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Sons of Anarchy Watch: Just a Shot Away

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FX

Spoilers for the season-two finale of Sons of Anarchy coming up after the jump:

Like The Sopranos, and often like The Shield (Kurt Sutter’s old show), Sons of Anarchy this season has put us on the side of characters who are, when it comes down to it, criminals. Not only put us on their side, but put us in a position where, starting with Gemma’s brutal rape in the first episode, we were cheering them on for retribution.

Well, we got our retribution–or a lot of it, anyway. Did it feel any better?

From where I was sitting, it didn’t. And that seemed right. But while the episode was thrilling and brutal, I also wish it had taken a little more time to show how the central characters felt about it.

Kurt Sutter’s stated philosophy on Sons of Anarchy is not to hold back and save anything for later, and one thing you can say for the second season finale of SoA: it gave us plenty of action. But it moved so quickly–and then so quickly hurtled ahead to set up a cliffhanger and storyline for the third season–that I missed the payoff on Gemma, Jax and Clay finally getting (or in Clay’s case, not getting) revenge.

First, we had Jax, putting a bullet, or several, into Weston’s brain in the tattoo shop men’s room. I’m not entirely surprised that Jax was able to pull the trigger, given what Weston had done to his mother. I am surprised–especially after being confronted with his enemy’s son in the bathroom–that it came so easily to him. (Who would have guessed, by the way, that Henry Rollins’ scumbag character would get to go out with something like dignity–albeit on a toilet: “You don’t ever talk to the cops. I love you.”

Ditto Gemma. We got another excellent performance from Katey Sagal last night–and from Ally Walker, in a rare scene opposite Sagal–as she ran across Polly Zobelle and saw what she “had to” do.

Do Jax and Gemma feel closure? Do they feel they got anything back? Did killing their tormentors make anything better?

I’m not sure, partly because they were so quickly thrown into new jeopardy that it seemed they, and we, had little time to process the killings. Which is understandable from a plot standpoint, but Sagal and Charlie Hunnam are capable of showing us the complexity and conflictedness of these characters, and I wish they’d had more of a chance to do so. Likewise Clay; it made sense that he would so quickly and automatically see that his duty to protect his grandson trumped his bloodlust against Zobelle. But does it eat at him? Does it make him see that life is more important than payback?

All that said, there was a whole lot that was right, exciting and satisfying about this finale. Walker again showed what an asset she is to the show, as Stahl’s reflexive taunting and arrogance finally got her in–almost–more trouble than she could handle. (And I loved Sagal’s “God damn. You are a smart bitch”–the mixture of anger and genuine respect in it.) The SAMCRO ambush against the Mayans and Zobelle was delicious. Likewise–as excruciating as I find baby-in-peril stories–Cameron’s disoriented threat of revenge, and his realizing, after stabbing Half-Sack, that he doesn’t have it in him to kill Abel, was strongly played, as was Maggie Siff’s response during the whole excruciating scene. And in Zobelle’s craven run and bloodless reaction to his daughter’s death, Adam Arkin was impressively chilling once again.

All of which gives SAMCRO and its people plenty to deal with season three, and I can’t wait for it to come back. But I’m also struck that SoA really hit its peak in the three episodes or so before the final two–before everything started hitting the fan, when the show took the time to get inside its characters’ heads, in episodes like “Balm.” (Also, as Jax and Clay were thrown together by vengeance and the simple demands of plot, we lost some of the conflict between them that’s at the heart of this show.)

If I sound critical of what was a very fine finale, it’s only because this has been a great season of SoA that’s shown us what this drama is capable of. A series that debuted last year as an interesting, dark show with potential has matured and deepened to become one of the best dramas on TV. In the process, it’s also bravely kept upping the action and the dramatic stakes. But–with Gemma on the lam and Jax now chasing after his abducted son–I hope it doesn’t raise its pace too much to let us see how the action is affecting character, not to mention focus on the intra-SAMCRO struggle between Jax and Clay.

I want to see what Jax et al. are going to do next. But I also know what they think. And I can’t wait to find that out next year.

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