So, let's talk "Sons of Anarchy," ending a fifth season last night that leaves only human refuse behind, and begs the question: Is it even possible to continue caring about a series without any heroes to speak of, but only fools, tools, liars, cheats, thieves, and murderers?
The scythe has cut down everyone this season, leaving only flawed semi-protagonists in bit parts - like Rockmond Dunbar's Eli Roosevelt, who was used (after all) to help weave someone else's web, or Donal Logue's immensely compelling Lee Toric, who may be an avenging angel or an avenging devil?
Of course plenty of great series are built on the backs of despicable protagonists -- "The Shield, "Oz," "The Sopranos" -- while great actors (Gandolfini, Chiklis, Perrineau --who was actually a good guy in "Oz") make their depravity almost ennobling. We'll get to Perlman here in a second, and it is yet to be seen whether "SOA" will achieve greatness; I'm doubtful but....
So it seems to me after last night, we're all left -- OK, I'm the only one maybe left -- with a fundamental "SOA" rebuke: How can any one show create so many despicable characters without at least offering a promise of respite, or a sense that there is hope for salvation or just desserts at the end of a long brutal road?
Kurt Sutter and gang have kicked them all to the gutter, and fans are now left to find something, anything, to care about that will help wrap this series in an emotionally satisfying way two years from now.
Let's take a look at the core people, with my gripes, ending with Perlman...
Jackson "Jax" Teller (Charlie Hunnam): Oh, so we're supposed to cheer, after he engineered a season-long arc designed to ensnare Clay and dispatch Pope (Harold Perrineau) while ensuring Opie's family gets free room and board at that new new housing development? Good for you, pal. Jax is the worst of the worst -- Otto with a better haircut. Devious and depraved, he speedballs Wendy because that's what Jax does. He embodies every worst instinct of "SOA," including delusion; oh, you're going to leave it all behind, Jax? Of course you are...He turned into a beast this season, killing antagonists -- most of them black, most of them unarmed -- while they weren't looking. But at least Opie's family will be OK in Agrestic.
Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal): What more can be said of the perfect Gertrude, who conspired to dispatch her own husband (Teller), got caught, spent a season pretending nothing ever really happened all those years ago -- letters as proof aside -- whilst shacking up with Jimmy Smits' Nero and conspiring against Clay. She sprung her rat's trap last night...With Gemma, it's just best to forget -- forget everything she's done over the past five seasons.
Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Jr.): The last keeper of the flame, who saved Clay from...what was it quaintly called? Meeting Mr. Mayhem? Bobby still believes in something,which makes him an anachronism in this world where there is nothing even remotely left to believe in. That makes him the sorriest of this bunch -- someone, the only one, and holding on to ideals that no longer exist, and in fact never did.
Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie): The world's worst former police chief, the Barney Fife of Charming, who is loveable -- more so, in his cancerous decline -- but not so much when you try to remember everything he's been involved in, mostly in misguided efforts to protect Gemma. It's always what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it with Wayne, who may have even been complicit in Teller's death all those years ago.
"Tig" Trager (Kim Coates): The crime of impetuosity, and racially motivated at that! Stupid enough to believe Clay's lies, he runs down a black woman last season to avenge Clay's shooting, only to learn later --oops -- that Opie actually shot Clay. This all, of course, sets in motion a season-long sub-story, resolved last night, where Tig is finally used by Jax to remove a rival, Pope -- who of course burnt Tig's own daughter alive at the season's outset in one of the most horrific scenes of far too many this season.. For God's sakes, man. Grow a brain. Nevermind -- it's too late now.
Filip "Chibs" Telford (Tommy Flanagan): Blindly, foolishly loyal to Jax -- so blindly, so foolishly that he sees nothing of what's really going on around the boardroom table.
Juan-Carlos "Juice" Ortiz (Theo Rossi): Where to begin here? He's weak, easily conned, easily manipulated. His loyalties shift with the wind, but when cornered is vicious. And of course he's the rat.
Dr. Tara Knowles-Teller (Maggie Siff): Tara was especially devalued this season, which is saying a lot. Stupid enough to believe that Otto wanted a crucifix to pray with -- has Otto ever wanted to pray, Tara, ever!? -- she brings in him a weapon which of course he jabs in the neck of Loric's sister. (The most horrific scene...) Then, stupid enough to believe that Gemma won't use this against her, Gemma of course goes right ahead and uses it against her. And on to jail for poor dumb Tara, who never seems to understand that if you're married to the president of a gang of murderous thieves, at some point you'll be implicated as well. She's just sad at this juncture.
Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman): Finally, the malefactor in chief! The worst of the worst, and now he may actually end up paying for it. But let’s end this "SOA" rant on a positive note. Clay actually represents final salvation for "Sons," as the one character we may actually be left to care about. A paradox! Perlman's performance was so outstanding this season, and he brought so much humanity to the depravity of Clay, that he has made it virtually impossible for us not to care about him going forward. That's quite an achievement, given the nature of this beast, and all credit is due Perlman. He is the Tony Soprano of "SOA," but has enough self-awareness and intelligence to know exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it. He holds no illusions, or self-illusions; he knows he's a terrible person, he knows he is beyond salvation, and you can see that in those cold, dark, remorseless and now bereft eyes. Perlman will end up saving this series in the end -- I'm not sure how he'll do this, but you can be sure that if anyone will have made this often horrific, overly vicious ride worth the trouble, he'll be the one to do it...