What if, instead of five acts, William Shakespeare had had an undetermined number of TV seasons to devote to "Hamlet"?
Well, unless he'd also had access to the future mysteries of the internal combustion engine, chances are his version still wouldn't have looked much like "Sons of Anarchy," which wraps up its fourth season tonight (10 p.m., FX) in an episode titled "To Be, Act 2."
But I'm guessing his melancholy prince would've found a way to keep on avoiding that poisoned sword for at least as long as the ratings stayed good.
And that he'd have come off as even more of a procrastinator in avenging his father's death.
Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), first in line for the leadership of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original, has more to live for than the Danish prince whose story his is loosely based on — a loyal "old lady" in Tara (Maggie Siff), two young sons, a dream of escape — but that just makes having his mother (Katey Sagal) married to the man (Ron Perlman) who killed his father even more complicated.
Shakespeare could achieve catharsis with a bloodied stage and send the audience home satisfied. "Sons" creator Kurt Sutter, no stranger to the delights of a bloodied stage himself, nevertheless needs to keep at least some of his principals around for Season 5.
This is the point in a lot of high-concept dramas where I begin to feel a little antsy, to wonder how long, say, a "Dexter" can escape capture, or whether it really makes sense for "The Shield's" Vic Mackey to still be carrying one.
To continue past that point requires a small leap, one I've often made because I've become invested enough in the characters to no longer care that I can occasionally spot the strings by which they — and we — are manipulated.
I've clearly reached that point with "Sons," which tonight delivers a season-ender that's both surprising and unsurprising.
And that's all I'm going to say about that until after it airs. Feel free to weigh in below after you've seen it, or — self-serving promo alert! — drop in on my weekly TV chat at noon Thursday and tell me what you thought.
Oh, and if outlaw motorcycle gangs don't happen to be your Tuesday night obsession, I can tell you that tonight's season finale of "Covert Affairs" (10 p.m., USA) is pretty good, too -- with a prominent role for the always fabulous Anne Dudek, who actually gets out of her kitchen this week to accompany her CIA agent sis (Piper Perabo) to Stockholm for what (naturally) turns out to be a working vacation.