In about a month, I will say goodbye to a show that has drastically changed the way I watch TV. Seven-ish years ago I discovered this crazy little show about a motorcycle club on a channel that I had never heard of. I honestly have no idea why I started watching Sons of Anarchy, though if I had to make an educated guess it probably had a little (or a lot) to do with Charlie Hunnam. But I was hooked immediately.
I’ll start off by saying I’m well aware that this show is not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s incredibly violent. Women are sexualized in a way that I should probably be really pissed about. And if you’ve never watched SOA and decide to give it a shot on Netflix, it will easily be one of the most depressing and exhausting binge-watching experiences of your life. But I also think you won’t be able to turn it off.
The premise is simple. Jax Teller is a young father in Charming, California, looking for a way to balance his humanity with the violent world he was born into. A legacy expected to eventually move to the head of the table and lead the club (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original, or SAMCRO), Jax has to decide what he really believes in.
Jax’s sense of duty to family and club has led him down some terrifying paths over the course of seven seasons. Some of which have admittedly veered off course into the absurd. But for everything it has gotten wrong or taken too far, SOA has also developed some of the most interesting and complex characters and stories I’ve ever seen on television.
One of those characters could have been a huge liability right off the bat. My instinct is to worry when a show’s creator casts their spouse or child on a show. Nepotism can be scary thing. But whatever made Kurt Sutter decide to cast his wife Katey Sagal as Gemma, the matriarch of the Teller family and the club as a whole, I’m glad he did it. My hatred for Gemma is real and it is deep. It started as a mild dislike but at this point she ruins my whole night. And we’re not talking about a love-to-hate situation. She is the absolute WORST. But the reality is the club, and the show, don’t work if she isn’t there being conniving, manipulative and downright evil. And man does Katey Sagal sell it.
In reality, hating Gemma (and everyone else at one time or another) is a part of the deal with this show. It’s easy to find yourself rooting for the bad guy, and not just because that’s your only choice. While the show may have started off with a noble Jax trying to take the club in a new and less violent direction, that dream quickly went up in smoke. Outside forces and internal strife were always going to prevent SAMCRO from becoming the knitting circle he envisioned. But that’s ok. I’ve spent 7 years rooting for them anyway. Hoping against hope that they will do the right thing in the end, but kind of being ok with it if they don’t.
I may know absolutely nothing about television production, but I do know that SOA has been doing its own thing from the beginning. Shots have always been gritty and dark with very little color, letting the bright red of the blood create a maximum impact whenever the action takes a violent turn. It’s a dark and dangerous world and that is reflected onscreen in a way that few other shows have managed to pull off.
For me though, it’s the music on Sons of Anarchy that has always been worth the price of admission. I confess to normally completely missing music on shows. I don’t know if I’m just oblivious because I’m so focused on the dialogue or if it’s because I’m not an innately musical person, but I generally have no idea about the soundtrack of anything I’m watching. I assume all shows have them, but I can’t even be sure about that. But this is different. Because of the free reign SOA has been given with episode lengths over the years, a show that is otherwise chock full of violence and drama can take a 5 minute interlude to feature a haunting version of “Forever Young” or “Greensleeves.” It’s amazing. And I’m not even mad when an episode doesn’t end until 11:45 and keeps me up way past my bedtime.
Like most of the shows I love, SOA is a peek into a world that is completely foreign to me. It’s not that different than watching a crew on a spaceship trying to find its way home from the outer reaches of space. So while I’m under no illusions that our friendly local motorcycle club is working with the IRA (I mean, they’re probably not, right?), it’s kind of fun to imagine that they are. I’ve watched it like Charming is the Wild West and SAMCRO is a new reflection of the idealistic outlaw. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s been a hell of a ride.