The secret to getting men to both watch and enjoy a love story is to clothe it in guns, motorcycles and outlaws. Yet for all of its comparisons to Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy is nothing if not a love story. By love story, I do not mean that it is the conventional romance that we see in so many soap opera type shows (although one dynamic of the Jax and Tara relationship could seem sort of soap opera-esque). This is a greater love story, the love that Jax Teller has for his wife, kids, family, and his club.
I came to Sons of Anarchy late, only starting to watch the show in April, four months after the last episode aired. From the start I knew several things, some generic or some specific, such as the fact that Gemma killed Tara, and that Jax had to thereafter agonize about what to do with Gemma. So I knew some of the end before I sat down to watch the first episode. Sometimes that is OK, though, because it is often the journey that is most interesting to watch, and not just the endingAnd (a la Lost). I was not sitting down to watch Sons with a great deal of enthusiasm, truth be told, because I am not a fan of the biker lifestyle, having known someone when I was younger, who desperately wanted to be part of the culture. It is a misogynistic culture, too, which drives me insane. And in the first few episodes it seemed to be to be nothing more than a darker version of the Sopranos. Whole stories seemed to come from David Chase’s show (see the episode where the little girl gets raped and its comparable of the teacher who was sleeping with a student in the Sopranos). It was through the Jax and Tara storyline that the show grabbed me.
On the surface it would be a fair assessment of Sons of Anarchy to say that the whole Jax and Tara storyline was placed in the show to attract female viewers. Charlie Hunnam is a good looking man and it would have been a complete waste to only have him involved with the skanky sort of women who tend to hang around bikers. But, for all of its bluster, Sons of Anarchy has some depth. It is really a show about love in all of its myriad forms, and having a stable romantic relationship is therefore an important part of Jax’s being. At the start we see both Wendy and Tara, and I experienced several episodes of worry about whether there was going to be one of those revolting love triangles, but thankfully Sutter spared us that. Jax and Tara’s is not a perfect story, with several false starts, and the tiring dilemma of Tara’s about whether she would stay or not. To be fair, it is an understandable dilemma. She had obviously moved on professionally, becoming a doctor. To be involved with someone who is comfortable on the other side of the law is quite the conundrum, indeed. Some doubt about her decision was understandable, but it was played too often. The last season in which Tara was on was the best though. Sure she was riddled with self-doubt again, but she tried to do something about it, and she justly called on Jax on what his own lifestyle had dragged her into. She sacrificed a lot for him, the ultimate being her own life (though that was Gemma’s fault, not Jax’s). Though I knew this scene was coming, it was still very hard to watch the scene where Jax found Tara’s body. Good acting! And good writing.
And speaking of Gemma . . . First of all, here is where we see the greater parallels to Hamlet. Gemma is Gertrude. Clay is Claudius. They are responsible for John Teller, Jax’s father’s, death. And, as another blogger pointed out, Clay plays the controlling bit right down the line. Before Jax learns this, though his father’s ghost (represented through letters, not as a spectral figure), we see that he cares for them. Gemma is raped, and Clay has issues with his hands – Jax is there for both, despite their being unworthy of it as we as the audience already know. And it takes a lot for Jax to finally get rid of Clay, who he did not even kill outright. He tried to get rid of him by sending him to prison and when that didn’t work, he then killed him in one or the more brutal scenes of violence on the show. To get to that point, however, he had to witness a lot of Clay’s brutality, including an attempt to kill Tara because she had read John Teller’s letters. And it was likewise with Gemma. Only when he learns that it was she who was responsible for Tara’s death, does Jax realize (in a scene almost too painful to watch) what he must do. And by that point, we have no sympathy for Gemma.
While it is an interesting retelling of the Hamlet story, Sons is far from a perfect show. It can be a bit heavy handed at times. Yes, I mean the guns, explosions and car chases. While explosions can make for some exciting action television, once its happened for the tenth time, a girl will find herself thinking blah, blah, blah, get on with the good stuff. Another such heavy handed tactic, especially in the latter few seasons was the ‘I love you, brother,’ saying that came out as the new goodbye for the remaining members of SAMCRO. Sigh. Hey, I’m all for guys being able to express their feelings, but seriously, enough is enough.
A smaller part of the story centers on Abel and Thomas, Jax’s sons. Because of the nature of the show, and because they are so young, there isn’t sufficient focus on them to fully convince me that Jax cares for the kids as much as he says he does. Even the trip to Belfast was more about car chases and shoot ‘em ups than it was about his agony over his missing son. At least until it wasn’t. The most powerful scene in the show was when Jax decided to let Abel go. However, this was not to be, and the people who had adopted Abel ended up dead. And a second sacrifice at the end of the show when Jax says he’s not a good guy and the kids would be better off without him. Those two are the isolated among many more of which Jax only talked about affection for his sons. Though, from a writing standpoint, I suppose that they only had limited time in which to tell the story, and the pull of the club was stronger and more urgent. And, since this was a show that had to maintain its surface macho, too many scenes of fatherly affection might have doomed it to that distinction of being overly sentimental. Nevertheless, he makes the right choice in the end, to break the cycle of violence.
I think that the show started to lose heart with Opie’s death. The same blog post mentioned above cited Opie as an Ophelia character. I disagree with that. I think that he was more aptly one of the three Polonius characters, along with Bobby and Chibs. In effect, he was really Jax’s moral compass. With his death Jax started a tailspin that was completed with Tara’s death, and explains (if it doesn’t excuse) the complete mess that was the first two-thirds of season seven. But it does make sense. We see from early on, and at the very beginning of season four that Jax wants out of the life. But, like Michael Corleone, just when he thinks he’s out, they pull him back in. It would be enough to send anyone around the twist.
The very last episode of Sons of Anarchy ended with the following quote from Hamlet:
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.’
If there is one thing we don’t doubt at the end of the show, it is that everything Jax did was for love of his family, or his club.
On a last, and off topic note, how freaking cool was it for a girl currently on a Stephen King Odyssey to see the man randomly show up in an episode of Sons of Anarchy. And he doesn’t watch television? Pfffh.