Through seven seasons of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter has never let up on his heavy hand, and to a degree, it’s something we’ve come to expect and sometimes even appreciate. Sons of Anarchy is a melodrama, a big bad soap opera with murderers, thugs, and motorcycles, where more “I love yous” are exchanged than any romance you’ll ever see. Sutter is blunt, he is crass, and he wears his heart on one sleeve while he’s strangling you with the other sleeve.
For better or worse, that’s Kurt Sutter. He doesn’t understand the word restraint, and with the highest rated show in the history of FX, he had the freedom to write whatever he wanted and put it all onscreen, whether we wanted to see it all or not. There may have only been 13 episodes of Sons of Anarchy this season, but there was as much content as a broadcast network 22-episode season.
And there was nothing subtle about last night’s season finale. As I wrote in my recap last week, everything that would come after Gemma’s death would feel like an epilogue, and “Papa’s Goods” felt exactly like that: A 77-minute epilogue to the series. A different show — The Wire, for instance — could’ve compressed the entire finale into a 6-minute musical montage, but this is Kurt Sutter: He needed to spell it all out for us, right down to the final shot of two crows feasting while the blood of Jax Teller’s corpse puddled into the frame.
We knew last week when Jax met with Les Packer and insisted that his club would “vote the right way” that Jax was going to die in the finale, and that Mr. Mayhem would be involved. The tension, what little there was in the finale, was whether Kurt Sutter might try and wiggle out of it, whether Jax would drive out to Alaska and take up a career in lumberjacking.
Thankfully, we were spared that. Instead, Sutter brought it full circle: Jax died just as his father had, but not before Jax seemingly broke the circle for Abel and Thomas (although, if there was one ambiguity in the finale, it was that psychopath Abel twirling the SAMCRO ring Gemma had given him). But before Jax orchestrated the Mr. Mayhem vote against himself and drove himself into the grill of an 18-wheeler, he tied up all the loose ends. He took care of Barowski. He shot down August Marks. He gunned down the Irish Kings. He patched in T.O., giving SAMCRO its first black member. He revealed the truth to the district attorney and even led her to the bodies of Unser and Gemma. In the language of Sutter, he made SAMCRO “whole” again.
He also said his goodbyes, and that’s where Sutter’s heavy hand and the performances of Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, and Charlie Hunnam were most effective. The death of Gemma lifted that weight off of Jax. He was smiling again, and I cannot tell you how much a smile from Hunnam can brighten an entire scene. In a way, Jax was comforting the rest of us, metaphorically reaching through our television screens and patting us on the back, as if to say, “It’s gonna be OK.” There were a lot of really touching moments in the finale.
Jax went out with a clear conscience. He’d wiped the emotional ledger clean. He’d made peace with it all. His kids were taken care of. His club was back on its feet. He left Charming relatively safe again. He said goodbye to Opie, Tara, and his father. He even exchanged words with the homeless woman, who remained mum on her identity.
Then Jax drove into the front end of a Mac truck.
Those final minutes of Sons of Anarchy, I expect, are not going to be that well received. It was overwrought. The symbolism was oppressive. The green screen was silly. The police chase was baffling. Personally, I think the screen should’ve gone to black as the crow “flew straight” because I think the audience could’ve lived with a tiny shred of ambiguity rather than bludgeoning us with the SPLAT. However, I also understand this is Kurt Sutter we’re talking about. He’s not known for a soft touch. “Too much” is not a phrase he comprehends. He lives and dies by the heavy hand, and we have to accept that — on balance — it has brought us more good than bad.