Brief spoilers for Sons of Anarchy below:
I’m more reluctant than usual to assess last night’s episode of Sons of Anarchy until we see how this all plays out, and if you saw the final moments of “Burnt and Purged Away,” then you’ll know precisely what “how all this plays out” means. That Clay took some shots to the body from Opie, the Sons members he has possibly sinned against more than any, could be a dramatic turning of a corner for the series, or it could be a holy-cow cliffhanger building to the revelation that Clay somehow survives and stays in power, wounded and plotting payback.
It’s too simplistic to say that the first of those two options is the better—it probably is, it certainly feels more dramatically necessary, and I have a harder time imagining how the series goes the second road without it feeling like a cheat—but it’s possible. What’s most important ultimately is not so much what happens plot-wise after the shooting in the clubhouse, but that the act has a price and repercussions. For that, I’ll wait for the season finale—or finales, as apparently creator Kurt Sutter (who had a fine turn in this episode as jailhouse turncoat Otto) has so much story that FX let him expand what was meant to be the finale next week into two episodes.
As an episode of TV itself, though, “Burnt” was a tense and emotional effective story about people being pushed too far, be it Opie (for whom the murder of Piney was more than he could abide) or Otto, whose list of understandable grievances is longer than the list of conditions he delivered to Potter. Credit above all goes to Ryan Hurst, who made Opie’s pain as prominent as his fury.
I’ve written for a while about the tension Sons of Anarchy has to deal with as a series that wants to have real stakes for its characters but on the other hand has to continue as a series with no set end date. (Though Kurt Sutter reportedly wants seven seasons overall, that’s not set in stone.) But it seems clear SoA can’t easily reset to the status quo after this episode. Can it?