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'Sons of Anarchy' Season 3 Finale Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 30th 2010 11:30PM


The current season of 'Sons of Anarchy' has gotten me thinking about secrets and lies.

When are secrets the characters are carrying effective tension-builders? When is it good for the audience to know something that the characters don't and vice versa? The show's extra-long season finale caused me to ponder these topics once again.

Overall, there was a propulsive sense of forward movement in the episode, and some excellent character moments as well. However there was a twist at the end of the episode, one that both worked and didn't work.

Was the twist entertaining on one level? Sure. But it was also indicative of some of the problems of this uneven season.


On one level, it was pleasing (and a relief) to see Jax pull out a win. Anticipating that Agent Stahl would betray him in any number of ways, Jax wriggled out of the ATF agent's trap and got exactly what he wanted. Gemma is clear of all serious charges, the club will do short time for the church raid and he managed to both deliver Jimmy O'Phelan to the ATF and kill the Irish gun-runner as well. That was one hell of a to-do list, but the Sons checked off every item on it, with ingenuity and a well-coordinated team effort.

The club's future is solidified, or so it would seem. Once the members of SAMCRO are out of jail, they can resume business with the Irish council and expand the reach of the club. New charters are on the horizon and now that Jax has apparently accepted his role as the club's president-in-training, the future for the Sons looks, well, not bright (it can't be when there's danger around every bend in the road), but the Sons post-jail life looks prosperous, at the very least.

So the well-paced finale wrapped up a bunch of stories and gave Season 4 something of a clean slate, and it also gave the show some potentially intriguing story lines for the future.

Yet the finale left me with a very big question, and it's like an itch in a hard-to-reach spot. It's driving me a little crazy, and it meant that I couldn't fully enjoy the outcome of Jax's slick moves. And though I'll be the first to say I love a good twist, this one deprived us of something the season as a whole has been missing.

My question is this: When did Jax come clean to Clay and the club about his deal with Stahl? Early in the season, somewhere in the middle, or on the day of the big Jimmy O'Phelan operation? If you've got a clue, by all means, share with the class.

That he told the club the day of the Jimmy O operation seems like the most logical assumption, yet that sequence of events raises new questions.

If Jax told the club about his deal with Stahl that day (or some time after their return to Charming), I can't imagine his fellow Sons would be pleased. In fact, I think they would most likely respond with the kind of murderous rage they were apparently faking in front of Stahl. To have cut a deal with Stahl and not have told Clay and the rest of the club for days or weeks would have been perceived as a huge betrayal by Jax, and it would have been a complication that would have taken a great deal of time to deal with and smooth over.

Also, if Jax told the guys recently, when did he do it? The day depicted in 'NS' was a busy one, to say the least. Are we just supposed to assume Jax found the time to tell Clay and the club what was up with Stahl, plan this elaborate operation, get Unser and Tara on board and give everyone their directions and take part in everything else that transpired? I'm just trying to figure out where he would have found the time to do all that. Since the club's return to Charming, there hasn't been much time for serious conversation.

So maybe he told the club about the deal a while back, perhaps when he first delivered up Luke, Jimmy O's henchman. But if that's the case, then 'Sons of Anarchy' has essentially pulled a long con on us for more than half the season. If the club members knew about Jax's deal as soon as that deal was struck, then he was never in danger from that quarter and we didn't know that.

My gut instinct guesses that Jax told the guys the day of the Jimmy O raid, and that they got on board because they realized he had made that deal with Stahl in order to preserve the club, not destroy it. Still, if that's the answer, it bothers me, not just because there didn't seem to be enough time in that day to have that conversation. Even if there was time for that, I thought that making deals with the authorities was simply off limits to club members, no exceptions. It changes my view of the characters and the world they live in if that's not the case.

Look, as a TV viewer, I understand that it would have ruined the sting that Jax pulled on Stahl to reveal what the club knew before that moment of laughter in the ATF truck. But why not have Jax say something about the timing in the letter to Gemma? All Jax says in the letter is that he would never turn on his club. So that means he told Clay and the others a while ago? Or not? Argh!

Perhaps all this doesn't matter to you all, or it didn't bug you, and that's totally cool. I get it. (My husband is in that camp. Not knowing about the timing didn't bother him at all). But it bothers me for a couple of reasons. First, occasionally the show rushes through key plot points that aren't fully explained, and though I can see the reasons for it in this case, it feels like that's sort of what happened here.

