Spoiler Warning: This review will contain spoilers of the 5th season of Sons of Anarchy.
The 5th season of Sons of Anarchy will be remembered for a myriad of entertaining moments. There was a horrifying scene where Tiggs watched his daughter burned alive, a comical scene with Walter Goggins playing a transsexual prostitute and even a rather friendly fist fight between two stubborn Irishmen. But the defining scene that would cause the largest impact both for the audience, and our protagonist Jax Teller was the death of Opie.
Kurt Sutter hit the ground running this season setting up what would be some of the most meaningful character development for Jax. After last season’s rather contrived finale it was nice to quickly see some consequences for what these characters did in the previous season. We were introduced to a new character in Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau) who made his presence known fairly quickly by burning Tiggs’ daughter, and sending members of the club to prison to strike a deal. Providing us a heartbreaking exit for Opie, and giving us the lynch pin for what Jax would become. The question that was asked this season by Opie was: “does power corrupt”.
The answer to that question was a resounding yes by the time we got to the finale. Jax had become far more cold hearted, and brutal over the course of the season. Breaking long time partnerships the club has had for years, manipulating multiple parties, and getting the revenge he felt he was owed. As he put it being at the head of the table made it difficult for him to not be a savage. More importantly, it took him down the dark path of ending up like a man he hates most in Clay.
Along the way we also had another great new addition to the show with Nero, a former gangster who now runs an escorting service, a romantic partner for Gemma, and a soon to be business partner for Jax. Nero also had moments where he provided Jax with words of wisdom. I thought the chemistry between Nero and Gemma was fantastic, and his downfall back into the life he left was certainly heart breaking to watch.
If the show had any major draw backs this season it was largely due to the fact that they might have had too large of a cast. Specifically Damon Pope after his quick start became a smaller character as the season progressed. Usually only brought up to be this pseudo mentor to Jax, and point out some deals. While his death at the end of the season provided a catharsis for Tigg, the club, and maybe even the audience it still felt like the character was poorly used. What initially came off as a main antagonist became a side act.
Roosevelt and Unser also got less time which was disappointing given all that was happening this year. Roosevelt losing his wife to the Nomad’s was a lynch pin for him becoming Jax’s version of Unser (to keep the parallels with Clay going). But what got us there wasn’t nearly as compelling. While the sorrow was definitely there; the events just lacked the buildup necessary for any of it to be satisfying. Also early in the season we were given hints of an Unser/Roosevelt team up that never really came into fruition.
The other side stories were done better however. Gemma’s downfall into being the train wreck she was at the beginning of this season may have had some mixed reactions from viewers, but I thought it was compelling stuff. She had just gone from being the Queen to being at the mercy of her son and daughter in law. Her own son was essentially whoring her out to his worst enemy. So to see her not only get called out for her shortcomings (By Jax, Unser, and Tara for starters) only for her to rise back up at the end was a well-developed arc.
And of course you can’t talk about this season without bringing up Clay. After losing his throne it would have been easy to write him off as a broken man and, to an extent, Clay was definitely broken. However this was still the same sinister Clay we had been watching for the past 5 years. Kick starting a bunch of home invasions to bring heat at Jax’s feet just so he can get his seat back. At no point did you ever get the hint that Clay was ready to change but to Kurt Sutter’s credit I was shocked that I was starting to feel some sympathy for him in the season finale. Being back stabbed by the last few loved ones he thought he had left. Of course it only took a second to remember all the awful things he did.
Tara’s run as the Ophelia of this take on Hamlet continued with what I thought were good results. While I was not a fan of how dense she was in her scenes with Otto (what did you think he would do with that crucifix?), I did like that she was sympathetic to Wendy’s wishes of finally meeting her son. As much as she was turning into another Gemma; her being self-aware of that made it easier to stomach. Plus, unlike Jax she was still planning a way out for her and her family. For it to completely fall apart at the end while predictable was still equally effective.
So as the season ended we know that Tara and Clay are both off to prison. More than likely Clay is being set up to be dead on arrival but I do feel like he has another card up his sleeve. In Tara’s case she has to deal with the threat of life in jail and a pretty angry US Marshall. And finally, we’re left with a different Jax than the one we had at the beginning of the season, with no Opie, no Tara, and the weight of that gavel in his hand what we have now is a monster.