Not a single shot was fired on the fourth season finale of Sons of Anarchy. No one died. There was no major cliffhanger or shock to conclude the hour, as the driving force behind the episode was revealed in the opening minutes, leaving viewers to simply watch as characters reacted to the impending shake-up of SAMCRO.
And I loved every second of it.
For weeks, we've been wondering just how Kurt Sutter and company would write themselves out of a corner that claimed Jax would leave Charming and made it clear that Clay could no longer remain in a powerful club position. How would the show keep Jax in town? How would it deal with a President who had gone too far over the edge to ever return with the gavel? Would it take the series-altering step of killing Clay? And, if not, would the outcome feel like a cop-out, given all that's gone down?
These questions were answered almost instantly, via a simple reveal hinted at a week ago after Romeo reported that the coast for the cartel's transaction with the Irish was clear, despite viewers knowing much better: he has been working with the CIA.
Surprising? Yes. Totally and completely shocking? Not really, but that's what I appreciated so much about the development and the finale in general. It didn't rely on any out-of-nowhere game-changer. Sutter respected his audience enough, and had enough confidence in his storytelling, that he could announce right away just why Jax was staying and why Clay had to live... and then spend the next 45 minutes focusing on various characters, their interactions and the impact of this new arrangement.
I won't argue with those who think the Romeo reveal was a cheat, a desperate way for the show to keep Jax around. But we knew something had to happen, didn't we? And by inserting the surprise so early, Sutter was admitting this as well. He wasn't trying to pretend there was a real chance of Jax leaving; he was making it clear that the real story here is how Jax's continued presence in Charming will affect the character and those around him.
It didn't come out of nowhere, either. Now we know why SOA took that seemingly random visit to the baby-selling house a couple weeks ago, to make it clear that the Irish will only deal with Clay.
Charlie Hunnam simply dominated the hour, often without saying a word. He shed tears during his confession to Tara, his eyes burned with rage during his confrontation with Clay. He pleaded honestly with Opie and he asserted his new power at the end with one word to Tig when he tried to sit in his former seat at the table: No. Welcome to Jax Teller's reign, where a reluctant, vengeance-filled President has now taken up residence in the spot his mother already dreamed he would... but without his mother by his side.
What a jarring closing shot of Tara standing proudly next to her man, Gemma silent on the sidelines. Jax started the season by labeling his mom as just an "Old Lady," a seemingly misguided reference that - through numerous machinations and manipulations on various sides - has now come true. It's hard to imagine her remaining in that reduced role for very long, but this finale was less about plotting for the future and more about the completion of a riveting journey, one that has resulted in lost lives, lost friendships and the forced transfer of power.
Again, that's what I appreciated so much about it. SOA told a complete story in season four. Yes, the finale planted seeds for season five - Leroy's dead girlfriend, the absence of Opie, the return of Clay, the continued connection to the cartel and the Irish - but too many shows use their closing episodes to tease what's about to come. Sons of Anarchy used this one to tie together all that's happened.
This was one chapter of an ongoing story and now it's been closed. Kudos to the writing staff for not resorting to any desperate, last-second measures in order to make sure we tune in next fall.
Some might feel cheated that Clay survived. But I'll only take issue with that decision if he's back to calling shots and sharing shots with the club next season. Assuming he really is marginalized to dealing with the Irish, I'm satisfied with this conclusion. Might it mean the last we've seen of Opie, though?
I hope not because I adore Ryan Hurst in the role, but then I sort of hope so because it would be make sense for the character. There's simply no believable way he can sit at any table with Clay again. I'll miss the man and the actor, but his arc does feel complete right now, doesn't it? I'd imagine Ope returns, that some sort of deal is arranged where Clay isn't allowed in the clubhouse maybe. If this actually was the final time we see Hurst, his bandana and his intense scowl, though, allow me to say: job very well done, sir.
And that same praise can be passed around to the entire cast and crew. This was one of the most intense seasons of any show I can recall, a thrilling ride that proved SOA can do a lot more than just blow stuff up. This is a drama about a family that started the season reunited... spent weeks tearing itself apart.. and concluded its 14-episode run as one unit again. One cohesive, profitable, safe unit? I doubt it. But that's for us to worry about next year.
As the show itself accomplished so well on the finale, now isn't the time to look forward. It's the time to look back and evaluate all we've just witnessed. I'll have more to say in our season-concluding Round Table, but now it's your turn, TV Fanatics: What did you think?