[UPDATE at 7:30AM CT:
I didn't mean to give the impression that I was only bothered by the timing of Jax telling the club. I was, to a degree, bothered by the fact that the audience, along with Stahl, had the wool pulled over our eyes. I actually am of two opinions on this, and those opinions have to do with the means and the ends. As for the end result, am I happy the club pulled a fast one on Stahl? Sure. But am I pleased that, all season long, we were encouraged to have sympathy and even pity for Jax because he allegedly went it alone and followed a dangerous solo path (when that wasn't actually the case)? Not really. I can't lie, that doesn't completely sit right with me. Apparently I'm in the minority on this, and that's fine. But we were fooled into thinking we should have sympathy for Jax's plight re the club when he really never needed it (and the consensus seems to be that the club knew about the deal from Day 1). I just wanted to clarify that.]

[UPDATE at 11AM CT: This sequence of tweets between me and 'SOA' blogger Kayteadee sums up my reaction to this particular aspect of the story: Tweet 1, Tweet 2, Tweet 3.]

The bigger reason for my concern is this: Part of the reason I watch 'Sons of Anarchy' is because of the complicated relationships among the characters. And here's a big moment between Jax and Clay -- one that would presumably affect their relationship for some time to come -- and it happened entirely offscreen.

Here's the thing: That'd be OK if this season had been chock full of rich relationship complications and emotionally complex scenes between the core characters. But season 3 was notably light on those things, thanks to the introduction of many new stories and characters, the presence of which pushed much of the core cast off to the sidelines for big stretches of Season 3.

Your mileage may vary: You may come to the show for the great acting, the kinetic action, the glimpse at a ruthless yet loyal subculture. All those things are major draws, no doubt. But the relationships among the characters and the complications between the people in this tight-knit community are what fully engaged me in Season 2. Season 3 was a different ride. When I think back on it, I'll recall individual moments that worked (especially Jax's face as he followed Abel and his adoptive parents). But overall, this year's story didn't nearly have the cumulative impact that Season 2 did. If it set the stage for great season 4 stories, then so be it.

OK, I have more to say about the season as a whole, but if, at this point, you want to skip the next part in order to get to my list of 'NS' highlights and notes, feel free. Honestly, I wouldn't blame you if you did. Yes, I recognize that this review is way too long. In any event....

To return to the questions at the begin of this review, I think the key to a secret or revelation that works dramatically has to do with how engaged we are with the characters who are keeping the secrets and how compelled we are by the plights of the people who learn shocking information. When a secret puts relationships we care about at risk, it's easy to get invested. When the secret is "Watch Jax try to find the bouncing baby boy" -- a boy we in the audience knew the location of -- not so much.

Here are just a couple of examples of the kind of thing I'm talking about: In Season 2, Gemma's plight was heartbreaking -- she was keeping her rape a secret in order to keep the club from going to war. The pain of that secret came from an altruistic place, thus I was fully invested in her situation and her increasingly difficult attempts to keep her men safe. Hiding that secret was killing her, and her eventual truth-telling scene was 'SOA's' finest moment to date.

In Season 2, there was a different kind of heartbreak between Jax and Opie, best friends who were separated by secrets that tore up Jax and devastated Opie when he learned them. All in all, these were secrets that were woven organically into the characters' lives, and thus the payoffs that resulted from them were deeply rewarding and emotionally compelling.

Sure, this season Jax was altruistic in trying to save the club via his deal with Stahl, but now we find that... he wasn't actually keeping the deal a secret. He wasn't going it alone -- he had the support of the club after all. While I appreciated Jax's ingenuity, it felt deflating to learn that the secret wasn't a secret and Jax wasn't in danger of being killed by the club (at least once he told them).

Of course, there is a new secret that we will likely see play out in Season 4 -- when will Jax find out that John suspected that Clay and Gemma would engineer his death? How will that knowledge affect those relationships?

If it's handled right, Jax's doubts about his father's death -- just as he settles in as a take-charge SAMCRO leader -- could lead to a new and interesting path for the character. At the end of 'NS,' Jax was clearly relishing what he'd accomplished, and the arc of the season has certainly led him to have a renewed, clear-eyed commitment to the club and its business. Reintroducing his Hamlet doubts -- or turning him into Macbeth, if you will -- could be a fruitful path for the show.

