While waiting for the start of the Sons of Anarchy season finale, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between male emotion and male violence in the series. There are plenty of moments of manly love being expressed in the series (“He knows you love him,” Gemma tells the weeping Tigs as she comforts him beside Clay’s hospital bed in last week’s episode), but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a formula to keep a balance between manly emotion and action adventure violence. Is there a tipping point where the number of man hugs becomes too many man hugs for the viewers that tune in for the action adventure elements of the show? Can the show become too violent for those viewers who tune in because they’re emotionally invested in the characters and their relationships? How does the show find a balance between hugging and hitting, sobbing and shooting?
Unfortunately, I have not been tracking the body count this season as I ‘ve been tracking the man hugs. (See Sons of Anarchy and the Manly Art of Hugging for the full exploration of man hugs in Sons of Anarchy.) It seems, though, that the number of dead bodies has been rising. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a ratio between the number of hugs and the number of bodies. There have been a lot of man hugs this season, so maybe that has meant a corresponding need to have lots of dead bodies to keep the proper balance between emotion and violence. But what would that ratio be, I wonder, 3 dead bodies for every hug? 4? This is not as strange a question as it may first seem—especially if you consider that some have argued that the number of deaths (and they specify significant deaths—involving cast members with speaking roles) in Sons of Anarchy plays a significant role in the stock market. The higher the Sons of Anarchy body count, the better the market numbers. According to R. J Liberatore’s account, low body counts in the early seasons of SoA preceded the 2008-9 market collapse. The increasing number of deaths among significant or main characters in recent seasons has signaled a resurgent stock market. As Liberatore cautions, “As with any type of investment advice, individuals are encouraged to seek the recommendations of professionals who spend their careers monitoring the ups and downs of the world’s financial markets. It may or may not be sound advice to invest your hard-earned money on the number of deaths on a hit television show.” Nonetheless, if Clay and/or Tara end up dead in tonight’s episode, I may have to start expanding my stock holdings in the morning.
Okay, from this point on, SPOILERS follow. If you don’t want to know who gets killed, or who gets hugged, in “To Be, Act II,” read no further.
As the episode begins, Lincoln Potter and his FBI agents are getting ready to crash the meeting of the Irish Kings, Sons of Anarchy, and the Galindo Cartel. Things do not go as planned. Agents from the CIA arrive, accompanying Romeo and Torres, and reveal that the Galindo Cartel has the backing of the US government, and, sorry, Lincoln, about those 98,000 man hours that have gone into setting up the operation. Lincoln, needless to say, doesn’t greet his CIA colleague with a joyful man hug. There’s also no man hug between Lincoln and the Sheriff when they part, just an arms-length handshake (“You’re a really odd dude,” the Sheriff comments).
One of the subplots this season has been the development plans for Charming Heights, and we see a large billboard advertising it as Jax rides down the highway on his motorcycle.
The revelation that the CIA has an interest in the Cartel has multiple repercussions. Romeo and Torres reveal their true identities to Jax, and they want him to make sure that Clay gets out of the hospital and back in the game—since the Irish Kings have walked out on the deal because they will work with no one but Clay, and the CIA wants this deal done. The needs of the CIA take precedent over desires for personal vengeance. They tell Jax that if the deal doesn’t go through, the CIA withdraws its objections to the FBI’s plans—and down go the Sons of Anarchy.
Okay, definitely was not expecting the CIA to step in and save Clay. I don’t remember that happening in Hamlet!
Potter is indeed an “odd dude.” He appears at the town meeting with a duffel bag full of sex toys—the sell of which, he claims, is how the Mayor has funded his Charming Heights project.
Jax, despite what the CIA wants, apparently still intends to kill Clay when he first arrives at the hospital, but, Hamlet-like, he hesitates, not because he finds Clay, like Claudius, praying, but he waits too long to use the injection Tara prepared, and Clay wakes up. “You’re done telling me anything,” Jax tells him, “Now I’m telling you.” Clay tries to argue, which is difficult to do effectively with a knife blade against your neck. Jax doesn’t kill Clay, but he does remove his President patch (and spits on him for good measure).
Over the final scenes, there’s a version of “The House of the Rising Son” being played, with a slight lyrical change: “There is a house in Charming town” rather than in New Orleans. Jax takes his place at the head of the table. As he picks up the gavel, we hear the lyrics, “the only pleasure he gets out of life / is bringing another man down.” The line seems ironic, as Jax, although he may have brought Clay down, is clearly getting no pleasure out of doing so (or in taking his place). Tara appears at the meeting and takes her place by Jax’s side, and Gemma appears as well (but no Opie), and the last shot is Gemma’s flashback to an image of herself and Jax’s father in the same position as Jax and Tara are now.
So, none of the main characters died (not even Rozencrantz and Guildenstern), and both Clay and Tara are still around. I don’t think I’ll be making any big moves in the stock market on Wednesday (unless it’s to sell, sell, sell). This was also an episode without a man hug. Thus, the man hug season total remains at 28.
Ultimately, I’m not sure what to make of the finale, no hugs, no violence, and both Jax and Tara trapped in a life they had hoped to escape, so, in some ways, “Act II” was just that, only the second act (of a five act Shakespearean tragedy?) and not a concluding “part 2” or a finale, but still part of the rising action.