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'Sons of Anarchy' Season 7 premiere: Jax's final ride will be bloody

Musical montage intro? Check.

Charlie Hunnam shirtless, brooding in a swirl of smoke? Check.

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Sophomoric violence used to solve one problem, a little help from some scantily clad women to solve another? Double check.

And let's cue up that outro montage.

For the seventh and final time, "Sons of Anarchy" is back with a paint-by-numbers premiere that highlights the flaws (really, another 90-minute episode?) and strengths (Hunnam's endless but engaging brood, the bromance humor of the Sons' world) that have made this show FX's staple for the better part of a decade.

Jax spends this entire episode banged up, but maybe not entirely broken, in the shadow of Tara's death. He's run right back into Gemma's arms, completely oblivious to the fact that mother dearest slaughtered his great love in what might be the show's most brutal death scene. Tara was Jax's only tether to a world outside the chaos of the MC, and her passing seems to have wiped out any hope he had of going straight.

For the first time in a long time, one of Jax's table monologues actually hits home here when he admits to the club that his constant attempts to pull them away from guns and gang crime may have actually led to the losses they've suffered in the past two seasons.

His hopes of scraping together a family and leaving Charming are gone. He's got no desire to try and help his kids heal from the mess they're in, giving Wendy access to the boys despite all the lengths he once went to wall her off from his life.

In a strange way, Tara's death seems to have given Jax a clarity he lacked in recent seasons. Our man is out for revenge, driven to keep his club whole. There's no more conflict, no more dreams of redemption. He's finally accepted the violent felon he's always been, and this introverted and one-track Jax is interesting to watch as Hunnam quietly carries out some pretty horrendous torture scenes in the name of protecting his club and avenging Tara.

Of course, the usual problems are back as well. Rarely, if ever, does a "Sons" episode need to be 90 minutes, and there are plenty of exchanges in this episode that go on too long.

But the ratings always win out, and FX is going to give creator Kurt Sutter what he wants.

The show has also suffered from an overpopulation of gangs and an overabundance of plot in recent years, and the addition of the Aryan Brotherhood and reappearance of the Grim Basterds to the mix will probably lead to some unnecessary complications down the line.

If nothing else, the show has at least tackled that problem by forcing the Triad, the Mayans and Nero's crew into an alliance, which keeps one of the show's strongest characters in the narrative orbit without adding another plot thread.

Fair warning: if you're not a Jimmy Smits fan, stop reading. These blog posts will contain an unnatural amount of praise for him as Nero. I even liked Season 3 of "Dexter," so yes, my name is James, and I have a problem.

I've written about "Sons" for a number of years, and have long complained about Sutter's habit of allowing his characters to escape consequences. Clay Morrow was basically made of Teflon for the last three seasons.

But I'm hoping that with only so many episodes left to play with we won't have to wait too long to see Jax come unmoored when he discovers how adept Gemma is with kitchenware. P.S.: Gemma's whole "confession is for the confessor" spiel to Juice was as touching as it was sociopathic. This is one messed-up woman.

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Beyond Gemma, Sutter and company have done a good job table-setting some heavy final conflicts. Theo Rossi is often underutilized, and while Juice's story line is going to get inevitably darker, it's nice to see the character actually operate outside of Jax's manipulations for once, even if he's just falling under Gemma's spell in the process.

As long as the show doesn't do anything stupid like have Juice kill Unser, the idea of the old Keystone Kop taking Patterson up on her offer to return to law enforcement could put him in an interesting position as well.

It's been a rough few seasons for "Sons of Anarchy," but if nothing else, this premiere at least leaves me hopeful that the #FinalRide will be an enjoyable one.

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for all things Charming ... and breaking news.

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