The only way to get out is to get out. That’s it. No half measures, no “Let me do this one last score,” no “I have to protect the club first, and then I’ll leave.” Either you leave right now, your loved ones at your side, not bothering to check the rearview mirror for the bodies you’re dropping in your wake—or you stay. Jax and Tara have been telling themselves for a while now that they need to get out of Charming. The reasons are obvious. They have two kids, and SAMCRO doesn’t offer much of a future for children. Tara once had a promising career as a doctor, but the longer she stays in a go-nowhere town, the further away that career gets. And Jax—well, once upon a time, Jax had ambitions. He found his father’s journals, and he realized his old man’s dreams for the club, and Jax became determined to see those dreams through. Only it turns out Dad didn’t just fail because he was lazy or stupid. He failed because the Sons of Anarchy don’t allow for his kind of success. So now Jax is at the head of the table and despite all his lofty philosophy and letters to his sons, he’s losing his way. Or, to be more accurate: he’s found a different path than his father’s. No matter how much he dreams about getting out, his dreams are as much a lie as Nero’s uncle’s barn. Jax ends this season with a nearly complete victory. He just had to become the man he hates most in the world to do it.
“J’ai Obtenu Cette” had a fair amount riding on it. Given the structure of the season, this finale wasn’t as make or break as last year’s, but it still needed to land—and it did. Quite spectacularly well, in fact, and in a way that rewards viewers for having faith through all the episodes leading up to this point. There are minor quibbles here and there, but Kurt Sutter and his team make solid plays, and they all pay off beautifully. There’s no cheat designed to hold off on protecting a major character, no sudden reveal of hidden loyalties which changes everything without earning the reversal. Jax pulls off his big play against Pope, getting revenge and removing a threat while maintaining club interests; he gets his revenge against Clay in a way that keeps his own hands relatively clean; and Tara goes to jail. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been coming for at least an episode or two, maybe more, and while there are gratifying twists and turns, the conclusion the episode arrives at is at once obvious and powerful. The best finales find a way to clarify and foreground the season’s big arc, and this one achieves that handily. The idea that Jax is in danger of losing his good intentions to SAMCRO’s needs has been with the show for ages, but it’s especially stark now. He doesn’t even seem to realize how awful he’s become.
Like, for instance, the way he decided the best way to deal with a troublesome ex is by jamming her full of heroin and threatening to report her to the authorities. That was some nasty business last week, but it plays out in unexpected ways; instead of going to ground or running to the cops, Wendy shows up at Tara’s office, tells her what happened, and once again insists that Tara get the boys out of town. Instead of letting Jax’s cruelty fester awhile before letting Tara find out at the worst possible time, or having Wendy crack completely and become even more of a threat, the writers just put the issue right back on the table. We’re not supposed to be worried that Jax might lose his sons. We’re supposed to be worried that he won’t—that Tara will lose her nerve, that the boys will grow up with SAMCRO at their backs. The whole episode has Tara lurking in the background, as she gets her cast removed and learns her hand will be fine, as she signs the papers, as she deals with Gemma. Over every one of Jax’s successes, Tara is waiting. He can’t keep her anymore, no matter how effective his plans turn out to be.
To give him credit, those are some damn effective plans. It’s not a surprise that he’d been holding one final play against Pope in his pocket all this time, but that’s more because of the dictates of the SAMCRO culture and what we know about Jax than it is due to any telegraphing by the writers; Jax never gave so much as a hint that he was waiting to take down Pope, and given his behavior elsewhere, it wouldn’t have been a huge stretch for him to give up Tig. (I thought the original deal was for Tig to go back to jail, but I guess that changed? Possibly misremembering.) Jax does betray himself with two slightly clumsy moves—he first asks Pope to put down the Charming Heights deal on paper, thus ensuring the arrangements won’t get lost after Pope’s death; and then the casual “Oh, you should probably should Tig in the garage over there,” in order to allow himself the time to get Clay’s gun out, kill the guard waiting outside, and then run a sneak attack on the main group. Jax sells these well enough, though, and it could just be a sign of Pope’s over-confidence that he’s a little annoyed, but never outright suspicious. Regardless, the power of Jax turning the tables and getting his double-play is thrilling enough that the slight awkwardness needed to get there doesn’t really matter. Sure, Tig did still murder Pope’s daughter, and Opie’s death was still a painfully obvious example of writers sacrificing a character they had no idea what to do with, but when the end result is this striking, the bumps in the road become smoother in retrospect.
