25th Aug2014

‘Sons of Anarchy 7×01-7×03’ Review

by Nathan Smith


Here’s the thing about the final season of Sons of Anarchy. It’s simultaneously everything I love about the show and everything I hate about the show encapsulated in the first three episodes that were sent out to critics. It’s like this: You know something is bad for you, but despite all protestations, you still hope that you can overlook all the glaring problems and see all the redeeming qualities, as if the show were some sort of proxy for a real person. The problem is, I’m having a hell of a time overlooking all the problems because for every one thing that gets cleared up, a thousand seem to crop up in its place.

That makes me so sad to say.

Because I loved Sons of Anarchy for the first four seasons. Then, the luster started to wear off in the form of things that seemed great once, but then started to wear on me. At first the show seemed to not allow for the glamorization of violence, which I have no problems with at all, at least when the violence is treated with weight that seems to align with the fact that any act of violence is a horrible, inconceivable thing. And Sons of Anarchy did that. Every act of violence was weighted in the form of showing how the conscience of those committing any murders could stay stuck in the gray matter of those characters. Violence was a thing that didn’t push the plot, it seemed like something the characters would resort to. Not anymore.

No, violence in the last two seasons has been a cruel, ugly thing. A thing that pushed farther than the realms of television need merit. In the first minutes of the season seven premiere, someone is beaten senseless, has a swastika carved into their chest, and teeth ripped from their head. And really, it’s all for the sake of one scene. But, there doesn’t seem to be any remorse like there would have been in prior seasons. No, it’s for the sake of plot propulsion (which will be touched on later). In the first three episodes, so many people die that one wonders how exactly the people of Charming don’t exactly dig a hole in the ground and not find some random member of some gang that was killed by any member of the Sons. I bet that there are more bodies in the ground than there are copies of the Atari game version of “E.T” in that landfill in New Mexico. There is a funny remark on that very topic in the early episodes where two members of the Sons actually note that they’re going to run out of places to bury bodies. It’s funny, but stretching realism.

And many people die in the first three episodes, so much to the point where it’s almost shocking to not see a Sons member killing someone for increasingly convoluted reasons. I have no problem with people getting killed on a show, but there again, has to be weight to that death. To kill Tara and Eli Roosevelt at the end of last season made sense, the logic getting to their deaths made absolutely no fucking sense, however. And Tara’s death falls into the category of needlessly violent violence. Killing her is one thing. Killing her the way it was done? That was unforgivable. But minor digressions aside, the plot is so thick and so deep, that you could damn near drown in it. And again, I get it, you’ve got to keep things moving.The plot must chug on and so forth, but it gets to the point where no one can even tell who the fuck is doing what to whom. I couldn’t even tell you half of what was going on in the third episode, because it’s essentially boiling down to people backstabbing, betrayals, and double crosses. I know the show is supposed to be an adrenalized drama, read: soap opera, but it gets so ridiculous to the point of muddled. You practically need a goddamn flow chart to keep up with stuff. “Game of Thrones” is less complicated.

And to add worse to worst, the excess of the show is getting to be over the top. The first three episodes run over an hour or near an hour without commercials. And to watch these episodes means that you have to go through scenes that truly amount to nothing in the grander scheme of things. Yes, we certainly need scenes of Jax getting up to speed on club business. All the bullet points are hit right on the head. Porn business? Check. Complicated machinations of all the MC’s that SAMCRO are running with? Check fucking plus. But it all ends up amounting to nothing but indulgence. Scenes go on for way too long, and when a scene absolutely needs to linger, it doesn’t. It ends without a flicker of care. So yes, eight minute scene of watching CCH Pounder act? Yes, please. A scene where we learn the name of the porn business? Nah.

The one thing I will say I love is that the actors elevate the material above where it needs to be. Charlie Hunnam does do great work when he’s asked, but this season and seasons of late, all he’s asked to do is glower. The aforementioned CCH Pounder does great work in the few scenes she’s in for the premiere. But that’s it. I came back to see how Jimmy Smits fairs, and again, he’s doing great things in a character that asks him to do positively nothing. Same goes for Drea De Matteo. The list could go on and on. Because having great actors is one thing, but you need the script to service them well, and unfortunately it just ain’t tracking. A great actor can sell anything. They cannot however sell plot contrivance. And all the silly contrivance from last season’s finale that ended up with two characters dead has dragged over into these three episodes. It’s still stupid characters making stupid fucking mistakes at the behest of a) whomever the hell tells them to do it or b) because necessity of the nature of storytelling means furthering the plot even if it’s completely out of character for those people to be committing these acts, henious as they are. It’s a potenially depressing thing when the viewers can tell that the characters are making such stupid decsions out of character that we just end up screaming at the television like lunatics. It’s like this: Characters belong to the writer from the brain to the page. Until they become flesh and blood on the television screen. Then, they belong to the viewer. And when the viewer feels that the character is doing things completely wrong, it’s perhaps time to come back for reevaluation.

It hurts me to say that I can treat Sons of Anarchy as if it were some kind of warped drinking game. You could drink everytime someone says something racist, and over the course of these three episodes, there is no shortened supply of racial epithets being hurled at the audience. I realize that in no way it’s something that should bother me, but it becomes perpetually awful after a while. And this is especially something problematic in a show that has always had weird race relation issues. Literally, someone says “you’re the only wetback I don’t want dead.” I mumbled aloud, “What the fuck?” Clearly there’s a problem here. And the montages, which bookend the premiere. Yes, I get it, it’s an easy way to convey a message to return the audience to SAMCRO’s world. It’s a potential “where are they now?” But it becomes egregious after the umpteenth time it’s deployed, and the same could be said for the repetitive chase scenes set to music which is again repeated this go round.

I hate to say that the show had fallen into hatewatch territory, but sadly, it has. I won’t give up on the show, because I have faith that somewhere the landing will be stuck. It just has to be.  Even the show that series creator Kurt Sutter worked on before, The Shield, had a beautiful, resonant ending. But I’m terrified that the ending won’t be right for the characters. The characters that we once cared deeply for. The characters that we once rooted for when they went toe to toe with Zobelle, Stahl, Gaalen, even their own leader Clay. But the characters then aren’t the same ones I watched on my television. And maybe that’s it, maybe the show changed without me. Maybe the show changed to fit a new mold. As a longtime fan of the show, I can say that I’d wished I’d gotten the memo, because this season, and the seasons before it, doesn’t feel the same.

Sons of Anarchy just doesn’t feel right anymore. That truly makes me sad to say.


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