Yet the reveal that Gemma and Clay may have had something to do with John Teller's death doesn't feel like much of a revelation. It's something fans have been speculating about for some time, and thus, for me, it didn't pack much of a punch. Given that there have been a number of mechanical contrivances this season, there's reason to be a little nervous about where this might go. We'll just have to see how the JT information plays out next year. Let's hope the show avoids making it fodder for an 'As the Clubhouse Turns'-style story line, but given that 'SOA' is committed to making Jax's journey grounded and emotionally compelling (that element of the show was the best aspect of Season 3), I'm not overly worried about that at this stage.

In any event, I'm actually glad that Stahl and Jimmy O are out of the picture; the show can now go forward with a clean slate for Season 4. And given that I've aired my issues with Season 3 in the preceding two thousand words, I must note that there were some excellent moments as 'NS' wrapped up the club's pre-prison business. Here are a few of the moments I enjoyed most:

* The opening montage of the characters reconnecting and sharing quiet moments, then coming together for brunch at the clubhouse, was excellent. 'SOA' has always been good at montage scenes, especially those set to music. (Kudos to the music supervisor for another season of outstanding tunes). That sequence was a great reminder that this is a show about a community of people who, at the most basic level, really like hanging out with each other.

* Unser's final moments in his office were beautifully played by Dayton Callie. Do the events of 'NS' mean he's gone from the show? It'd make logical sense for Unser to leave town or fade from the scene, but I enjoy Callie's performance so much that I don't want to see him leave the Sons' orbit. Surely he can act as driver/bodyguard for Gemma and they can spend Season 4 driving around Charming shooting the breeze and smoking weed?

* I liked the scenes between both Gemma and Stahl and Gemma and Clay. But it's interesting to note that Gemma castigated Stahl for her naivety, yet later, Clay was talking about enjoying one last blaze of glory with the Sons -- he envisioned a series of big paydays before he rides off in to the sunset. When does that sort of thing ever go well? As Gemma said to Stahl, "I promise you -- it'll end badly."

* Chibs' execution of Jimmy O was a great moment for that character. Tommy Flanagan played the hell out of that moment.

* Yet for my money, Ryan Hurst owned the finale -- he was incredible in that final scene in Stahl's car. He gave us a masterful picture of the emotions washing over Opie's face -- relief at getting vengeance for Donna, sadness, anger, even pity. An outstanding scene.

A few final notes:

* If you're looking to buy some of the songs from the third season, check out this new 'SOA' EP. 'Hey Hey, My My' by Battleme has been in constant rotation here since I heard it on 'NS.'

* Somebody finally listened to Chucky. Finally! And he helped save the day. Nice.

* So Otto, the character played by 'Sons' creator Sutter, is headed to death row. I hope Otto's appeals hold up that process -- surely Sutter has more grim adventures in mind for the nearly blind, hard-luck lifer. What would a season be without Otto being maimed in some sort of gut-wrenching way?

* Thoughts on Sonny Barger as Sons co-founder Lenny the Pimp? I thought the scene worked fine.

* The montage that started the episode was, as I said, mostly strong, but the Stahl moment struck a false note with me. She touched the spot her lover had occupied and smiled? Really? She grinned at memories of the woman she murdered? There were a few moments in the finale in which Jax and Gemma put seeds of doubt into Stahl's head, and watching Stahl waver in those scenes made the character seem almost human, but that grin put her in cartoon-villain territory.

* The season premiere and the season finale were both named after two rings on Jax's fingers: 'SO' and 'NS.' I believe Jax put the SO ring on John Teller's grave in the first episode of the season -- or am I wrong about that? If he did put it on the grave then, I'm wondering why it hasn't been stolen by this point.

* Finally, I have to give a big shoutout to the regulars in the comment areas of these 'Sons of Anarchy' reviews. I love reading everyone's thoughts each week, and I love that you're all uncompromising when it comes to what you do and don't love about the show. 'SOA' fans are a ferocious breed, and I am honored that you've come back week after week to read my take and agree or disagree with what I've written. You rock. (Just as an aside, I'll be recapping 'Spartacus: Gods of the Arena' and 'Game of Thrones' and possibly some other shows in the new year. Come on back and chat about those shows then, if you watch them!)

