Forgive me if this goes astray, but I’m still working through my stages of grief over this “Sons of Anarchy” finale. I’m currently on depression, and hoping that writing this will move me toward acceptance.
[Here’s an obligatory spoiler alert if you decided to click on an article about the “Sons of Anarchy” finale and yet don’t want to know a thing about it. I’m not going to bury the lede because it’s really the only thing worth talking about. Most of this episode was extremely slow and incredibly boring.]
I’m not grieving because Tara is dead. I’m grieving because I stuck around to see this happen. Why did I choose to ignore the warning signs? They were all there: The pointless, crass use of a school shooting as a plot point in the season premiere; Clay’s needlessly drawn out march toward death; that obnoxious sequence where the prison guards forced Clay and Gemma to have sex in solitary; the nonsensical machinations of Tara’s season long scheme to escape Charming or make Jax pay attention to her or really really really piss off Gemma — or whatever the writers wanted us to believe she was trying to accomplish. This season wasn’t just wild and crazy and unpredictable, it was top to bottom stupid.
This was the exclamation point.
You see, it’s not enough that Tara had to die. (Did she? I’m not convinced. But, to make this easier, let’s accept that she did and get to why it sucked.) She had to die in an amazingly idiotic way. The show clearly wants us to view her death and everything leading up to it as tragedy. Horrifying. Inevitable. Shakespearean! But it’s impossible to see as anything other than the ultimate example of this show’s forehead-slapping stupidity.
The writers have a habit of taking these little pawns they call characters and twisting them into unrecognizable simpletons. But have they ever gone this far? People who we generally think of as intelligent or level-headed — Unser, Roosevelt, even Jax — were forced to abandon all rational thought for this scenario to play out.
How or why Unser even got a call that Jax was going to be arrested is baffling to begin with, but to 1) bring that information to Gemma and then speculate (however logically) that Tara must have turned on Jax, 2) make a halfhearted attempt at preventing Gemma from leaving the house and 3) giving up and walking away … Is. Just. Absurd.
We’ve seen Unser portrayed as a sap before — he was horrified when he discovered the specifics of Tara’s plan this season — and we know he has a blind spot for Gemma. But his instinctual refusal to let her drive demonstrates he has cause for concern. When Gemma takes his truck and disappears, does he call Tara? Let Jax know that Gemma is drunk, angry, terrified and on the loose? Nah, he just casually takes a trip to the ice cream shop and mentions someone really oughta tell Gemma what the hell is going on. (You know, before she goes and does something INSANE.)
Meanwhile, Patterson leaves Tara’s safety in the responsible hands of Roosevelt. And clearly Tara’s safety is not even Patterson’s primary concern. Tara has already proven herself flighty and indecisive, especially when Jax is involved. There’s always the possibility she could bolt again, even after Jax vows to turn himself in as a scapegoat for the school shooting in exchange for her freedom. It’s not so hard to imagine, say, Jax and Tara put on a show for Patterson to give themselves time and space to run off together.
So, yeah, it totally makes sense that Roosevelt takes Tara to her house, sees a mysterious truck in the driveway (even if it’s Unser’s) and just says, “You go on ahead into the house by yourself where nothing bad can possibly happen and I’ll wait out here!” (Or something like that, at a certain point I stopped transcribing actual dialogue and started cursing the gods.)
Oh! And who does Jax send to check on Gemma? Juice! The member of the club who he knows JUST BETRAYED HIM. And it’s not like that’s water under the bridge. Jax whispers menacingly into Juice’s ear all “Godfather”-style: “You betrayed me! So, now go find my mother and make sure she’s totally cool with this whole turning myself into the police and going to jail for a little under a decade (with good behavior) thing.” (Most of that was probably my brain trying to justify what was going on, but I can’t be sure.)
And that brings us to the exact circumstances of the death: Tara in hand to hand combat with Gemma! And Gemma wins!
