Vengeance is a real pain in the ass, isn’t it?
That’s probably the most important thing I got out of Tuesday (Dec. 1) night’s second season finale of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy.”
Rarely has a season begun with a more clear imperative for bloody revenge. From the premiere, we had insidious white nationalists who didn’t give a second’s thought to using rape as a bullying tactic. TV may not have a Hays Code mandating punishment for all bad deeds, but not even the darkest and grittiest of cable dramas could deny that the combination of supremacists and sexual violence evade the most gruesome of retribution.
But sometimes vengeance is hollow and sometimes vengeance is a catalyst for even greater catastrophes.
[More on “Na Triobloidi” after the break… I’m just gonna talk about the finale as if you’ve seen it, OK? That means I’m spoiling everything. You’ve been warned.]
Maybe “vengeance” isn’t exactly the word I want. Maybe I’m looking for “justice,” but “Sons of Anarchy,” always an outlaw western at heart, had very clear points to make about institutional justice and frontier justice.
Institutional justice is what reigned at the end of the season’s penultimate episode. Weston (Henry Rollins) was arrested for arson and Zobelle (Adam Arkin) threw himself at the mercy of the ATF on drug charges.
That was never going to fly. Just as you can’t expect busting Capone for tax evasion to have the necessary juice, we were never going to be satisfied to see how the justice system would process Weston and Zobelle. Fortunately, the justice system was powerless. Within minutes of the start of the episode, both men were free. Deputy Chief Hale had to let Weston go because Chuck wasn’t necessarily the most reliable of witnesses in the inferno at the porn emporium. And Chief Unser was powerless to hold Zobelle because… Get this… Zobelle’s been an FBI informant for three years. Both Unser and Hale were left telling their departing charges that, given their druthers, punishment would come from outside sources.
Thank heavens for SAMCRO.
Betrayed many times over by his father figure Zobelle, who proved to be just another opportunist and not a true believer, Weston was relatively easy to knock off. His weakness? His children, specifically his son Duke. Sticking around town mostly for access to his children, Weston was getting a new tattoo, but he was sold out by the inker, a friend to the M.C. Lured into the parlor’s bathroom, Duke in tow, Weston was ambushed and faced his demise by only requesting that his son be able to walk out alive, without seeing the mess. Duke out of the way, Weston sat on the can, bent his head and accepted the hail of bullets.
Perhaps because of Weston’s resignation, his death lacked any sort of catharsis for viewers and perhaps also for Jax. While he faced death like a man, a prominently exposed and repugnant tattoo reminded us of the sort of man we were dealing with.
Protected first by the FBI and then by Alvarez and the Mayans, Zobelle was harder to get at, requiring a freeway ambush, which proved unsuccessful, with Zobelle escaping to a small-town convenience store, where he used school children as a shield (a clear contrast to Weston sending his son away).
Oh, but before getting to the end of SAMCRO siege on the store, again with the outlaw justice, we had to watch Agent Stahl’s (Ally Walker) ongoing efforts to screw absolutely everything up. If Hale and Unser are ineffectual, Stahl’s actively a force of pure chaos. How else can you explain the circumstances under which she tried holding Edmund for leverage on his father Cameron, shot Edmond to death in a spur-of-the-moment mistake, hid in the corner as Gemma showed up to finally get her own payback against Zobelle’s daughter Polly, hid as Gemma shot Polly and placed the blame for both Edmond and Polly’s murder on Gemma, with Cameron listening in.
It’s there that the “Sons of Anarchy” finale went beyond just institutional justice (totally impotent) and frontier justice (messy and ineffective). It climaxed with Cameron taking Biblical justice against the people he thought were responsible for Edmond’s death.
“Son for a son?” the crazed Irishman said, breaking into Jax’s home, accosting Tara and Half-Sack and threatening Abel. “Sounds about right.”
Of course, we were supposed to think Cameron might actually harm Abel, looming over him with a knife, more like Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac than like Cain ready for the slaughter. But what he actually had in mind was a trade, since child kidnapping is within the realm of accepted behaviors on cable, but child murder probably isn’t.
And because Cameron took off with Jax’s son as a trade for the son he thought Jax’s mother killed, Jax had to call Clay just as Clay had finally cleared out Zobelle’s civilian buffer.
“I need you,” said the son to his step-father.
“We’ve got to go,” said the father, without hesitation.
