Episode Review: Sons of Anarchy Season 4 Finale

  • Publish Date: December 7, 2011
  • Comments: ↓ 6 user comments

Sons of Anarchy, Episode 414: "To Be, Act 2"
Original airdate: December 6, 2011 on FX

Spoiler warning: This page contains MANY spoilers about events in this and previous episodes.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Last night's episode of FX's biker drama Sons of Anarchy, "To Be, Act 2," was the second half of the extended season 4 finale, which was originally intended to air as one single 90-minute episode but was granted extra time by the network at the last minute. The series will return for a fifth season in September 2012.

Is it a good thing when the phrase "deus ex machina" appears in multiple reviews of the episode? Probably not, though the response to the finale is far from uniform. Below, we sample the opinions of critics and television writers.

Liked it AOL TV / Maureen Ryan
The word that best describes the 'Sons of Anarchy' finale is disappointing. Yes, the final scene was evocative, but almost everything that went before it was deeply, deeply frustrating, for me, anyway. What a letdown. ... For the entire season to be undone by the CIA with a wave of its magic wand within the first few minutes of the finale was enormously deflating. [Ryan also has a podcast in which she discusses the episode with fellow critic Ryan McGee.]
Liked it A.V. Club / Zack Handlen
On one level, this fits in with Sons Of Anarchy's views on the essential corruption of bureaucracy and federal law enforcement, with those in power using anyone smaller than themselves to achieve their goals without care or concern for how their actions affect the little people. On another level, this is weak, sloppy storytelling, an insultingly vapid deus ex machina designed largely to make sure we get to the end of the season with minimal shift in character or situation. It's a reset button, and what's worse, it's a reset button that hits at the exact moment when all the built up tension the show has been accumulating over the past few weeks was primed to explode. [Grade: B-]
Liked it CliqueClack TV / Kona Gallagher
While I may be slightly disappointed in the season finale, I will fully admit it's probably because I was expecting too much.
Liked it Entertainment Weekly / Ken Tucker
A finale that was both magisterially dramatic and oddly hasty.
Liked it HitFix / Alan Sepinwall
If Kurt Sutter doesn't want to send his main character away, doesn't want to kill off his chief villain, doesn't want Juice to suffer any real consequences for what he's done, then that's fine. His show, his characters, his rules. But if I might make a suggestion: if you don't want any of those things to happen, don't spend an entire season building up to how they have to happen, then back out at the last possible second. Tell different stories - the kind you actually want to follow through with all the way. ... "To Be, Act 2" mainly reinforced my reservations from throughout the year, and made it hard to remember the parts I really liked.
Liked it IGN / Diana Steenbergen
Fantastic ... Things may not have turned out as we expected on many counts, but that was not a bad thing. The show managed to leave a lot more pieces on the board than expected, yet still shake things up in a major way. [Score: 10/10]
Liked it Newsday / Verne Gay
"Sons of Anarchy," which set up the fourth season finale with elements from every cliffhanger you could think of from the beginning of TV time, didn't wrap the whole thing up as much as let the air out of the balloon. Fffffzzzzttttt. That was it: No great operatic conclusion, but a slow close to credits, with an old Animals' hit covered, and a long tracking shot of the SAMCRO war room. Disappointing? Not so much -- the end, that is -- as improbable whilst skirting the edges of kooky.
Liked it Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / Rob Owen
It's not the clean break we'd been led to expect. Instead it feels like executive producer Kurt Sutter hit a re-set button on the show. It's not the forward momentum promised by last week's episode (same with the RICO plot that deflated like a bad souffle). Or maybe it's just that it's less forward momentum than I'd hoped to see. Or maybe I suffered from blood lust and wanted to see Clay get what he had coming.
Liked it Salon / Matt Zoller Seitz
The twists all worked, I think, because their goal wasn't to neutralize existing season-four plot developments, but kick things up a notch and pave the way for season five.
Liked it Screen Rant / Kevin Yeoman
'To Be (Act II)' is saddled with the responsibility of wrapping up not only the pending legal hell that is primed to drop on the heads of SAMCRO, but the episode is also asked to deliver the conclusion to Jax's threat to finally kill Clay. Perhaps it is the time constraint, or perhaps it is because the story is just too big right now, but given the build-up to this point, both aspects faltered somewhat in delivering a truly powerful climax.
Liked it The Star-Ledger [Newark] / James Queally
This wasn’t a season finale. It was a 40-minute epilogue to the opening scene, and that opening scene featured possibly the biggest plot contrivance in SOA’s four-season history, one that somehow out shined the still-never-explained short con that killed Stahl and Jimmy O at the end of Season 3. ... I spent most of this episode waiting for something to happen, but in truth it just missed a beat.
Liked it Time / James Poniewozik
SOA ... ended the season with some too-convenient plotting, leading to a resolution—Clay still alive with a seat at the table, Tara and Gemma squaring off–that felt like a concession to the TV need to make sure the show can, in fact, go on, and on, and on.
Liked it TV Fanatic / Matt Richenthal
I loved every second of it. [Grade: 5/5]
Liked it Zap2It / Rick Porter
It's an intriguing way to end the season, for sure. ... We're still in Charming, with the same cast of characters, but it's not going to be the same old thing. And that's good.

