*This was originally posted on Kolby Solinsky’s blog at White Cover Magazine…
Are there spoilers ahead?
Of course. So only read on if you’ve seen it, or if you’re looking for that sort of thing. I know plenty of you out there like to watch TV without keeping the ending a surprise, just like plenty of you like to know what you got for Christmas before December 25th. We can’t all take the unknown. It’s okay.
I’ll begin: I never thought Sons of Anarchy was perfect, but I loved it. Now, I’ll explain.
It was always too violent to be considered dramatic. Other shows about crime and the families who profit from it – like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad – knew what subtlety was and what its value was. SOA? Not too sure. Because those other shows also seemed aware of how evil their leads were, the Walter Whites and Tony Sopranos, and the criminal organizations they ran and founded. Those show’s runners also knew how evil nearly everyone in the script was, and so it was enjoyable to root for the bad guys because, well, everyone’s a bad guy in some way. Game of Thrones and True Detective have been great examples of that lately – both shows’ heroes Tyrion Lannister and Rust Cohle are, really, not very terrific people.
Even canonized cartoons like The Simpsons and The Flintstones marketed themselves by making an overweight, pretty dumb dad into the hero. His dutiful wife was the dutiful wife, his kids were named Bam Bam or Bart, and his best friends were dim-witted and simple, but loveable.
Sometimes, though, it wasn’t clear whether Sons of Anarchy‘s faults were intentional or not.
The show constantly preached for family and put Jax Teller and SAMCRO on a pedestal they very often hadn’t earned. SOA was always passing off vigilantism as a suitable substitute for real ethics, to the point Kurt Sutter’s words sounded like what a hunter says when he goes out and shoots deer and bear and then tries to convince you he wouldn’t be able to eat without doing it himself. As if the violence in Sons was going to happen anyway and Teller and Co. were Charming’s most trustworthy men to carry it all out.
This is fine, but it’s different when the show believes too obviously what it’s selling. Community is clearly a religiously agnostic show, but it takes shots at Britta’s Atheism and Shirley’s Christianity in healthy, evenly split doses. The Godfather was fixated on turning Michael Corleone into the enemy, not the saviour. It was a tragedy, not a call to arms. True Detective got where it was going by laying bare all of Marty’s and Rust’s problems and errors, and then it brought it home with lines like, “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.”
Shows must always be conscious, not converting, and too often it seemed like Sutter and Hunnam and the rest actually believed they were telling the story of Batman, not ruthless killers. (Nothing against ruthless killers, though.)
And maybe Jax really was the best evil out there, but it got a little tiring. S’all I’m saying.
We were supposed to hate characters like Clay and Gemma and the Nazis and the IRA, but we weren’t supposed to realize how Jax would look from the other side. What if the show was instead called Mayans of Anarchy? Then it would be a sort of U.S. War on Terror deal – you know, how can the most militaristically obsessed country on earth fight a war on fire and scorched earth and the scary emotions they cause?
But see, all those paragraphs above, they’re why Sons of Anarchy was actually sort of perfect.
Because SOA was perfect for itself. It was contained and it was honest to its message and mission. It was a fitting haircut on an oddly shaped head, and even a thickly accented Englishman like Charlie Hunnam could pull it off with a long runway and an excellent script.
It was white trash opera but it was real opera, too.
And on Tuesday night, boy was that finale perfect.
Jax rides off into nothingness, his hair flowing and a Flying V of police cars behind him on that beautiful, beige northern California highway, and he smiles and opens his arms wide as he ploughs head-on into a semi truck.
The soundtrack was gorgeous, as were the montage of shots that wrapped up each remaining character’s storyline nicely but not finitely. (We never really like things to end all neat and concrete-like, after all. We say we do, but we never would have been able to take a properly defined conclusion to The Sopranos and we would have hated to see Bryan Cranston’s eyes close in Bad‘s last shot.
In SOA‘s closing moments, we were given the same freedom Jax Teller was. If the rest of the series was a properly tended-to crew cut, the last 10 minutes were a quick and clean buzz. Sutter shaved it all off and let the wind and the sun take over.
And so fittingly, it was all wrapped up with a bunch of touching scenes – Jax visiting his father’s roadside grave, Chibs holding back tears at the table he now heads, and Wendy and Nero taking the Teller boys to safety – shoved side-by-side with some crude ones, which started early in the episode with Lyla shooting a porno called ‘Fat Asses’ (or something like that) and ended with crows picking apart a piece of bread while Jax’s blood flowed towards them.
And we got to hear Michael Chiklis’s gargley voice yell ‘JESUS!’ (seriously, that was the last word of the series, wasn’t it?) and Jax even referenced the show’s sometimes split personality early on in ‘Papa’s Goods’ when he told a porn-watching T.O. Cross, “We like poetry” (or something like that, it’s hard to remember word-for-word).
When it wanted to be goofy, Sons of Anarchy could never resist getting serious and emotional. And when it wanted to be something more, it couldn’t help being funny, over-violent, or cheap. And like any good show meant for binge-watching, it was never afraid to kill someone off.
And that includes itself.
Bravo, Kurt Sutter and Kompany, on a job well done.