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October 13, 2015

'Sons of Anarchy' Season 4 Finale Recap (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Dec 6th 2011 11:00PM
['Sons of Anarchy' - 'To Be, Act 2']

I've been saying for weeks now that the Season 4 finale of 'Sons of Anarchy' would be a pivotal episode of the show. It was clear that the way that the current series of events resolved would influence the show for some time to come, and give us a big clue as to what creative directions the show would follow and what kind of risks it would be willing to embrace.

You can find the audio version of my reaction to the finale in this week's 'SOA' Talking TV podcast, which is live now here and here. Or you can read on for my thoughts on how things worked out for Jax, Clay, Gemma, Tara and the rest of these Charming men.

The word that best describes the 'Sons of Anarchy' finale is disappointing. Yes, the final scene was evocative, but almost everything that went before it was deeply, deeply frustrating, for me, anyway. What a letdown.

I get that 'Sons of Anarchy' is partly pop melodrama, and I enjoy that aspect of the show at times. I get that it sometimes goes over the top and does things that stretch its credibility to the breaking point and beyond. I often enjoy its subversive streak and its bizarre humor, and though I've grown tired of many of its contrivances, I've gotten used to frequently putting up with thin motivations and thinner justifications.

But for the entire season to be undone by the CIA with a wave of its magic wand within the first few minutes of the finale was enormously deflating. This was a deus ex machina that could not have been more convenient. How am I supposed stay deeply invested in a show that spends three months telling me that certain things are very important, and then nobody faces any serious consequences for those allegedly important actions and decisions?

If every event can be walked back or undone (Clay being shot, Juice committing suicide, Otto betraying the club, the club facing a RICO threat, Clay attempting to kill Tara), then nothing has much weight any more, does it? Anything that can be reset that easily just feels less important, less real.

In the end, nobody died. Nobody paid for things they had done in any significant ways by the end of the hour. The club was just handed a get-out-of-jail card for a whole host of misdeeds and problems and that was that.

Part of what's satisfying about a good story is the catharsis that comes at the end. When that catharsis feels earned by the characters and the story, when the resolution, however painful, feels right, the end of the story (or season) satisfies our primal urge for not just catharsis but for justice. And if we care about characters, we want them to get justice.

This is a world in which a man's word is supposed to matter, in which brutality is repaid in kind. Yet at the end of the season, Clay was not dead. He wasn't even out of the club. He'd just gotten... a demotion.

Yes, Tara has more of a hold on Jax than ever, but another schemer, Gemma, also got pretty much what she wanted. For her, too, there are no common-sense consequences for what she's done. And, for the love of God, those damn letters are still in play; of course she saw Jax stash them a few feet away from her office. Now she has yet more reason to scheme and maneuver with those unsatisfying MacGuffins in her manicured claws.

So we've ended up with a situation where Jax and Clay will sit at the same table, despite the fact that Clay killed Jax's old man, shot his best friend's father, killed his best friend's wife and tried to kill his old lady. Put simply, that doesn't make much sense to me. Again, what are the common-sense, real-world consequences of everything Clay did? He had to give up the gavel, but that's pretty much it. Once he's recovered from the gunshot wounds, his life will be just fine and there's no doubt he'll be back to his old ways.

That's unsatisfying, and it's also unsatisfying that the hero of the tale is essentially a puppet of the Irish, the cartel and the CIA at this point. Again, Charlie Hunnam's performance and the show itself has made me care about Jax. Seeing him manipulated on to the throne, however, diminishes his power and agency.

I didn't much like the Season 3 'SOA' finale, but at least in that episode, Jax outsmarted everyone and cleverly planned what went down. What melts my brain is that so much of Jax's fate in 'To Be, Act 2' hinged on the decision of one Irish guy who simply doesn't like Jax much. That's why Jax had to take the gavel and Clay gets to sit at the table. So much of this came down to Galen's whim, essentially, and that doesn't strike me as tragic; that almost makes Jax a hapless bystander in his own life.

