“You're born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else's past / Well, Daddy worked his whole life for nothing but the pain / Now he walks these empty rooms looking for something to blame / But you inherit the sins, you inherit the flames” (Bruce Springsteen, “Adam Raised a Cain”)
The series finale of Sons of Anarchy opens deliberately, with a strong beat, literally and figuratively. Bruce Springsteen’s “Adam Raised a Cain” plays as Jax wakes up. However, Jax is no longer looking for someone to blame. He knows he’s Cain.
John Teller left his son a manuscript for survival, a guidebook to turn SAMCRO into what he always wanted it to be. Jax read it and wanted to live it. Jax started writing his own notebooks — pages and pages — to his own sons, to guide them onto the right path. In the opening scenes of the series finale of Sons of Anarchy, Jax was torching it all. His father couldn’t reform the club, and he hoped his son could. He couldn’t, and Jax’s hopes for his sons are no longer to continue down his MC path; he wants them out, so he destroys his legacy. And just as J.T. did more than 20 years ago, Jax destroys himself to give his sons a chance. He throws away his bloody sneakers and puts on his motorcycle boots as he finds himself retracing his father’s footsteps.
“Papa’s Goods” — at almost two hours — is a powerful end to seven seasons of revenge, lust, mayhem, glimmers of humor, and, perhaps most important, humanity. “Papa’s Goods” spans a day not quite complete; the episode begins in the morning, as so many have this season, but ends in the afternoon. Jax takes care of everything, but as Abel plays with the SON ring Gemma covertly gave him as he’s riding to a different future, we wonder what it holds. He colors a picture of a book (certainly a nod to the journaling of his father and grandfather) and had put on his grandfather’s ring. Jax does what he says he “should have done while my wife was still alive.” He’s lucky he has that chance; Nero is an excellent father figure, and Wendy has turned into a wonderful mother.
Twenty years ago, J.T. left Jax with Gemma and Clay. He might have hoped that Jax would break the cycle, but the forces in his life were just too great. The truth that Jax has been running from since Jury suggested that J.T. died at his own hand comes full circle, and Jax meets Mr. Mayhem on his own accord, both sparing his club and following in the footsteps of his father — which is, after all, what he wanted to do so badly all along. And he does it all on his father’s bike.
“Papa’s Goods” consists largely of Jax tying up loose ends and planning for a future that relies on his absence. As he wakes, the camera focuses on his tattoos (John Teller’s grave, and Abel and Thomas’s names) and his scars, reiterating the permanence of the life he’s led, and the indention of his father’s life on him, and his on his sons’. He collects all of his notebooks, checks his gun’s magazine, and goes to the storage unit to pull out his father’s manuscript and photos of the club. As a cleansing ritual of destruction and renewal, he burns them all. He visits Opie’s grave and leaves his SONS rings on top; he visits Tara’s grave and leaves his wedding ring on the stone, kissing it before he leaves.
Back at Red Woody, the Sons make Sons of Anarchy history and patch in — full patch, no prospecting — TO, the Grim Bastards president. “Change is good, my friend,” Jax tells TO when he acknowledges that they’ll get “heat” from the other charters who disagree with allowing an African-American man to join their ranks. The Redwood Originals have evolved, thankfully. The audience wants to imagine a different future for SAMCRO, and it’s pointed in that direction.
It’s a bloody episode, of course — they kill many IRA members (including a king, Rourke), and Jax kills Barosky and Marks. The Sons corner Conner and ensure that his endless supply of AK-47s will be distributed through the Mayans and One-Niners, and the Sons of Anarchy Belfast charter will be his “boots on the ground” in Ireland. Conner — with no other clear choice — promises to make it work, and the gun stream and club territories are set. Tyler’s crew is quickly taking over Chinese territory to diminish that threat, and without Barosky and Marks, the clear and present danger of retribution is quieted.
Wendy and Nero pack up her sensible Volvo SUV. Jax tells Nero everything after he asks him to continue the paperwork he’s started to give Wendy all he has: “I want her to sell everything,” he says, and move herself and the boys “wherever she wants. It just can’t be Charming.” He goes on to tell Nero what Nero already knows. “I did what I know how to do,” Jax says. “What Gemma knew had to be done.” He also wants his piece of Diosa and Red Woody to go to the club so they can use the proceeds to buy Scoops. Throughout this scene, Nero is more choked up than he is able to speak; he’s overcome with emotion.
“I need you to promise to make sure my boys leave this place. So they don’t become what I’ve become,” Jax says. He and Nero are both tearful, and Jax begs him to tell Wendy everything when the time is right. “She needs to tell my sons who I really am,” he adds. “I’m not a good man. I’m a criminal and a killer. I need my sons to grow up hating the thought of me.” At that moment, a child’s voice calls, “Daddy!” and Abel runs to Jax’s embrace. He says good-bye to his sons and to Wendy, but only Nero — who has put on sunglasses to hide his tears — knows it’s for the last time.
Jax also visits DA Patterson, who has come to Charming at his request. He tells her everything about Gemma and Juice but asks her to turn off the recorder to confirm “all the other bodies that dropped” after Tara and Eli’s murders. She’s confused about his confidence, since when the “street finds out it was all set on a lie,” certainly the payback would be hell. Jax promises her that by the end of the day, there won’t be more violence. She asks what happens at the end of the day, and he replies, “The bad guys lose.” As he’s shown with his request to Nero, he includes himself in that category.
Earlier in the day, Jax spoke with Chibs alone at the shipyard. Ships were coming and going, symbolizing the change the day was bringing, specifically with Jax and Chibs. The club needed to take a Mayhem vote on Jax; Jax knew this after meeting with the club presidents but waited to tell Chibs what they needed to do. Their conversations were held offscreen, so the audience knew what was happening, but not exactly. Chibs took the vote to the club, and in a tearful and difficult scene, they vote that “Jax Teller meets Mr. Mayhem.”