* Ride safe and have a great holiday season, my fellow 'Sons' fans.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Erik

good show, but am i the only one annoyed by how the sons never seem to lose any battles, large or small? they are apparently the smartest, strongest and most resourceful group of human beings on earth. really??!! i mean, they NEVER get outflanked by anybody? and they kill with absolute impunity - they just murdered a federal agent in cold blood and, uh, NOBODY noticed? these guys are like sherman going thru atlanta, but there never seem to be any consequences. ever.

April 10 2012 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
samb

I liked the surprise, but Gemma not being in on it really bothers me. Jax not telling her from the get was contrived and only done to make things more suspenseful to the audience. There was no logical motivation for SAMCRO not to tell her. So she wouldn't be an accessory? How many crimes has this woman been an accessory to; it never bothered them before! It didn't bother them when she was an accessory to the murders they committed in Ireland!!!! To put on a good show for Stahl? Come on; Gemma is a great liar and manipulator. If anything, Gemma not knowing what was up put their unreasonably convoluted plan in jeopardy.

February 10 2011 at 1:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
incognit0

There were slightly dubious plot holes such as the counterfeit money but overall it was a satifactory enjoyable finale in my opinion and why has noone mentioned the Tig- Kozik- missy story ending! LOL!
Salazar was definitely killed by Jax to ensure the Sherrifs dept took over the PD and in a way he also knew Unser needed to step down and be relieved but knew Clay would never let that happen while he (Unser) was able to walk. Jax sees it as part of his long term goal to make the club more legit and thus take away a large proportion of danger from his family to ensure they dont grow up among such violence and crime like he did. He knows Charming and the Club need to move on and go in a new safer direction.
The ending has certainly left it open for a number of developments to occur of course the main one being the John Teller letters.

January 16 2011 at 7:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
B.P. Dumas

whoa, what a ride,never saw some of the plot twists coming actually.
Sons of Anarchy, the absolute BEST, AS episodic TV goes only the Sopranos was better.
It was a long season but it was worth the wait, all the episodes were extremely compelling TV . The best show currently on TV . NO DOUBT:

December 11 2010 at 2:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ryan

I cant believe NOBODY commented about Uncer saying he is in third stage cancer?!

December 08 2010 at 7:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ryan's comment
trinitygirl

what's to comment on? We already knew this surely - way back in season 2 he told Gemma that the chemo was not working and that the cancer had spread to his bladder. I assumed from his attitude with Gemma, that he knows he doesn't have long to go. What is interesting is that KS said in that end of season interview that Unser would definitely be back in season 4, so there must be some kind of medical miracle in the offing.

December 08 2010 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Devoted SOA fan

All I can say is, WHERE IS THE EMMY?

December 06 2010 at 7:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olddarth

Not a big fan of writing that uses the with holding of information to support a story arc either Mo. At the least, as you pointed out in your latest podcast, there should have been some flashback scenes to show us when the plan had been mapped out.

I was actually more annoyed by the providential appearance of all the counterfeit money though.

December 04 2010 at 8:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Small Town Girl

Okay Mo, I've been thinking about this since I watched the episode and I've being reading all the comments here. At first after watching the finale, I thought "Wow! Kurt Sutter did it! I didn't think he could wrap up this season and set us up for 4, but he did!" I didn't really care much when the club came in on the deal the ending was so superb.

However, I now wonder....as a person who watches the show more for the human elements than the gun running action.....It makes a huge difference to Jax's character and our investment in him. While I understand some posters comments that the whole point behind the audience not knowing what was going down, was on purpose, was to make us invest in Jax and think he was on his own. BUT, the Jax we see at the end of this episode sitting in the ATF van looking dead at the camera is not the same Jax who tried to cut Tara out his life or definitely not the same man who almost ended up letting the Irish couple raise his son. That determined, cold stare in the van was not the same anguished face that told Gemma he let Abel go. Did he confess to the club after he tells Father Ashby that he's done listening to dead men? Maybe part of the club was in on it from the beginning - Juice, Opie, Chibbs?, but later they had to get Clay on board. Which may have been easier than expected because part of the deal kept Gemma out of prison? I just don't see the hardness of this club accepting a late hour admission of working with Stahl....they would see it as betrayal....Until they all started laughing in the ATF van, I totally bought Clay's "You're Dead!" Which again, I know was the point. On the other hand, if they did all know from the outset, then who is Jax? Do we really know?? It sure seems like the guy who had to be pulled from the shower and dressed and couldn't focus for the first several episodes was not in a place to be lucid enough to make a deal with Stahl AND get the club on board. Reaching out to Stahl in desparation, I can see.....being able to orchestrate everything? I'm ready to be "Wowed" in season 4. Prove me wrong again Kurt Sutter! So Mo, I understand your hang up.....but what a great ending to season 3!!

