Charlie Hunnam and Rockmond Dunbar in 'Sons of Anarchy'
Prashant Gupta/FX Charlie Hunnam and Rockmond Dunbar in 'Sons of Anarchy'

The changes Jax has had to make have been even more drastic. Unable to hide his anger with Clay, Jax had to diplomatically keep all the different warring gangs happy while deciding how best to dispose of his stepfather. He's also had to figure out a way to get the club out of being the Galindo cartel’s coke mules, a set-up that, more than selling weapons or supporting prostitution, was a bridge too far for Jax and pretty much all of the club’s other members. So he tried to get into business with Gemma’s new lover, Nero Padille (Jimmy Smits), making a deal that would make the club’s business more about pimping out women than selling drugs, a move that illustrated the ways in which the club’s amoral decisions are made out of self-interest.

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It was the constant cartel feuding, not the money, that ultimately made the partnership with the Galindo problematic. The club’s moral objections to drug-running, ones that were touted in the last three seasons, were plainly shown to be flexible by season four. It provided an unethical precedent for what Jax tried to do later in season five by selling two of his members out to the season’s latest villain, high-connected drug kingpin Damon Pope ("Lost" star Harold Perrineau).

The first time Jax sold out one of the Sons to appease Pope, he had the excuse of being up against a wall. But when he did it a second time, it became easy to believe that Jax had become so desperate to shack up with anybody that would help him get rid of Clay that he’d destroy his own club. This is, after all, a character that throughout much of season four was talking about abandoning the Sons and starting over with Tara and his three children.

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Jax’s more morally ambiguous decisions in this season, like when he tried to keep his former junky ex-wife Wendy (Drea de Matteo) from their son by injecting her with a speedball, also indirectly revealed that Sutter is happy to exploit his characters’ worse tendencies to produce a more sensational story. The heady changes that John Teller’s letters allude to, the kind that Jax continues to dream he can implement for the club, have still never been discussed beyond a basic disinterest in working with self-interested men.

Jax has effectively become one of those men even if he endangers club members like Tig Trager (Kim Coates) and Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst) for the greater good. While he's finally thinking bigger than he used to, his vision for the club still isn’t expansive enough for him to look like more than just a more sympathetic tyrant. Sons’s member Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Junior) even said this to Jax in last night’s finale, telling him that he’s more like Clay than Jax is willing to admit.

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At least the finale thankfully left both Gemma and Tara in positions of power. The resolution of Gemma’s self-destructive story arc was particularly satisfying because she’s become more than just an accessory to Clay’s actions. Now Gemma (and presumably soon Tara) will be making more than just reactive decisions about who heads up her family and how the club is run.

Gemma’s suicidal tendencies earlier in the season and her refusal to stop seeing Nero just because Jax said it would be bad for business made her a more than nominally strong character. And her clear-eyed betrayal of Clay last night was enough to suggest that, even if Clay will likely return next season (he’s not dead yet, after all), she’s not going to go back to being just an "old lady" any time soon. With a stronger definition of who the core characters are, and a promising cast of new supporting characters -- here's looking forward to seeing more of Logue’s vengeful baddy Lee Toric -- "Sons of Anarchy" is finally decisively back on-track.