After a sloppy first season, the second season of “Sons of Anarchy” was nothing short of phenomenal, easily one of the best seasons of TV over the past decade. It set the bar for what the show was presumably going to do going forward, only to have Season 3 subsequently stumble head-first over that bar. Season 4 has been better and seemed to be going towards an inevitable and dark conclusion. But last night’s finale showed that showrunner Kurt Sutter is a surprisingly weak-willed writer, unwilling to stick to his guns.
Actually, that’s too soft — Kurt Sutter is a fucking pussy.
Now that may seem like a harsh, kinda of ad hominem attack, but that doesn’t mean it’s unwarranted. Sutter has notoriously gone off on critics and negative comments about his show on Twitter, his blog, and his YouTube channel, and he did so once again after negative reviews of the finale started coming in:
It seems that [“Sons of Anarchy”] continues to delight and frustrate critics/reviewers/bloggers/guys-that-haven’t-been-laid-since-911. … I was going to tag this entry by calling them all cunts, but maybe that’s a little harsh. Half-cunts.
Putting aside the laziness of his attack (come on Kurt, I know you can do much better than “bloggers don’t get laid” laziness and dropping “cunt” just because it’s such a naughty word), Sutter’s ire was primarily directed at those who thought the finale took a left-turn from what this season had put before us, thereby disappointing us by defying our expectations. But it feels like his perception is a bit self-deluded.
Now I know some folks expected Tara to die this season (I did not) and were disappointed that she has survived (I am not). But many more understandably expected Clay to die. Why? Because the show had basically established that he had to die. As this season has progressed, he has been built up as a wholly irredeemable villain, from the hit on Tara to the murder of Piney to the brutal beating of Gemma. Clay has always been a bad man (after all, most of us have known from the beginning, even if we didn’t know, that he had Jax’s pops killed), and there’s a path the show could have chosen to go if it wanted to make him a surviving nemesis of Jax and/or the club in an ongoing fashion.
But, until this last episode, that’s not the path the show was on. Sutter and his writers deliberately chose a path that inevitably required Clay to die. Sutter would have us believe a storyline of inevitability is unacceptable and because we expected Clay’s death, his show is better by eschewing the “predictable.” That’s bullshit. If he had been able to write an honest way out of the mess, maybe. But what he gave us, instead, was the laziest deus ex machina I’ve seen in some time.
Sutter’s rambling rant boils down to claiming that the critics who don’t get the show just don’t get what he’s doing — they want something complex and deep, whereas he’s doing a “an adrenalized soap opera,” a “bloody pulp fiction with highly complex characters” which he refuses to make “measured and predictable.” That’s bullshit. What Sutter did with the finale was not defying predictions. It wasn’t in furtherance of his complex characters. It was a fucking cop-out. He didn’t have the stones to kill Clay when he still has half a series to go, and he didn’t have a creative way to either get the club out of the RICO trouble it was about to get in or to get Jax at the head of the table (where we all knew he’d wind up). So he pulled a fast-one on the viewers and on everything he set up this season. And if you dare to call bullshit on that, you just don’t get it, man.
And it’s a fucking shame. Because this season still had a lot going for it. For example, nobody expected that Jax was actually leaving Charming, and we all figured he was taking the club over sooner rather than later. And a SAMCRO led by Jax, particularly a Jax who doesn’t seem as committed to following the ethos of his father, that’s something I want to see. While the finale was a disappointment, that final scene, Jax the reluctant leader with Tara behind him, was kind of awesome. And I’m glad Tara didn’t die because I like what they’ve done with her and where they appear to be taking her. There is an intriguing feud brewing between her and Gemma which is riddled with potential. Ray McKinnon was fantastic as Lincoln Potter, and there were a lot of little memorable moments, like the Russian getting buried in the sandy ant hill and, especially, the head chili.
But the real highlight of this season was the ongoing showcase for Ryan Hurst (Opie), who was simply riveting to watch. Opie was taken on quite a roller coaster this year — from the high of marrying Lyla, to the continued sadness over the loss of Donna, to the sadly beautiful discussions with Jax and Lyla about the quickly-failed marriage, to the brutally painful discovery of and fall-out of from father’s murder — Hurst delivered the hell out of all of it. Theo Rossi (Juice) got a similar chance to shine through much of the season, and while the origins of his story line felt a bit contrived, Rossi was fantastic. But when Juice hung himself only to survive, that’s when I should’ve learned my lesson, learned that Sutter didn’t have the balls to go into the corners he was writing himself into. Instead, he’s content to break through the wall like the Kool-Aid man, shoving a big “oh yeah” down the throat of anyone who dares to question him.
Sutter’s diatribe says that his show isn’t “The Wire” and doesn’t deserve that kind of analysis. Understood Kurt. I have lowered my expectations. You don’t care about serving the story and you will couch your machinations within a “fuck you, we’re a soap opera” mentality. Got it. As I said, that final scene, with Jax now at the head of the table holding the gavel, was exciting. And we actually already know a surprisingly lot about what’s going to happen in season 4 (some of which I’m excited about, some not so much). And for better or worse, I won’t bitch about what you do going forward. Because now you can count me as one of the critics that “get it.” I get that “Sons of Anarchy” is a pulpy mess of a show that somehow, despite itself, managed to have one exceptional season. I won’t expect another, and I’ll just try to enjoy riding the motorcycle through the show’s final seasons.