While wise men will tell you that it is the journey, not the destination that matters, the ending of a story casts an outsized shadow over the whole.  A strong one can redeem a lot of rough spots on the way there, while a weak one pretty much kills the potential for it to be better than “pretty good”.  The idea is that I’ll do a look back at a season of a show I’ve been following but we haven’t been covering week-to-week the week before the finale.  I’ll give a brief(ish) take on how it’s been so far, and then engage in some speculation on what the finale will do or what it needs to do to salvage the season.  Then I’ll check in the following week with a look at how the finale met, exceeded or subverted my expectations.  Next up:  The grand finish to the fifth season of FX’s gonzo biker soap Sons Of Anarchy.

Hey, that wasn’t so bad!  Sure, it started with a trademark Sons “up and at ‘em” montage set to a lackluster Katey Sagal song (how I neglected to predict that is quite beyond me) and closed on a trademark Sons “awful cover of a classic rock staple” (goddammit, Soundgarden) montage, but I don’t bat an eye at either anymore.  While I was gunshy after last year’s , this mostly played to it’s strengths and wove a lot of seeming-disparate scheming into one masterstroke by Jax.  That’s our protagonist, remember, so no matter how stupid or brilliant or disastrous his decisions are, it is better that he is making his own destiny rather than being swept up in some CIA/cartel boondoggle.

A couple of random questions that arose prior to getting to my predictions:

Why is Chucky still alive?  His pinwheel of personality quirks stopped being amusing awhile back and adds nothing to the show.  Okay, Smits’ deadpan “see, I shoulda worked that out” after Gemma explained the origin of his prosthetic hands was amusing, but I think we can safely be rid of him at this point.

Somehow, not the creepiest character on the show


Why is this 90 minutes long?  While the finale should justify the extended runtime if any episode does, this seemed like the slightest season ender I can remember from the show.  We still spend an inordinate amount of time with the guys just chasing around and abusing the proprietors and patrons of a dogfighting ring, which would be fine as the action beat from the third or fourth episode  but feels very lightweight for the climax of the season.

I also found it faintly humorous how viscerally disgusted the Sons, who will cheerfully murder women and bystanders when it’s convenient, were by the dogfighting.  Even sociopaths like Tig (whose love of dogs was at least established by his feud with poor, exploded Kozik) and Happy couldn’t believe their eyes.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m elated that dogfighting has become so socially unacceptable; it’s gross and cruel and I love pooches.  I just find it amusing to see the line where a show that in the very same episode has rape victim wish decades of “fist-rape” upon the mother of her grandchild as a laugh line starts to recoil.  The band of Michael Myers-impersonating neo-nazis that used gang rape as a method of introduction were portrayed with more sympathy than the dogfighters!

New to the neighborhood. I baked you some RAPE


Anyhow, let’s see just how wrong I was:

1) Clay will take off to Belfast, with Juice, and Tig, once he escapes the handoff to Pope.  Gemma too, most likely. 

Okay, so that’s a big miss, or four big misses if you count each character.  I’m glad they didn’t go through with Clay setting up his own charter-in-exile, though, as people have been predicting he or Jax setting up their own charter and going to war with each other for a few seasons, and that scenario always felt simplistic to  compared to the club ripping itself apart from the inside out.  Clay is definitely on the outside now either way, but turning him into just another rival gang leader is not as interesting.

Tig did escape, in a set up that was just Sons Of Anarchy to the core.  Jax’s master plan was diabolically brilliant in terms of how he pinned it on Clay, bringing in his manipulations of both Gemma and Juice, and turning the liability of Pope’s insurance/bounty policy into an asset (something Pope himself praised him for in the aftermath of Opie’s death) that would allow him to go around the club’s veto to eliminate Clay.

But while the theory of the masterstroke was brilliant, its execution put its ingenuity directly next to some of the most deeply stupid assumptions you could imagine.  Jax’s entire plan relies on Pope not only taking his oh-so-subtle suggestion to kill Tig inside, but to come with a small enough entourage for him to shoot his way through solo, which he only has a chance to do because they leave him armed and turn their backs on him while they set to murdering another member of his inner circle.  They do make a point that he was at least knowingly gambling with Tig’s life, but was there any reason not to bring back up?  To at least have Chibs (poor Chibs, who was completely set aside here after a great season) waiting in the weeds?

Miss you, buddy


2) Jax will finally admit to himself and Tara that there is no exit strategy.  

