It's the most devastating episode since Opie's death as the series nears its epic, tragic conclusion.

By Mandi Bierly
December 03, 2014 at 04:56 AM EST
Byron Cohen/FX
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There are episodes of TV that make you cry, and then there are episodes of TV that make you feel as if you’ve been physically wounded. “Red Rose” is the latter.

It lingers and leaves you depressed. Why? Because it’s not just about the body count of Tully stabbing Juice repeatedly in the throat, Jax putting a bullet in Unser’s chest, and Jax shooting Gemma in the head. It’s about those moments beforehand. The exquisite and excruciating buildup of dialogue that will make you tear up when you repeat it: “Just wait until I finish my pie.” “This is all I got left.” “It’s okay. My baby boy. It’s time. I’m ready.”

It’s also, for many, about the realization that Jax is preparing to die—something only 39 percent of readers said they believed would happen by the end of the Dec. 9 series finale, per a poll in last week’s recap. Twenty-five percent expected him to meet Mr. Mayhem; 15 percent expected him to commit suicide on his father’s bike. (We’ll do a another vote later). Sage Nero has told us there’s no recovering from killing your mother (even if she gave you permission?). And killing Unser may be unforgivable (even if Jax begged him to leave?). So is there any hope for Jax at this point? Should there be?

Let’s dig in. (Update: Read our postmortems with Katey Sagalwith Theo Rossi, with Dayton Callie, with episode co-writer Charles Murray, and with director/EP Paris Barclay.)

The day begins: We open with Jax in Marcus’ “office,” putting on his rings. Chibs brings him a fresh shirt, and the audible “ah” in your living room witnessing that small act of brotherhood is broken up by Jax standing and limping. Why is he limping? Will that come back into play?

Alvarez now knows the truth about Tara, but he also knows there’s no take-backs on what Jax has set in motion. We get the update: Nero and Tyler are coming to meet with them, then they’ll take the plan to the Irish. The Sons of Anarchy forum, meanwhile, wants to meet with Jax. And Gemma hasn’t been using her credit cards—she’s still in the wind.

Wendy and Brooke are at Jax’s and don’t know Gemma’s on the run, so they go about the business of raising the boys as usual. Wendy says she somehow feels more at home than ever in the place where Tara died and she OD’d. Unser is alone in Gemma’s kitchen and returns the spare key. It’s the first moment you truly feel the hole that will be left with Gemma gone.

Michael Chiklis sighting: Gemma’s currently parked at a truck stop, sleeping in the car. Who knocks on her door to tell her she’s in a rig zone but a trucker played by The Shield‘s Michael Chiklis. It’s amazing, considering creator Kurt Sutter has always maintained he could never have either Chiklis or Walton Goggins guest on Sons because FX viewers would too closely identify them with their Shield characters. He wrote Venus for Walton, of course, and now this for Chiklis. Gemma moves her car, checks her makeup in the mirror (so we can see the foreboding WARNING sticker on the visor?), and goes back to sleep. Should she really have one window that far down? She should’ve cracked all the windows just a bit.

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The Meet: Tyler and Marcus play nice—the Niners will get more of Lin’s territory and priority when it comes to buying Irish guns from the Mayans. With Nero stepping down, the Triple Twos will prey even harder on Byz-Lat turf. The Byz-Lats number a dozen now and need time to recruit. Oso, the Mayan president in Stockton, offers to step on the Triple Twos in the meantime, but Nero knows there’s a catch: Oso wants the Byz-Lats to move Mayan dope now, too. Nero balks, but it doesn’t matter now. Fiasco is running the show, and he’s in. Oso is antsy about Barosky, and Tyler is worried about the remaining Triads, who’ve been mobilizing—Jax says both those issues will have to wait until the gun one is settled. Immediately you worry that he’s prioritized wrong again.

