In one of the final episodes of the highly acclaimed TV series Sons of Anarchy, gang leader Jax Teller is meeting with district attorney Tyne Patterson. As he walks out of the meeting, Patterson asks a question: “Jackson, what happens at the end of the day?” Jax bluntly replies “the bad guys lose.”
Jax Teller couldn't have always been bad. One would think at a time in his life he had innocence; a sliver of pure white cleanness, one not yet stained with the ink of blood. Maybe there was a playing catch with dad moment. Maybe a dog. A snow cone Saturday in the summer and killing time at the lake. Killing time so politely, not in the way he would kill dozens of men as he grew. Even with a devilish grin, Jax Teller surely felt at one point that the law was nothing more than an abstract idea of security, and not a constant worry like a thirsty vulture just over his blood soaked shoulder.
Sons of Anarchy, the fictional biker gang TV series, captures all the essence of Breaking Bad and Dexter in that it showcases brutal violence in hopes you'll gorge on the hook to be reeled in. SOA is in fact the most brutally violent show in TV history. I don't have some crazy Hollywood statistics to back that statement, but nearly every episode contains the deaths of two or three or 12 people. These are not murders committed in vain typically. Jax Teller has a level head that keeps his focus on what matters to his club- but they are murders none the less.
What you must know before watching Sons of Anarchy is this: this show is not a series about good versus evil. No matter what side of that coin you are on, if you're watching SOA for the good vs. evil narrative, it's not there. One, because good never seems to win. Two, because evil wins so frequently in blowout fashion, it's not even a fair fight. With gangs of lawless white men, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics, there is little room for goodness here. There is family, there is protective culture, and there is cooperation among some gangs during stretches, fragile as it may be. But good is little more than a rusted needle buried in a haystack. A haystack soaked in gas and lit on fire.
The "Sons" are a group of pretend heroes. These are men that have agreed to take part in a club filled with lawless ambitions and a unique thirst for vengeance. Their "heroics" are only that to a small group of people: club members, family members, and the occasional beneficiaries from another club they've temporarily aligned with. Whether participating in selling guns, dealing drugs, or producing "adult entertainment", the "Sons" exist for the good of their own club, and nothing else.
If you're like me and watch these type of TV series through a spiritual filter, you'll notice the overarching theme seems to be revenge. This need for vengeance is not cast solely on rival gangs, but occasionally on members within the Sons very own club. Sometimes even family members. And in all of the unrealistic lawlessness that abounds in each episode, the common thread is that Jax Teller, the main character, is wrestling with who he should be, not just for the legacy of the club (laid out in detail from his deceased father), but for the sake of his own two sons. Two little boys that, amazingly, Jax realizes should be nowhere near such a seedy and deadly affiliation that a group of men wearing leather vests stitched with grim reapers has. Jax knows hope for his own clean exit from the club's consequences is gone, but wants nothing more than to pave some type of path that allows his kids to grow up without violence, without constant death, and without constant threat. To grow up normal.
One of the intriguing elements about the Sons of Anarchy is its spiritual elements. Despite all the corruption and lewdness that surrounds nearly every character, there are characters who wrestle with their sins and how to absolve them. No TV series (ever, I promise) has done a better job with music, and SOA has a wide balance of thunderous guitar driven rock during shootout scenes and party anthems during drunken celebrations. There are also numerous spiritual songs during moments of sorrow and deep reflection. One episode in season 5 has the song "Unclouded Day" playing by Audra Mae. "John the Revelator", the classic song written about John of Patmos in the Bible is heard during season one. In season 7 you hear the hymn "Blessed Assurance". Themes of faith can be seen woven throughout the shows' seasons.
But no one is good. There is deceit from everyone, there is corruption, there is murder, and there is greed and lust. There are moments of brutality that will make the strongest stomach squeamish. And every character, even the ones who trickle in like innocent sheep make at least a subtle transformation into ruthless wolves. Such is the life in Charming, a town with a name that defines oxymoron. A town with little to speak of beyond the borders of uncontainable gang wars.
I don't know what to pull from SOA. I don't know if the numbness to the killing is what drives the characters. I don't know if it's fueled by revenge more or simply trying to survive. In the narrowest of little boy's dreams he is playing the hero, removing the bad guy to make the world a better place. But what if the little boy is a bad guy? What if he's just a slightly more polished version of the other bad guys? Do we then have permission to root for him? Is cold blooded murder easier to justify only when you're on the right side of the gun?
Sons of Anarchy gives us no heroes. It's a large cup filled halfway with senseless killing mixed with vigilante justice. It's a cold tale of 1000 ways to get revenge. But it pulls you in. You'll find yourself rooting for the torture of the deviant and likewise cringing at the inevitable brutal end of a member's life. Such is the day to day life of the Sons.
With such twisted irony the tragedy of the show is in the mistakes of its characters, who make stupid assumptions and careless mistakes costing lives of loved ones. It had to be that way. Revenge is a sharp blade rarely pulled cleanly from the chest. Bullets rarely drop a man dead without ounces of blood pouring out. Jax Teller was right. At the end of the day, at the end of the story, the bad guys lose. Strange ending to a world in which the good guys never seemed to show up.