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'Sons of Anarchy' finale preview: A Greek tragedy?

The final episode of

The final episode of "Sons of Anarchy," titled "Papa's Goods," aired Dec. 9, 2014, on FX. Credit: FX / Michael Yarish

WHAT IT'S ABOUT One of the most successful series in cable TV history ends Tuesday after seven seasons and attention must be paid but be certain to shield your gaze. Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is back in Charming after he brutally slew his mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), up in Oregon in last week's episode. It's called "matricide," but also "retribution": Gemma killed Jax's wife, Tara (Maggie Siff) last season. In the finale, he attempts to restore his father's derailed legacy, but FX isn't saying much else about what is expected to be an explosive end. This is "SOA" after all, and it will not be going quietly... 

MY SAY On this, the final day of "Sons of Anarchy," let's find some nice things to say about this massively popular series as opposed to bad -- the "bad" probably the subject of a short book anyway, which would include chapters on . . . searing, outrageous, excessive, graphic violence . . . a bloated, ridiculous final season . . . in fact, make that the last couple of bloated seasons. "SOA" stayed around long enough not only to reinforce its worst impulses, but repeat them, over and over again.

But the good was considerable, particularly in the early seasons. Believe it or not, there was a working brain at "SOA," seeking to explore some big themes, ideas and even issues. If its reach ultimately exceeded its grasp -- perhaps another way of saying this show never saw a body count it didn't try to exceed --  then the fault must lie with head writer and showrunner Kurt Sutter.

But a case could be made -- and not a frivolous one -- that "SOA" was actually his own fevered pitch for gun control, or at least gun sanity.

Recall how this wild ride started. Picking up an old manuscript, Jax learned of his own (murdered) father's dream for SAMCRO, as some sort of Lennon-esque utopia where love and peace could stand a chance. But Mommy dearest Gemma and Clay (Ron Perlman) took care of that. (Clay had been the partner of Jax's dad, "JT," or John Teller. He then married Gemma after JT's death.) They wanted to build up the profitable gunrunning trade, and offed JT to get him out of the way.

Profitable guns were in . . . unprofitable peace was out.

The vicious cycle thus began, and then escalated. The bad guys, who were essentially everyone, were also armed. Sutter cloaked the escalation with an almost Biblical urgency and brutality, quite literally an eye for an eye . . . and bullet for bullet.

Sutter and Sagal -- spouses in real life -- were the real stars here, and for her he wrote the best, richest role, with antecedents in classical literature. (Yes, he had his own on-screen role too, and it was a doozy -- no classical antecedents there, except maybe Cyclops.) Sagal's Gemma was a composite Lady Macbeth and Clytemnestra, the greatest femme fatale of them all who had an affair with her husband's cousin, Aegisthus (essentially Clay) and then murdered her husband, Agamemnon (John Teller). Gemma was a towering villain, of course, but Sagal made her one of the outstanding villains of the modern TV screen, male or female. Perlman was superb too. They both deserved Emmy nominations, even wins, and never were even acknowledged. Emmy voters were too busy watching "Mad Men," or maybe they just couldn't bring themselves to watch the brutality on "SOA." Either way, some fine performances were overlooked. 

"SOA" was also TV's most integrated show over its seven-season run. This was a double-edged sword, or one of those good-news-bad-news things. Dozens of black actors passed through here. The flip side: Almost all of them were shot. It was often a terrifying spectacle, especially this season, made scarier by the thought: How many racists actually tuned in for the interracial mayhem?

But to be fair, everyone -- black and white -- usually died here. Sutter depopulated fictional Charming several times over.

What will Tuesday's series finale bring? Nothing pleasant, I assure you. The gods have spoken, and they are angry. (But then, Euripides' "Electra" didn't end on a happy note either.) "SOA" had good writing -- often excellent writing -- and plenty of first-rate and harrowing performances. But in the end, "Sons of Anarchy" consumed itself. So overwhelmed, or seduced, by the horror that it chronicled, "SOA" missed a chance at greatness. A shame.


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