"J'ai Obtenu Cette," last night’s propulsive season finale of "Sons of Anarchy," was a good indicator of why the fifth year of the FX motorcycle gang drama has been the show’s best since its first. This season, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) finally assumed control of the Sons and was able to start implementing his vision for a new direction for the club, something easier said than done. This was also the first season in which Jax’s bad blood with his mother Gemma Teller Morrow (Katey Sagal) and, more notably, her husband Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) has been most actively dealt with. There was also the welcome presence of a parade of talented character actors like Danny Trejo and Donal Logue and a couple of shocking and impactful reversals of fortune. But more than anything else, the show’s characters have finally starting thinking about what they need to do to stop themselves from stagnating in Charming, CA, and repeating their own mistakes.
External conflicts made seasons two and three about turf wars and missing children, distracting from that central turmoil. But season four finally left the show’s characters in a place where they had to make some big moves to change what the Sons stood for. That meant that Jax finally had to act on what he found in his dead father’s journal in season one and in the love letters that were discovered in season three and then hidden for the majority of season four.
The show’s main protagonists have at long last started to deal with the history and drama underlying their organization rather than being constantly forced to act on the results of whatever gang war subplot du jour is at hand. The internal conflict between Jax and Clay has finally been foregrounded and, as one of the Sons directly suggested at the beginning of season five, being president of the club was boung to bring a change in Jax’s character. Gemma, Clay and Jax’s wife Tara Knowles-Teller (Maggie Siff) have been changing with him, and that means they’re still trying to decide which compromises really need to be made.
"To Be, Act 2," season four’s finale, left Jax in charge after he decisively ousted Clay from the president’s chair, leading to an obvious but necessary visual juxtaposition that put Jax and Tara in exactly the same pose as Gemma and Jax’s dead father John Teller had sat in years before. But Jax is only in the seat of power because Clay screwed up so many times, like when he killed Piney (William Lucking) in the season four episode "Family Recipe."
At the start of this season, all of the not-so-subtle intimations of Clay’s loss of power and his status as a “wounded animal” were apparent, as when he tried to mount his motorcycle but wound up falling over on his side before he could leave the garage. That kind of blocky character-defining moment is forgivable given where Clay’s character arc has taken him. Clay’s scheming has become almost a symbol for the amoral, opaque decisions that have steered the Sons away from the path that we’re constantly told John Teller never wanted the club to go down, one that showrunner Kurt Sutter has illustrated with back-stabbings and double/triple crosses that have left several of the club’s members dead, sometimes directly at the hands of their brothers in arms.
It was gratifying to see Sutter start this season by showing Clay lying to Sons members, as when he told Juice Ortiz (Theo Rossi) and the other club members that he needed to keep using his oxygen tank longer than his doctor said it was necessary for. Clay’s opportunism was apparent even before his half-assed attempt to undermine Jax's authority with the break-ins subplot.
While losing his membership was inevitable, the resolution of Clay’s domestic troubles with Gemma was a great way to demonstrate that, even if he continued to make a habit of dissembling to the people he supposedly cared about most, he’d at least partially convinced himself that he wanted to change. But the people who'd decide whether or not he'd have a chance to were the loved ones that he’d pissed off in many different not-so-subtle ways over the course of the last four years (with last season’s murder and wife-beating combination as real clinchers).