Sons of Anarchy “Papa’s Goods” Series Finale Review
Despite its any ups and downs over the last seven seasons, Kurt Sutter delivered a strong finale to his Hamlet-inspired series. The king has died long live the king.
The seventh season was even more bloated than recent years. Every episode was 90 minutes (and the latter half of the season was marked feature length stories) which was often exhausting. Therefore, the first forty to fifty minutes of “Papa’s Goods” was a microcosmic slog of what weighed the series down—lots of setup with twists with some magic reset buttons built in, along with many, many meetings with other gangs that prattled on a bit too long with a bit too much jargon. Yes, it adds to the reality of the show, but after seven years, it was difficult to really care.
Thankfully, though, as Jax (Charlie Hunnam) promised last week, mayhem landed. He finally learned a lesson that was at the crux of the series—you can’t be a good man and a criminal. Jax moved through the final episode in an almost dreamlike trance, like a man who was at peace with the decisions made. Seeing him quietly move through the teaser, burning away all the evidence of his old life, he smiles at some pictures—how they make the past look so much better than it was—and felt the weight of legacy lift off his shoulders. The pictures and the manuscript were all artifacts we had seen before and watching Jax burn them was as cathartic and tragic for him as it was for the audience.
Jax hadn’t been the leader he wanted to be, and due to Gemma’s (Katey Sagal) decade’s worth of manipulations and planning, he had much to clean up and answer for. In the finale, he was finally able to be a good parent and a good leader. He sent his kids away with Wendy (Drea de Matteo) and Nero (Jimmy Smitts) in the hopes they could be spared the hard life of a gangster, and as the president of SOA’s Charming chapter, he openly and unabashedly killed the remaining club enemies (a little too quickly and easily) before taking responsibility for the needless bloodshed his mother’s lies and his own personal vendetta caused. If anything, Sons of Anarchy was a broad love story that details what love can make us do, and how destructive love of any type can be.
The love, thematically, ties the series together, and paid dividends in its final hour. Seeing SAMCRO being forced to vote Mayhem on Jax was heartbreaking. These hard, vicious men, were reduced to stone silence and unhidden tears; Jax knowingly sends his children away and tells Nero that they must know that their father was a bad man, that this isn’t the way people should conduct themselves. “They have to grow up hating me,” he says, staunchly yet sadly. Hunnam has grown a great deal as an actor over the course of the series, and “Papa’s Goods” stands as a major leap for him dramatically.
The problem is that Jax may have gotten off a little too easily. This isn’t one of those suicide-is-the-coward’s-way-out rambles, but something more character based. There’s a difference between being at peace with one’s self and being actively happy to die. Tara (Maggie Siff) wanted Jax to be a better man, and in the end, he didn’t really try. Gemma explained it perfectly before being executed “This is who we are” but, again, nobody on the show was ever really resigned to fate. He leaves a great deal of damage behind, particularly on his eldest son Abel who thumbed the “son” ring Gemma gave him a few episodes ago. It sends a powerful message there. Sometimes, we’re just too late. Shame those kids won’t have a father who might be able to teach them not to make the mistakes he made…
That isn’t to say Jax should have lived. There was, as Nero said, no way to come back from killing his own mother, and while his death was melodramatic—Jax’s arms were open denoting his sudden freedom as well as recalling a Christ-like metaphor (Cool Hand Luke he isn’t) and those CGI crows were really poorly rendered—but the poetry of the moment was enough to overlook that, and accompanied by “Come Join the Murder,” it was hard not to believe the moment. I just wish that it had been more organic and less of Jax giving up. Arguably, the more audacious ending would have been the one suggested, with Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) and the club being forced to execute Jax themselves.
On the topic of things that didn’t work, what the hell was Lea Michele’s purpose this season? She did nothing besides talk to Gemma briefly and was never seen nor heard from again. All it did was eat screen time! Also, if one good thing comes out of SOA being off the air is that we won’t have to listen to anymore terrible covers of classic songs.
Back to more complaints: Sheriff Jarry. What a waste of Annabeth Gish she was. Her arc never really made much sense, and her sudden reversal on the Sons was too quick and lacked much sense. Then again, all of her decisions never made much sense. Having Chibs threaten her was also a headshaking moment. Jax died to ensure the club’s survival, yet it seems it’s going to destroy itself anyway, so what was the purpose then? It’s possible that it could be part of Sutter’s thesis of the outlaw life being self-defeating, but it also makes Jax’s death feel more meaningless. Then again, that might have been the point. Regardless, the handling of Jarry’s character was bipolar from Jump Street, and added nothing to the season.
Ratboy’s (Niko Nicotera) arc also seemed to peter out. It was clear this season Sutter wanted to use him and Brooke (Hayley McFarland) as a young Jax/Tara comparison. Brooke herself could have been a great character—her mother was killed as a result of John Teller’s suicide—but like so many subplots in Sons including her relationship with Ratboy, it was just dropped unceremoniously. Had more time been given, the story could have been rather touching. After seeing what the club had to do to Jax and seeing what happened to Jax in the end, Ratboy could have resigned his patch and left Charming with Brooke. It would have made for an excellent thematic moment—how things could have worked out. But that didn’t happen.
Also, whatever happened to Winsome?
Did nobody in the club ask about Unser and Gemma?
Finally, we come to the mystery of Charming’s only homeless person. You’ll remember her. She shows up randomly throughout the series but nobody knows why. Jax noticed her in the finale and in a wonderfully meta moment pauses and says “Who the hell are you?” She replies by telling Jax “It’s time.” It was wonderfully ethereal and a subtle little payoff. We’ll likely never know exactly who/what she was, but there’s enough of Sutter’s authorial intent to derive that she was either the Hand of Fate or the Angel of Death. If anything, she may be the Chorus like in the Jacobean plays that Sutter is so fond of. Either way, the non-answer was the best answer here.
“Papa’s Goods” was much like the rest of the series. It never quite reached its potential. Had FX actually stood by its runtime limits and had Sutter been more careful in his plotting, then Sons would have been a tighter show. Consistently inconsistent, the finale’s legacy will be the same as the series itself—entertaining but not entirely fulfilling.