He certainly did so implicitly, even if he didn’t say the exact words.  But everything with Tara and Wendy was about her realizing that he wasn’t coming around, and telling Bobby that he isn’t so different from Clay certainly conveys that he isn’t going to give up the gavel any time soon.

3) I love Unser.  He serves no purpose whatsoever anymore, but I hope the man lives forever.  But…his death could be the thing that, along with being shut out of her family, might lead Gemma to think there’s nothing left for her in Charming and drive her to the boat.

Well, I’m happy that my pessimistic prediction didn’t come through.  Unser isn’t much more useful to the show than Chucky at this point, but I just love the old coot.  Is that affection based more on carryover love for Dayton Callie’s performance on Deadwood than anything he’s done on this show?  Maybe.  Probably.  Doesn’t matter.  Rage, Wayne.  Rage against the dying of that light.  If you don’t light a spliff on Clay’s grave I will be sorely disappointed.

Play on, playboy


4) Donal Logue will launch an attack, intending to kill Tara, but will hit one of the boys instead.  I’d prefer to see her make a plea deal and go off to do a year or so in prison to match Jax’s between seasons 3-4, but there doesn’t seem to be time to plausibly arrange that.  

This was disappointing, really, as Logue hardly appeared.  I don’t know if we were supposed to take Tara’s arrest as his handiwork or Gemma’s or if it was supposed to be a cliffhanger, but that shot of his hotel room with all the drugs and guns laid out didn’t amount to anything this year.  I think he’ll be a fine adversary and addition to the cast next year (check out the criminally-underseen Terriers on Netflix if you doubt Logue’s chops), but this tease felt a bit formulaic.  If you’ll remember, a Son killed the family member of someone dangerous, setting them up as the villain for the forthcoming  season, at the end of last year too.

As for Tara, she is headed to the hoosegow after all.  It looks like her case will be an ongoing concern next year rather than a “spend off season inside, sentence to be commuted when the show comes back” type thing, but that should be fine.  It will be interesting to see her put in a position where her loathing for the club will only grow even as she becomes more and more dependent on them to keep her out of jail.  Still think she’s heading for crazy town.

Just…lovin’ life, as usual

5) Nero’s pushback will put the Sons back at odds with the Mayans.

No dice.  SAMCRO is still completely cool with “brown”.  Busting up a dastardly dogfighting ring makes compadres of everyone, I suppose.  Nero’s whole storyline sort of petered out, to my surprise. It’s not a bad thing for the show to mix up its MO at all, I just didn’t expect for his role to be such a purely thematic example for Jax, or his relationship with Gemma to be so straightforward and healthy.  Those terms, of course, being relative to this show’s extremely fucked up emotional realities and convoluted plotting.

But it means we should be getting more Smits next year, which is great as far as I’m concerned.  He held his own with the established characters effortlessly, and we still have plenty of time for him to get himself horribly murdered.

6) Jax uses Eli as his proxy for revenge against Clay.

He did, after a fashion.  I was leaning toward a more violent push, but I’m still going to count it as correct because, well…I got a ton of stuff wrong.  The way Jax served him up, letting the sheriff know full well that he, not Clay, was responsible was one of the better twists of the season, if you ask me.  I could’ve done with a little bit of seeing him struggle between being used by an outlaw to cover up a multiple murder and wanting to put Clay away, but we can’t have everything I guess.  Gotta get at least 30 seconds of that thug getting mauled by a pit bull, after all.

He’ll always just be “Mustard” to me

7)  Jax will also make some sort of play against Pope involving turning his “advisor” against him.

Swing and a miss.  It looks like the advisor will actually be a major threat to the club next year, promising to dig into the very fishy circumstances of “Clay’s” rampage and hold the club accountable if it doesn’t add up.

It occurs to me, what if the first thing he does next year is demand that Jax turn over Tig again?  Even assuming that Jax told the guy Clay shot up the meet before they ever got there, shouldn’t Tig be suspicious about why they were going somewhere Pope and his goon squad were waiting to begin with?  And from his perspective I can see him saying Jax still “owes” him to the organization.

This is the frustrating thing about Sons.  I can’t be sure if the show will spin compelling drama out of these very logical questions or just skip past them entirely.  Both would fit with the show’s established pattern.

8) Ethan Zoebelle makes a surprise appearance in the last three minutes.

Just wishful thinking, is all.

Maybe next year

Verdict (Finale):  Surprisingly Good

Verdict (My Predictions): UNIMPRESSIVE  (2 for 11)