NEXT: Another great Jax and Nero scene

Father knows best: Last episode, we were reminded how wonderful Jimmy Smits and Charlie Hunnam can be together, and we see it again when Nero asks for a few minutes alone with Jax. He knows the Byz-Lats aren’t equipped to run this hard, but he’s willing to let it be Fiasco’s mistake. Really, he wants to ask Jax if he’s heard from Gemma (neither of them have) and let him know he’s going to head down to the farm the next day. Perhaps Jax would’ve thought Nero was sneaking off to meet Gemma if he hadn’t said he was getting the farm ready for Lucius and meeting caretakers—Jax knows Nero would never use his son that way. Jax is sad to hear Nero is going. Nero is like his new Bobby, especially when he lets Jax know he did a good thing brokering peace between Brown and Black. Jax smiles sweetly when he gets the idea to ask Nero to take Wendy and the boys with him to the farm. Nero thinks of Gemma, but then of the boys: He knows they’ll love all the animals. They can come whenever they’d like, he tells Jax. “I hope they do,” Jax says. Nero’s face registers what we the audience are thinking: That sounds like Jax isn’t expecting to be around. “I appreciate you lookin’ out for my boys, Nero. It means a lot to me,” he says. Tears.

Juice’s final ride: Are we all praying for Juice to die at this point? He’s been in the infirmary all night, just waiting. A female black guard wants to teach the smartass a lesson when one of the white male guards walks in and clears the room for some of the Triads, led my Lin’s No. 2. Juice makes a couple of Jackie Chan jokes, and you think okay, this is it. But of course it’s not. The No. 2 knows it was Tully who helped Juice get to Lin for SAMCRO, so he wants to know why the club would then green-light the AB taking Juice out. He has a plan for Juice, but first, he lets his guys relieve some stress. Juice is bent over a bed: “Have at it,” he says.

More Irish drama: Much to Jax’s surprise, Connor knows everything that has gone down and doesn’t expect the Kings to want to work with the Mayans. If the Mayans don’t get the guns, they’re going to want most of Lin’s territory, which will start a war with the Niners. Alvarez expects Jax to sit that one out. Tig gets a call from T-M and informs Jax that Chucky did something.

The return of the Homeless Lady: At the Eureka truck stop, Gemma has a smoke by the outdoor vending machines when she notices the Homeless Lady, digging for change that may have been left. The trucker asks to sit down. His name is Milo. Gemma introduces herself as Rose. That’s the moment you suspect the episode title, “Red Rose,” means she’s going to die. Milo has four kids; Gemma has none, she says. (Why are you telling a stranger no one in the world would miss you, Gemma?) She finds out where he’s headed, for tomatoes, and asks for a ride. He thinks she’s offering him a roadside hummer. “How’d we get from kids to c–ksucking that quickly?” she asks. With his sunglasses finally off, you believe he’s a good guy. She wants to go see her dad, who has advanced Alzheimer’s. Milo notices her chest scar. He’s had a valve replacement: Too broken hearts on the road to tomatoes, it sounds like a country song, Gemma says. As long as the song isn’t about a crazy cougar hijacking a truck at gunpoint, he’s game. She’s a good Christian girl who needs to go home and see her daddy, she insists. He’ll take “Saint Rose.”

Jax bargains with Unser: It turns out Chucky had called in someone needing a tow and sent Unser for the pickup. Jax crawls out of the van wearing his gloves, which would’ve had viewers scared earlier in the season, but he’s calmer now. He offers to tell Unser the truth about Tara’s murder if Unser will drop the charges against him and kill the APB. Jax actually does it, and Unser says he’ll have to call it in. Jax claims he’s about to end the bloodshed on the street, and Lin’s crew hearing that Lin and the rest of their men died for nothing will rip off the Band-Aid. What happens to Gemma? Jax says he’ll deal with her if she shows up, but he won’t say how. Unser agrees to call Jarry and lift the APB. When the guys drive away, Unser sits in the tow truck and cries.

Road Trip: Nero tells Wendy about Jax suggesting she and the boys go to the farm, and though she doesn’t want to pull Abel out of school again, she thinks it’s best he get away from Charming for a few days. Wendy and Nero have some of their signature anti-PC banter about him being good at manual labor and waiting in front of the Home Depot and her being a junkie and winding up in the trunk (not for the first time).