What about Season 4 as a whole?

A few reviewers also weighed in with their impressions of Sons of Anarchy's just-concluded fourth season as a whole and how it compares to previous years of the series. Most reviewers considered the season an improvement over season 3, while a few even deemed it the show's strongest overall season to date. A more common opinion, however, was that the season brought SOA's ongoing storytelling problems to the forefront.

"Overall, it's the strongest the show has been since season 2. ... Episode by episode it's been thrilling, and there have been some excellent arcs ... But it's sometimes hard not to notice the plot machinations that are going on to make sure that problems are set up for the future and that its core conflicts are not resolved too soon. ... Increasingly this feels like a series that needs to end, not now, not next season, but sooner than FX needs it to. "

—James Poniewozik, Time

"Overall, I would call season 4 of "Sons of Anarchy" quite a bit stronger than season 3, but it may also be the season that made me recalibrate my expectations for the series. ... It is a show with a lot of great performances. It is a show capable of great moments. But is it a great show, period? I thought that for sure a couple of years ago. Now, I'm doubtful."

—Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

"The fourth season of Sons Of Anarchy was fine, occasionally amazing, often absurd, and, in the end, full of unanswered prayers. I'll probably be back next year. But I won't expect much."

—Zack Handlen, A.V. Club

"There are still reasons to watch the show, I get that. Parts of this season worked, especially anything to do with Potter and Roosevelt and certain scenes between key cast members such as Tara, Gemma, Jax, Clay, Opie and Piney. Those performers and the emotional reality the show is able to create are really compelling at times. But, based on this finale, my expectations for the show are much, much lower going forward."

—Maureen Ryan, AOL TV

What do you think?

What did you think of last night's episode, and of the entire fourth season? Let us know in the comments section below.

Comments (6)

  • frelling_cute  

    The reason I found this finale so disappointing was because the writers set up quite a few plot points with regards to Clay, only to have him survive. They wrote themselves into a corner.
    If you are going to make a character kill and rape, don't let him get off with a slap on the hand and a patch ripped off his jacket.
    Big set up. No payoff.

  • BikerDusty  

    To me season 4 was so much stronger than season 3 but I am one of those that has all three season on Blue Ray and watch them over to see what I missed but in Season 4 I always said from the beginning I thought Romeo was a Fed - not expecting he was CIA but I did think he was undercover. I felt that was the case when three of four people tried to get Tara in the van. The finale proved that to be true also. Hey guys you all knew there was going to be a season 5 so where did you think all the main characters was going? I think anyone knew from the beginning that Piney would evenutually die and it would be at the hands of Clay - no surprise there. Everyone knew that evenutaully Jax would find out about Clay. There is plenty left on the table for season 5 and so many twists. I was not disappointed. I agree there was no clifthanger but then again Kurt told you it would not be. It was not Stahl getting shot as in season 3 but hey there is so much to look forward to. Will Jax ever find out about Gemma's involvement in his fathers death? Will Juice come clean about what happened? Will the Irish get arrested? Will Opie come back to be by Jax side, Will Clay die? Will Gemma die? Will Tig continue to be by clays side or will Tig be the one to put the bullet in Clay's head. So much left to cover before the end of the show. If I remember reading Kurt had wrote this series based on 8 seasons so theres plenty of Mayhem left but look at what can of worms have been opened. Someone will have to pay for the death of Leroy's girlfriend. Leroy and her father will seek revenge. Potter will be back in the picture at some point. At some point someone else will go to jail. Bobby of course will get out eventually. Otto will meet his maker either by execution or by someone at the prision but not before he is told exactly what happened to Luanne. Anyway as I see it Kurt has opened enough can of worms in this season to last another three or four seasons. I am a fan so I will keep watching and will buy season 4 when it comes out. As the whole series four goes I give it 5 out of 5 starts.

