The finale of a television series can elicit a complex array of emotions. We’ve often spent years of our lives with these characters. We’re heavily invested in the outcome of their story. A successful finale pairs the triumph of a deserving sendoff with the melancholy inherent to a heartfelt goodbye. I’m sure the Mad Men finale will be dramatically satisfying, but it won’t be easy to watch Don Draper swagger off screen one last time.
The finale narrative has been well-trod over the past couple of years, with beloved series like Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation coming to a close. But what happens when that narrative heads in a different direction? When the show to which you’re bidding adieu isn’t an old friend you’ve had dinner with every Tuesday night, but rather a brash co-worker who constantly offers unsolicited life advice and probably kicks his dog? Yet you find yourself at the bar with them week after week, drowning your disdain in a pint of lager. Here, the goodbye takes on the form of a therapeutic good riddance, but that catharsis comes at a cost. It’s accompanied by a rising uncertainty. Think of the untold hours I’ve wasted with this miserable bastard! My God! I could have polished off that screenplay. Finished my degree. Hit the gym. Gotten out on the dating scene. Actually contributed to my community. Something. Anything.
This existential crisis has been brought to you by Sons of Anarchy, airing Tuesdays at 10/9 Central on FX. Well, not anymore. Thank God.
Sons of Anarchy is essentially the story of an outlaw trying to steer down a more righteous path. And failing. Spectacularly. It speaks to the level of seediness on display that this righteous path consists of becoming a pornographer. The Sons (or SAMCRO in acronymese) toil for seven seasons to move from the gun trade to the sex trade, while our protagonist Jax constantly rationalizes his continued motleyness. Sure, he has two kids to raise with his beautiful, straight-laced doctor(!) wife; but these men are his unwashed brethren. He can’t leave all this behind in service of love, duty, or common sense. His father had a vision for this club, and he needs to see it through no matter the cost. And he’ll solve his father’s murder along the way!
There’s the kernel of great escapist television in this premise. The outlaw life has proven an enduring trope for viewers who prefer to experience danger vicariously. Unfortunately, the rancid machismo that oozes from SAMCRO’s every pore repels any semblance of entertainment. Absurdly self-important and relentlessly cruel, Sons cuts a bloody swath to nowhere. For wannabe prestige television, Sons paints in cartoonishly broad strokes, so much so that members of each gender can be split into three categories. Men are either violent criminals, spineless enablers of violent criminals, or dead. Women are shrews, vipers, or Crow Eaters (yes, that’s precisely as degrading as it sounds). I didn’t include dead as one of the categories for female characters, because pretty much every female character winds up dead. So sadistic is this show, that creator Kurt Sutter casts himself as an imprisoned member of SAMCRO whose only purpose is to be repeatedly sodomized and mutilated in service of the club. Yes, I watched this for seven years.
Let’s take a look at my personal journey with SAMCRO. Perhaps we’ll gain some insight into my deficiencies.
My roommate’s going through a motorcycle phase. Sure, it’s more puttering around the garage than buying a cut and dropping out of polite society, but it nonetheless leads him to start watching this new Sons of Anarchy program. Ron Perlman? Hell yes. The Shield was a pretty great show. This should be an adequate way to unwind after a day at my new retail gig. Camaraderie.
This Charlie Hunnam fellow really can’t pull off an American accent. Oh, well. At least there’s Ron Perlman. And Henry Rollins drops by to sow rape and racism across the land.
The Sons head to Ireland. I head nowhere.
Seeking to inject some Anarchy into my own life, I join the Sons in the sweltering hell of inland California. Rather than sharing their rousing adventure with Danny Trejo’s faux-cartel, I manage to painstakingly rebuild my malaise in a different state.
It’s become clear that Ron Perlman isn’t going to make it to the end of this show, and that California’s Central Valley is no place for discerning humans to take up residence.
Ron Perlman is finally jettisoned. The show attempts to fill the resulting charisma vacuum with the withered visage of Robocops past. Jax and I both resolve to leave charming California. Only one of us is successful. The other one’s wife is brutally murdered with kitchen appliances.
When the only people left to root for are Jimmy Smits and a crackhead, you may have run out of narrative steam. That doesn’t stop the show from boldly blasting through the time constraints of broadcast television to make room for another poorly choreographed chase sequence or a terrible bar-band-cover-montage. When this was prominently featured (in its entirety) in one of the maddeningly unedited final episodes, I knew there would be no redemption:
Despite the ever-present reaper, the Sons bestow a death sentence with the rather ridiculous alias Mr. Mayhem. And as the show spiraled inexorably toward Jax’s meeting with Mr Mayhem, it all became clear: Jax Teller was never the show’s protagonist. It was Mr. Mayhem all along. I was rooting for death to find these monstrous totems of testosterone gone awry, and find them it did. I had my soaring triumph. And my pervasive melancholy. Probably not in the way the show intended, though.
I wouldn’t say I consider my Seven Years of Anarchy a total loss. I learned a valuable lesson: There is virtue in quitting. The finale neatly coincided with my 30th birthday, lending it undeserved heft in my natural cycle of self-examination. The sheer quantity of time I had spent stubbornly clinging to this thing that I had come to despise struck me as patently absurd. It resonated with any number of other aspects in my life: My job, my home, my relationships. I’ve spent far too much of my life hanging on, waiting for some inevitable resolution. It seems like a sizable portion of my life is due for a meeting with Mr. Mayhem.
Or maybe I’ll just watch Dexter. I’m sure that won’t let me down.