LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Say what you will about "Sons of Anarchy," but series creator Kurt Sutter clearly doesn't want to cross the finish line with an ounce of gas left in the tank. So the program's penultimate episode featured a number of major events, leaving behind only the upcoming finale, which, given the length of these last few chapters, will begin on a Tuesday and might not wrap up until some time Thursday.
The messy, blood-drenched final season has been assiduously moving along two key tracks, building toward Tuesday's episode (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven't watched). Indeed, almost everything that has transpired this season can be traced to a single moment from the previous one, in which Gemma (Katey Sagal) murdered the wife of her son, Jax (Charlie Hunnum), and then covered up her crime with help from disgraced club member juice (Theo Rossi).
That one event unleashed a trail of murder, torture and bloodshed, to the point where the population sign for the town of Charming should probably be written in chalk. Jax finally learned the truth regarding his mother's betrayal, resulting in two strangely parallel sequences, in which both Gemma and Juice - almost serenely resigned to their fates - essentially allowed themselves to be executed. (One can argue that Wayne, played by Dayton Callie, did much the same as he sought to intervene on Gemma's behalf.)
With those two storylines dispatched, all that really remains for the finale is the ultimate verdict on Jax, who - having begun the show caught between his stepfather and the memory of his father - has long since chosen a path unlikely to lead toward redemption. The only real question, in fact, has been how much collateral damage the character would amass before realizing how badly he had been duped, and how many lives were lost as a consequence.
Life is cheap on "Sons of Anarchy," at least beyond the central players. Too often, plots have concluded simply by having entire groups of one rival faction or another mowed down in a hail of automatic weapons fire.
But Sutter has also taken his time in building toward a resolution - so much so, in fact, that viewers were treated to an almost enervating amount of exposition in some recent episodes, such as Jax telling different characters, in detail, about Gemma's deception.
FX, meanwhile, has gone beyond even past bouts of super-sizing by allowing episodes to spill over into the next day, with individual chapters approaching feature-length. Tuesday's installment, for example, is roughly 81 minutes sans commercials, nearly double the allotted time for an average drama. Granted, the show's strong, series-high ratings - beating network dramas in its timeslot, particularly among key demographics - has played a significant role in earning "Sons" that level of creative latitude.
While the TV limits imposed by time and commercial breaks can be arbitrary, they also tend to enforce a certain amount of storytelling discipline from which the current season of "Sons" could benefit. At the same time, letting Sutter and his writing staff tell exactly the story they want has reinforced FX's risk-taking image and made the show an inordinately personal experience in terms of the bond it shares with its most loyal fans, who - faced with the prospect of a favorite program ending - are no doubt grateful for the extra-large portions, sleep be damned.
"Everybody went out in an appropriate character way," Sutter said on the program's post-show, "Anarchy Afterword," referring to the hour's body count.
Jax, of course, represents the heart of the series, and Hunnum has done some of his best work this year. That said, with the big question of whether his quest for vengeance would extend to his own mother answered - and Juice having demonstrated his loyalty until the bitter end - it's going to take some awfully fancy footwork to prevent the "Sons" climax from feeling a trifle anticlimactic.