So, Jax’s plan wasn’t just for Tig to shoot Pope. It was for Tig to shoot Pope with Clay’s gun, and then Jax would leave the gun by the garage where he could lead Eli to find it. This, then, is Jax’s final vengeance on his stepfather: to be arrested for the one crime he didn’t commit. Worse, with the word out that Clay is the one who shot Pope, Marks, Pope’s second in command, has put out a hit on the man—Marks wants Clay dead before he sits down for a hearing. It’s a clever piece of maneuvering by Jax, and it shows how smart the writers were to keep Clay around longer. It was clumsy writing that kept him off the chopping block last year, but the way the character has gone from loathsome, pathetic villain to something a lot sadder and older and just a little bit wiser has been richly rewarding. Even with all he’s done, it’s possible to feel some pity for Clay at his arrest. Not only is he taken down by a pretty obvious trick, the trick requires the two people he thought closest to him to betray him. Gemma’s turn is especially cold. She sits down in front of the cops and her husband and sends him to jail. Does he deserve it? Sure, and he’s hurt Gemma before. But there’s no satisfaction in what she does, no sense of justice served. No one in that room is happy, not even Eli, who’s at least getting a kind of vengeance for his wife’s death. This is just something that’s happening, because that’s how things work in Charming.
That’s how all of Jax’s victories seem to work. Late in the episode, Bobby accuses him of turning into Clay, and Jax doesn’t deny it; but what’s scary is that Jax might be better at this sort of thing than Clay ever was. He’s smarter, at least, and more gifted at playing people against each other. Juice belongs to him now, and Tig, but their loyalty is as much a matter of desperation as it is faith. They have nothing else outside the club, so Jax can use and abuse them as he sees fit. Clearly, Bobby’s having none of this; the episode’s final montage ends with him removing his vice president patch and walking out the club door. Whether he’ll be around next season, and in what capacity, remains to be seen. Maybe he’ll be another Piney to Jax’s Clay, a constant pain in his ass reminding him of all the ways he’s failed by winning. SAMCRO will have resources in play and money coming in, and they aren’t in debt to anyone. But the garage is starting to look awful empty.
Same with Jax’s home. The finale doesn’t end anything definitively, apart from Pope; Clay’s still alive (though incarcerated and in serious trouble), Lee Toric is still lurking in the shadows to take his revenge. And Tara just got arrested for conspiring in that poor nurse’s death. It’s a scene which manages to be both deserved and devastating. Tara didn’t want anyone to die, but her ongoing work with the Sons makes her as culpable in her way as anyone, and the idea that she could just lift herself out without any consequences is deeply naïve. But it still seems shocking, especially as the kids are crying in the other room and Tara can barely process what’s happened. (Maggie Siff is tremendous throughout the hour, and this scene in particular. Her “He’s crying” is just perfect.) Gemma threatened to turn Tara in earlier in the episode when she realized Tara was going to try and leave town, and it looks like what she heard at Nero’s (a conversation between Jax and Nero about getting out) may have pushed her over the edge. Or maybe not. The fact that Gemma shows up at the house as Tara is getting carted away could mean anything, but it would be a ballsy move on her part to go inside the house and comfort Jax if she herself was responsible for the arrest. Maybe Lee, disappointed after Otto chewed his own tongue out during his deposition, decided to get proactive. Maybe something else.
We’ll have to wait until next year to see what happens next. Thankfully, Sons Of Anarchy has given us more than enough reason to want to come back to Charming. This was a thrilling, moving, exciting conclusion to a season that brought a troubled show back to its strengths. There’s plenty more suffering where all this came from, and I can’t wait to see it.
- I’m a little sad to see the end of Pope. He probably couldn’t keep breathing, but it seems like the writers were never entirely sure what to do with him. He comes on strong at first, basically laying SAMCRO low without even breathing hard, and then falls back until it’s time for Jax to take him out. It works because everything around him works, but here’s hoping Lee Toric, or whomever turns out to be the villain next year, is a little more balanced.
- Otto chewed his tongue out. Damn.
- There’s something sad about Gemma finally going back to Nero, just as he’s getting sucked into his old life of crime. Gemma’s still the worst, but man, nobody ever wins.
- The dog fighting, and Tig’s reaction, was great stuff. It really captures the appeal of these guys, I think; they can be monsters, but they’ve also got big dumb hearts. And I’m glad they saved the dog.