Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tube Steak: Conflicted on Sons of Anarchy

If hard-pressed to choose which show on television is the most uneven, it would be hard to imagine a show other than Sons of Anarchy taking that title. In its now four season run, Kurt Sutter and Company have struggled to maintain momentum while setting up each season's story arc, saddling viewers with a front-loaded handful of episodes in nearly every season that sap the viewer's energy. Nearly every season that has gone by shared this characteristic, and Sons often finds itself piling up episodes on the DVR after it hits the three episode mark, feeling far too much like an obligation.

Season Four was no exception to this trend.
In its fourth season, Sons of Anarchy had its two primary agents of narrative action looking to parlay a high-dollar/high-risk arrangement with the Gallindo Cartel into an lucrative exit from SAMCRO*. Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) is trying to get one last payday before his arthritis succeeds in rendering him unable to ride while Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam, who finally got to cut his hair) is angling for an exit from the club for the sake of his family. The two establish that they share this goal and agree to steer the club into the Cartel deal in the first episode. Once this arc is set in motion, it takes forever to actually get off the ground, plodding along through plots and subplots that are too infrequent in their real pertinence to the story.   

*Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original for the unindoctrinated.

[From this point on SPOILERS ABOUND. Read on at your own risk.]

As is typically the case, though, enough of these stories begin churning along, and the pace picks up to where the desire to watch the next episode is actually present. The conflict between Clay and Piney builds. Tara fans those flames and then decides to step right into the fire. The MC's involvement with the Cartel puts them into more and more peril as they get pass the point of no return. Juice and Otto give the Feds virtually everything they would need to take the club down with a RICO investigation. The truth about the demise of Jax's father, John Teller, gets closer and closer to reaching him and finally setting into motion what viewers have waited four years to happen.

Unfortunately, the season reaches its climax in its antepenultimate episode, where the club finds itself torn asunder and Opie shoots Clay for murdering his father. There are two long episodes that follow this in which Jax discovers that Clay has now killed two of the Original 9, John Teller and Piney, and tried to kill Tara (Maggie Siff) as well. The club is about to get descended upon by the Feds while the huge arms deal they brokered with the Irish and the Gallindo Cartel goes down.

And then everything goes off the rails.

Sutter elects to have SAMCRO get off scot-free because the Cartel is actually backed by the CIA, but the club can't extract themselves from the deal with the Cartel without being taken down by AUSA Lincoln Potter's RICO investigation that the Cartel has known about all along. And then there's the fact that the Irish will only deal with Clay, so Clay needs to live.

This is all such a huge cop-out. The introduction of the CIA to the whole equation was simply absurd. It was a convenient (read: lazy) out to absolve the MC of responsibility while extending the need for Clay to stay alive for asinine reasons. There were already some signs of trouble with the Juice's and Tara's respective storylines, which simply were not working, but these decisions were egregious errors in judgment.

I guess some of this should be expected. After all, Sons of Anarchy is basically just white-trash Hamlet if you threw Lady MacBeth into the mix*. It is a show that revels in the ideas that a motorcycle club is operating with the ulterior motive of keeping their hometown safe from drugs. It is a show in which that hometown is called 'Charming.' It is a show that spends roughly 45 minutes of each season engaging in the glorification of the utterly juvenile and patently inane activity of trying to ditch the cops.

*There is no way that Gemma is just Gertrude.

A show with such glaring faults still can jump the shark, though, and it's entirely possible that it happened when the fucking CIA rolled in and they were backing the fucking Cartel. Seriously? WTFuck?

Then to add insult to injury, Tara walks into the chapel at the end of the finale and assumes the position behind Jax--who had taken the President's seat at the table--that a young Gemma had taken behind John Teller in a photo seen earlier. As if the gesture wasn't overt enough, they had to dissolve to the original photo, treating the audience like simpletons who cannot connect two strikingly similar snapshots without having their hand held.

Honestly, it is hard to recall a situation in which a show had rendered nearly the entire thrust of a season moot in one asinine brushstroke, but Kurt Sutter managed to accomplish that feat and then prolonged the agony by searing that heavy-handed final editing choice into our collective memories.

It is hard to look into the future and see Sutter righting this ship. Trust has certainly been lost.

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