I get the feeling most critics liked the way the season turned out more than I did. Alan Sepinwall (“It is a show with a lot of great performances. It is a show capable of great moments. But is it a great show, period? I thought that for sure a couple of years ago. Now, I'm doubtful.”) and Maureen Ryan (“All in all, I was willing to accept certain contrivances this season, if the show repaid us with a game-changing finale. This was not a game-changer. It was a formula-embracer.”) were closer to my own thoughts, but Matt Zoller Seitz called the episode’s “maximum ludicrosity” exciting:
And although your mileage will surely vary, I like that they’re keeping Clay around at the behest of the CIA, to ensure that the deal with the Irish Kings goes through. This is much less clichéd than the standard “You killed my dad and now I will avenge him!” scenario. It also fits with the “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” ethos, and it gives Jax no choice but to accept his destiny and become the biker version of Michael Corleone or Hamlet, assuming control of a troubled kingdom that he was always fated to run anyway.
Seitz wasn’t alone, either. I haven’t changed my mind about the season or the finale in the last ten hours, but I am more encouraged this morning than I was last night about Season Five. I’ve read a couple of interviews with Kurt Sutter, and he clearly doesn’t agree with my take that keeping Clay around was too easy, too formulaic. He has some strong points to make, and he obviously sees the long-term picture better than I do, since he’s the one who ultimately creates what we have seen and will see. About Clay remaining alive, Sutter said:
[A]lthough all signs were pointing towards a brutal comeuppance … my intention was to have Clay around for at least a couple more seasons. I honestly feel like it would have been such a waste for Jax to get that information about Clay and then to kill him in the same episode. It’s such an amazing reveal [that Clay had Jax's father killed] and reveals so much mythology, and to just sort of play it out for three or four scenes and then put it to bed by having him avenge it and therefore really ending the story — I just felt like there’s so much more to play out with them both having the knowledge of what Clay’s done, and being forced to live with it, and having to work with each other and try to have this day-to-day dynamic. What does that look like?
What I saw as the usual “we have to keep this character around because Dexter can never die” becomes, for Sutter, “I have more stories to tell about this character.”
So I can say that I still find Clay’s continued presence to be a bit of a cheat, a “formula-embracer” as Mo Ryan said, but that I am very interested in seeing what Sutter makes of his creation next season. And what the hell, it never made any sense keeping Spike around all those years, but I let it slide because I felt Joss Whedon knew what he was doing (and I liked Spike). Kurt Sutter knows what he is doing, and I like Clay, so bring on Season Five.