Note: This is a review of the series finale of “Sons of Anarchy,” so spoilers ahead.
To be or not to be? That is the question.
The answer came in Tuesday’s satisfying end to FX’s “Hamlet”-like biker drama, “Sons of Anarchy,” when Jax Teller rode his dead father’s motorcycle into the grill of a semi-truck labeled “Papa’s Goods,” the title of the nearly two-hour series finale.
It was a heavily symbolic episode — almost to a fault. But that’s always been the way “Sons of Anarchy” rolled. Anything else would have felt uncharacteristic, which isn’t what you want in the last episode of a long-running series.
Fans of the show knew Jax (Charlie Hunnam) had to die. (Some knew for sure thanks to a mishap that saw the early release of a spoiler-filled companion book.) Like Jax said at the roadside memorial to his late dad, a founding member of SAMCRO, it was too late for him to escape the outlaw life. Jax was a bad guy. He himself said he had to lose, even if viewers had grown to understand and love him — even think of him as a good guy — over the course of seven bloody seasons.
The structure of the finale was reminiscent of another riveting antihero drama, “Breaking Bad.” (If you haven’t seen that AMC series, stop reading. And go watch it because it’s the best TV show ever.)
Just like Walter White, Jax had given himself an ambitious To Do list. He went about tying up these loose ends — sometimes in surprising ways — before leaving the painful world he helped create, and leaving it on his own terms, just a few steps ahead of the law.
Before his inevitable exit, Jax made Papa proud by severing ties to the Irish, setting the stage for Connor (Scott Anderson) to run guns through the Mayans.
He shot the double-crossing Barosky (played by frequent “SOA” director Peter Weller). With the help of a blanket provided by the recurring Angel of Death homeless lady, he dispensed of SAMCRO enemy August Marks (Billy Brown).
Jax saw to it that the MC take a step toward diversity by inducting its first black member, former Grim Bastards president T.O. Cross (Michael Beach).
He passed along his own president patch to right-hand man Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) before meeting Mr. Mayhem. (Having Chibs shoot Happy in the arm instead of killing Jax was an excellent twist.)
Jax came clean — for the most part — to district attorney Tyne Patterson (CCH Pounder), whose absence unfortunately was felt throughout this season. Glad they got her back for the finale.
Then Jax returned a few overdue books to the Charming Public Library. Just kidding. But it’s difficult to think of any business that went unfinished by the end of the episode.
The most emotional task on his list, of course, was saying goodbye to his two young sons, Abel and Tommy.
Before the boys headed off to the farm with Wendy (Drea de Matteo) and Nero (Jimmy Smits), Jax selflessly told Nero he wanted his kids “to grow up hating the thought of me.” It was for their own good, to protect his children from a life Jax himself wasn’t able to escape. But as we saw Abel playing with the “SON” ring Gemma (Katey Sagal) gave him in the penultimate episode, we’re not so sure that’s possible.
That moment was perhaps the most ambiguous in an otherwise straightforward episode that — thankfully — didn’t cap off the series with a lame ending (“Dexter”) or one that left too much to the imagination (“The Sopranos”).
Creator Kurt Sutter said in the post-show chatfest “Anarchy Afterword” that he toyed with the idea of leaving it up to the viewer whether Jax ran into the semi driven by Michael Chiklis (of Sutter’s previous gig on “The Shield”). But Sutter astutely pointed out that “Sons of Anarchy” was never a show about what-ifs. It was a show with direct actions that led to direct consequences.
It was also a series laden with “Hamlet” references right up to the bittersweet end, with the final frame showing a quote from Shakespeare’s tragedy:
“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the son doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”
“Sons of Anarchy” has always been as subtle as a sledgehammer when it comes to symbolism. It stayed true to form in the finale.
The camera lingered on a shot of bread and wine, Last Supper imagery that went hand-in-hand with the final shot of Jax, his arms spread like Jesus on the cross.
This was a man dying not only for his sins but for the sins of others. He sacrificed himself. And he’ll be worshipped long after he’s gone.