Given its initial premise and appalling body count, the fact “Sons of Anarchy” has credibly reached a seventh and final season is in itself an accomplishment. Yet this fall’s driving theme — unrelenting revenge and retribution — practically ensures a series already characterized by over-the-top violence will be even more steeped in creatively conceived gore. Few programs seem more closely linked to the id of their brain trust than this one, and showrunner Kurt Sutter has set the stage for an operatic finish. That said, watching “Sons” ride toward the sunset — taking its excesses with it — evokes as much relief as regret.
Without giving too much away (and SPOILER ALERT only to those not fully up to date on last season’s events), the SAMCRO motorcycle club, under the stewardship of Jax (Charlie Hunnam), is grappling with some beyond-usual family issues. Sure, Jax killed his stepfather, assumed control and tried to take the club in a more legitimate direction, but that was before the brutal murder of his wife by his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal), which she is prudently hiding from him, the collateral damage be damned.
While Gemma justifies this act of self-preservation by saying she’s “the only thread holding this family together,” the fallout of letting Jax wonder who took a fork to his wife’s head virtually completes his turn into the darkness, embracing vengeance while setting in motion a war among the various criminal factions with which the club interacts. (In “Sons’ ” grim and anarchic world, law enforcement, with Annabeth Gish as the new sheriff, is really just another gang.)
Frankly, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a crime show that, particularly in this latest flight, so unabashedly displays its nasty side. The show has also consistently upped its game in terms of casting, bringing in the likes of Jimmy Smits and CCH Pounder, among others, in supporting roles.
That said, “SOA” at times fritters on the edge of dwelling on sadism as opposed to depicting violence because it’s organic to the story. And while the show has contemplated the side effects of SAMCRO’s criminal enterprises — including the sobering incorporation of a school shooting with one of the guns it distributes — more often those caught in the crossfire are dispensed with little second thought.
Throughout, “Sons of Anarchy” — much like “The Shield,” one of the stops where Sutter cut his creative teeth — has exhibited a genuine and singular artistic vision, and the way the episodes spill out into ungainly lengths (the premiere runs 75 minutes, sans commercials) is both a testament to FX’s willingness to indulge talent and a window into the creative process.
In the process, the program has become one of FX’s signature shows, engaging not only a sizable audience but (at least if those emails and comments in response to any nay-saying are any gauge) an inordinately, er, passionate one as well.
When the series began, the show dabbled in the notion of a Shakespearean battle for Jax’s soul, waged between the memory of his dead father and how bad he had to become operating under his stepfather’s reign.
If it wasn’t obvious already, these first few episodes of the final season make clear how that struggle turned out. And while it will be interesting to see the way “Sons” tackles loose ends, in terms of how the series explores shades of gray, it looks like it’s all over but the shooting.