  • jewelzz  

    Romeo turning..........wrong. He was the biggest player putting high cards on the redwood table. That just makes no sense seeing how the rest could have played out with him not knowing about the CIA and Jax does. Romeo would have guys in his bed with secrets watching him and he was mean enough to do whatever he wanted when he found out.................now not so much, just another DICK. Jax could use some Irish intuition.....kinda knowing somethings wrong instead of hastily showing for a meet of that calibur. Sutter builds a great house, has awesome insight and delivers some very thrilling acts. I hope season 5 is great because season 4 was until last night even though the end was choice, the foundation looks a little week going in.

  • JennetP  

    Sigh. I'm with those who loved the first 2 seasons but have become disenchanted with the show. Throughout Season 3, I told myself that the egregious sentimentality and moral absolutism of the kidnapped-baby story line were anomalies, and I cheered the start of Season 4, which seemed to leave the psychic sledgehammers behind. Now, however, they're swinging wildly at almost every character. Once Jax's loyalties were split between a father who was a feckless idealist and a stepfather who was a ruthless pragmatist, an interesting conflict. Now, Daddy has become an MC martyr, Stepdaddy a reckless sociopath, and the only question for Jax is why the writers are still jerking him around as in the old, complicated days.

    Wait, I hate Stepdaddy, right? I want to kill him for killing Daddy (and almost-killing Baby Mama). So why won't I let Best Buddy shoot him for killing Best Buddy's Daddy and Baby Mama? Why am I saving Stepdaddy by shooting Best Buddy? OMG, how can it be that I hear, DON'T MAKE ME KILL YOU! coming out of my mouth! How much of that cocaine we've been muling has gone gone up my nose?

    Late-season plot contrivances have left me baffled and dismayed. So many high-powered criminals turn out to be protected assets that I can only conclude that law enforcement is after Satan and possibly one or two of his most diabolical lieutenants. Long-gone characters pop back up to drive rivals into frenzied self-abuse. Normally smart people who've always been skeptical of law enforcement suddenly become trusting babes. Everyone is suddenly ready to sell out the MC, a platitude about capital-F Family on their quivering, self-righteous lips. What happened?

    And let me reserve a last HUH? for the cover version of THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN featured in the final montage of the final episode. Despite its coy references to Charming Town and its additional verses, the song just doesn't fit--doesn't explicate the action or complicate the tone or hint at additional layers of meaning. Yes, it's just another sledgehammer with its presumed sun/son pun. Moreover, it's not a worthy cover of that powerful song. SOA has introduced me to more bands and artists than any other show, but lately the ratio of vanity numbers to great songs has declined.

    Enough complaining. I'll be back, of course, but I'll be hoping the show moves on to characters and situations still capable of subtlety.

  • MarcDoyle  

    It's clearly one of the best shows on TV, and though I still enjoyed the season finale, the plot contrivance revealed all-too-neatly in the first 10 minutes or so of the finale really did take some air out of the balloon in terms of the tension that had been building for so many episodes. The Irish, Galindo, Jackson/Tera leaving - it was all sewn up far too neatly through that plot development, which I suppose was teased just a bit by Romeo's "perfect knowledge" of the fact that the Bobby Elvis - Otto situation didn't jeopardize the big gun sale. I didn't need to see King Lear dead this season, necessarily, and it will very interesting to see how the MC operates under a new Pres & VP. I just agree with Mo Ryan that I hope the letters are dealt with and sewn up post haste so that they're not hanging over everyone's heads for another season or two.

  • foxielady  

    I would never miss a episode of "Sons of Anarchy" on Tuesday night. Now we have to wait still next season September 2012 to see Season 5. We might be dead. But that show on TV is the best one of all the shows we watch. This show keeps you in your seat when it is playing. The father is sexy. He played in the "Beauty and the Beast" a children story. Was great there also. I hope that they don't die him out. One of the main reason I watch the show. He was great in his acting along side of Peg Bundy that played in a show years ago. She has her own style too. Keep on playing in this show. The best show on TV. The other ones are crap.

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