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'Sons of Anarchy' season finale: A great season, a great finale... with a disappointing ending?

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Sons of Anarchy finished out its superb second season with… something of a disappointment.

Before I get to my misgivings, let’s grapple with the very good stuff. The extra-long episode began [SPOILER ALERT] with the season’s two big bads, Zobelle and Westin, being set free from jail — Westin because Chuck’s testimony is deemed “unreliable” (darn those criminal convictions) and Zobelle because… he’s an FBI informant, a rat! This was an excellent, logical reveal for a guy like Zobelle, who sells out absolutely everyone including his daughter (more on her later).

ATF agent Stahl made sure this bit of info was leaked, since if her case was getting screwed up, she figured why not throw this into the volatile mix and see if she could end up getting Cameron and the gunrunners after all? So once opposing forces such as SAMCRO, Westin, and the Mayans heard this, there was lots of jostling to see who was going to prevail and who would get revenge. The scene in which SAMCRO and Mayan bikes lined opposing sides of Main Street, with Deputy Chief Hale’s cop cars sitting on the white line in the middle, was like a Western-movie showdown moment. (Geez, I can’t imagine how much the property values in Charming must have sunk over the past two seasons… )

Zobelle plans his exit strategy (great line-reading from daughter Polly: “Budapest???”) while intoning, “God will lead us to the next right place.” Meanwhile, Jax is determined to avenge Gemma’s rape by Westin, tracing him to — where else would a white supremicist take his son after they gain their freedom? — a tattoo parlor. There followed the best moment of Henry Rollins’ stint on SOA: Kissing his son with great affection, looking the little boy in the eye and telling him never to talk to cops, and then meeting his death stoically, at the hand of Jax, in a bathroom stall.

On to Cameron, still trying to save his gun operation as well as his skin and that of his son, Edmond. “Kill the ATF bitch,” father counseled son, since Eddie was being held by Stahl as Cameron-bait. In perfectly choreographed scenes by SOA creator Kurt Sutter, who wrote and directed the finale, Eddie pulled a gun on Stahl but lost his nerve. She takes the gun and shoots him, but we’re as startled as Eddie to discover the gun he’d kept hidden was filled with blanks. (Stahl and her ATF goons knew he’d secreted the piece.) He makes a run for it, and she kills him for real — but also sorta by mistake, and immediately regrets it, because he was, as I said, her bait with Cam.

Gemma, while food shopping with Tara, sees Polly, who wants to visit Eddie one last time before fleeing with her dad. Tara does her best to dissuade her, but Gemma is not falling for the line that the gang-rape made her “stronger, wiser, more compassionate.” (But you know what? It’s true. One of the great things about SOA this season is precisely that transformation in Gemma’s character.) “God has put her in my path so I can fix the part of me they ripped open,” Gemma tells Tara in a line that, coming from a lesser actress than Katey Sagal, might come off a tad melodramatic. Here, it’s not at all: Vengeance is hers. And thus we came to Sutter’s second great set piece of the night. Polly enters Eddie’s house, sees his dead body and pulls her gun. Stahl, also armed, is hiding nearby. Before she can decide what to do, Gemma enters with her own gun. You’ve got three women in a room ready to shoot: It was almost Tarrantino-esque. Gemma shoots Polly. Stahl reveals herself and (a bit improbably, given how ruthless and desperate Stahl is at this point) seems genuinely moved when Gemma tells her about Polly’s role in her gang-rape. Stahl tells Gemma to scoot “before we pick you up.” Gemma scrams.

Next — and this is where the finale began to fail me a little — Stahl tells her radio contacts a lie to save her own hide (that Gemma, not she, shot Eddie) and Cameron overhears this in his truck. This news moves Cameron to crazy grief that will set everything else in the episode in motion. Cameron goes to Tara, where he threatens her, Half-Sack, and the baby. He plunges and knife into Half-Sack and takes the baby.

SAMCRO corners Zobelle in a convenience store filled with schoolchildren. The club can’t risk hurting those young innocents.

Tara calls Jax and tells him that Cameron has taken Abel. Jax lets Clay know what’s happening and — improbably, to me — everyone in SAMCRO zooms off, leaving Zobelle able to escape.

Now, I understand that the revenge against Zobelle was personal for both Jax and Clay, and that those two have been newly united in their fragile bond. But, c’mon: No one — Tig, or Bobby? — could stay to keep Zobelle in place? Or even before that, these big scary bikers couldn’t have cleared those kids out of the store earlier? You might say, well, then it would be obvious to civilians that SAMCRO intended to murder a man, but Clay felt free to have a SAMCRO member tell the store owner to take a hike; clearly, there was the feeling that, with the law turning a blind eye to what was going down, this was a gamble worth taking to get Zobelle.

Nope. Instead, we see Zobelle getting his ticket in an airport. We see Cameron get on a boat with the baby and head out to sea as Jax cries, “He took my son!” And we see Unser taking Gemma to parts unknown in his squad car.

“Any idea where we’re going?” asks Unser. “No,” says Gemma.

As I’ve said over the past weeks, this has been a terrific season for Sons of Anarchy — this was the season I began to love the show. And its complex interplay of loyalty and betrayal on both sides, among the good guys and the bad, has been satisfying in its insistence in showing that everyone has his or her reasons for what they do.

But as a season-ender, I was left wishing Sutter hadn’t let the jacked-up poignance of “Gimme Shelter” on the soundtrack do some of his dramatic work for him. Letting Zobelle escape became just another instance of that villain’s slipperiness. I know that in real life, this is sometimes how it goes, but in the classically-constructed drama that is Sons of Anarchy, the audience needed more resolution here. Are we to think that next season, SAMCRO will either shrug and forget Zobelle, or be hellbent on tracking him down? Either way, it’s not going to feel as urgent as it would have if Zobelle’s storyline had concluded here, this night.

And as daring as I think this series can be, I’m sorry, but I just don’t think Sutter or FX is going to let Cameron stick a knife into that baby, so that cliffhanger seems strained to me. As for Gemma, her non-joyride with Unser — well, that’s gotta end pretty soon after the final credits, doesn’t it? Do we have any doubt that Gemma will reunite with Clay, the strong grandmother helping to rescue her grandson?

I hope I’m wrong about some of these misgivings, and I want to emphasize how great the acting was in every role throughout the season. I’m really looking forward to the next season of Sons of Anarchy.

But do you know what I mean? How did you feel about the season finale?

(Follow me on Twitter.)

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