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.
Well, that had to happen.
The pace of the generally compelling hour was excellent and though there were developments in quite a few story threads, they all had room to breathe. It was executive producer Paris Barclay's last time in the director's chair this season, and you could tell that his steady hand was on the tiller.
Still, I'm betting all you want to talk about is what happened in the gripping closing seconds of the hour. I know I have a lot to say on the matter, in the post below and in this week's 'Sons of Anarchy' podcast (which you can find here and here).
We hear the word "patch" a lot on 'Sons of Anarchy,' and it's interesting to think about how its various meanings are applicable to the current state of the club.
Of course, to wear the SAMCRO patch means that you're a fully vested member of the club. But there are deep divisions within the club, as well as differences of opinion and temporary alliances with various non-member too.
'Una Venta' did a good job of showing us how those problems have been patched over, but underneath that temporary fix, things are really starting to fester.
This episode provides textbook examples of what I think is working -- and wobbling -- this season on 'SOA.'
The long-term tensions, alliances, goals and conflicts that are being set up among various club members are gold, as far as I'm concerned. One thing I especially like about this episode is the variation on a theme we've seen explored in the past -- the idea that when Clay and Jax are allied, they're actually more dangerous to the club than when they're at each others' throats.
That's not to say that the alliance is smooth sailing all the way. Far from it. Jax felt blindsided by the deal that Clay had made with the cartel about transporting coke, and Clay couldn't believe that Jax would really and truly walk away from the club forever. Both men were forced, not willingly, to accept the situation as it is, and given their parallel goals -- to make money before leaving the club's leadership positions -- they had to grudgingly get over whatever problems they might have with each other's actions.
One of the best scenes of the season, perhaps the entire series, occurred in episode ten, 'Balm'; it was the culmination of an arc that actually began in the season premiere, 'Albification.'
(S02E13) "Any idea where we're headed?" /"No." - Chief Unser to Gemma
If you're looking for someone to yak to at the office tomorrow about the second season closer of Sons of Anarchy but don't want to open your meathole to someone who has no idea what you're talking about, there's one sure-fire way to tell without having to say a word: check their fingernails. They will be bitten right down to the bone.
The 90-minute episode was a real tension builder from beginning to end and it not only managed to solve some of the protagonists' problems in very creative and interesting ways, but it also created new ones that just made me hungrier for season three. It couldn't come soon enough if I had a time machine.
(S02E12) "Either you or me goes home in a bag." - Jax to A.J.
The showdown we've been waiting all season to see finally happened tonight and even though it didn't end the way the antagonists deserved (i.e. heads removed where the shoulder meets the neck, placed on a stick and paraded around town on a substandard Japanese import), it still had my head spinning.
The show opens with SAMCRO preparing for their big, inevitable smackdown with the League by keeping all of their loved ones under lock and key at the clubhouse. But instead of just jumping into the fray head first with baseball bats twisted in barb-wire and all, they do what they should have done from the beginning: they plotted and planned. They turned the tables on the League and by doing so, turned the League on each other.
(S02E10) I'm filling in for Danny, who experienced a DVR malfunction, so be gentle with me, as I've been a bit here and there with Sons of Anarchy this season. Last winter, I raced through season one for Jane After Dark, and fell in love with the gritty characters and edgy storyline. But to tell you the truth, I had trouble watching it after Gemma's rape this season. It was really disturbing, and I wasn't sure I wanted all of that in my head all the time.
But the fact is that Sons of Anarchy is a great show and -- like many other FX shows -- unlike most of what you see on TV these days. So I'm happy to have this chance to get caught up a little bit with season two.
(S02E09) - "I know the greater devil when I see it." - Deputy Chief Hale to Clay
The great thing about a show like Sons of Anarchy is you never exactly know when you're watching its true boiling point. You might think the situation you're watching is the apex of the conflict, particularly the beef between Clay and Jax, but it always finds an interesting and surprising way of making it worse and makes you forget that it still has more episodes to go.
That's the true sign of a good series. It sucks you in and erases any and all concept of time. Unlike other TV shows that you can just have in the background to break the silence of your lonely place, SOA demands your attention and gets it every time, at least for this season. You can't just leave it on and not not watch it (screw good grammar, if you can think of a better and more entertaining way to say it, be my guest). Anything that can stop and slow time, whether it's a TV show, a flying DeLorean or a hot tub deserves special merit in my book.
