Sons of Anarchy has put together one of the best 13-episode seasons of a basic cable drama in recent memory during its fourth season. Unfortunately, Season 4 was extended to 14 episodes, and last night's finale, the second half of a two-parter, was the worst episode of the season by virtue of it undoing so much of what was set up in the 13 episodes that preceded it. Jenga rules apply here: One piece too many was added to the pile.
Looking back, I would've been more than pleased if last week's episode had been the big finish. Exposing Romeo and the cartel as in-cahoots with the CIA was the twist no one saw coming, because we were all looking for things that make sense. So the CIA is okay with all the murder and gunfire that Golindo brought to U.S. soil? I always try to look at television from a writer's standpoint, and what bothered me about this twist is that it filed down the teeth that had been so razor sharp all season long. With the Golindo cartel untouchable thanks to its pact with the CIA, Linc Potter's investigation was forced to shut down, Juice was instantly a free man after weeks of mental torture, and the danger of the Irish-cartel deal was castrated because it now has federal backing. I was enthralled with these storylines all season long, only to see them erased by a "Surprise, we're working with the cops!" routine. As an entirely selfish TV viewer (the TV works for ME, dammit!), I found that exit pretty cheap.
Kurt Sutter had the chance to enter the pantheon of great, daring showrunners unafraid to take huge risks, but instead he backed off early in the episode with a huge misstep: The twist wasn't even saved for the end! Instead, it was thrown into the cold open, and its rotten smell lingered throughout the rest, where I couldn't escape it. It was a lazy move that magically resolved dangling threads that had been so well-crafted.
So frustrating, so disappointing.
Of course, the goal of the season was to see Jax park his ass in SAMCRO's head chair and bang the gavel, and that was accomplished, and accomplished well (the episode's saving grace). But to pull so many switcheroos and flip-flops in an hour was unacceptable. Clay is struggling, but he's still alive. And the reason why? Because the Irish won't deal with anyone but Clay. Tara changed her mind and decided to stay in Charming; I guess she was all talk? I've already mentioned this plenty of times, but I'll say it again: The stakes that had steadily risen all season were cut down so quickly that it was borderline insulting.
I'm okay with Clay being alive still, but the series would have benefited if he'd been taken out. Instead, he spent the last two episodes in a hospital bed when he should have been in Jax's face. I'm okay with Tara changing her mind, I just wish it had been done in such a way that respected her previous steadfastness over leaving. Hey, I didn't want Juice to die or go to prison either. But to have his emotionally draining personal struggle wiped off the board so easily was lame. And that big gun deal between the Irish and the cartel? Never went down. I didn't need to see a huge gunfight, or lots of blood spilled, or heads in duffel bags. But I did need the finale to address those topics head on. Instead, it pulled the rug out from under me and then tried to sell me a new rug. I wish I could be more eloquent with my disappointment, but I'm still stunned.
I get that this is Sutter's art. Sons of Anarchy is his baby, he can do what he wants with it. But there's some responsibility on his part to deliver for his fans if he wants to maintain this "keepin' it real" reputation. "To Be, Part Two" only showed us that he's bound by the same TV rules that dictate that a series should go on for as long as possible so all business partners can remain happy.
– My thoughts on the first 13 episodes of the season have now—unfortunately—changed. I still think it was fantastic television in the moment, but with no satisfying resolution to the stories that were developing so well, what's the point? I guess this joins the first five seasons of Lost and first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica.
– The Niners storyline, which was such a big deal in the last episode, pretty much sputtered out. It's obviously set up for Season 5, but that time could have been better used to fix the end of Season 4.
– That "twist" explains why the hitmen Romeo hired to take out Tara were white.
– I won't even mention Potter's bag of sex toys. Oops, guess I just did.
– Oh look! Juice is watching The Shield!
– I did get chills seeing Jax take the head chair. That's one thing I've been wanting to see ever since the pilot. But the heavy-handed and weak attempt to make sure we understood the symbolism (we're not that stupid) with the Jax-Tara morph into young John-Gemma was a bit too much. The cold looks Gemma and Tara exchanged were more than enough.