So let’s talk about cliffhangers.
When used sparingly, especially in the final season of a television series, they can be incredibly effective. Find me a “Breaking Bad” fan who claims they slept well after the end of “Ozymandias,” and you’ve found an incredibly gifted liar.
“Sons of Anarchy” has made a bad habit of using cliffhangers as fake outs, gaining cheap suspense and generally making me feel like an idiot for praising an episode based upon the hope that the subsequent installment will deliver. Face palm moments like Juice’s failed suicide attempt in Season 4 and Opie murdering Clay (but not really) continued to play over and over again as I watched “Greensleeves,” a 60-minute drag that could have been summed up by Jax simply smiling, blowing smoke in my face and tossing up a middle finger.
Once again, I let “Sons” get me excited. Once again, I’ve been had.
This is not an episode. It’s a holding pattern. A delay tactic disguised as a narrative. Sure, “Greensleeves” gives us an excellent panicked performance from Katey Sagal, whose work as Gemma has been one of, if not the only, consistent reason to watch this show after Season 2 ended.
But aside from her warped confession to Tara’s murder, the only other portions of “Greensleeves” that were worth my time involved Marks’ goons and Bobby Elvis, and those came at the end of the episode, meaning once again, I have to wait until next week to see if this is even going anywhere.
“Sons” has always done well to build tension. But pacing, I sometimes fear, is a foreign concept to Kurt Sutter and crew. After Juice found himself in SAMCRO custody last week, I expected “Greensleeves” to be a white-knuckle ride as Gemma raced to stop her son from discovering her involvement in Tara’s murder. Sure, that may have been a paint-by-numbers race-against-the-clock style plot, but this dude Occam once told me the simplest answer may in fact be the correct one.
The episode starts off in an interesting enough place (Juice still breathing, and once again being used by Jax for a shadowy errand) but quickly wanders away from the Juice-Gemma drama and wraps itself in another Jackson errand involving his latest manipulation of a gang leader. The search for “Greensleeves” (who impressively nailed a wide range of pimp/extortionist/sleazeball characteristics in limited screen time) is a sleep-inducing hunt that accomplishes little else besides adding to Jax’s now mind-boggling body count.
Oh and Nero wants out of the life again, which is fine, except we’ve tinkered with that storyline so many times before that I’m not about to allow myself to believe it’s actually going to come to fruition now.
The Gemma drama, meanwhile, is sustained by a poor game of telephone. She thinks she’s being led to the cabin to be executed. We know otherwise. So from a narrative perspective, those scenes fall flat.
Sagal is great again as her character is coming completely undone minute-by-minute this year, and in the event Abel actually understood his grandmother’s confession, then the yawn of a “Greensleeves” plot at least earned us that bombshell of a scene. But otherwise, I spent most of “Greensleeves” feeling like I was waiting for a bus.
I sometimes wonder if “Sons” suffers from the overall evolution of cable drama. In the five years since Season 2, which I still consider the series’ master work, “Breaking Bad” and “Boardwalk Empire” have played out. I know it’s unfair to compare this series to those, but after watching “Breaking Bad’s” final act (you know, the best finale to a series not named “The Shield” that will ever occur) and then watching “Sons" wrap up in the midst of “Boardwalk’s” finale, I feel like I deserve more out of “Sons.”
No, the basic story and the cast here are not as good, and Jackson Teller has nothing on Walter White or Nucky Thompson as far as character depth. But where those shows either managed to ring heavy emotional weight from long-awaited confrontations (Chalky-Naricsse in “Boardwalk,” for instance) or just barrel ahead with a heart-stopping and unrelenting plot (the entirety of “Breaking Bad’s” final eight episodes), “Sons” seems to move at either 100 mph or stand still.
If we want to put “Sons’ ” cliffhanger follies up against a show more its speed, just look at the CW’s “Arrow.” That’s a superhero show, generally considered the fast-food of cable drama, and you know what? That show just came off a serious cliffhanger, used misdirection akin to the game of telephone that put narrative heft behind Gemma’s cabin trip, and it nailed an episode that didn’t move the plot forward at all. Meanwhile, “Sons” was left treading water after doing the same thing. Arrow’s “Sara” even ended with a better musical montage than “Greensleeves”!
“Sons” had a huge moment several weeks ago with the murders at Diosa, and again with Juice’s capture. But ultimately, where better shows tend to build in the spaces between these dramatic moments, “Sons” just waits around for the next one to occur.
Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for breaking news