NEXT: Men of Mayhem

The Forum: Jax and the guys arrive at Red Woody, where Quinn has kept the SOA charter presidents, including Robert Patrick’s Les Packer, busy watching rough cuts. Ha. It is so disarming when Jax tells the truth for a change. Is he trying to save his own ass and thinks honesty and remorse is his best bet? Or has he finally learned the damage lies cause? He tells them Barosky was the rat and that he lied when he said Jury confessed. He admits he was so hell-bent on revenge that Jury was just another thing that got in the way. It could have been self-defense, but he also never gave Jury the chance to reveal whether he was reaching for his gun to threaten Jax or kill him. “I loved Jury, and I killed him,” Jax says simply. While the presidents understand the pain Jax was going through with Tara’s death and his need for vengeance, what Jax is describing is murder. It’ll be a Mayhem vote, and Jury’s replacement says Mayhem has to land. The others are worried SAMCRO will vote against it, because of their love for Jax. A president killing a president and getting away with it sends a bad message. Jax promises his club will vote “the right way” to protect the organization, and in exchange, asks that an unwritten bylaw that’s been around since his dad’s reign is thrown out. Presumably, it’s the one about Blacks not being allowed in SAMCRO. (Can one of the Grim Bastard guys then vote against Mayhem if they get patched over in time? Reaching?)

Outside the room, Montez wants to know the best and worst case scenarios. This is the second time Chibs hasn’t wanted anyone to talk about Jackie dying. Back inside, the presidents promise they’ll honor Jax’s request and make sure that bylaw vote is unanimous. “It’s been a privilege to wear this President’s patch,” Jax says, smiling. He seems at peace. But then he turns somber. “I’m sorry I couldn’t live up to it.” He puts aside the gavel, and you hope he’s scheming. But is he? As the presidents leave, he shakes Les Packer’s hand, and the pain in Packer’s eyes says he’s believes Jax is a dead man. Jax tells the guys it’ll all work out. He promises to fill them in later and asks them to trust him. It’ll all be fine. He’s let off the hook when Tig gets a call from Connor’s guy saying Rourke, one of the Kings, wants to meet. But Chibs, who’d been drinking hard liquor straight from the bottle, won’t let it go. Jax again tells him not to worry. “I know what I’m doin’. It’s gonna be all good brother. I promise,” he says. If Jax, who’s been perfecting his ability to lie all season with the bad guys, now uses that gift to fool those he loves most…

Tara’s revenge: Gemma gets dropped off safe and sound at her father’s nursing home. The administrator (Charisma Carpenter) doesn’t have Gemma down as one of Nate’s allowed visitors. Presumably, they didn’t want a record of Gemma being there at the time they admitted him because she was on the run then, too, from Stahl. Tara was his main contact. Gemma says Tara passed away and hands over her license so the administrator can make some calls to confirm Gemma is, in fact, his daughter and only living relative.

Conveniently, Connor turns greedy: While Juice hides a scalpel in his book of love poems—the Chinese want him to take out Tully, we presume—the club shows up at the import shop to meet Rourke. Turns out, Connor had reached out to the buyers Marks had promised guns to and, using some rogue Irish buddies who still had the Kings’ contacts, was selling to them directly and pocketing the profits. Rourke doesn’t want other members of his organization to find out what Connor was doing and get ideas. So, if SAMCRO takes out Connor, he’ll make sure the Kings agree to give the Mayans a trial run as their new distributor. It’s a familiar Irish play. Jax doesn’t have a choice. Being smart, Jax knows Connor will need money to go underground, so he suggests they have Tyler call him and say Marks needs weapons for when he gets out. Connor doesn’t know Tyler is with SAMCRO. We have that to look forward to in the finale.

Wendy’s future regret: Jax gets a call from Wendy. The nursing home apparently phoned his home to confirm Tara was deceased and told Wendy that Gemma was there. Wendy just wants to make sure it’s still cool if she takes the boys to Norco. She tells Nero that the home called and that she shared that info. with Jax. Nero heads out in a hurry to T-M to see Unser.

He’s prepared to tell Unser the truth about Gemma, but Unser says he already knows. Nero knows things would end badly for everyone if he gets between Jax and Gemma—meaning he’d be willing to kill Jax to protect Gemma and Gemma would be willing to kill him to protect Jax? So he begs Unser to go and arrest her or bring her in—it’s the only way to keep her alive, he says. Unser thinks that means Nero still loves her. “This isn’t about saving Gemma,” Nero says. “It’s about saving Jax.” And again, tears. This is the fight for Jax’s soul, and Nero can’t win it. Chucky, whose hearing didn’t pick up the majority of that conversation apparently, wants to go with Unser, but Wayne says Gemma will be pissed if he leaves T-M unsupervised. Wayne asks him to text him her father’s address. “Tell her I love her,” Chucky says. Michael Ornstein can do so much with one line.

