Let's face it: Sons of Anarchy hasn't exactly been consistent when it comes to season finales in the last few seasons. The ender for Season 3 was brilliant, salvaging what it could from an otherwise lackluster season when Jax concocted a risky plan that saved the day and landed several club members in jail. The opposite was true for Season 4. After a dozen great episodes, Season 4 was sunk by a blindside of a deus ex machina when the Golindo cartel revealed that they had been working with the Feds all along. Ugh. That finale still nags me.
The door was wide open for "J'ai Obtenu Cette," tonight's Season 5 finale, to fall anywhere in between the previous finales in terms of quality, and thankfully it leaned way closer to Season 3's "NS" than Season 4's "To Be, Act 2." But the episode had so much to settle that it couldn't focus the proper energy or time into any single dangling story, creating a finale that hit most of its marks early but didn't stand there long enough for us to savor them. Creator Kurt Sutter structured this finale like it was a horny guy hiring his first escort. It climaxed quickly and spent the rest of the time trying to keep the audience enticed for a later date since it paid for the whole 90 minutes.
Don't let the details overshadow what was great about the finale though, which was the continuing dark cloud hanging over Jax and what it meant for other characters (more on that later). The club Prez continued to engage in risky behavior as he had another secret plan to make things right, killing several birds with one giant-sized boulder of a scheme that was as complicated as this season's over-intricately spun web of alliances and information. In one fell swoop, Jax took out Pope, saved Tig, and had Clay hauled off to jail where he was framed for Pope's murder. Any one of these core parts of Season 5 would be fine on their own as the cherry on top of the season, but the speed at which they had to be resolved and the way they were chained together (and shared time with less important plots) diminished some of their value, particularly Pope's murder.
It's hard to say how long Jax had been playing Pope (or maybe I missed a telling detail). Who knows, maybe he woke up that morning and thought up the plan while he was shampooing in the shower. Maybe the moment Pope told an incarcerated Jax in Episode 2 that he had to hand over a member of the club Jax thought, "I'm going to pretend to be this guy's friend and promise to hand over Tig while I wait for Gemma to owe me big time after nearly killing my kid in a stoned car crash and then hopefully I can hold something over Juice's head like that time he ratted us out to Roosevelt so that he becomes super close with Clay so that Clay will give him his gun so I can use it in a shooting to frame Clay for the murder of Pope and have him sent away to jail where Pope's men will kill him behind bars." Jax's plan smacked less of careful planning and more of a complicated plan that went without a hitch because it's television, but credit where credit's due: he exploited them to his advantage. But lord almighty Jax, if you're going to gamble with Tig's life couldn't you have taken some of the unknown variables out of the equation? Like Tig said, Pope could have killed him on the spot, and your reply of, "But he didn't" isn't exactly comforting. Sons of Anarchy thrives on dangerous situations, but handing Tig over to Pope in hopes he could save him in time was just plain reckless.
At least Pope is dead, something that HAD to happen or I would have been so mad I might have shouted a curse word... OUT LOUD! But was everything we had to endure to get there worth it? We spent so much time mad at Jax for having smiley afternoon business meetings with Pope–the man responsible for Opie's death–and threatening to hand over Tig to be murdered for revenge. When we look back on earlier episodes, all we see is manipulation on Sutter's part. In great dramas, looking back on previous episodes should be enlightening and help explain a character's actions, but here I'm wondering what the whole purpose was other than to purposefully throw us off the scent. Despite the end result of ooze flowing out of Pope's head, I'm not sure all the hand-shaking and limo meetups served Opie well. Jax's rescue of Tig was a "JK I'm actually going to do the opposite!" moment that didn't fully pay off. Am I happy Pope is dead and Tig is alive? Absolutely. It's just that looking at how we got to this point left me awfully confused and question its importance. I'll be honest though, it could just be my extreme hatred for Pope and anger towards Jax for even shaking that creep's hand. Even the argument that Jax went through all this just to earn the Charming Heights contract, the apartment for Lyla, and set up the frame job of Clay doesn't seem to justify how chummy he was with Pope. I wanted Jax to make Pope's life a nightmare, and by the time he did, it felt too late and not enough because Pope needed to suffer.
After Tig took care of Pope, Jax called Roosevelt to let him know where the murder weapon was, and thus began Clay's really bad day. He was so close to getting hammered on Bushmill's and boiled cabbage in Belfast, but Roosevelt hauled him off to the police station after Gemma would not provide an alibi. Now he'll be covering his butt while Pope's men try to take him out behind bars, or as August ordered, before he even faces a judge. It's karma for Clay, who tried to use Pope against Jax with the break-ins. We all knew Clay wasn't going to get killed in the episode because he needs to stick around for at least one more season, and putting him in jail keeps him in a holding pattern until the writers can figure out something to do with him. But once again, it's another season of CLAY MUST DIE and another finale when Clay doesn't die.
