'Sons of Anarchy' season finale review: Was 'To Be (Act 2)' deeply satisfying, or a bit rushed? Or both?

So many subplots, so little time. Sons of Anarchy closed out its strong season with a finale that was both magisterially dramatic and oddly hasty. The final episode of season four began with Lincoln Potter getting the FBI ready to close in on the Sons of Anarchy’s summit meeting with the Irish Kings.

In swoops the CIA — whose number includes Romeo, who’s been working with the Agency, it turns out. They put a halt to Lincoln’s raid, since the CIA wants the deal to go through, “backing one cartel to control the others.” Lincoln beats a hasty retreat. At first, this struck me as uncharacteristic of the flamboyant Potter, but then a couple of things happened: I thought his resigned farewell to Sheriff Eli (“the bad guys won today”) was, in context, a realistic reaction… which was then happily contradicted a few minutes later, with what might be called Lincoln’s Revenge. This time he did the swooping — into the town meeting about the Charming Heights housing development (remember that subplot, which kinda got lost in the season’s shuffle?). Lincoln appears with a rubber sex doll and a box full of dildos to make the graphic point that Jacob Hale is getting his funding from dubious sources. His strategy seems to succeed, and confirms Eli’s observation, “You’re a really odd dude, man.” Lincoln’s rejoinder — “I don’t really like people all that much” — made me really like him a lot; good job, Ray McKinnon.

Mr. Perpetually Caught In The Middle — a.k.a. Jax — got squeezed by the CIA (“If Clay goes away, so do you”) and the Irish, who’ll only trust Clay in this deal. Think about it: Everything that happens for the rest of the episode hangs on this slender thread, that Clay must remain alive, and Jax remain in the club against everything he’s been planning for weeks now, just because O’Shea wants to deal solely with Clay. It’s a measure of series creator and writer Kurt Sutter’s narrative slight-of-hand that he makes this premise work, if not as logic, certainly as drama.

Thus we got a nicely thrilling scene with Jax visiting Clay in the hospital, putting a big knife to the SOB’s croaky throat, and muttering vehemently, “You killed my father and Piney, you tried to kill Tara… You’re done telling me anything, now I tell you.” What he told Clay was that he was to consummate the cartel deal, and then step down as club president. The next scene was so nicely staged: Jax leaves the hospital room, runs into Gemma who assumes Jax was going to snuff out Clay with the apparatus Tara gave him, and then we see Gemma’s face fall with disappointment when she gets to Clay’s room and sees her old man still breathing.

What followed was a quick series of meetings for Jax. He has to tell Opie, “I’m stayin’,” and get him on board with the new plan. (“I don’t get it,” says the understandably perplexed Ope.) Jax then hustles over to Tara, whom he urges to go to that job in Oregon — I declare, those hospital administrators in that state are the most patient people on Earth — for the safety of her and the children. Next stop: The SOA HQ, where Jax chairs his first meeting as president, Tara interrupts to say, “I’m not going anywhere,” and Gemma stands in yet another doorway here doing a silent, smoldering burn.

So Clay did not, as Gemma had vowed, die at the hand of the son. In fact, the hand of the son now wields the gavel. The idea of Sons of Anarchy as a tragedy was bolstered by having Jax cosmically punished for the hubris of thinking he could ever escape his fate — i.e., his membership in SOA. “Walking away from my club is one thing, but letting it die — I can’t; it’s part of me,” he says with immense sorrow. And that rings true.

Here ends a strong season. If I wanted to quibble, these would be my quibbles:

• Keeping Clay alive to complete the deal with the Irish — okay, so next season we see the big guy recuperate and try to win back his club power and the affection of his family? After all the evil arrogance the character was allowed to display this season, it seems verging on a cheat that he gets to continue breathing into another season. But it’s like any other good TV series: You buy the premise, you buy the show, and I’m willing to see what Sutter can do to justify this extenuation of Clay’s life.

• Danny Trejo didn’t really get the showcase his Romeo seemed to promise; his character turning out to be a CIA collaborator worked against the more exciting image of him as a ruthless leader of his men. But it also means Romeo was both realpolitik cynical and damn smart.

• The final montage — successively dissolving shots including Clay, Gemma, Jax, Opie, Bobby in prison strumming a guitar and singing a variation on “House of the Rising Sun” — was a bit much; the episode didn’t need this sort of overripe accompaniment.

Other than that, I’m ready to kick-start my engine when next season’s SOA rumbles to life.

What’d you think of the finale, and the season overall?

Twitter: @kentucker

For more:

‘Sons of Anarchy’ season finale: Ron Perlman talks Clay’s wild ride

‘Sons of Anarchy’ season finale: Kurt Sutter talks twists (and what’s next)

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