Kurt Sutter has been a familiar name to fans of television and FX for a number of years, and the channel wasted no time in bringing Sutter back onboard after the end Sons of Anarchy, giving a series order greenlight to his new series, The Bastard Executioner.
For an episode that has so many scenes that could all individually be described as great, this episode continues to not have enough happen in order to properly justify the run time. The majority of the action is important, but letting every scene breathe and take as much time as possible to play out undercuts the levity of the scenes where the drawn out nature of an interaction instills everything with increased emotion. Having a conversation between Gemma and Nero be the same length as one between Althea and Unser, or close to it, attempts to place them on the same level and this doesn’t make any sense. There are few transitional scenes this week, only increasingly long and drawn out exchanges as Gemma’s actions in relation to Tara’s death come into focus and get passed around the club. In an episode where long-awaited fireworks are expected, the sudden refusal to put Jax and Gemma in the same room is a disappointment and one that is not tempered by the prison murder of Lin or the semi-pointless car chase Jax takes part in. Finding the emotional heart of the show again this close to the finale after so many seasons of blood and guts is a good thing, but with over an hour of screen time filled with lots of tell and not a lot of show, the emotional heart isn’t balanced with anything else.
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.
Putting aside all of the violence (which packs no punch), torture (which has gone too far yet again), and killing (which has no motivation behind it) for just a minute, this week’s episode of Sons of Anarchy tries to do some interesting things with its characters for maybe the first time all season. It doesn’t always pan out, but that is a result of not committing fully rather than refusing to take the time to try something different. After weeks of dropping breadcrumbs in regards to Abel’s mental state and the club’s effect on him, there is finally a definitive incident that proves Abel’s surroundings are turning him into an indiscriminately violent and angry person, just like his father. Of course, Sons doesn’t have the restraint to discuss raising a child in this environment with any sort of tact. So instead of Wendy and Jax having a one-on-one conversation about him attacking another child with a metal lunchbox (he’s resourceful, too!), Abel gets turned into an approximation of devil spawn at the kitchen table.
Insist things have been made right. Take a drink. Smile smugly at the friends and family that surround you in your time of “triumph”. Rinse, repeat. Such is the cycle SAMCRO, and by extension Sons of Anarchy, finds themself in after once again conquering a would-be enemy with nothing but fire power and questionable wit. The thing about this cycle of pulling solutions out of nowhere shortly after discovering impending danger is that it makes for a repetitive and predictable season. Instead of Kurt Sutter emptying out his story bucket and taking chances when possible, the show has found itself in a rut of inevitable violence and unsurprising dialogue. A few developing threads this episode have great potential to reverse this trend, but they move so slowly it is possible nothing could come to fruition for a few episodes more, though at this point, any forward momentum is welcome.
Jax’s early declaration to Nero about his shock that Lin would go so far as an act of revenge is the first time in a while he has shown any true concern for the people around him. It also comes off as incredibly naive in that even if the murder of sixteen innocent people is indefensible, the reason it even came to retaliation in the first place stems from his actions first and foremost. His inability to understand how his actions affect an ever-widening pool of people is quickly becoming a theme here, but without any real consequences for the club or his life.
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.
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