Tara is tired. Tara is weak. But Tara hasn’t given up. If anything her will to survive must be at an all-time high. And no matter how much mother’s love Gemma has for Jax, and no matter what advantage she has with the element of surprise, the Gemma/Tara showdown is so sloppily and ridiculously staged that it is flat out impossible to believe Gemma maintains the upper hand the entire time. Of course, because this is “Sons of Anarchy,” it’s also graphic and disturbing and gross. But that’s so expected at this point you just kind of roll your eyes, even when you can’t quite believe what you’re seeing. (Or understand how we’re supposed to buy any of it happening at all.)
If there was anything that made sense in this entire mess of a storyline it was Gemma’s motivation. The show certainly stacked the deck there. Not only is Gemma still reeling from Tara falsely accusing her of causing the miscarriage of her own (imaginary) grandchild, but she’s also still messed up from recently watching her son shoot Clay in the head. If that’s not enough, Nero just kicked her to the curb! Oh yeah, Gemma’s in a bad place. We know how much family means to her as a certifiably insane mama bear. We know that she believes killing Tara might somehow end all of Jax’s troubles with the law (ha!) or at least keep him safe temporarily. I’m sure she’d even own up to it, if Juice didn’t make the snap judgment call to kill Roosevelt and help her cover the whole disaster up. (Made extra neat and tidy by Jax turning on Juice and Gemma — the angel — showing him nothing but support.)
Oh, right. THEY ALSO KILLED ROOSEVELT.
Which, frankly, is fine. One less character I actually like means one less reason to watch next season. Not that I have any left, really, beyond Jimmy Smits and the potential ongoing arc for CCH Pounder.
Now that we’ve reached this point — Gemma killing Tara, the mother of her grandchild, in cold blood and conspiring to cover it up — it feels like the show is building to an inevitable showdown between Jax and his mother. At some point in the final season Jax will surely find out what Gemma did to Tara. And what Gemma did to John Teller. And what will Jax do?
I don’t care.
I’m not interested in another season of overstuffed episodes full of characters who alternate between boring and stupid on the whim of the writers, punctuated by childish acts of violence inserted for shock value, convoluted gang wars, endless pontificating about what makes a good man, and musical montages.
Over on AMC’s vastly superior “The Walking Dead,” they’ve spent half a season posing the question of whether or not people can come back from the terrible things they’ve done. I think “Sons of Anarchy” has finally reached a point where it can’t come back from the terrible things it’s done. Gemma is irredeemable at this point — she’s worse than Walter White at his worst. Maybe that was always the plan, but I can’t imagine wanting to watch her character ever again (and I’ve actually been a Gemma supporter most of these seasons, through the worst of it, because Katey Sagal can be so damn good). And I don’t even want to know what sort of moral obstacle course the show will throw Jax’s way now that he’s lost his father, his best friend and his wife all because of the motorcycle club he just can’t quit.
Very often in the comments section of negative TV recaps you’ll find someone complaining, “If you hate the show so much, hater, why don’t you stop watching?” It’s a silly argument, but the answer for me with “Sons of Anarchy” was always that I hoped it would get better. That it would validate the time I spent with it, as it has in the past.
But to end this season in this way? I’ve gotta side with Nero. I’m done.
Odds and ends:
– See, now, Gemma was responsible for Jax growing up without a father. And now she’s responsible for Thomas and Abel growing up without a mother. All Jax wanted was for Tara to be a good mother to his sons! Now they’re stuck with the worst grandmother of all time! Isn’t it tragic (and clever)?
– Drea de Matteo’s presence in the episode only underscores the connection to “The Sopranos” great “Long Term Parking.” An episode where the death of a major character was as devastating as it was meaningful.
– Great use of Peter Weller and Kim Dickens this season, right? I mean, why were they on the show again? (P.S. Barosky says Colette’s business is doing just great! Hooray!)
– For just a short while there I was liking the idea of Jax offering himself up as Patterson’s school shooting scapegoat. It would have made a reasonable enough bookend with the season premiere. Instead the shooting lives on as the show’s most tasteless pointless provocation.
– If this show actually had a heart to break, thinking back on the scene with Tara alone in the motel room with the boys, telling Abel he needs to make sure his brother isn’t scared, would be too much to bear.