While they vote, Jax is out being Mr. Mayhem himself, shooting Barosky and Marks point blank. When he goes to the courthouse (where Marks is scheduled to be), he goes down an alley and again meets the homeless woman who has appeared throughout the season. He smiles at her — Jax smiles a lot throughout this day — and asks who she is. She just smiles and says, “It’s time,” while she gives him her blanket. She has next to her bread and wine, and she gives him the blanket off her back (like she did when Jax fell asleep in the graveyard in the season-one finale) to camouflage himself on the courthouse steps. The vast white courthouse next to them, which is covered in graffiti, something reminiscent of the lawmaker/poor widow parable. As Jax so emulates a modern-day Christ figure in this bloody allegory, the homeless woman also fulfills a clearly religious, angelic role.
He winds up back at the warehouse and is ready for his fate. He cuts off his president patch, and cuts off Chibs’s vice-president patch. Chibs gives it to Tig, and Jax gives the president patch to Chibs. “It’s your charter now, brother,” he says. In the first of two strikingly crucifixionlike scenes in this episode, Jax stands between Tig and Happy, whose hands are on his shoulders. While the tension in the audience is high, the club has another plan: Chibs shoots, but just grazes Happy’s arm, and they say they’ll tell Packer that Jax “laid down some fire and got away.” Jax wouldn’t allow his club to feel the guilt and sorrow that would have come with killing him, and expresses his love for them. Hugs, kisses, and tears follow. This episode — in keeping with the entire series — highlights masculine intimacy, and the close emotional bonds that these men have. When these bonds manifest themselves in physical affection, it’s lovely, and serves to further humanize these violent men and challenge depictions of cold masculinity.
By this point, Patterson and Jarry have heard of the bodies that Jax has left behind. Police quickly arrived at Gemma’s father’s home, where she and Unser still remained; the camera lingers on Gemma’s cold, purple face — all this, really, to keep Jax in the life that she knew. An APB is put out on Jax. He rides away from the warehouse on his father’s bike in his kutte. He knows where he’s going, and so do we. He rides to the hill where so much of this started, where “J.T. 11-13-93” is carved. He delivers his final soliloquy — all the realizations he’s had, and the understanding he has gained of who his father was and what he wanted. “I’m sorry, J.T.,” he says. “It was too late for me.” He sets his helmet on the ground and shoots toward the highway patrolman who found him.
He rides, free, as the cops pile up behind him. The “swan song” that accompanies this final scene is “Come Join the Murder” (performed by the White Buffalo and the Forest Rangers, with lyrics by Kurt Sutter). The lyrics fit the series perfectly, invoking imagery of crows, philosophy, religion, power, disappointment, fatherhood, and betrayal. The freedom that Jax seems to feel for the moment, and the freedom of the crows flying overhead (there are some beautiful shots in this final sequence) are coupled with an ominous tone.
The cops gain in number, and Jax keeps riding. When he sees a tractor trailer approach — “Papa’s Goods” emblazoned on the side with tomatoes — he knows it’s time. He slowly takes his hands off the bars and spread his arms out, the second crucifixion scene of the episode. “Jesus,” the truck driver exclaims (of course it’s Milo, who drove Gemma to her final destination), and there’s an impact offscreen. The crows peck on some debris in the road, just as they did in the opening scene of the series. This time, they are pecking on wine-soaked bread. They fly away as Jax’s blood flows toward the offering.
The episode ends with words from Hamlet: “Doubt thou the stars are fire; / Doubt that the sun doth move; / Doubt truth to be a liar; / But never doubt I love” (2.2.116-119). This love — ostensibly a father’s love for his sons and a mother’s love for her sons, but also between brothers (blood or bikes) and lovers — drives the most destructive decisions and acts of revenge in Sons of Anarchy. As Jax dies on the road, no faulty mechanics to blame, we understand the tragedy of what Chibs warns the club against: allowing “our hearts to be louder than our reason.”
- It was wonderful to see Venus comforting Tig during the final scenes. The other season romance — Jarry and Chibs — have a brief conversation, but seem to be over. If Sheriff Jarry stays in Charming, Chibs (and Patterson) suggest that she needs to keep working with the outlaws who run the streets.
- Courtney Love doesn’t reappear in this final episode, but doll parts do (much to Tig’s horror).
- The name “Milo” has two meanings: merciful, and destroyer. Tomatoes were, at one point in history, thought of to be “poisonous love apples.”
- It was worrisome to imagine Wendy’s love for Jax and their night together getting in the way of her plans to go to Norco with Nero and the boys. However, she doesn’t skip a beat, and focuses on the future. Wendy has a lot of heartbreaking details to find out, but we’re confident that she will be the mother figure that Tara wanted her to be.
- Abel slips on that SON ring and looks out the window as he touches it. What will his future hold? Will he be able to escape? (Although, let’s face it, little Abel seems like he’d be more of a Son of Sam than a Son of Anarchy.)
- Kurt Sutter — influenced heavily by literary tradition — created a series Shakespearean not only in its references but also in its reception. Shakespeare’s plays were meant to appeal to the masses; they have bawdiness and violence, but they also contain rich cultural commentary and deeper meaning. Sons of Anarchy has fulfilled that need in modern entertainment — highbrow and lowbrow, depicting sexist and racist characters while elevating powerful female characters and complex characters of color, rowdy and literary, in his words, “pulp fiction” — Sutter wove it all together to create a seven-act morality play for antihero-loving modern audiences.