If I learned one lesson from Fox’s The X Files, it’s that shows reach a point in their production history when the decline in storytelling is inevitable. That doesn’t mean that each and every episode after that certain point smells something like garbage; rather, it implies the ongoing investment with fictional characters has a shelf-life. Even creators should respect the expiration date on their products. Good characters never die; they just have to morph into something that can transcend the obvious.
… which brings me to FX’s Sons of Anarchy.
As a mostly meat’n’potatoes Conservative-leaning schmoe, I’ve taken a little flack over the years whenever I admit to being a fan of the program. Once the derision dies down, I plead my case, that being that ‘Sons’ isn’t so much a cable program celebrating old-school gangbangers and their illicit ways as it is a classically-structured Greek drama. It has kings and queens and knights and serfs and peasants (all or most wearing leather), riding their steeds (Harleys) into the wild (California) looking for spoils (drugs, guns, hot chicks, etc.) in the collective pursuit of happiness (money, sex, family). Like those Greek plays, it has mommy and daddy issues galore, and there’s a heavy, heavy emphasis on building a kingdom while respecting a code of honor unlike anything on any other TV program broadcast today (yes, including MSNBC), even when that respect means ‘taking one for the team’ under the most perilous circumstances.
Now in its fifth season, ‘Sons’ remains under the watchful hands of its creator, Kurt Sutter, a screenwriter who cut his teeth on The Shield and even spent time riding with an outlaw biker gang in order to do research for his own program. Under his guidance, the show has continued to push even its own boundaries, pulling no punches when examining the good, the bad, and the ugly of characters embracing a life of crime. Nothing – and I mean n-o-t-h-i-n-g – happens without consequence, but what does it all mean for this crew? My guess is that, like The Shield, the audience won’t quite know until the very last frame airs.
Most of the story revolves around the life of Jackson ‘Jax’ Teller, the former prince now turned king of the Sons of Anarchy (aka SAMCRO), a bike club with controlling interest in the town of Charming, CA. Jax spent the lion’s share of the first four seasons of ‘Sons’ in a constant tug o’war with his adoptive father, Clarence ‘Clay’ Morrow, the prototypical motorcycling kingpin. In short, Clay shoots first and asks questions later, mostly because he built SAMCRO’s empire alongside Jax’s late father. Clay even had the local sheriff, Wayne Unser, in his pocket. Indeed, for a period, it was good to be the king … but time and some failed double-crossing proved to be too much for old Clay to keep up with. In the finale of the fourth season, Jax finally took the gavel and the center seat of the gang. Humbled, tired, and disgraced, Clay could only watch his reign slip away from the comfort of a hospital bed.
And, to be fair, ‘Sons’ had grown a bit humbled and tired as a program.
Over four seasons, the writers, actors and actresses invested a heavy weight in the legal and illegal shenanigans of a simple California biker gang. There had been deaths aplenty, even more random shootings and beatings. Characters had come and gone. Charming’s Sheriff’s Department fell apart as the town’s economy faltered, and county law stepped in to curb the madness. The Sons got into and out of the porn business. The FBI closed in, hoping to finally shut the club down. The men even traveled all the way to Ireland – of all places – to find their mojo again (along with Jax’s kidnapped son). Ireland? Can you believe it?!?! When season four closed with Jax’s crowning, I honestly thought the show had run its course. As king, Jax could finally put his endgame in motion (to safely ‘retire’ from the life with his wife and children). Having successfully de-fanged step-daddy Clay, what more treachery could be in store for the former prince?
I should’ve known that old kings never go quietly into the night.