As Sons of Anarchy‘s third season comes to close, I found myself wondering if I could even muster up the energy to write about the finale, “NS,” and the season as a whole. I looked back to my thoughts on the freaking awesome premiere, “SO,” and also my Summer Surveillance posts on the series — if you don’t know, I caught up this summer in fairly quick fashion — and I’m sort of shocked by how quickly I soured on the series. I guess that’s what happens when you’ve never watched something live before and when you do, it starts to weaken.
Moreover, so many other, better writers have basically expressed my opinion for me (such is what happens when everyone feels nearly identical about something). Check out takes from Myles McNutt and Zack Handlen just in case you want to be more enraged about SOA season three.
But eventually, I talked myself into it, because despite all of S3’s issues and even some of the issues with this individual episode, “NS” is a satisfying and sometimes even greatly thrilling episode of the series that positions the series for some interesting things come season four. However, because of my frustrations, this will probably end up as more of a discussion about the season as a whole, with some discussion of “NS” mixed in. I think. I don’t know. I’m just kind of angry and also kind of ambivalent. I know those things shouldn’t really go together.
For the most part, I enjoyed “NS.” It was well-plotted, featured some good action set pieces and a number of great emotional moments for characters like Chibs and Opie. I can even suspend some disbelief and buy into the fact that Jax let the club in on Stahl’s desire to make a deal from the beginning and the whole thing was a long con, if only because it was nice to see the club finally take control of something important instead of being led around like manipulated dogs.
Yet, for the most part, those great things about “NS” don’t make any of the middle part of the season any better. In fact, it might even soil some of the enjoyment I got out of the Belfast episodes, because I really thought Jax becoming a rat would return us to the inner turmoil of the club that made so much of late S1 and S2 great. I know that turmoil is bound to return with this episode’s cliffhanger that Gemma and Clay more or less killed John Teller, but that could have been just another way to pile on the tension between Jax and Clay and really Jax and the whole group.
Now that I know that Jax’s inner strife over the Stahl deal that started back in Belfast was basically an act from the jump, I dunno, I kind of dislike those episodes a bit more. It takes away from the character development and struggle a bit, methinks.
But if we think back over the season, I’m not sure if the resolution of “NS” really proves anything or brings the season together thematically. The Sons went to Belfast and got Abel back, awesome. But what did Jax really learn or experience this season, aside from anger from not having his kid and a quick crisis of conscious? The assumption is that the Abel arc has helped Jax realize he needs to appreciate his family a little bit more, but I’m not sure the season really played that up enough to be a substantive character arc. Going to get your kid and then screwing a bitch ATF agent in the back is a successful few weeks, but I don’t think it’s really much of a developed arc.
And because the Abel plotline choked off so much of the season’s running time, too few of the series’ supporting players were sidelined to a few good moments, but no real development either. I’m not even sure if Piney and Opie are still angry at Tig and Clay about Donna’s death, I don’t remember the last time Bobby or Juice had anything any of substance to do. Heck, even Clay and Gemma have felt short-changed a bit, particularly in their relationship to one another.*Thus, for the most part, Abel completely consumed the season, even when Kurt Sutter and the rest of his writers tried to suggest that he wasn’t in those middling pre-Belfast episodes with Salazar and the African-American MC.
*Although, Gemma and Tara’s relationship is, without question, the best part of this season. Katey Sagal is a powerhouse and Maggie Siff has more than held her own.
Moreover, even though I’d prefer the series stick to Charming or at least not be interested in spanning the globe without much direction, I have to wonder about even the relevance of some of those early Charming plots. The premiere episode had a lot of promise and the gun charges were a tough, but satisfying pill to swallow, but the politicking between the MCs didn’t hook me in the way I think it could have. And again, I think that’s because Abel’s capture was hanging over those plots so heavily that I couldn’t really pay attention or find myself to care when I knew THERE WAS A GOD DAMN KIDNAPPED BABY OUT THERE. It’s been said constantly since the plot happened, but once you kidnap a freaking baby, it’s hard not to be consumed by the freaking kidnapped baby.
I’m also wondering about the compressed time frame of how everything in the series has played out, particularly when it comes to my viewing experience. From everything that I can gather, all three seasons have taken place across a few months, so even though it had been a long time for us since Abel had been kidnapped, it still wasn’t that long for Jax. Not enough to forgive the episodes where Jax cared much less about Abel, but still helps the season’s case in just a little bit. And for me personally, I watched most of the series in a 3-4 work time frame, so my viewing experience sort of followed the same rapidity and then to have both my viewing and the plot itself come to a screeching halt here was overwhelmingly frustrating. Perhaps so much so that I couldn’t evaluate these episodes on their own merit, which is probably why I didn’t review every episode in the middle.
And perhaps S3 is something of a transition year anyway. An argument could probably be made that it serves as a way to show Jax that even when he’s all-in with the club, his family is all messed up so when the big time issues appear again, he’s really ready to fight the club’s initiatives, but that’s even a reach.
But in the end, no matter all my issues with S3, it seems fairly obvious that “NS” is much better thought of as a spring-board for the season to come than a conclusion to the one that we just witnessed. As I posed in my post before the episode aired last night, I didn’t expect the finale to negate all the frustrations with season three as a whole, and it didn’t. At all. But it’s good enough to suggest that Sons of Anarchy hasn’t completely “lost it” or something stupid like that. Sometimes, series just have bad seasons. For the most part, this was a bad season for SOA. “NS” suggests” that won’t continue.