Aptly titled “Papa’s Goods,” the series finale of Kurt Sutter’s super-violent Shakespearean biker-gang saga, Sons of Anarchy, represents a high-water mark for this profoundly uneven seventh and final season, specifically in the way it grapples with the power of erasure, the way characters delude themselves into thinking they can wipe out their footprint on the world, and ultimately the inevitable persistency of cyclical violence. Such ideas seem incredibly relevant for a series finale like “Papa’s Goods,” which carefully considers the deceptively sudden nature of saying goodbye. Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) finds himself at the center of a volatile maelstrom in the wake of killing his mother, Gemma, for past sins, and now faces certain doom at the hand of multiple parties, including the leaders of his own contingency. Still, he has an exit strategy and it lines up in some way with his father’s own sacrificial act some two decades earlier.
The parallels between the long-dead first SAMCRO president and his stricken son have seemed an afterthought up until this point, which diminishes some of the episode’s most sweepingly emotional moments. What’s more interesting is the progression of narrative structure, with the typically benign action-driven arc that finds Jax trying to chase down the exiled IRA gun-runner Connor (Scott Anderson) quickly evolving into a far thornier and resonant farewell tour for the young Hamlet stand-in.
Once it’s revealed that Jax is simply lining up a brutally sudden transition plan that will place Connor at the center of a new Venn diagram of organized crime that will please the gangs run by both Tyler (Mo McRae) and Marcus (Emilio Rivera), Sutter, who wrote and directed the episode, affords the script a level of nuance stripped of the show’s worst tendency to literalize emotion. Hunnam’s performance here emphasizes Jax’s quiet side, rather than the volcanic eruptions that so often push Sons of Anarchy toward parody.
Kissing Lyla (Winter Ave Zoli) for the last time, or hugging Wendy (Drea De Matteo) immediately before she and his two young sons leave for the countryside, Jax displays a forlorn resiliency that matches up with a conversation he and Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) have later in the episode about leaders making hard choices. These scenes may be smaller and devoid of gunfire, but they represent the series at its best.
All of “Papa’s Goods” revolves around Jax’s desire to section off his life as an outlaw from his role as a father. This involves a lot of violent cleanup perpetrated through the barrel of a gun. Barosky (Peter Weller) and August Marks (Billy Brown) both meet their demises in suitable fashion, the latter being dispatched on the steps of the courthouse in Godfather fashion. Later, while standing by the mountainside where his father was killed in a motorcycle crash, Jax confesses as much to the ghost of a man whose pure but tormented ideology inspired him to believe that living a life of evil could lead to a life of peace.
While Jax doesn’t wish to dismantle SAMCRO (he convinces the crew to secure a Mayhem vote which will protect them from the outlier charters sniffing for blood), he no longer wants the Teller name to be associated with it. By empowering Nero (Jimmy Smits) and Wendy to sell off the auto-mechanic yard and all other holdings connected with SAMCRO, he’s essentially severing ties between his bloodline and the long history of murder and corruption associated with the powerful criminal enterprise Gemma and Clay built from the ground up.
Still, the bloody footprints of Jax’s actions remain. Sons of Anarchy ends with a super-montage that finds him riding helmet-less down the 580 and chased by a legion of cops looking for a hulking piece of metal to help him meet his maker. Intercut are images of the SAMCRO members sitting idly by thinking about times gone past and Tig (Kim Coates) resting in the comforting arms of Venus (Walton Goggins). Most importantly, though, we see Abel (Ryder and Evan Londo) wearing his father’s ring that says “Son.” Like Jax, he will be forever possessed by the mystery of a dead and mythologized patriarch whose bad deeds will only be told in the context of simple and glorified memories.
Given the episode’s core motif of familial impressions, both physical (tattoos, jewelry, genes) and psychological (trauma, love), this may be Sons of Anarchy’s defining moment. Jax has eluded capture from the police, righted the ship for SAMCRO, and salvaged his son’s childhood, but the battered bruises of his presence will remain forever. In that sense, slamming one’s self into the front of a big rig with arms stretched out, so redolent of Christ on the cross, might be one of the most delusional send-offs in television history. The recurring image of an uncaring Raven watching the drama unfold from the side of the road provides a symbolic counterpoint to Jax’s skewed sense of sacrifice.
Sons of Anarchy was never that interested in surrealism or déjà vu as narrative devices, yet “Papa’s Goods” has instances of both. Before leaving on his ill-fated ride with the CHP, Jax turns to his SAMCRO brothers and says, “I got this.” It’s the same thing Opie (Ryan Hurst) said right before he was brutally murdered in prison before Jax’s very eyes. Later, Jax finally speaks with the mysterious Homeless Woman (Olivia Burnette) who made an appearance often during season five, and their conversation takes a spiritual turn. Is she a vengeful god who’s finally come to collect on Jax’s many indiscretions? It’s unclear, but her presence leaves us with a Dickensian sense of comeuppance.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Sutter’s superb sense of traumatic succession and rotation suggests that, to some extent, history will keep repeating itself no matter the environment. “I did what I know how to do,” Jax tells Nero during his indirect confession to killing Gemma. The ripples of this spoken reality have already caressed the next generation of Tellers, long before Jax tried to wiggle out of paying the price. Sorry, brother, your boy Abel is already wearing the patch of SAMCRO with pride. You just can’t see it yet.
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