But justifications that make sense don't appear to be an ongoing concern when it comes to 'Sons of Anarchy.' We're just supposed to roll with rationales we get, however far-fetched, and be okay with it when stakes we were told are high are suddenly whisked away and undone at the eleventh (well, fourteenth) hour. Well, I'm not OK with it. This just took the show's penchant for contrivances to a ridiculous extreme.

There are still reasons to watch the show, I get that. Parts of this season worked, especially anything to do with Potter and Roosevelt and certain scenes between key cast members such as Tara, Gemma, Jax, Clay, Opie and Piney. Those performers and the emotional reality the show is able to create are really compelling at times.

But, based on this finale, my expectations for the show are much, much lower going forward. In terms of its overall ambitions, 'Sons of Anarchy' has shown its hand. Can't we all predict what future seasons will be like by now? Big stakes will be constructed, in laborious and sometimes contrived ways. Distractions, some interesting, some not, will eat up time here and there. Throughout the course of the season, the show will pull out all the stops to convince us the characters' problems and choices matter.

Then, at the end of the season, those stakes will more or less go away, and the club will still be there in Charming, more or less intact and ready to ride another day. The machinations among Gemma, Clay, Jax and Tara -- already well-trodden ground -- will keep on churning. And so on and so on and so on.

I checked out of 'Dexter' when it became clear that, no matter how great Michael C. Hall's performance was, the rest of the show simply wouldn't be satisfying to me because it was going to revisit the same territory again and again. Dexter Morgan would always wriggle out of whatever trap the show set for him. It's hard to get on board with the idea that Dexter might get caught if he never is and the same dynamics keep playing out season after season.

In this hour, which hurriedly undid so much of what came before it, 'Sons of Anarchy' has shown that's essentially unwilling to change its central formula. After its second season, I thought there was a chance it might become the next 'Breaking Bad,' but its penchant for awkwardly introduced obstacles and its unwillingness to evolve central components of the show mean that won't happen.

If you still get a lot of pleasure out of those central components, that's great. No matter what, I still think the cast is phenomenal. Charlie Hunnam was tremendous in this hour, but, despite his great work in the hospital scene, I can't quite buy that Clay will get away with everything he's done.

It bothered me more that, in his scene with Tara at their home, Jax said he couldn't let the club die. If he'd said he didn't want fellow club members to go to jail, I would have bought that. But I can't see any real reasons for him to have loyalty to SAMCRO anymore, and the show just spent months showing us why he shouldn't. The Jax that wants to get his boys away from the poison of the club is someone I'm really interested in. The Jax who was manipulated on to the throne and still, on some level, believes in the club? I'm just not that invested in him.

(Speaking of loyalty, I was glad Opie didn't show up to the meeting at the end of the episode. That would have been completely unbelievable, given all he's been through. Yet, given that the show seems unwilling to change up the cast in significant ways, I'm betting Opie somehow returns to the fold next year.)

All in all, I was willing to accept certain contrivances this season, if the show repaid us with a game-changing finale. This was not a game-changer. It was a formula-embracer.

That formula -- in which history repeats itself again and again -- may be enough for you. Even with my expectations severely reduced, I'll have to see if it'll be enough for me going forward.

That last image of Jax and Tara turning into Gemma and John was dramatic, but it also speaks to the repetitiveness that's already on display in this show. Don't we already know how that story turned out?

A few final notes:

* I enjoyed our last looks at Lincoln Potter, the "odd dude." His final scene with Roosevelt was perfectly acted.

* I don't expect Ray McKinnon to return as Potter, but with any luck, Rockmond Dunbar will back as Eli Roosevelt. He's been a great addition to the cast (but, as is the case with much of the supporting cast, I wish we'd seen more of him).

* After how many months, those rings were still on John Teller's grave? Really?

* Great Opie scene, and in general, I felt like Opie was speaking for me in this episode. I understand why he thinks more secrets and more unconditional trust aren't a good idea.