NEXT: It’s crying time

Tyler grows a pair: Tyler finally understands that he’s in a position of power, and before he’ll agree to call the meet with Connor, he needs SAMCRO to commit to help get rid of the remaining Chinese so the Niners can move on their turf before the Mayans change their minds. That has to happen that night if Jax wants to ambush Connor the next day, so Jax tells Chibs to handle it. He’s headed north to deal with that family problem.

Peace for Gemma: The administrator tells Gemma that Nate is back from his church outing and she can see him. They’ll need to establish a new conservator, and Gemma says it’s not her—she wants it to be Wendy. Nate doesn’t remember her. He just keeps asking if she’s with the church. Just like she didn’t expect Thomas to understand or remember her confession, Gemma has a few things she needs to say to Nate for herself. She apologizes for the trouble she caused him and her mother: She knows she hurt them, disappointed them, and embarrassed them. She’s done so many bad things in her life. She didn’t want to cause so much pain, but eventually, it was just what she did and who she was. She loved her family, her boys—but she knows that wasn’t enough. “You were a good father, a good husband. I love you, daddy,” she says. If you weren’t already tearing up, Hal Holbrook had to go and deliver that sweet smile. “Why are you so sad?” he asks her sweetly. She says she’s just nostalgic. “God forgives everyone, sweetheart,” the retired pastor says. “Yeah, I hope so,” she answers. She kisses him and goes to leave. He asks for her name. “Gemma? Oh, she was a sweet girl,” he says. “She would play in the garden for hours. She was the one who loved the flowers.” (Note: I’m tearing up typing this.) “Yes, she was,” Gemma says. “Bye, daddy.” Tears. Again. As heinous as Gemma’s deeds have been, you’re glad she got that moment to know that her father remembered the good about her. (You’re also thinking maybe she’ll kill herself in that garden?)

Peace for Juice: That conversation is so engrossing that you’re almost angry when it cuts back to the prison. It’s meal time, and the Chinese watch as Juice walks to the AB table and asks to speak to Tully alone. In a twist, Juice tells Tully that he’s supposed to kill him for the Chinese. Instead of asking Tully to work with him against the Triads, Juice says if the Chinese take him out instead of Tully, it will hurt Tully’s relationship with SAMCRO. So he passes Tully the scalpel. “Just wait until I finish my pie,” he says. It’s a memorable line that will still make fans tear up—like Opie’s “I got this” for years to come—and have them delivering slices of pie to Theo Rossi in restaurants. But this is Juice finally making a decision for himself. There’s no way out. He chooses to end his life not as a pawn but true to SAMCRO. We get a closeup of him cutting into the pie.

After we see Unser speeding to Oregon with his gun and badge, Jax on his bike, and Gemma arriving at her dad’s house in a cab, Juice savors his last bite. He gives Tully a nod, and Tully motions for his men to go start a fight on the opposite side of the room. Juice calmly stands up, turns around, and lets Tully come up behind him. “You went out good, sweetheart,” Tully says before stabbing him multiple times in the neck. Blood squirts, but Juice doesn’t make a sound. He just holds his neck and falls to his knees. We see him lying in a pool of blood. Why is it so dark in the lunch room? Why are there no cameras and so few guards? (Tully must have bought the room.)

Peace for Unser(?): Gemma sits on the floor of Nate’s house looking at old photos and her fifth grade essay on the importance of the second amendment “Got a B+. I knew even then where I was headed,” she tells Unser, who just walks in because the door was unlocked. He tells her he knows the truth, and they agree it doesn’t matter why she killed Tara (that’s a change for Gemma). He needs to arrest her because Jax is on his way. He doesn’t know what will happen if Jax arrives, but Gemma does. He begs her not to make him call the local police. He wants to do this quietly. “Not really my style, sweetheart,” she says. “You do what you need to do.” Did you think she might pull a gun on him when he walked away with his back to her to call the cops? But he doesn’t get to dial. Jax enters the door.