December 03 2010 at 9:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Small Town Girl's comment
trinitygirl

STG: I think that it was a club play (no doubt brought to the table by Jax, since he is the brains of the group): what we've learned from this show (and from Jax, over and over again) is that You Do Not Rat. Ever. Never Ever. That Gemma (and we) thought he had done so is coloured by her knowledge of John and the influence he had over Jax; it turns out she didn't know him as well as she thought she did (and thus, us). I think they decided on this action back in Turning and Turning: remember when Stahl asks Jax how he knew where she lived and he nodded when she said that Juice was now cracking the DMV database? Juice could not have done that without knowing what it was for. Opie found the guns (in the pub) that they traded in with Luke; Clay repeatedly saw Jax talking with Stahl and did nothing ... it was all there, but we didn't see it. They could have told Gemma when Stahl came up with the alternate testimony, but she was already in huge trouble and they didn't want to put her in even more danger if the plan didn't come off - plus it helped their cause that she was so suspicious and worried - it's what got Stahl over her suspicions. One of the things that really struck me in this episode was the extent to which the all-powerful Gemma was truly powerless here: she did everything she could to save Jax but she couldn't stop what she knew was going to happen; it was really powerful to watch her crumble.

I think that the Plan, and the Able story as it relates to Jax, are two different streams and they operated almost independently of each other. The Plan was about revenge - taking down Stahl - and saving the club. It really wasn't about Able, although it's what enabled them to get to Belfast to get him back.

I really believe that Jax would have left Able with the couple (BTW, that couple were from California, you could see their address on the adoption papers: they were illegally adopting a child overseas, which makes them so much less than ideal in my book!) but he came to realise (same as he did with Tara) that Able was already in too deep to be saved - the only way he could be safe is with his real family. And the only way to keep his family safe is to give up on his doubts and fully engage with the life. And that's the dead look we get at the very end of the episode - that was one stone cold killer gaze, someone you definitely do not want to mess with (it kind of reminded me of the look he gave Ima in Widening Gyre - you really don't ever want to be on the receiving end of a look like that). So, maybe that's the look you need to get through a stint in prison, and maybe the letters will change that - or maybe not.

I definitely think we are about to head into the changing of the guard era though: Jax no longer looks like the prince, he looks like the king. I don't think this Jax would take revenge against his mother or his club, for killing his father....

I can't wait for season 4.

And for the person who asked about Thomas: Thomas was JT and Gemma's second son, who died when he was six years old (and Jax was 13), back in 1991. You can see Jax sitting on his headstone at the end of episode 113, and JT dedicated his book to both Thomas and Jax.

December 03 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ally

Tommy/Tom/Thomas is Jax's brother who dies.....I think he is Jax's younger brother...?

He is Gemma and John's other son. Correct? If I'm remembering correctly, he died of a heart defect--"the family flaw" as Gemma calls it.

December 02 2010 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
The heart

I also agree with Leslie that they all had to know from the beginning, it was kindof hinted at all along we just didnt see it. Clay sent Jax to talk to Stahl in one episode. I dont think it was bad that the audience was left in the dark, we took the same ride that the Gemma character was taking. It made the payoff more fulfilling.
Jax did a great job all season, especially in the finale, he has the ability to express so much with just a look. And of course I loved that Opie got revenge before he got married to Lila. And Chibs with the knoves was just WOW! but, did anyone else laugh at him drinking juice from a childs sippy box on the bus trip to kill jimmy and stahl. they always manage to sneak in sum of beat humor.
I look forward to next season and Tara struggle to decide if its best to tell Jax about the letters and what will happen with Clay and Gemma if she does. I think it will be back with them about half way through there 14mon sentence. should be very interesting

December 02 2010 at 3:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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