This review contains spoilers.
7.13 Papa’s Goods
Last week I wondered just how much plot Sons Of Anarchy had left to wrap up in its final hour (or hour and a half; the episodes have gotten rather long). I mean, sure, there was business to attend to, but it was nothing huge. I’m unconvinced anyone was especially concerned about dealing with Barosky or Marks or the Irish. After seven years, the resolution we want to see is that of the characters we have known and loved for years, and in some ways the Sons Of Anarchy finale did succeed.
Jax’s death was a powerful and fitting ending for a character who finally realised that he was not a good man, that he was incapable of fulfilling his father’s legacy in the way he had dreamed, and that ultimately he had caused more harm in his life than good. Going out in a blaze of glory at least was in spirit with what the Sons originally stood for, and dying in the same way as his father seemed a small victory for a man who tried so hard to emulate one parent and in doing so ended up more resembling the other. And maybe it’s easy to mock the series ending on another huge montage, but hey, it worked. It was a striking and effective moment and it perfectly encapsulated the tragedy of the whole series.
But damn, getting to that moment was a bit of a slog, wasn’t it? Roughly at the point where it seemed that it would be Jax’s brothers to carry out the mayhem vote, I found myself wondering why the show was doing this so early when there was surely more to wrap up, and then it struck me that there really was nothing left to resolve. Dealing with the various club politics was handled in a way that actually felt like ticking off boxes, and beyond that there was not a lot of business left to attend to. Last week was such a strong resolution to so much that maybe it was inevitable that this week would feel a little lacklustre by comparison. Maybe that’s why I was hoping for some huge last-minute twist to blow last week out of the water, and maybe it’s not fair to be disappointed that that didn’t eventuate, but the finale to a seven season show needed more meat on the bones. But ultimately it will be the final moments that are remembered, talked about and integral to what the ultimate legacy of the series is, and for the final moments alone, Papa’s Goods was a strong conclusion.
This episode was also full of some fantastic performances. The devastation on Tommy Flanagan’s face after hearing what Jax asked of him spoke volumes, and Jimmy Smits, as usual, knocked it out of the park. Charlie Hunnam has done fantastic work this season, and this episode was no exception. Jax Teller is a challenging character to make empathetic, and while I’m not one hundred percent certain the series succeeded in doing that, these shortcomings were more due to the writing than the acting. Everyone brought their A-game this week, and whatever emotional impact the episode had was thanks to the great work of the fantastic cast.
Perhaps this final season would have benefitted from some kind of Big Bad. Marks and Barosky were never developed enough to feel truly threatening, and while the ostensible focus on the drama between the characters we already knew was nessecary, the finale seemed to lack some strong final goal for Jax to fulfil. Consider the way Breaking Bad used the Nazis in its final season; while the finale was about Walt doing his best to clean up his messes, there was still an overriding threat that raised the stakes and contextualised all the action that surrounded it. Without an Ethan Zobelle or Damon Pope to defeat, there was no real sense of urgency to Papa’s Goods; not a fatal flaw, but one that cannot be ignored. Additionally, with so much resolved last week, it was hard to feel like there was anything of huge importance left to be addressed.
So, Sons Of Anarchy is over, and what are we left with? It was a deeply felt, engaging, exciting, often messy and very flawed series. While its later seasons may have failed to live up to its early days, it managed to stay fairly consistent from start to finish and (some moments this year aside) it was rarely anything less than entertaining. Some problems were inherent to the premise; I sometimes found it hard to care for the kind of men who put a motorcycle club before their own families, and ergo I never cared about Opie in the slightest. And often the pulp storytelling went too far and the violence became simply ugly. At times the series lost sight of the balance that made it work and veered too wildly between vicious tragedy and silliness. But at its best, Sons Of Anarchy was gripping, powerful, visceral television with a great cast of characters and a talent for excellent twists. And while it will never be seen in the same hallowed light as something like Breaking Bad, it carved a niche in the hearts of its fans, and that is no mean feat.
The finale was neither a massive failure nor a rip-roaring success. Not many shows manage to craft a perfect ending, and I doubt anybody expected Sons Of Anarchy to be the exception. But by and large it worked; I don’t feel cheated by how things wrapped up, and on some level that is important.
Plus, opening an episode with Bruce Springsteen will always win some goodwill from me.
Read Gabriel’s review of the previous episode, Red Rose, here.
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