LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - With its Shakespearean aspects, "Sons of Anarchy" in the beginning represented a tale about the battle for the soul of Jax, torn between the legacies of his father and stepfather, even if he was seldom its most interesting character. And from the opening strains of Bruce Springsteen's "Adam Raised a Cain" and Jax's graveside visit to the closing moments, the series finale hammered home the point, with about as much subtlety as a fork in the head.
In what has at times felt like two seasons crammed into one, series creator Kurt Sutter has methodically built toward the question of Jax's fate, eliminating so many characters along the way - including a hat trick of major deaths in the penultimate chapter - that the finale risked becoming a trifle anticlimactic. Yet the question of whether Jax (Charlie Hunnam), having descended so far into darkness, could somehow find redemption, for others if not himself, still carried a measure of suspense, if only because strictly adhering to a "Crime doesn't pay" formula doesn't necessarily mesh with the moral ambiguities of the program's world.
"This is who I am. I can't change," Jax said early on, expressing a hope that his sons will grow up to be different - and better.
So it felt like something of a letdown, frankly (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven't watched), to see Jax not only romanticized to the very end, but committing suicide-by-truck, in a protracted sequence that was part "White Heat" ("Made it, Ma! Top of the world!"), and part "Thelma & Louise."
Written and directed by Sutter, the finale adhered to the formula of long, slow conversations, punctuated by bursts of violence - the latter staged publicly and in broad daylight, as Jax took it upon himself to settle old scores. It could have used an editor, which has become a common lament this season, as episodes lingered until near midnight, spilling beyond it thanks to the post-show "Anarchy Afterword."
Although the series had plenty of admirers, it was often hard to like. Yes, Jax engaged what he felt was righteous vengeance because of his wife's murder, but the carnage at times became numbing, with more tips on torture than a CIA report, and a literal interpretation of "An eye for an eye."
That said, the series consistently displayed Sutter's singular vision, and the fact he was allowed to lay it out with so little apparent interference is both a testament to FX and no doubt one of the reasons the show resonated so strongly with those who bought into it. (The network did exact a measure of compensation by capitalizing on the large audience to heavily promote series premiering next year, as well as "The Americans" and "Justified.")
Sutter has seemed a bit wistful during the final legs, bringing back mainstays from his previous gig on "The Shield" - Michael Chiklis and CCH Pounder - to help take the show across the finish line and cement Jax's fate.
Sutter became understandably apoplectic when the ending leaked thanks to a snafu involving a companion book, but having now seen the show, in hindsight, he needn't have been overly concerned.
Because while "Sons" director/exec producer Paris Barclay quoted his mom in tweeting, "It's not the journey, it's the destination," at least in terms of this series, the exact opposite is actually the case.
How producers close a show has become important in determining their legacies, true, but for "Sons of Anarchy," the ending wasn't what really mattered. Despite being messy, rough and at times ugly, this show was all about the ride.