This review contains spoilers.
7.12 Red Rose
Coming in to the penultimate episode of Sons Of Anarchy’s final season, I had certain expectations. I was sure that we would get an episode of filler before the major conflicts were resolved in the finale. I was ready for that.
I was not ready for this.
Even the most ardent fan of the series has to admit that this season has not been the best. There has been far too strong a focus on gang politics and not on the character drama that has driven this show from the start, and for much of this episode it seemed that this major problem was still very much in play. But the final twenty minutes of Red Rose chose a different emphasis and it resulted in one of the strongest episodes this series has ever produced.
It was clear that Jax and Gemma’s showdown was coming and when it did, only one of them was likely to walk out alive. And yeah, I knew that was probably not going to be Gemma and yeah, this outcome was easily the most obvious, but heck, did that make it any easier to watch? I’m still torn over whether I would have preferred some last minute twist, on whether a more left-field outcome would have been stronger, but I don’t know that this fantasy conclusion would have felt quite so powerful or fitting. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened tonight, but the fact that I was speechless when the credits rolled speaks volumes. Three major characters died tonight, but only one of those deaths was the conclusion to a seven year story, and it is that death that stabbed me in the heart in a way I had long since accepted that this show was incapable of.
Did Gemma deserve to die? Unquestionably. Was it inevitable? Yes. Did those certain truths make it any less affecting? Not in the slightest.
Right until the last second I was hoping that Jax would surprise us with a show of mercy, but for that to happen would mean ignoring all the development we have witnessed up until this point, and thus Gemma was shot in the head by her own blood, killed by the family she had spent so long violently trying to protect.
There is undeniably a poignancy to this turn of events that even the last few gratuitous, aimless weeks cannot undercut, and I would be willing to bet that I am not the only one who feels utterly blindsided by the fact that the show refused to blink when confronting this most twisted of showdowns. But that sick horror is infused with a deep sense of satisfaction and a strange happiness that it was handled so well. There was no overblown enforcement of just how potent a moment this was. For once, Kurt Sutter trusted in the years of history and let the moment stand as it was; a stark, brutal and tragic slice of inevitability. I doubt that this was necessarily the endgame he had in mind when the arc of the series was first sculpted, but it fit perfectly. The only real question left is just how it will impact the final hour we spend with the characters still breathing.
There is certainly still business to attend to. It looks increasingly likely that the mayhem vote promised by the other charters will not end well for Jax, but it is hard to conceive of a reality where the finale can top what happened this week. The lingering plots feel more like loose ends to be dutifully tied up than anything immediately compelling, but for the first time this year, I genuinely trust in what Sutter and co have to offer.
Of course, there were major caveats to the quality of this week. While Unser’s death was easily a highlight and a gut-punch moment to rival Gemma’s, we also lost Juice. The only problem is that, really, his death had seemed so necessary for so long that it felt like an anticlimactic moment that actually drained emotion from the rest of the episode. Losing any character who has been around from the start is a big deal, but we have spent so long watching Juice suffer (arguably since season four) that his dying has gone past the point of tragedy and now just feels like something else that had to be dealt with before the end. Really, he could just as easily have died last week after serving his ultimate purpose of revealing the truth about Tara’s death. What was there to be gained from seeing him be brutally gang raped by Lin’s subordinates? Honestly, after a certain point it just feels like more superfluous misery, and while I get that he needed to stick around to consolidate the major reveal, the way it was all handled was just kind of clumsy, and after so much filler, it was hard to feel particularly moved by his death beyond the basic shock of ‘oh shit, a main character died’.
Additionally, does anyone really care about all the various gangs coming to a peaceful accord? In one week this story will be over and I doubt anyone will walk away overly concerned about whether the Mayans and the One Niners sort out their issues. The time honoured Sons Of Anarchy tradition of extraneous filler was upheld with aplomb this week, as the Irish managed to create a scenario that both eliminates any lingering tensions and provides the opportunity to make another action scene out of the hunt for Connor. In the grand scheme of what this episode achieved, such flaws are minor, but they are still symptomatic of the larger flaw that has hamstrung this season; there has simply been not enough story to tell.
But future viewers bingeing the show from season one to seven will be less likely to dwell on such issues, and when the payoff is as strong as the final minutes of Red Rose, complaints like this feel a little churlish. While this season may have gotten off to a sluggish start, the last couple of episodes have been fantastic; with exactly the right emphasis on character and resolution to major plot points. All that’s left to worry about is whether they stick the landing. I only need to keep my fingers crossed for one more week.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Suits Of Woe, here.
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