* I realize that my opinion of 'Sons of Anarchy' is just one of many. If you've come by and perused what I've written this season, I thank you deeply for that. It's been quite a ride, and your time, attention and comments are much appreciated. Ride on in safety and peace.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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Maureen, I'd like to bring something up and see what you think about it. After Season 3 Jax had become extremely disillusioned (or so he thought). He no longer believed in his father, his ideals, and his righteousness. Even then Jax was being manipulated. We were just a little more restricted from this information. Before Season 3 Jax viewed his father, and his almost biblical journal, and completely righteous. He saw the corruption in the club, and wanted it to be the way John had always wanted it. Much of Jax love for the club came from his father's past involvement. Jax's father lived on through the club. After season 3, Jax no long cared about this. He believed his father was no good thanks to the manipulation of him by Clay and his Mom. So the fuel that lit the Clay v. Jax fire near the end of season 1, and throughout season 2 (argueably the best season) was no present, and the fire had been extinguished. Now that it's relit, and Jax learned (most of) the truth about his father he can believe that club can be saved again. He cares again, because he cares about his real father again, and he cares about the last living piece of his father dying - the club. I think if you think about it from this standpoint, this finale may become more compelling again. It's a return to that awesome father-son dynamic that existed in the first two seasons, and a departure from the Jax loves Clay crap that was present in season 3, my least favorite season. I hope you comment back. I'd love to hear what you think about this. Also, I would love in John's journal came back in season 5. I loved the scenes where Jax would find solace in it. He's going to need a little solace with all that is facing him.

December 15 2011 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So the cops are criminals on a par with the renegade outlaws? That is not new to SoA. The ATF woman was a stone-cold killer, and i think the absoluty perfidy of feds and local authorities has played validly against the lawlessness of the Sons from the start. The CIA couldn't or wouldn't pull something like this? In what America. Seems like political commentary on the Raygun era to me, right down to the name of the corrupt little toxic town.

December 12 2011 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thank you for the review, Mo.

I have to say I agree with you and that this makes me sad. I am really starting to wonder what has happened to the shows that I really liked. SoA, Supernatural and Dexter have really gone downhill. I have given up on Supernatural, and I think that SoA is ready to go to the wayside. Oh well, it was a fun ride while it lasted. I will just have to keep looking until I find another show that is DVR worthy.

December 10 2011 at 11:20 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Great review, Mo.

Because of all the elements of Greek tragedies this show has in it, "deus ex machina" were the first words that came to my mind as well when they used the CIA to carry away all the problems facing the Sons.

It was a disappointing finale, still not as terrible as the Killing. I really liked what they did with Lincoln Potter.

I will continue watching SOA next season to see if they can improve it.

December 10 2011 at 6:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Biff Loman

This review articulated a lot of what has bothered me about recent episodes and especially the finale. Too much suspension of disbelief, too much buildup with no payoff. Too many characters who we have been led to believe are smart, but who routinely make boneheaded moves to keep the plot from unraveling.

December 09 2011 at 1:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Re: However,if you're not planning on having his character face the dire consequence he deserves,than why even bother with his storyline?

Exactly. They needed a different storyline all season long, otherwise the audience feels they've been ripped off and gets mad.

