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“Then, venom, to thy work!”
These are the words of Hamlet, in the dying moments before he finally takes his revenge against Claudius, the uncle who killed his father and married his mother. Sons of Anarchy has always invited comparisons to Shakespeare’s most famous play, and after six seasons and eleven episodes, the long-awaited moment finally arrived in “Aon Rud Persanta.” Jax was not as wordy as the Danish prince, simply saying the word “yeah” before squeezing off a shot into Clay Morrow’s neck. But Clay is no less dead, and the revenge is no less complete.
A season ago, this would have gone down as the unforgettable scene of the entire series, but as it stands, Kurt Sutter and the Sons writers managed to draw out Clay’s death to incredible lengths (just as Claudius was spared over and over by Hamlet’s indecision), and while it’s still a momentous event, the swirl of action surrounding Jax and the club kept it from jolting the show to a sudden stop. It didn’t even happen at the end of the episode; Clay fell in the 37th minute of another of Sutter’s patented hour-long epics, and it took me a split second, when the final credits rose over the image of Tara squeezing a bullet, to remember that—whoa—Clay’s actually dead.
The death seemed almost designed to defy expectations. In a show that relies on the musical montage to an unprecedented degree, there was no climactic build-up or poetic soundscape to accompany Clay’s final seconds. They gave him his moment, separating his demise from the sudden, unceremonious death of Galen and his Irish henchmen at the club’s hands and letting him stew in the reality of his impending death. He said goodbye to Gemma, but as he stood in a separate room and waited for Jax to pull the trigger, the scene was noteworthy mostly for its silence; the scuffling of feet, and the white noise of the hangar were the only score. It was almost impersonal, and it may not be a coincidence that the show’s Gaelic title translates as “nothing personal.” After the shot, Clay’s ragged breathing and Gemma’s cry came out in a hollow echo, distorted and distant. Clay’s last move on earth was to turn his head out the window and give Gemma one last look—a gaze that haunts her for the rest of the episode, even as she berates herself for sparing any tears for a man she had come to hate.
Clay’s death was just one cog in another of Jax’s serpentine plans—give DA Patterson some false information to send the full force of police to the wrong side of town, break Clay from the prison transport at the behest of the Irish, murder Galen, murder Clay, and convince Galen’s lackey, Connor, to back up his story that it was a side conflict gone wrong. The club gets out of the gun trade, Connor gets elevated to leadership, and everyone’s happy. He even moved some of the guns to the location Patterson was watching to (sorta) keep his deal with the police.
But unlike his previous magnum opuses, Jax’s plot is full of loose ends. There’s no guarantee that the Irish will believe his story—Connor didn’t, not even for a moment—or that they’ll put aside their prejudices and do business with August Marks. On the police side, Patterson is furious at having been duped; the bodies and guns alone won’t placate her. Then there’s Tara; she comforts Gemma after Clay’s death and there’s some sense of reconciliation between her and Jax, but that bullet she was clutching at episode’s end had been embedded in Bobby’s chest after a cop shot him during the transport hijacking. Tara was called in to save his life, but she keeps the bullet, with all its DNA, as evidence for Patterson. It’s her ticket to the freedom she craved for herself and her sons, and it will tie the club to the scene of the crime and the body of the dead sheriff. (Juice ran him over after he shot Bobby.)
All season long, it has felt as though Jax was out of his depth. He compromised his morality the minute he took over the club’s presidency, and with it he lost the ethical high ground that separated him from the villains of his world. His problems now won’t be so easy to fix, and if you believe that there’s an element of karma operating within the show, whatever path he chooses will lead to his death. If not now, then certainly by the end of the seventh and final season next year. He’s compromised, just like Clay was compromised the minute he killed John Teller. If the wheels of karmic justice move slowly, they still move, and it won’t be decades before comeuppance finds him.
The show will feel empty without Ron Perlman, though. He turned in a fantastic final performance, meeting his death with a calm resignation; Clay knew he had made it a long way on borrowed time, and Perlman was terrific in communicating his character’s bone-deep knowledge that any thoughts of breaking free were, in the end, pure fantasy. He chose his path years ago, and any begging or negotiating would have been wasted breath. He confronted his end with stoicism, and with the final turn of his neck, we saw that the only uncorrupted part of his spirit was his love for Gemma.
And so she loses another husband, leading to Nero’s great line when she coyly brings up the idea of marriage: “No offense mama, but I see what happens to your husbands.” She still has Unser’s love, and Jax’s, for now. But she’s on borrowed time, too; when Jax inevitably discovers that she had a hand in killing John Teller, her last connection to the world that means everything will be severed. More and more, though, you could argue that Gemma is the one inescapable element of the show; like Gertrude in Hamlet, she is behind every major death, in subtle or overt ways. Unlike Gertrude, she is no shrinking violet; she’s more of an erratic puppetmaster, and while the men around her seem to be acting out pre-scripted destines, she pulls the strings she needs to stay alive.
We can’t say the same for Jax. He’s had his triumph, for now, but the death of Clay had been deferred for so long that it barely felt triumphant. I don’t need to spell out the Shakespearean parallel, and how the Dane also waited far too long, but there is one other fact that feels important: When Hamlet finally killed Claudius, he had already been struck by Laertes’ poisoned blade. He was already dying.