Well, it had to end this way.
For as long as we’ve been taking trips to Charming, the biker town in Northern California has been a haven for a lot of things: violence, sex jokes, fraternal love, more violence and endless compromise.
But really, the one thing that has overwhelmed this town is inevitability. A creeping sense of dread that every single one of its inhabitants was doomed the second they stepped into it, and while that feeling has sometimes turned the narrative of “Sons of Anarchy” into a slog, it has never been more effective or painful than it was in the series’ penultimate chapter, “Red Rose.”
Juice, Gemma and Unser were marked for death long before “Red Rose.” It seemed unlikely any of them would survive the seventh and final season of “Sons of Anarchy,” let alone the episode, and that feeling of foreboding made their ends all the more hard to watch. Each one was betrayed by their own sense of loyalty, their own addiction to repetition, their own need to stick by motivations and institutions that had proven dangerous to them long, long ago.
While the image of Jax gunning down Gemma will probably stick with most people when they think about this episode years down the line, it was actually Unser’s death that made me curse out loud. Not because I was surprised by it, but because Unser was one of the last honest men in Charming. He dies trying to protect Gemma, a woman he’s loved without question despite the unassailable evidence that she was poison, and he’s even betrayed by her one final time in his closing moments.
Unser’s lie to Jax that the police were en route to Gemma’s Oregon safe house might have stalled Jax long enough, but the SAMCRO matriarch shoots a hole through that lie in no time, leaving the broken-down old cop no recourse but to take one more bullet for Gemma, to let him make one more pointless sacrifice for her, because she’ll be dead only moments later.
Juice goes down the same way, taking humiliation after humiliation for the club, choosing to die by Tully’s hand for Jax’s sake, even though Jax has already condemned him to a bloody and rape-filled end, even though Jax has done this for reasons that seem wildly unfair.
While their deaths were hard to watch, Gemma’s should have been one we were supposed to find a way to enjoy. Even through a lens as twisted as matricide, Jax would finally gain justice for Tara. Much like Clay, Gemma Teller was a character who should have been dead a long time ago, one who had far outlived her ability to gain any sympathy from me or most viewers. I thought I’d be happy to see her blood spill across that field, but I just felt empty, knowing her end would only further Jax’s seemingly endless fall from grace.
This is a long episode and “Red Rose” definitely drags at points, especially when we are again subject to dreadful scenes involving the shifting sands of the San Joaquin gang landscape. I have no idea what really just happened with the Irish Kings-Niners-Mayans deal over the Triad gang turf, and I really just can’t care anymore. But the 80-minute run time does give us the needed feeling that Juice, Unser and Gemma are on a long, long walk to the gallows, and it makes their powerful deaths overshadow the flaws of the episodes weaker scenes.
The problem here, of course, is where do we go now? With only the series finale to go (which I imagine Vegas’ odds makers have at an over/under of 346 minutes), most of the show’s major conflicts are wrapped up.
It seems Jax has agreed to suffer Mayhem because of Jury’s death, and as I said last week, that seems a fitting end for the character. To have him swallowed up by the organization he tried to fix but only made worse. But is that enough to fill up the series’ final chapter?
Because we already know how this ends. Yes, it’s been a long time since the pilot. Jax has gone from boyish prince of crime to blank-faced killer. Wendy has evolved from a reprehensible pregnant junkie to something of a mother figure, someone who might make the ghost of Tara Knowles smile.
But in the end, they’re in the same bed again, dancing the same dance they did when we met.
To paraphrase the late Wayne Unser ... this is all they have left.
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