Tonight’s season finale was an hour and 51 minutes long. In and of itself, this isn’t unprecedented; plenty of shows have expanded their running times for season finales (hell, Sleepy Hollow is doing it next January), and it doesn’t necessarily mean disaster. Yet when word came down that “A Mother’s Work” was going to run roughly two hours, it was hard not to feel some serious reservations. Nearly every episode this season, it seems, has outlasted its welcome by 10 and 15 minute intervals, and even giving the writers the benefit of the doubt, there just didn’t appear to be enough plot to justify the extra time. Putting aside concerns over thematic intention and character, this season suffered from a painful lack of urgency, building momentum in fits and starts that never cohered into a serious rush. If, like Sleepy Hollow, we’d just been through months of crazed stories and astonishing twists, the super-sized finale would’ve been reason to celebrate. As is, it was cause for concern.
That concern was well-founded. “A Mother’s Work” was a tedious, massively self-indulgent mess, its few good ideas buried under scene after scene of painfully melodramatic dialogue and so… many… pauses. God, the pauses. Look, there are ways to use silence to create suspense. This is not a new thing. And there are ways to use silence to build dramatic import and add a sense of weight and even tragedy to otherwise straightforward conversations. But these are tools that should be used sparingly; the finale, drunk on its own existence, bombarded the viewer with scene after endless scene of people looking very serious and talking as though they were getting paid by the second. At first, this kind of worked, and actors like CCH Pounder and Jimmy Smits were able to find some dignity in their speeches. But the longer it went on and the longer nothing continued to happen, the more agonizing it became. Every major event, from the Mayans’ betrayal to Gemma murdering Tara, was drowned in a sea of soulful stares, hugs, long pauses, music, and long pauses. The atmosphere became so full it collapsed in itself, and, to steal a line, “enterprises of great pitch and moment, with this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action.”
It was a snooze, is what I’m getting at here, and worse, it was a snooze that thought it was epic tragedy, and that’s sad, but not in the way it’s supposed to be. Tara’s death is a huge event, and while it had been in the wind for most of the season, it was still a shock to see her taken out; it was even more shocking that Gemma would be the one to do the deed. But it makes a certain kind of sense. Gemma’s complicated relationship with her son and her daughter-in-law has always had certain Freudian undertones, and for her to lash out at someone who refused to put up with her shit in any way, shape, or form fits what we know about the character. It’s possible to imagine a finale in which that brutal confrontation in the kitchen was a powerful, if devastating, conclusion. Yet that isn’t what we got. Instead, it was just the latest in a series of shocking! violent! twists! that serve little purpose other than to punish Jax, add more suffering on the pile, and put some twisted, nihilistic cap to a deeply frustrating season. Tara’s death is meaningless, a bit of dramatic irony that solely reveals the limited imaginations of the people who created it. There’s no catharsis here, no sense of anyone suffering for a reason. Just misery piled atop misery, interspersed with mopey music montages, because that’s all that’s left.
Jax had decided to turn himself in. This was an odd choice on his part, as there didn’t seem much context for it; while this was the moral option (certainly more moral than murdering his wife to protect himself) and while Jax got lectured multiple times about how he needed to take responsibility for his choices, his sudden shift from “monster” to “saint” seemed weirdly unmoored, like he’d flipped a coin off-screen at some point and it came up on the unscratched side. It’s clear that the writers were trying to give him some kind of redemption arc. Multiple characters over the course of the story accuse him of having turned into some kind of monster during his tenure as club president, but while it’s nice to have this acknowledgement of his bad behavior finally brought out into the open, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I agree with the words, but most of this season has just been Jax stoically getting the job done, doing his “serious voice” whenever he needs to lay down the law, ordering junkie mothers smothered in their beds, having his surrogate father shot, and so on. These are bad choices, to be sure, but this is the first time, outside of Tara’s increasingly frantic behavior, that the show has tried to formally acknowledge that Jax has been getting into some dark shit. It’s an odd shift, because it suggests a perspective that simply hasn’t been there, a perspective that could’ve done wonders to make the previous episodes more effective.
But it’s as though the writers can’t let go of their love of Jax even when they’re trying to call him on his shit. People tell him he needs to stand up, so he decides (at some point; it could’ve even been before the episode began) that he can’t go through with killing Tara, so he’ll sacrifice himself for the good of everyone. That’s a pretty big gesture, and I’ll admit, it was nice to finally see him taking some kind of responsibility. Only, there was no sense that he’d gone through an arc to get to that point, or that this choice represented a major turning point for the character. The decision was curiously airless, in part because there was no way in hell the show was going to go through with it. Jax isn’t going to spend the next season behind bars. (I mean, sure, the season ends before we find out what happens with Patterson post-Tara and Eli’s deaths, and I guess Jax could go to prison and then bust out or something, but I’m not betting on it.) The real reason he decided to protect Tara was so Tara could get killed; if Jax had still been pissed at her, then the agony wouldn’t be complete.
Some other things happened, as they tend to. Nero, realizing he can’t handle the craziness, tries to take a break with Gemma, and she reacts accordingly. (Their break-up, or whatever it was, is what drives her to smoke up and drink, which then gives her the inspiration to go a’murderin’.) Alvarez pretends to agree with the deal with Marks’ people, but then shoots them as soon as Jax leaves, which means life in Charming isn’t going to turn all peaceful like Jax was hoping. Jax turns on Juice again, so Juice for some reason decides to help Gemma cover up Tara’s murder by shooting Roosevelt. Also, there’s hugging and lot of really terrible dialogue, but I think I mentioned that.
You can argue about what the real moral of Sons Of Anarchy is, if Sutter and his writers recognize the inherent corruption of the outlaw culture their characters love so well, if all this is heading anywhere that isn’t just more pain and gruesome death. But in its final moments, as it lingers over Jax cradling the corpse of his dead wife, and as Gemma, the murderer, seeks comfort in the lap of a friend; in these moments, the true message becomes all too clear. The only point of this, of any of this, is suffering. Eventually, punishment and death lose their potency, and all the horrors in the world are boiled down to a dull, dumb ache. Sons isn’t quite there yet. But it’ll keep digging.
- On the plus side, Maggie Siff is now free to take work that deserves her.
- Alas, poor Roosevelt. Remember when your wife died? That was a hell of a thing.
- The actual words were terrible, but Jax and Tara’s scene in the park was well-acted. Siff appeared legitimately terrified, which helped.
- Hey, Opie’s grave! Remember Opie?
- So, despite the fact that Burowski mentions to Tig about Alvarez and the Mayans turning on Marks’s men, nobody ever mentions this to Jax. For a show that spends so much of its time on characters explaining things to other characters, it was odd to have a story that hinged on that never ever happening.
- Tara, I know you’re dead and all, but next time, if someone attacks you while a police officer is waiting outside, try screaming.
- I don’t care if Gemma is sad. I didn’t before, and I certainly never will again.