Sons of Anarchy: just when you think you’ve got the show figured out, it rears its psychotic head and kicks you in the ass. Hard.
And that’s exactly why it’s so damn good!
Season 5. One word: IN-freakin’-SANE!
From Opie’s brutal jail death, Tigs watching his daughter burn alive and the murder of Rita plus one to Otto’s tongue massacre, a pitbull bloodbath – and a Latino gangster who goes down Cujo style, Jax’s Machiavellian orchestration of Pope’s death, a little drug de-habilitaion and Tara’s exit to prison (for a little intimate “fisting” according to the ever-eloquent Gemma)… not to mention the usual raucous and mayhem that runs rampant if the not-so-charming Charming. Feeling stressed, harassed perhaps? That’s the genius of ‘Sons’: artful, addictive, cathartic and raw to the bone.
But it’s not all about the razzmatazz of pushing boundaries, pissing off censorship and intimidating those of a more sensitive predilection; the extremity has a point. Sutter does not do gratuitous. The life of SAMCRO, as portrayed in the mythology of the show IS extreme; painful and pathological. Consequently, things happen epically.
Sutter is brave beyond brave. He says a philosophical “eff you” to ratings (although he gets them anyway) by refusing to pander to the audience tendency to demand that stuff work out, a ‘happy ending’ – a notion relative to the individual. But Sutter even manages to screw with relativity. We want Jax to be the changed leader, or perhaps no leader at all, we wish that Gemma would learn to back the fuck off, we hope that someone will just deaden Clay already, or perhaps absolution is more your mentor, we beg Tara to escape, to save the boys… we want justice, retribution and penance but also love and happiness. We want the characters to learn – from their mistakes and the mistakes of those who have come and gone. But is life like that? Do we learn? I mean really, do we?
Sutter suggests not.
History’s echo, the never-ending cycle of repetition, is something deeply engrained in Sutter’s rhetoric. Arguably the show’s most interesting conversation is the one that debates free will versus destiny – Shakespearean in its delivery and implication. Jax’s dad tried to change SAMCRO and got killed for his efforts. The journals he left for Jax planted some big ideas but as Jax realises in season 5, “you can’t sit in this chair without being a savage.” Or can you? Ex-VP Bobby seems to think so. Jax’s actions suggest that the means justify the end but the problem is that Jax’s end is ambiguous.
Sutter has created an important parallel between Jax and show newbie Neron Padilla (‘Nero’) played by genius Jimmy Smits. Both men are gangsters trying to exit The Life. In a poignant conversation with Nero (in season 5’s finale), the two leaders, by inference, acknowledge the futility of not only their ability but their desire to leave the game. Power is attractive, and Jax has not only tasted power but prestige as well. As it turns out, he’s a great outlaw. Pity he sucks at being a husband and a father. The point is; will Jax ever be in a position (practically and emotionally) to give up SAMCRO? Or will he perpetuate the cycle of chaos. Jax writes letters to his sons, containing the stuff that he can tell no one else – we assume, in the hope that his boys will both learn and change what their dad knows is inevitable. The déjà vu is intrinsically horrifying.
Season 4 ended with a snapshot of Jax sitting at the head of The Table, the new leader of SAMCRO, with his ol’ lady symbolically behind him – protecting her man. Season 5 repeated the snapshot but Tara has been ousted by Gemma, who has her arm around her boy this time, and Able has been included in the frame. The comment is poignant: a family legacy. Jax replaces Clay, Tara replaces Gemma and in a putrid Hamlet/Gertrude scenario Gemma supplants Tara as Jax’s ol’ lady (all a little Freudian!? – but point taken). Sutter instigates the idea that Jax is there to stay – and it is by choice as much as circumstance as decision and destiny join hands in a twisted alliance. That said; nothing is certain with Sutter or ‘Sons’ – perhaps the perceived inevitable is a ruse? Perhaps not.
So, in a reductive summation of Season 5: Gemma sucks, Clay’s screwed, Jax has learnt a whole lotta nothing… and Life’s a bitch. The thing is, the reason ‘Sons’ is such a successful show is that it is never EVER reductive. The writers have written characters who people not only relate to but care about. The fact that Jax & co exist in so deplorable a world, one enveloped in danger and heartache creates the opportunity for the aggrandisement of the idiosyncrasies that define the human condition, which is exaggerated and compounded in a labyrinth of complexity. People are never just black and white. Gemma is utterly reprehensible but she is also admirable; ruled by her insecurities she confuses selfishness with love and yet strength permeates her being. The characters in ‘Sons’ evoke acute feelings of love and hate, and neither response is mutually exclusive. In fact, they are violently symbiotic.
Only a show that boasts the severest of skill and the greatest of heart can keep people not only watching but hoping, hoping against the odds. The rest is silence.
To find out what Kurt Sutter has to say about ‘Sons’ Season 5 (6 and 7!), check out Collider.com.