December 09 2011 at 10:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maureen, I completely agree with you. While I understand the mechanisms of writing for a(successful; as in running for more than 2 seasons) TV show and issues that arise from offing main characters(read: stars),with a show like SOA, I don't understand how you CAN'T kill off at least 1 main character by the 4th season.You're spot on when you say that it completely compromises the integrity of the story and the show itself. Being the end of the 4th season, how are we, the dedicated fans of the show, supposed to believe that any of the real problems the club and these characters face will have any consequences whatsoever?What is the point of,each season, building Clay up to be an evil, self-serving puppet-master that has cold-bloodedly ruined the lives of so many around him, yet faced with the confirmed knowledge of this by these people, nothing is done. That's not to say I don't think Ron Pearlman is absolutely fantastic and, as an actor, deserves all the screen time he can get. However,if you're not planning on having his character face the dire consequence he deserves,than why even bother with his storyline?Obviously reality is going to be stretched for the sake of entertainment. But allowing a character like this to sit in a room full of people whose families he's killed and/or put in grave danger, lied to over and over again and sacrificed each and every member of that club for dirty, dangerous money is just completely ridiculous Is there even 1 member of that club who wouldn't kill Clay given the chance?And, seeing as they all carry guns and knives, they have that chance all the time. I recently read an interview with Sutter in which he stated that he has no problems with killing off a main character for the sake of a story. If there is any better example of a time to kill off a main character than this season finale, please enlighten me. I can't think of one. This has stretched the realm of believable into sci-fi fantasy without the aliens. I do disagree with you on the season 3 finale, which I thought was fantastic, however, I thought a bulk of the episodes leading up to it were completely useless and missable. You're comparison with Dexter is spot on; while it is certainly a great show with fantastic acting, writing and flashy scenery, there is zero suspense anymore because we know, especially after getting a 2 season renewal, that Dex can't and won't get caught. Yeah, the tight spots he inevitably gets in in each finale can be heart pounding, but we know in the end he'll get away. So, basically, Clay can do whatever he wants, Jax and Tara will forever pout about the life of their dreams that they can't have and Gemma will continue to manipulate the ones she claims to love, either for fun or to prove to herself she's the one in control.I look forward to SOA every year,but this time, I fear this show will go the way of Dexter for me and give me no reason to care about the characters because, in the end, everything works out just peachy.Sigh.

December 08 2011 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to stateofcircle's comment

Also, I understand the fact that of course Jax can't move to Oregon because of course there would be no show without him, that's a given. But watching him struggle with killing his faux father in Season 5 would, in my opinion, be a fantastic, heartwrenching narrative. And even is Clay was killed, his "ghost" could still continue to haunt Jax, so Ron Pearlman could still have a job and the audience wouldn't be faced with Clay withdrawal.

And as for the elementary comments bashing Maureen for her reviews and recaps, you may not agree with her or even like the things she has to say, but you have the option of not reading them OR presenting an intelligible argument as to why you disagree with her. That's the beauty of the internet and it's glorious comment section. I may not always agree with the reviews/recaps/stories on this site, but I keep reading them because they are well-written, thoughtful and, most importantly, the authors are notoriously open to our comments and opinions, as evidenced by the fact that they actually do read the comments and comment on them themselves, which is a true rarity. I applaud the AOL TV staff for actually listening to and acknowledging their readers and being open to the opinions and arguments of others. I personally enjoy reading the generally well thought out comments of other readers and their perspectives and thoughts on each show, as they can be thought provoking and offer insight I perhaps haven't considered. So I applaud those of us who use the comments to offer our perspectives, thoughts, debates and arguments rather than waste space with unintelligible low-blows and nonsensical insults.

December 08 2011 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Foxtrot Hotel

Yeah, Jax didn't leave Clay alive because "some Irish guy" doesn't like him. The CIA told Jax they needed that deal to work or Lincoln Potter would be back with his case.

Really ? You review shows ?

December 08 2011 at 11:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Foxtrot Hotel's comment

Yes, and the reason they need Clay alive for the deal is because the Irish guy demands it. Otherwise Jax is free to kill Clay and the deal goes on and the CIA is happy.

Mo, great review. You get some tough (and I think unfair) jabs here but thumbs up from me.

December 08 2011 at 2:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really liked the way they wrapped it up it was the only believable out really for the RICO case I liked this season and think the best of Sons is yet to come

December 08 2011 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lou Sytsma

Wow! SonsofAnarchy VR'ed(Volkoff Retconned) all of S4 in the 1st 10 minutes of the finale. Jax got gavel & castrated at same time. Oh well. One less show to watch.

It was fun while it played honest but that is over now.

Hit the road SAMCRO!

December 08 2011 at 8:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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