Going into the final season of Sons of Anarchy, Kurt Sutter had a huge challenge ahead of him. After killing off the series’ biggest bad, Clay Morrow, and removing the major motivation for most of Jax Teller’s actions, Tara Knowles, maintaining the high stakes of the show looked to be difficult. Sutter’s magic has always been in his ability to create characters we absolutely cannot wait to see die, right up until the moment they die, then we miss them. Five minutes into the premiere, and I already missed Tara and Clay, because really, the only thing left in the final season for Jax is getting revenge and salvaging his club in the process. Without Clay and Tara, it didn’t initially feel like there were enough stakes.
However, the key to ramping up the stakes, it turns out, was to move the target of revenge around and in doing so, make an even bigger villain out of Tara’s killer, Gemma Morrow. How do you make this season’s big bad even more despicable? Have her aim Jax’s rage at otherwise innocent people, while she quietly and calmly stands by and watches a nice kid within the Lin Triad have salt literally rubbed on his wounds and a huge knife stabbed into his skull.
That final moment was really the only huge one of the nearly two hour premiere, which naturally featured the two musical montages for which Sutter is best known — the establishing montage, which brings us up to speed on the characters, and the death montage, which allows him draw out the death of the Lin kid (it was a nice rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Thanks, Mike Myers!). After six seasons, an old dog does not learn new tricks.
The rest of the premiere wasn’t quite a slog, but there was a lot of pivoting. Sutter had to transform Sons of Anarchy from a show about Jax Teller trying to make SAMCRO a legitimate business and keep his wife and kids safe, into a show about avenging Tara’s death, even if it means dirtying SAMCRO’s hands again. “I already lost the woman I love. I’m not going to lose my club,” Jax told the remaining members of SAMCRO. But by using the club for purely selfish means — to find and kill Tara’s killer — Jax is risking just that.
In the meantime, most of the episode set the table for an all out gang war in the final season. Jax Teller worked to establish a kind of peace between SAMCRO and all the other organizations. He re-established and affirmed alliances Mayans, the Grim Bastards, the Italians, and even the Whites, and then — by killing one of Lin’s men — Teller lit the powder keg that’s likely to bring the Chinese and the One-Niners (who control the Irish’s gun trade) down on the rest of them.
Good luck with that!
There are a few other moving parts, too. Juice’s life is still in danger, although it entails some hypocrisy. Jax knows (or at least thinks he knows) that Juice didn’t kill Tara know, but Juice’s life is still in danger because Juice betrayed Jax by telling Nero about killing Darvany while he was f**king high. Meanwhile, despite the fact that this secret is out, things seem to be relatively fine between Nero and Jax — or at least, Nero isn’t suggesting he’s seeking revenge. Yet. It’s chilly between the two, perhaps, but there’s no bloodlust. Nero is too busy trying to reconnect with Gemma. That pull between Nero and Gemma is going to be a mess once Nero figures out that he wants revenge and the Mayans/Byz Lats ultimately get drawn into the gang war. Kurt Sutter is going to need a diagram to keep up with all the conflicting motivations.
So, Juice is holed up in Wendy’s apartment, and now he’s got Unser tied up with him. To what end? God, who knows with Juice? He’s a sweet, well-intentioned kid, but my God, he’s an idiot. The one thing I will say for him, however, is that he has wrapped a noose around his neck so many times now (both literally and figuratively) and yet he continues to figure out how to escape. Don’t rule out the possibility the Juice survives them all.
Don’t count on Wendy escaping, however. She has betrayed too many people, not out of malice but out of stupidity. That woman never should have come back to Charming. She has no place there. It’s all bound to catch up to her, especially after Jax finds out she’s been harboring Juice (and expect Gemma to sell her down the river).
Ultimately, the episode got to where it needed to go: Avenging Tara’s death is still the top priority, but now alliances have been drawn in the gang wars. It’s going to be fun (and bloody) to see all of that play out over the course of the season, although it would be nice if we were more invested in some of the players.
The episode was not without its problems, however. Forty-five minutes of that table setting probably could’ve been done with three minutes of one of Jax’s exposition-heavy voice over diary entries. Also, despite how incredibly long the episode was, it still felt like we didn’t get nearly enough of the characters we love the most: Tig, Chibs, and Bobby were mostly reduced to nods and reaction shots (although, the motorcycle/wheelchair stunt was amazing).
It still feels like 13 or 14 hour and a half episodes is way too much time to wrap up the season, but if there’s one thing Sutter is good for, it’s for filling time. He’s got a lot of time to fill this year, and I am excited as hell to see how it comes together.
— Have Chucky’s teeth always been that white. He looks like Ross Gellar in that Friends episode with the black light, only there’s no black light.
— Marilyn Manson’s scene was … interesting. I also appreciated the lack of eyebrows.
— I could only watch about 10 minutes of that post-show. It’s terrible. The host is awful, and it’s just not a show that lends itself to questions from Twitter.
— That Asian guy seemed so sweet. For a guy that I only just met and shouldn’t give two sh*ts about, I really felt bad for the poor son of a bitch. He seemed like a momma’s boy. A jacked momma’s boy in a gun-running gang.
— “I’ve been up inside my mother’s sh*tter so many times…” God bless Tig for his ability to turn a “your momma” joke right around.
— “I’m the last thread holding this family together.” NO. No, you did not just say that, Gemma.
— “Red Woody Incorporated is now open for business.” Not bad, but not great for a porn company name.
— Loved the wheelchair scene, and the terrible special effects actually made me love it even more.
— WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT WEIRD FOURSOME WITH THE PASTORS ALL ABOUT. One pastor was going down on a woman holding a gun while the other pastor was sodomized the guy going down on the woman, and then the big black guy was just watching? WTF? Who looks up during cunnilingus to shoot guys coming in the room?