Sons of Anarchy, Season 7, Episode 9, “What a Piece of Work is Man”
Directed by Peter Weller
Written by Mike Daniels, Roberto Patino, and Kurt Sutter
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm on FX
The title of this week’s Sons of Anarchy episode refers to a speech from Act II of Hamlet, in which the Prince of Denmark confesses his general malaise and depression to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. While outlining his outlook on life, he commiserates about how many accomplishments and abilities mankind is capable of in which he cannot bring himself to take part, for lack of purpose and motivation. This lack of interest in the general goings on or excitement of the world can surely be applied to the club throughout much of this season of Sons, but is also accurate meta commentary on the way the show is spurning narrative opportunities left and right over its final stretch.
Many of the club’s actions in the hunt for Tara’s killer have been standard explosive fare at best and purely vanilla excursions at worst, week in and week out. Nothing Jax does or orders his Redwood family to do is executed with any gusto or creativity, just the plodding resentment of a man that can no longer bring himself to enjoy vengeance or winning at this point in the game. Sure, the drinking and laughing after a plan is carried out with minimal casualties does well to look like enjoyment, but nothing is done with any flair anymore. There used to be a certain panache to each feud or back room deal that has been severely lacking for a while, but is obvious this season especially. Remember when the Irish sent a keg as a Trojan Horse bomb to the garage? That was so much fun! The club has no interest in ratcheting battles up to that level anymore, and it’s a crying shame.
The same can be said of this final season’s inability to create any sort of excitement for the audience or reason for existence, besides the writers playing out a previously concocted arc and FX enjoying the ratings for thirteen more weeks. Going into a season knowing it is the last chance to play with these specific characters is a unique opportunity and one that creators usually embrace wholeheartedly. It is not only a way to say goodbye to characters the creative team have spent half a decade or more with, but a chance to burn through any and all story that is still swirling around unused. Instead, Kurt Sutter has decided to replay old story beats over and over again with no inventiveness to speak of. This was his chance to go all out with nonsensical action sequences, deaths, character returns, and backstabbing, and nothing of that sort is on the horizon heading into the last third of the season.
That doesn’t mean this episode is a total waste in and of itself. Gemma getting caught in her web of lies and implicated in the murder of Tara is finally coming to fruition, even if this through-line should have been kickstarted five or six episodes ago. Unser and Jarry may not be the perfect people to handle tracking Juice and Gemma’s trail of lies, but they are the best duo the show has left when it comes to unearthing the truth and getting justice for Tara. Their trailer chat is a highlight of the episode if only because it plays like a clubhouse detective agency that everyone knows won’t properly solve anything, but will go a long way in trying. Annabeth Gish gets the chance to play outright furious for the first time opposite Katey Sagal, even if the dialogue itself is trite. Each woman’s unfettered anger at the other is the kind of thing this show does exceedingly well when it cares to try, and Gemma tossing around scarily specific threats like “I’ll shoot you in the throat” after being slapped across the face never entirely gets old.
Of course, the show has its first major death of the season in Bobby Elvis and this is treated as a glorified foot note after over an hour of digging up bodies and nauseatingly boring meets. For a character (and an actor) who was on the show from the beginning, it is a shocking exit not because of the way he goes out (a straightforward bullet to the head while Jax stands helpless), but because of the lack of closure for Bobby while he is still alive. He does go out shortly after attempting to warn Jax of August’s stashed weapon, an action as indicative of his position as the club’s human guard dog as possible. Still, Mark Boone Jr. deserves more than being bloodied, bound, gagged, and mostly speechless during his last episode. Jax is contrite, but not nearly self-flagellating enough for what Bobby means to him as a club member and a friend, not to mention how much of Bobby’s death falls entirely on his shoulders. When a romantic B-story about Rat Boy getting in a tiff with his old lady takes up just as much time as mourning a slain club member, something is going horribly wrong behind the scenes.