Coming off a bloody and shocking season finale, the final stretch of Sons of Anarchy kicks things off with nothing less than a bloody and shocking premiere. The actual action takes up less than a third of the episode, with most of the super-sized premiere ending up as time spent watching various gangs and family members talk in circles about last season’s events. With only a handful of episodes to iron out all of the conflicts from last year’s denouement, set up a proper season arc, and tie everything up in a satisfying manner, one would think Sutter and co. would have a sense of urgency when it comes to moving the plot along. Instead, a small number pieces on the chessboard are shifted a few spaces while everybody else stands around and observes the events unfolding.
Fortunately, there are some promising spots tonight that may mean good things as the season goes forward. Katey Sagal gets the juiciest acting bits out of anyone and makes the best of that opportunity. Her performance as Gemma has always strived to be more than a one-note portrayal of a biker’s wife and mother. Even when she doesn’t pull it off, she puts in as much effort of anyone on the payroll and that is apparent again here. In particular, the nuance in her expression and wavering voice when making the false confession to Jax about who was responsible for Tara’s murder gives some necessary weight to a decision that will assuredly come back to bite not only her, but anyone else who knows the truth about that night. Likewise, her ability to let Gemma seem almost human while luring the Asian gang member to his eventual death is the perfect mix of foreshadowing, pathos, and sociopathic tendencies, and a high point of the episode as far as character work goes.
The actual death of the aforementioned gang member is just another occurrence of Sons’ desire to push the boundaries of gratuitous violence as far as humanly possible with only marginal payoff. As important as it is that Jax feel that he is granted revenge for Tara’s death, setting it up to be so important that he kills one man from a gang he will continue to blame is a roundabout way for the show to throw the Sons into a manufactured feud. That sequence also has the distinction of taking place during the longest music montage the show has ever attempted. Clocking in at roughly 11 minutes, the Forest Rangers’ cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” not only fits in with the show’s current gloomy feel incredibly well but also sets the exact proper tone for the mostly wordless montage to come.
Charlie Hunnam does some of his best acting to date during the torture sequence; even with his jaw set in anger he successfully emotes flashes of sadness, reluctance, resignation, and even some empathy for the man he would soon torture extensively before dealing the lethal blow. Paris Barclay comes through with a professional and technically marvelous directorial effort as usual, with one of the best shots of the show in recent history being Jax standing half-naked in the kitchen covered in blood spatter and lit only by the moonlight streaming through the slats in the blinds. A vivid, memorable shot that really ties the episode’s major set piece together by juxtaposing the beauty of pure moonlight with the grotesque tableau of the kitchen counters turned torture chamber.
As a start to the final season, “Black Widower” should have come out of the gate much stronger. The importance of the emotional scenes is obvious, but those few moments did not have to be the only interesting or memorable things in almost two hours of airtime. The splashes of black comedy that are dispersed throughout the adventures of the club are appreciated, specifically the boys accidentally shooting two reverends filming a sex tape when they are after someone completely different. These flashes of originality and humor serve to raise the story above the dour and sullen mess it can be more often than not at this point in its run, but they also have to contribute something beyond being a distraction from the rest of the action or (as it happened tonight) the more important events. There simply isn’t enough time left for the show to be going on tangential side trips when there is interesting plot still left to work through and a team of actors more than capable to handle what is thrown at them. The only thing left to do at this point is hope the show doesn’t realize this too late.