Step back far enough, and the plot of the final season of Sons Of Anarchy has a certain, chilling logic to it. It makes sense that Gemma and Juice would concoct a lie to cover for Tara and Roosevelt’s murder (funny how little Roosevelt’s name comes up), and it further makes sense that they would choose to blame the violence on a local gang. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to accuse some random strangers, or to even pretend to have no knowledge of the crime at all, but still, it’s conceivable that this is the strategy they would pick. Charming is a violent town, and there are lots of potential murderers living in it. And once Gemma told her lie, it makes sense that Jax would respond with violence. His scheme to punish Lin and the Chinese for what he believed they’d done is in keeping with everything we’ve seen about his character thus far; at one point, he might have turned his back on the call of revenge and struggled to find a more enlightened path, but that time has passed. Any chance of Jax doing the right thing died roughly around the moment when Gemma beat his wife to death.
So, it’s possible to imagine all of this working, and to further imagine a scenario in which the circle of violence expanding outward from Jax’s fumbling plots (remember: he still hasn’t actually killed Lin yet. Arrested, but the guy’s still breathing) reflects back darkly on both his compromised character, and Gemma’s selfishness and desperation. Hell, I’d even say that’s sort of what the season is trying to do. Gemma certainly looks desperate at this point, her fingers twitching while she smokes a cigarette, her voice breaking as she apologizes to Bobby’s corpse for the lie which, ultimately, got him killed. And the sense that things have gotten out of hand, and far beyond Jax’s control, keeps getting stronger. He really did think they could deal with Marks and get out ahead without any blood. It’s an understandable mistake, but still a mistake. (And killing Jury? That’s beyond the pale.)
Yet “What A Piece Of Work Is Man” doesn’t have the impact it should have. A major character is killed at the moment when you think he might finally get away, but while Bobby’s death is sad, it’s not some powerful, wrenching tragedy. It’s just another stupid twist in a show that only has stupid twists left; better than, say, Abel just happening to stumble onto yet another tearful confession from his grandmother, but still not exactly well-constructed or moving. I’m sad Bobby’s dead because Mark Boone Jr. is a fine actor, and the character brought some much needed gravitas to the show. But the event itself doesn’t linger. It works better than the women of Diosa getting slaughtered, because it was more drawn out (I mean, the odds of Bobby getting away alive after being captured were pretty low), and because Bobby has more of a character than any of the dead women. That only goes so far, though. The conflict with Marks is so convoluted and abstract this point that Bobby could’ve been hit by a falling piano and the impact would’ve been roughly the same.
Admittedly, it would’ve been hard to blame Gemma or Jax for a falling piano, and there’s at least some power in the idea that Gemma’s actions have led everyone to this doomed and miserable place. But god, all of this is just so miserable that it stops being miserable and becomes silly, except for when it’s infuriating. Like the aforementioned scene of Abel eavesdropping on his gramma again. Presumably this is supposed to be some commentary on how the innocent can suffer along with the guilty, and the show has certainly touched on the idea that subsequent generations can never really escape the sins of the past. The way it plays out is just so damn goofy, though. Like nearly all of the big moments of the episode, if you listen carefully, you can almost hear the writers’ room discussions that drove the scene, turning Abel into some sin-eating Roomba, robotically shuffling from one horrible situation to the next, offering occasional, robotic dialogue lines that are supposed to remind us of his alienation from the world. It should be disturbing to watch this kid fall apart before our eyes, especially when you absolutely know that he’ll end up doing something awful (my money’s on killing his brother). Instead, it’s just dumb. He isn’t a kid. He’s a prop.
Even the scenes without Abel are struggling to hold our attention. The running time is too long, as ever; this whole season has been plagued by sluggish pacing and bloated episode lengths, and while more happens in “What A Piece Of Work Is Man” than in some previous entries, it’s still a slog. We suffer through Rat’s relationship woes (which at least try and address the club’s toxic masculinity), and we get to see Gemma picking fights with the sheriff, for no better reason than, I dunno, Gemma. Well, okay, she’s defensive and when she’s defensive, her natural inclination is to lash out, which leads to a squabble and some slapping and a fight, and that fight leads to the sheriff demanding Chibs fuck her in a parking garage because hey, that makes sense. And Chibs fucks her in a parking garage. Because that’s what love is.
It’s just all so ludicrous, bursts of memorable absurdity without any of the context necessary to make them work as something more, as actual pieces that are greater than the sum of their parts. Althea and Chibs’ relationship has never made much sense, because it didn’t develop so much as arrive fully formed; same with Althea’s willingness to take money from the club. How are we supposed to care that her pride has been injured when we have no idea what she has to be proud about? Annabeth Gish does what she can, but she hasn’t been given a character to play, just a space to fill and lines to recite. Her demands on Chib could’ve been part and parcel with the show’s concept of outlaw romance, something ridiculous and over the top but so deeply felt that you can’t help but appreciate it. Instead, it’s self-parody. Like Abel’s unerring ability to stalk his grandma at the worst possible time, it’s a desperately serious scene that it’s impossible not to laugh at.
The failure is ultimately one of execution, with too much running time, too little discipline, and a shocking lack of urgency for a show’s final season. There are probably deeper causes for these woes; story choices and compromises made in previous years that forced the narrative down a path where there were no longer any good answers. There are seeds bearing fruit here that have been growing for a long time. But the real awful fact is, it doesn’t matter anymore. We can pick over the corpse while it’s still breathing, but really, in the end, this is just a junky, sloppy, and pointlessly elongated conclusion to a tale that ran out of anything worth saying ages ago.
- Hey, somebody (Grant) finally called Jax on how bullshit his “You have to trust me” statements always are. Of course it didn’t matter in the long run, and Grant ultimately did what he was told, but still.
- Juice Watch: He’s still in prison, and he shoved something (a weapon) up his butt. Sheriff Althea and Unser figured out Jax’s plan, and the sheriff had Juice moved to solitary to keep him away from Lin. Jax also needs Lin to confess that Jury ratted out the club, because other branches of the Sons are pretty pissed off. (The fact that Jax hasn’t even entertained the notion that Jury isn’t the rat is probably not going to go well for him.)
- Gemma: “Don’t be a dick.” It’s a pedantic scene, focused on a cardboard relationship (Rat and his lady, who looks all of 16 years old), but hey, at least Gemma wasn’t completely horrible for a few seconds.
- In the end, Jax arranges to get Marks arrested. Just like Lin. Interesting how despite his best efforts, Jax has to keep turning to actual law enforcement to take care of his problems.