What ended up being the big finish was the arrest of Tara for conspiracy to commit murder, which to me was less interesting than the rest of what happened but does set up big problems for Season 6. After going back and forth all season long with the rocky relationship between Gemma and Tara, it was most decidedly back ON in a big way (and rather suddenly). And it all started with Tara's new job sending her a flower basket to the Teller-Morrow shop. Wait, what? Tara isn't using her own address when applying for jobs and instead using the address of a criminal front? Oooooookay. The welcome basket conveniently ended up in Gemma's hands, which gave her the ammunition to threaten Tara with going to the authorities if she left town with the kids, taking Gemma's family away from her.
It's never stated, but we're all under the impression that Gemma DID go the cops and had Tara busted, right? And it's almost confirmed when Gemma approached Jax at the end and assumed the pose that ended last season, except this time it was Gemma standing strong behind Jax and not Tara.
This is a perfect example of how Sutter gets crunched in his finales, packing so much in that the vital parts aren't allowed to breathe. Let's say the trouble with Nero's gang (which so far seems pointless in the long run unless Tig's new dog ends up president of SAMCRO) is never even introduced. The time spent developing that plot could have been used to make others feel more natural and less rushed. And if more time is spent on Gemma and Tara's rekindled hatred for each other, the inciting incident that gives Gemma leverage over Tara–the flowers puzzlingly sent to the shop instead of Tara's house [edit: the flowers were picked up by Chuckie from Tara's house, which makes more sense but is still odd because why would Chuckie be bringing over floor mats to Tara's house and why would he bring back packages from her doorstep to give to Gemma?]–could have played out in a different believable way. Or more time could have been spent giving us more satisfaction with Pope's murder. Or more tension could have been added to Clay's arrest. More stories are not always better, but Sons of Anarchy doesn't believe that, especially in its finales.
Where "J'ai Obtenu Cette" excelled was, as said before, the collateral damage from Jax's choices. The best parts of the episode (aside from Otto's tongue flying across the room and that vato's face full of nails) were watching Juice and Gemma faced with lying about Clay's alibi, Bobby tearing off his Vice President patch and walking away, Tig staring in disbelief at Jax as he put Tig's life on the line, and Jax fully admitting that maybe he isn't like his father. These are brutal human experiences that this stellar cast brought to life in just a few seconds. Imagine what could have been if there was more time to see these play out. When you cut away the complicated bullshit, there's a chilling portrait of a family–a family both by blood and oath–torn apart by the extreme actions of one man struggling with fresh power. This was Jax's first season on the throne, and he was way more Joffrey Baratheon than Robert, letting power corrupt him and damage those he loved. It's this core principle, so very well illustrated, that was key to the season and made it one of the most important of the series. Sutter plays every episode as though its a finale and may have gotten away from himself by pouring too much into the season, but at its core, the stuff that mattered the most was excellent.
– Otto! You sick bastard. I love you. Keep being a complete nut job. I'm just worried you won't have any body parts left by Season 7.
– Nero's crisis was solved fairly easily when the gang went to the dogfights and roughed up some guys in fun, exciting ways. Jax shoved a guys face into a bucket of nails, and Nero's nemesis Dante got a big dose of karma when he carjacked some lady only to get trapped in her SUV with an attack dog. It was a great sequence to start off the episode, but I'm still having a hard time figuring out what the point of adding this whole conflict with this gang did other than give Nero something to do. Did this belong in the finale? Or could this have been wrapped up an episode earlier?
– You know what would be a good way to get your illegal dogfighting ring broken up? Putting dead dog bodies in the trashcans behind the building you hold the illegal dogfights in. And pardon me, but what was with that weird woman talking to the stuffed horse in the trash and why did Jax give her a long look? [Edit: as many of you have pointed out, this is the woman that has interacted with Jax on several occasions before. I totally forgot about her! Still no idea what her symbolism/purpose is though.]
– I really like what Sutter did with Chuckie in the past episodes. He's essentially the guy who is told to leave the room so people can talk. They're clearly having fun with it, and I had fun watching it. The same came also be said of Lyla, who is just the pretty blonde who tells Nero when someone has shown up at the whorehouse.
– What happened to the Wendy storyline? After telling Tara she should leave Charming, she just disappeared. This woman, an ex-junkie, just had HEROIN shot into her arm by Jax. Was she really just used to help Tara realize she had to leave?
– Same for Lee Toric (Donal Logue), who stormed in on this season late but never got any closure in the finale. Again, Sutter's preferred style is to bleed the seasons together and leave things open, but this is a wide open window that is gonna stay open for nine months.
– Tara needed one more solid scene somewhere late in the season where it was obvious that she was trying to get out of town or at least struggled with telling Jax about the job she was offered.
– Jax, use a glass for a change! Don't just pull stuff out of the fridge and drink out of the carton, dude.