(Spoilers coming soon.)
A frustrating end to an interesting season. Much of Season Four was a fascinating setup to what seemed like a brave but inescapable conclusion. It is perhaps the central flaw of series television that some decisions are made less to respect the core of the series than to respect the need to keep people around, season after season. In recent years, Dexter has been perhaps the best example of this. You’ve got a great concept for a leading character, and a terrific actor playing the part, but the character (a serial killer) can never be caught as long as the series runs, which makes every season less believable than the one before, and the dangers to that character more ludicrous with each passing season.
Season Four of Sons of Anarchy convinced me that Kurt Sutter had the guts to escape that central flaw. All events throughout the season led up to the aforementioned inescapable conclusion, one that would force extreme changes to the direction of the show. Clay had to die. Part of us knew, in the back of our minds, that Clay couldn’t die, because Sons of Anarchy is unimaginable without him. But Sutter was so good at his sleight of hand that I truly believed Clay was going to be gone. The way Sutter concocts Clay’s escape is ingenious … there should be plenty of interesting angles to play with Jax in charge and Clay just another guy at the table. I don’t blame Sutter for wanting to keep Ron Perlman around. But keeping him around is the easy way, the way every other show would do it. Clay should have died. That would have been the brave move.
Most of the season’s resolutions worked on similar levels. Tara should leave town; instead, she sticks around to become Gemma 2.0. Gemma should become marginalized, and she is, but with plenty of loopholes already in place to make it easy for her to finagle her way back to the center of the show. And the plot device that brought all of this on, wherein the badass Mexicans turned out at the last minute to be CIA agents, was just fine as a sharp commentary on how the American powers that be use the drug war/business as a political tool. But it was not just unbelievable on the level of narrative, it was an insult to an audience that spent all season long following that part of the story as if it mattered.
And that’s the nut of the problem. Ultimately, very little mattered. Most of the same characters will be back next season. The deck chairs have been rearranged, but nothing more. On one level, the entire season was well done … up until the last episode, I felt this season ranked with Season Two as the best so far. The finale, on its own terms, was tense, with the usual great acting. But what the finale represents in terms of a loss of nerve, a capitulation to the central flaws of series television, is very disappointing.
I have no idea how to grade the season or the episode. I could give the finale high points for tying things together in a relatively neat fashion, but I didn’t want a neat conclusion. I could give the season high points for the intriguing setup, but the finale didn’t deliver on that setup. So the grade could be anywhere from A to C. I’ll go this way: grade for Season Four, A-. Grade for Season Finale, B-.