Unser says he’s arresting Gemma and taking her back to Charming, but Jax wants to be alone with his mother. Unser lies and says he’s already called it in to the Oregon State Police, but Gemma tells Jax that Unser didn’t. Unser pulls his gun first on Jax and tries to get Gemma to stand and go with him, but Jax points his gun at Unser. Jax begs Unser to leave. It’s between him and his mom. “Haven’t we had enough of this? Look where we are, Jax? What we’ve all become. This has to end here,” Unser says. Jax knows. He lowers his gun and tells him to go home. Unser keeps his gun on Jax but looks down at Gemma. “I can’t do that,” he says. “This is all I got left.” Gemma lowers her head like she knows what’s about to happen. Jax nods. Unser looks at him, and Jax fires one bullet into his chest. It’s arguably the most shocking moment of the episode.

NEXT: Goodbye, Gemma

The long goodbye: Jax has a seat, gun still in hand, and Gemma hands him a photo of Nate from WWII. She says he looks like him, the eyes mostly. Gemma asks who else knows about her killing Tara. Just the club, he says. She tells him Nero had no idea, which Jax believes. “He’s a good man, Jax. Stay close to him,” she says. He nods. Then the willowy big band music we’ve been hearing faintly in the background this whole time stops. He asks if she still has a copy of JT’s manuscript. In the storage locker, with his and his brother’s birth certificates, and death certificates. She tells him she loved Tara, but Jax doesn’t want to hear it. She’s so calm. She’s not trying to defend herself. She barely remembers what happened that night. But it happened, Jax says. She tells him she never saw any of the other things the lie brought coming. She knows no apology can touch what he’s feeling. Seeing the tears in his eyes, she nods and stands. “I’d like to go out to the garden, if that’s okay,” she says. He smiles faintly, and she leads the way. It’s time.

We start with an aerial view so we can see the white roses. They’re gorgeous. She walks the path and stops to smell them.

She stands with her back to Jax. He’s crying and takes aim. Oh god, oh god, oh god. It’s repeating in your head. He has to lower the gun. He can’t do it. She hears him crying. She never turns around. She just remains strong and tries to give him peace: “I love you, Jackson, from the deepest purest part of my heart. You have to do this. It’s who we are, sweetheart,” she says. He raises the gun again. “It’s okay. My baby boy. It’s time,” she says, as we see him holding the gun behind her. Such an iconic shot. “I’m ready,” she says and lowers her head. Then he fires, and she falls. Even though the show is based on Hamlet and we’ve been building to this moment, I screamed. The one-two punch of Unser and Gemma—the emotion was too much. I started shaking my hands and throwing punches, just to try to get it out. It’s the end of Gemma, the end of the show as we know it, and the end of Jax.

Jax stands there in silence and looks up, presumably to Tara. He looks at Gemma’s body, but we later find out he didn’t move her. He came alone on his bike. There is no van. He can’t call the guys.

NEXT: Where do we go from here?

The musical montage (song: “Make it Rain” sung by SOA fan Ed Sheeran) begins as he rides home in the dark. We see Happy, Rat, and other guys pull up in a van like they’re going to buy drugs from some Chinese. Instead, they kill them. Wendy checks on the boys. We see Juice’s body get covered up. Then Tyler, Chibs, Tig, Montez, and Quinn light up a Chinese card game. (They let a woman live. Will that come back to bite them in the ass?)

Nero goes to Gemma’s, walks to her bedroom, looks at a photo of her, and sits down on the bed and sobs. No news from Unser is bad news.

Jax comes home and slowly takes off his jacket. He sits down on the couch and removes his sneakers once he spots blood splatter on one of them. He’s so calm. Knowing we still need to see Charlie Hunnam’s butt one more time this season, I started saying, “No…no…no…” as soon as Wendy appeared in a nightgown. “You okay?” she asks. “No,” he says. She reaches out to touch his cheek, and he takes her hand and kisses it. No. No. No. No. She knows she can’t be with him. She tries to fight it. He touches her head, and they just stare at each other. Then they both lean in and kiss. She takes his hand and leads him to the bedroom. This was where they were always good.

We see Unser’s dead body and zero in on a family heirloom on the floor. Then we see Jax and Wendy in a couple of positions, her white nightgown catching the light perfectly. It was hot. Will that be the last time we see that back tattoo? God. This show is really ending. We see blood splattered on the white flowers as the camera pans across and down onto Gemma’s lifeless face.

Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.
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