And so Zobelle escaped. Yes, Polly’s dead. And that’s a bit sad. But he moved on and caught his plane to Hungary. Because apparently he’s been from Hungary all along. Which makes very little sense. But we won’t worry about that. Anyway, his daughter is dead, but daughters are different from sons.
Never before has the title of “Sons of Anarchy” put the emphasis so heavily on the “sons.” Yeah, since the pilot, Jax has always been channeling his inner Hamlet, struggling to be a son to his deceased father and his remarried mother, while taking a subservient son role to Clay in club. But when the MC drank and their toast was “Sons!” was more generationally specific than ever in this episode of men not wanting to die in front of their sons, men driven to distraction by the death of their sons and men answering the call of their sons. The whole season has really been about Clay and Jax each answering the call of the Sons [of Anarchy] in their different ways, after nearly tearing the club apart. Gaining sons. Losing sons.
It was, frankly, *really* on-the-nose. As powerful as the finale was on so many levels, I wish Kurt Sutter and company could have had just a bit more faith that viewers would be able to connect the various paternal dots without quite so much over-articulation. The tortured complications and Shakespearean overtones of the finale were almost a callback to the beginning of Season One, a time when I questioned if the show was really worth the effort. This season has been so spectacular at times — “Balm” was, as I’ve written before, an Emmy episode for all and sundry — that I was a tiny bit disappointed by how overly cutely the writing became in the finale.
But I was still just a bit gutted by the end, as Gemma (wanted for multiple murders) and Unser left Charming and as Jax and the club arrived too late to prevent Cameron from escaping, in a boat, with Abel. Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Katey Sagal and Dayton Callie were all tremendous in their dialogue-free work amidst Paul Brady’s cover of “Gimme Shelter.”
[I apologize for how meandering that all became. I watched the finale at the tail-end of a six-hour flight, rushed home and started writing, time zone confusion be darned.]
Other thoughts on the “Sons of Anarchy” season finale…
*** Poor Half-Sack. First his body rejected his artificial testicle and then, just as he was on the verge of getting his patch as a full SAMCRO member (of being a Son), he got stabbed to death trying to defend Abel from Cameron. Oh, just as Weston and Zobelle had to pay, Cameron’s gonna have to pay next season.
*** And how long can Stahl go before she gets her comeuppance? She’s pretty obviously self-destructive, but nobody wants to help finish the job. Opie cut her slack a couple weeks ago, slack she didn’t deserve. And then this week, she planted the gun for Edmond, a gun loaded with blanks, then snatched it from him and mocked him with, “I was curious. Wanted to see if you had the balls. But you didn’t. Guess Da raised a little Irish pussy.”
*** Given the arc of the season, I’d have thought that Opie and Tig both needed a little more to do in the finale, especially a 90-minute finale. The things that Opie and Tig learned and did in “Service” will eventually have payoffs, I guess, but it wasn’t this season. I also missed Titus Welliver in the finale.
*** There’s something, let’s just call it “strange” about the notion that Jax and Clay have rebonded or reconciled simply over their shared determination to slaughter the men and women responsible for raping Gemma. I don’t think Sutter expects us to buy it (the reconciliation) and yet we’ve taken a break from mentioning all of the very legitimate grievances that Jax had against Clay, to say nothing of the possibly even more legitimate grievances that Opie has against Clay. In this moment, we’re able to toast “Sons!” “Sons!” and not have the double-meaning be inherently ironic.
*** Yes, it was good to see Otto get revenge on the Aryan Nation thug who nearly blinded him in prison, but what the blazes was up with the audio book he was listening to in prison? Sepinwall, via Sutter (in this must-read interview), tells me that it was a periodical from the 1800s called “The Dublin Review.” So Otto is listening to an audio book of an obscure publication about government hypocrisy that he just happens to have discovered on his own and that just happens to have been in a prison library? And the only real reason for it to be there at all is because the passage featured the words “sons of anarchy”? Not good enough. Especially not good enough since it was only there to set up a punchline where Otto’s shanking is interrupted by a recorded voice telling him to turn the tape over.
*** It’d be nice to get an official third season pickup for “Sons of Anarchy” in the next day or two. I’m guessing it’ll be timed to go along with the sure-to-be-excellent ratings for the finale.
*** And stay turned for the end of the month to see how high “Sons of Anarchy” makes it in my Best of 2009 list. Even though I didn’t love the finale, it’s gonna be high.
What’d you think of the finale, readers?