It might have taken most of the season, but Sons of Anarchy‘s third season is finally resembling the heights of season two, as “Firinne” feels like both the culmination of a lot of frustrating times for Jax and us at home and a launching pad for some interesting things to come in the final three episodes. After the constant manipulation and extension of the search for Abel, this episode clears up the picture, ties up some loose ends and puts Jax in yet another difficult situation.
One of the biggest problems I have had with this season is how paper-thin the Belfast characters have been. Kurt Sutter and company have spent a lot of time over in Ireland throughout the season, but because there are so many characters to familiarize with and so many different threads happening at once, it’s been difficult to really get hold of who these people are outside of there face-value motivations. In that sense, many of them have felt like stock types that serve some sort of plot purpose or exist as a foil for SAMCRO, but are not really people in their own right. Thus, though the season has done its best to lay out these interwoven connections and political relationships, it hasn’t really worked to a full extent.
In that sense, some of the big moments here don’t work as well as they perhaps could. The torturing of O’Neill is a gruesome but no one seems to be remotely upset about it — he’s a traitor, but he’s still a member — and even Clay’s de-cutting and murder of McGee lacks the emotional punch it could have if he was a living, breathing character that we knew more than a few base facts about. Ron Perlman tries his best to raise the material, but even he can’t save the whole thing from being a little flat, even though it’s a death of a First 9 member.
But in another sense, the deaths of O’Neill and McGee solve one of the season’s biggest problems: There are too many people in this ensemble. With most of SAMBEL out of the picture now and the motivations of Ashby and Jimmy out in the open, the story should be more streamlined and propulsive in the last three episodes.
Similarly, a number of the issues hanging over the characters — some of which were particularly annoying because we knew the answers — get resolved in “Firinne” in such a way that there should be more forward momentum instead of filling in past blanks or meandering in a nearly stalled position. Maureen and Gemma finally tell Jax and Trinity that, you know, they’re brother and sister, right before they start to have sex. And though I understand the intent with that whole story, it was generally uncomfortable to watch unfold, so much so I suspected the series would go ahead and take it “there” and then fill in the blanks later. Moreover, Maureen and Gemma also have a blow-out over SAMCRO’s time in Belfast, as Maureen is fed up with Gemma’s whining amid the fact that her husband/son’s MC has basically destroyed the Belfast charter and brought all sorts of all down on them. It’s nice to see someone from Belfast have an opinion that doesn’t involve keeping Abel away from Jax.
Speaking of, Ashby finally lays it all out on the table for Jax in the episode’s final moments.* It seems this whole shell game has been about Ashby’s promise to John Teller that he would keep Jax out of the MC, and even though he can’t force Jax to do anything, he can make sure Abel has a nice life. It’s a nice gesture, albeit a patronizing one, and thankfully, it brings an end to all this nonsense. Now Jax knows exactly where Abel is, but he has something to think about.
In a way, it seems like the whole point of the season has been to take a roundabout way in showing Jax (and us) that this is no environment to raise a child, and so now that seed of doubt has been planted, it’s on Jax to figure out what is the right decision. Additionally, this also feels like another way to drudge up Jax’s indecision about being in the club at all, something we haven’t seen all season and frankly, something I’ve been disappointed to see lost. Now Jax has all sorts of choices to make. Does he go after Jimmy at all in hopes of salvaging the deal with Stahl? Does he just kill Jimmy and anyone else in his path? Or does he just grab Abel and go home? There’s a lot up in the air, which could make for good television in the coming three weeks.
With that in mind, I can be more forgiving to the Belfast arc, but I still find it problematic and less well-executed than the other things the series has done. It seems to be ending on a strong note, but there wasn’t enough up front to make the conclusions of the arc feel as emotionally resonant as they could have. It’s unfortunate, but if Sons of Anarchy turns in three more episodes like “Firinne,” to end the season, it will be much easier to keep forgiving.