"Pull the trigger man. That's the only way this leather is coming off my back." - Jax to Alvarez, the head of the Mayans who orders him to give up his club jacket
Jax is supposed to be the hero of this little modern day Shakesperian epic, but he's starting to look more and more like the enemy in each episode.
I don't mean that he'll be the one in the end who has been scheming the whole time behind SAMCRO's back with the white power. This is a well-crafted, slow paced, high caliber drama, not a badly written Schwarzenegger movie with a thrown together twist ending (cough, Total Recall, cough).
Jax is more of an enemy of himself. He might have good intentions at heart, but his moves are nowhere near his brain. Maybe his loyalty to his family runs deeper than he ever imagined. Logic and family hardly make a decent cocktail. Anyone with a brother-in-law can tell you that.
The tension between Jax and Clay has never been thicker. You could make a birthday cake with it ... a big, tasty birthday cake of hate.
Tonight, it finally came to a head, and who knew that Agent Stahl would be the one to cut them down to slices? It looks like she finally got them ... or did she?
Kurt Sutter's episodes are always deeply complex and very clever, and last Tuesday's episode really put Jax and Clay in a corner. He should write every episode, if he were superhuman and incapable of suffering from total exhaustion.
Was I the only human being on the planet who was completely snowed by the BS claim that SAMCRO was headed out of town to do a charity blood drive for Charming? The thought of any shady dealings never crossed my mind for a second. I probably wouldn't even have any doubts if they devised a charity scheme that's more their speed like a "Ride Joust for Diabetes" or a "100-Yard Coke Line Snort for Macular Degeneration."
It's not a sign of my stupidity. Believe me, I've got much more convincing signs of that. For instance, I drive a Pontiac, a brand new Pontiac ... with a 30,000 mile warranty.
It's a sign that the characters are becoming more endearing and real and they play on your emotions more than if they were just flat images on a high definition television screen. They are flesh and blood and bone, and all the little synapses and thoughts that make them human beings are connecting. They have made the audience, or at least the audience that sits in my living room each week, part of their family.
The level that FX's Sons of Anarchy's second season has to reach to top their outrageous first might seem unfathomable. But the man helming this ship is writer, creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter - the man who helped steer The Shield through seven strange and unpredictable seasons of treacherous waters that were once deemed unchartable for the likes of basic cable.
It's tight control on what appears to be complete chaos. Sutter and company are a fleet of reckless Sledge Hammers who are willing to blow up whole buildings to get the job done. Trust him. He knows what he's doing.
FX's white hot biker drama kicks off Tuesday and it brings all of the blood, guts, bullets and glory that the first season did in buckets. And that's just in the first five episodes.
(S01E02) "I will not look the other way Jax." - Hale
I'm still on board with Sons of Anarchy, but there are just too many things that are rubbing me the wrong way. Much like my minor complaint on this season of The Shield, Jax's father's manuscript has reached the point of becoming über-important just like Cruz Pezuela's blackmail box (the one Mackey stole) without any solid explanation. One gets the feeling that without that manuscript, the story would just crumble.
If this thing is so important, then why didn't Gemma or Clay have it destroyed years ago? Did they even know it existed? It was just lying out in the open in the family storage unit. While I appreciate the tension that builds as Jax slowly reads one page at a time, I'm still unconvinced that when he gets to, I dunno, "page 86," that we're going to be that shocked when the inevitable bomb is dropped. Why else would Gemma want it so bad if there wasn't some horrible family secret buried in it?
(S01E01) "Just pretend it's carve-your-own steak night at Sizzler." - Jax
FX is taking a fairly big gamble with Sons of Anarchy. With their trademark drama The Shield ending its seven season run this fall and their other two big hits (Damages and Rescue Me) pushed to 2009 because of the WGA Strike, the network is in dire need of some fresh buzz. The one thing they have going for them? Even FX's previous flops (Dirt, Starved, Over There, Thief) were better than a lot of other things on TV and Sons of Anarchy certainly fits that mold. Once the fall season is in full swing, the only network competition will be CSI: NY, as I don't see Lipstick Jungle or Dirty Sexy Money getting in the way. Sons has the potential to do well. It'll just rest on creator Kurt Sutter and how he plans to make the show appealing beyond this pilot episode.
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