At a first glance, the plot of Sons of Anarchy may appear to be about nothing more than the deserved downfall of a bunch of anarchist bearded misogynists who ride around on motorcycles. However, Sons of Anarchy is neither an endorsement of mindless mayhem and hypermasculinity, nor a simplistic morality tale; believe it or not, the demise of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO) is depicted in a form most akin to tragedy.
The show is often compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet due to its similarly complex plotlines and characterisations. Because Sons creator Kurt Sutter combines traditional tragic elements with modern-day settings, the downfall of the club appears in a more sympathetic light than you might expect.
The tragedy of the plot emerges through the members’ inability to reconcile their attachment to the club with their desire to fulfil normal social roles in their rapidly-modernising hometown of Charming, California. As the show progresses, many of the Sons become dissatisfied with the values and behaviour the club represents. However, a tragic paradox arises as characters’ involvement in SAMCRO increases their detachment from wider society and pushes them further into the club. For instance, Opie consistently allows the needs of the club to overshadow his domestic responsibilities, while Tig’s daughter is burned alive by a rival of the club as a form of retaliation.
Charlie Hunnam’s portrayal of troubled Jax Teller enhances the tragedy. Although he is set to inherit leadership of the club, Jax struggles to reconcile his role within SAMCRO with his desire to be a good father. His identity crisis mirrors that of the club, as both appear doomed to follow the same self-destructive path as Jax’s father.
Like any good tragedy, Sons is notorious for its portrayal of violence. Sutter is renowned for his attention to gory details and his dramatisations of gang-related violence are always incredibly inventive and grotesquely graphic. In keeping with tragic tradition, the show does not shy away from killing off its main characters: by the end of the seventh season, almost everybody associated with SAMCRO has been punished for their deplorable behaviour with a brutal execution.
Ultimately, Sons of Anarchy has everything a modern viewer desires: violence, sex, humour, emotional impact and social relevance. Although the behaviour of the main characters is consistently appalling, towards the end, you may find yourself strangely sympathetic towards some of them – excluding Clay, who is indisputably vile. However, as thrilling as it is to watch, there is an undeniable sense of relief when the action ceases as SAMCRO undoubtedly takes the long road to its inevitable demise.
Image: BagoGames @ Flickr