This post discusses plot points from the October 1 episode of Sons of Anarchy.
“This is on me. It’s my wreckage.” It’s not often that a television show can make a Neo-Nazi sympathetic, and in fact, it’s often the reverse. Sons of Anarchy made Walter White’s final antagonists a white supremacist gang in part to give the audience a shorthand that would make viewers comfortable seeing them mowed down en masse by Walter White’s last great contraption. But on last night’s Sons of Anarchy when Ernest Darby, the former Nordic leader who’s now “married, doing the Jesus thing,” utters those words, telling Jax Teller that he’s ready to take the heat from members of his old gang, he suddenly becomes the most morally responsible person on a show that’s increasingly felt like a jaunt through a hell of Dante’s design.
This episode of Sons of Anarchy did do two things right in a single bloody scene, as Otto killed Lee Toric, the brutalist, most irritating mastermind on television, and committed suicide by cop, ending Sons creator Kurt Sutter’s run of televised self-mortification. And what seemed like another complication, the resurgence of white supremacist gangs, who cut up Wayne Unser as vengeance for Clay’s prison killing, turned into a way for Jax to deal with his Irish problem, staging a massacre on the Nazi farm with the KG-9s Galen had forced upon him, and burning down a house full of the guns. But as much as I’m relieved that Sons is clearing out some of its plot complications, and eliminating some of the characters who are responsible for its ugliest, most excessive brutality, I’m losing confidence in the show’s ability to pull off what ought to have been an audacious meditation on the gun trade and gun violence, much less that it can pull off the family drama that’s getting choked out by MC business.
The problem with the guns half of the story is that Sons is treating those transactions as a problem that’s confined to the MC. But in the real world, it’s not as if Wayne LaPierre is forcing weapons designed to skirt the assault weapons ban on dealers, much less on individual purchasers. If you want to talk about guns as an actual scourge on society, you need to talk about the entire cycle of supply and demand, about the culture of resistance to gun safety that grows out of frequently-repeated home invasion scenarios, and about the way the gun industry encourages apocalyptic thinking. In Sons, only the sellers are manufactured. But in the real world, the problem isn’t just an Irish gun lord with a knife-edge smile and a nasty willingness to hack up poor Filthy Phil. It’s the legally-purchased guns that are used to massacre schoolchildren, too.
And more importantly, the actual stakes for continuing the gun trade in California isn’t the future of Jax’s damn motorcycle club. I don’t care if the Sons get heat, or if the charter falls apart (which, after Phil’s death, does Jax actually have enough men at the table to stay on the rolls?). This is not the point. The point is that a lot of kids are dead because the Sons gave a gun to a gang member who was careless enough to leave it unsecured at the house of his addict girlfriend, where her son could get it. The point is that when that mother got distraught, the Sons didn’t help her get sober and get resolution to those families: they kidnapped her and murdered her rather than let her cause them trouble. The appropriate thing here would be that Jax catch all the heat that he has coming to him. You can’t make a school shooting right in retrospect. And when the trade in question is a trade in illegal guns, there’s no waiting for the right time to get out of it. A season that required Jax to do real penance for his complicity in Matthew’s school shooting would be a radical break from the Sons formula, a diversion from the shoot-out of the week. But it would also be a more truly moral arc of television than the compromised story we’re being told right now.
Speaking of breaks from formula, it would be incredibly fascinating to see a season of television, or at least more substantial parts of each episode, that looks at the club through the eyes of women who have been affiliated with it and are trying to break away. The culture of violence argument Tara’s lawyer is trying to set up is a fascinating and important one that could reframe events of the previous seasons, including the MC’s work in porn and Gemma’s rape. And subjecting Jax to Wendy’s judgement in particular, walking us through her journey to sobriety and coming out, the real damage Jax did to her when he forced her to overdose, and her alliance with Tara now would force viewers to see Sons and Jax in a new and uncomfortable light. The work Sutter’s given to Katey Sagal as Gemma has often been quite strong, but setting up a true alternate perspective in the form of Tara and Wendy, perhaps with Wayne Unser as an ally who’s suffered terribly for his affiliation with the club, and giving that worldview equal, or at least genuinely significant, time would really allow Sons to level up. I doubt that’ll happen, though, because it would be too significant a challenge to Jax as someone who can remain a protagonist we can root for in any capacity. As it stands, Wendy’s alliance with Tara reads more like her acting as a rat than as a genuine consensus about the dangers of getting involved with Jax Teller, which is too bad.
Sons of Anarchy has been a show that I’ve genuinely loved at times. But it’s put me through a lot the past several seasons. And while I’ve longed for its ambitions to be realized, it’s difficult to feel like the show has picked a new set of goals that expose some of its limitations.