'Sons of Anarchy' Season Premiere Review: "Black Widower"

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Sons of Anarchy’ season 7 roars out its 1st episode of the final year, “Black Widower,” as Jax returns from prison with the goal of uniting the club and avenging Tara's murder, while Gemma and Juice fret over their mutual secrets, and Unser makes a shocking discovery that puts him at odds with the club.

Last year’s ‘Sons of Anarchy’ finale, “A Mother's Work,” saw Jax making a surprising decision when SAMCRO caught up to Tara, while relations between the Mayans and Niners soured, and a horrific tragedy rocked the club.. So how does “Black Widower” start rolling the series toward its inevitable conclusion?  Who does ‘Sons of Anarchy’ season 7 surrender to the reaper in its opening minutes?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Sons of Anarchy’ season 7 episode 1, season premiere “Black Widower”!

And lo, the seventh and final season of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ comes to the beginning of the end, picking up nine or so days after season 6 finale “A Mother’s Work,” and restarting the cycle of violence and black humor that will inevitably spin into tragedy. First, a bit of housekeeping to take care of, as I wanted to let you know that we’ve ditched the recap/review format here at ScreenCrush to give more opportunities for actual discussion with each episode, and on some level to encourage you fine folk to, I don’t know, actually watch the thing. Crazy thoughts!

On that note, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ can be an exceptionally strange show to review year to year and week to week, as its heavily, heavily serialized plots can lose a bit of steam in between seasons. The shadow of Tara’s brutal murder looms large over the premiere, but while we’ve had a year to come to grips with the idea, the characters themselves have had only nine or so days to deal with such a vicious loss. That places the burden on different characters to convey grief in a practical (yet timely) manner, though the temporal yo-yo of it all seems to discount Wendy’s struggles last year in favor of keeping her in rotation, while I myself had to be refreshed on what it is Juice did to earn Jax’s ire in the first place, or why Nero and Gemma broke up...again.

Not to mention, ambient clubs like the Grim Bastards, Niners, Mayans and Chinese have always weaved their way in and out of different seasons, but with all points converging for the final season, your average fan might have a bit of difficulty keeping everyone’s story straight off the bat. Sure, Chibs having Bobby drag Flint (was it Flint?)’s wheelchair makes for a great gag, perfectly in keeping with the show’s dark humor, but…why were they there again? Someone made an attack on the Bastards in between seasons? And we killed a pastoral orgy by mistake? You see how things might have gotten a bit less crowded, if not for the 90-minute runtime.

Your better premieres will strike the tone for the season to come, and being that season 7 represents the last we’ll see of FX’s road-rashing biker drama, this proves especially crucial for “Black Widower,” which itself sees most characters entering brace positions for a tragic fall. Gone is the Jax we knew with any sense of hope for the future, replaced with the one we find carving up Neo-Nazis to gain a meeting with their leader (hi, Marilyn Manson!), or shaking off any of his father’s wisdom to once again plunge SAMCRO into gang violence, and avenge Tara’s murder at all costs. When we spoke with series creator Kurt Sutter over the summer, he espoused how season 7 would see Jax at his most focused yet in accomplishing a single goal, though “Black Widower” itself seems somewhat less targeted over its lengthy runtime.

Did we mention TV's Marilyn Manson, kids?

Whether or not you subscribe to the notion that ‘Sons of Anarchy’ will ride its ‘Hamlet’ parallel to the end, tragedy permeates the air of season 7, and no more so than watching Katey Sagal twist Gemma’s viewpoint from that of a misguided killer, to a woman putting her family first. Gemma acknowledges the horrendous nature of her actions in private moments with Juice, but insists that it needed to be covered for the sake providing the sole source of maternal strength to the boys, thereby exposing her own selfish nature. And with any good tragedy, Gemma scarcely realizes how pinning her “selfless” deeds on the Chinese will blow back on the club, and ultimately, the very family she sought to protect in the first place. Plus, crazy talking to Ghost Tara!

It’s difficult to pin any kind of moral center on the show after the loss of Tara and Opie, particularly now that Jax seems resigned to the darkening clouds on the horizon. That in and of itself makes the seventh season a bit lacking in emotional footholds, though it was nice to see CCH Pounder’s inevitable exit* as Tyne Patterson providing a window for Unser to regain a bit of his own agency, and thus carry the torch in Tara’s absence. Final seasons can be tricky, as the inherent violence to ‘Sons of Anarchy’ makes it difficult to see the final ride as anything but a ticking clock, a lengthy ride toward a black abyss with fatal mile markers lining the way. At least with characters like Nero, Unser or Wendy at the helm, as well as the show’s even blend of brotherhood and black humor well intact, “Black Widower” provides a satisfying, if brutal thesis for the show’s final year, and the gathering storm ahead.

I’ve now lost myself in a ‘Dexter’ metaphor, and remain confident ‘Sons of Anarchy’ will end with Jax as a bearded lumberjack. Well, more bearded, anyway.

AND ANOTHER THING...

  • Pounder will return for another episode or so, though if we have to lose one of our beloved 'Shield' alums, what a way to leave a mark on the premiere with hers and Jax's revelatory visit. Charlie Hunnam's seething anger isn't exactly anything new, but the barbs flying back and forth between the pair gave genuine pause to either side, and a nice tonal shift from their relationship last year.
  • Oh, Chucky. May you and Unser be the last men standing.
  • Additional notice should go to Katey Sagal's duplicitous/crazy work this season, with Gemma spinning in every direction to keep the walls from closing in with one lie after another, proving particularly poignant in the car with Jax as he avoids facing his children. Did we mention the crazy talking to herself? Who smells a Maggi Siff cameo in the near future?
  • So, are we really not going to ask the Chinese guy any questions? He might at least have some valuable inf - oh. Fork in the skull. Oops.
  • For anyone wondering, that was Audra Mae & The Forest Rangers feat. Billy Valentine. covering The Association's "Never My Love" in the beginning, and The Forest Rangers feat. The White Buffalo, Billy Valentine & Franky Perez covering Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at the end.

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of road-rashing ‘Sons of Anarchy’ action?  What did you think about tonight's big premiere “Black Widower”? Join us next week for another all-new ‘Sons of Anarchy’ review of season 7's latest “Toil and Till,” and stay tuned as we bring you additional coverage on season 7's premiere with series creator Kurt Sutter!

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