Feeling the need to get a show to catch up on and enjoy? I have one for you. Sons of Anarchy isn’t just a show about a group of criminals on bikes who hold the reins of a town called Charming in California. It’s much more than that and creator/writer/cast member Kurt Sutter sprinkles in Shakespearean themes and blunt violence to remind viewers what they are watching is fresh, original and genuinely demented. Think of “Sopranos on Motorcycles wrapped inside a Greek Tragedy” and you have this FX network pulpy drama.
It is one of FX’s best and most popular shows because it hasn't worn down after 6 seasons of action and the storytelling methods from Sutter and his writing team are unpredictable and heartbreaking at the same time. The 6th season wrapped last night in truly tragic and powerful fashion, and this film-addict is still uncoiling from the emotional trauma of the 2 hour finale experience. Sutter and his team aren't afraid to shock viewers with a major character death and did that on Tuesday night.
Sure, you can’t convince Breaking Bad fanatics to consider a different kind of creative poison these days when it comes to explosive finales, but allow me to tell you why Sons is one of the most tragic, brilliant and bleak TV shows. This is a show you need to binge watch.
Put this show in the category of “antihero adoration” because the lead protagonist, Jax Teller(brilliantly played by Charlie Hunnam) is far from a good natured man but it’s his sense of family and loyalty that keep us rooting for him while he commits/agrees to murderous criminal behavior. His struggle with power and how to swing it as he works his way through the criminal lay of the land sets the tone for the series.
Teller lives in the same neighborhood as Walter White and Tony Soprano but carries youth on his side. Men who surround themselves with family and rely on those ties to keep their soul a little less dark. This is what makes the show work so well. Sutter handled this material while writing for The Shield and knows how to create troubled men and women who do bad things but redeem themselves with their vulnerabilities, ignorance of evil and the honor shown in bringing peace to the future.
Sutter’s casting is impeccable. Hunnam, Ron Perlman, Kim Coates, Tommy Flanagan, Mark Boone Junior, Theo Rossi, and Ryan Hurst make up the heart and soul of the show’s club, SAMCRO(Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). All of these actors are character actors ripped from careers spanning hundreds of films but locked in tightly on this show. The work of Hurst as Opie, Jax’s right hand man and confidant, stands out due to the effect the character has on our protagonist. If this is a Hamlet based show, Opie is Horatio.
In the 6th season, Jax and the Sons are aiming to cleanse themselves of the gun trade and move into more legit practices of income but when a school shooting brings down the wrath of the FBI and the gun used is traced back to them, all hell breaks loose. This is a rundown of every season. Jax steers the club towards safer waters, but their past and actions reel them back into hell. Sutter’s marvel lies in his way of masking certain plot points with male camaraderie and small doses of humor. You don’t see a big death coming and even if you do, the manner in which it happens is poetic and tragic. On Tuesday’s season finale, a main character was killed off and with the 7th season setting up to be the last, the death will spring all kinds of creative life on the show. Each season, a couple major characters are killed off or a few characters’ are turned around. The way television shows stay fresh is writing creatively and making no character safe. Without a net to catch you creatively, the show constantly gets fresh air. Far too many shows write with limited ambition and thus run out of gas quickly. Shows on FX like Rescue Me, Justified and The Shield ran so long because they are creatively limitless and any character can be put in jeopardy. No show does this tactic better than Sons of Anarchy.
Katey Sagal and Maggie Siff(Gemma and Tara) are the two female voices on the show, playing Jax’s mother and wife, respectively. This is where the Hamlet themes come into play. The effect and influence of women on the kings that serve the land is heavy material to work with, but Sagal and Siff are pros. Gemma and Tara are set on a collision course for ownership of Jax’s soul from the very first episode of Season 1, and in the 6th season, that internal battle comes to a bloody and furious head. If the finale of this season doesn’t leave you gushing for air and ready to hit a punching bag, I am not sure what show will. Sutter pulls zero punches because he isn’t dealing with real history here and has placed his characters in a dangerous world of envy, power, violence, loyalty and the hazards of mixing business with pleasure. Sagal and Siff are both Emmy worthy because they don’t rely on gimmicks or melodrama to play women who are fiercely independent and highly dangerous women on a show dominated by men. If you are one of the critics of shows who hate the underuse and underwritten roles for women, check out this show.
Special mention must go to Dayton Callie, who plays Sheriff and SAMCRO ally Wayne Unser. Playing a character holding enough guilt and internal struggle for a warehouse full of older men, Callie is a Scottish born actor who does his best work right here. Like many of the cast members, the work of the actors on this show will overshadow whatever they have done or will do after this show ends next year. Look at Sagal’s work here as the string pulling mother, and you won’t see the goofy mom from Married With Children. Hunnam, Hurst and Flanagan have done various films but achieved nothing like the status they have gained through this show. If anyone is memorable outside of SOA, it is Perlman due to his heavy dosage of film work and his role in the Hellboy series. The cast is synonymous with the roles on the show and that is a big reason it works so well. Guest stars like Jimmy Smits, Peter Weller and Adam Arkin only help the action.
Should you watch this show right now? Yes, because it blends action, drama, blunt storytelling and a realistically bleak tone that proves to be addicting. Sutter paints dread all around the exterior of the story because he never wants the viewer to forget the mistakes and weight of guilt that the characters walk around with. These aren’t good people but they are interesting and worth following. If you miss Sopranos, watch this show. If you want something that works faster than Boardwalk Empire or Ray Donovan, watch this show. If you want a show that holds up creativity wise (not Dexter), watch it now.
Kurt Sutter aims to please here but torments your soul long after the finales rest. He makes use of every detail of the plot in crafting his twists and reveals. A sink full of water and dishes, a love of a man for a woman he can’t have, the effect of kids on a man’s decision and the length bad men run in order to be track down their soul. You never forget what you are watching because the plot never slows down or gets too neat. This is a show about how actions lead to bad things and how the amount of lies told can lead to a blunt clarity no one can handle. Hunnam’s work here is the heart and soul of the show. The actor can do more with a cold stare than most can do with three paragraphs. His trek through the 7th season is worth sitting down tonight and catching up. The best way to find out what the fuss is all about is to get a little dirty, watch and find out for yourself.
Brew a few pots of coffee, find a trusted brand of frozen pizza and settle in for the ride of your life with Sons of Anarchy. It may not be an HBO or Showtime production, but as Mad Men and Breaking Bad have proved, there is a fine slice of television being performed on AMC and FX. Once Sopranos wrapped up, everyone needed a fix for the criminal enterprise of entertainment. SOA has filled that gap just fine and hasn’t lost a step in its 6 seasons.