the end, it’s curtains for everyone.
Thus With a Kiss
On the whole, I really like the arc of this episode and what it’s setting up for next season. It could have been Jax (or one of the Sons) who killed Tara in order to keep her quiet. But the reconciliation, miscommunication and subsequent bloodbath made for much juicier tragedy. I’m not that worried that Tara's and Roosevelt’s murders will be pinned on Jax. Forensics being what they are, they’ll never be able to make that stick. But how long will it take Jax to figure out who the responsible parties are. Gemma is already looking ready to crack under the Lady Macbeth pressure of it all. I suspect that for a time the blame will erroneously fall on the Mayans (following on the shoot-out in the junkyard), kicking off a war between (in the parlance of the show) Black and White versus Yellow and Brown, with Jax on one side and his erstwhile father figure, Nero, on the other. Eventually, however, the truth will out. That’s when bodies will start dropping like flies. For what it’s worth, I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Charlie Hunnam’s acting style, but he absolutely killed it this episode. From the quiet, internal drama of his first scene with Patterson to the turmoil of his confrontation with Tara to the wailing grief of this final scene. He nailed it.