Show of the Day: Sons of Anarchy, Plot Notes

27 Jul

Recently, I wrote a spoiler-free post about my experience watching Sons of Anarchy.  Now I move on to some notes on the show which are chock-full of plot spoilers.  Again, spoilers abound.

I hate to start with the end, but that’s what’s in my mind the freshest.  Season 4 is absolutely ridiculous, and far more ridiculous than any other season by a long, long shot.  Basically, season 2 was all about the growing rift between vice president Jax and president Clay.  Season 3 reunited the two of them in a common purpose, the reaquisition of Jax’s kid in Belfast.  For the most part, any discord between the two was quieted during that period, or at least put on hold.  Jax and Clay worked together against their mutual enemies, which were twofold, the treacherous leaders of the Sons of Anarchy, Belfast (SAMBEL, as they are known for short), one of whom was an original SAMCRO member, and Jimmy O’Phellan, their old contact for guns with the Real IRA who turned against the IRA when a chance to make more money was on the line.  O’Phellan also stole SAMCRO member Chibs’ wife and daughter many years ago, adding to the feud on a personal level.  The club stands tall, works together, and figures out a grand plan over the course of the season to get Jax’s son back, take out Jimmy, pleasing the IRA leaders, and at the same time take out the dreaded super-corrupt nefarious Agent Stahl.

Okay, quick note on this, the whole Agent Stahl situation.  Agent Stahl, one of the main villains over the course of Sons of Anarchy, is an ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, but really mostly with the firearms in SAMCRO’s case) agent determined to take down the Sons in order to further her career.  She starts out as a shady hard ass, and is shown to lie and manipulate at first in order to convince the Sons to turn on another, or bend to her will.  This seems villainous because the Sons are our protagonists, but from another angle, it could be seen as doing anything within the rules to take down violent criminals.  But then, it turns out she’s crazy corrupt and is willing to lie or make up stories to save her own ass and further her career, including framing Gemma Teller for a shooting that Stahl committed, questionably but not obviously wrongly, at the end of Season 2.   Stahl probably shouldn’t have killed the Irishman she killed, but it was probably kind of defensible even if she would face an inquest and some moderate trouble.

So she’s a corrupt cop, with her career as priority #1, but also trying to take down these clearly bad dudes.  But then in season 3, Stahl takes it farther by a power of well, at least 10, maybe 100.  She shoots and kills her own partner, who she is sleeping with, and then frames her for framing Gemma.  Yes, if you didn’t think she was just damn evil before, well, there is absolutely no way to defend Stahl now.  Sons of Anarchy is not big on restraint.

And that actually aptly leads back to what I wanted to talk about before, which was the great Jax vs. Clay battle of Season 4.  Soon after recovering from the events of Season 3, the tension between stepson and stepdad returns.  In season 2, the battle revolved around power and the direction of the club.  I, and most viewers, I would imagine sided with Jax, both because of the general bias towards siding with the protagonist, and because Jax wanted to move the club in a safer, less lawless and violent direction, while Clay wanted to make the most money.  Clay’s position, we thought was wrong, but within the context of SAMCRO, he had fair points.

In season 4, this dynamic has changed completely.  Instead, it turns out that Clay is completely and totally evil, in fact, as exponential a difference as was between Stahl pre-and-post murdering her partner, is between that Stahl and Clay now.  Clay does just about every imaginable awful thing someone in this show could do outside of blowing up an orphanage full of mentally challenged four-year olds, and after watching the season, there’s no doubt he would do that if they got in his way.  But he checks off every other box.  He hires an assassin to take out Jax’s fiancé, Tara.  He beats his wife, Gemma.  He murders in cold blood fellow member, and original member, Piney, who was Jax’s father’s best friend.  On top of this, it turns out he murdered Jax’s father.  He’s EVIL.  Basically, the season pretty much has to end with him going down, and it really should end with him dying (or Jax dying, but that would be the end of the series, and it had already been renewed).  However, because he’s Ron Pearlman, probably, and for whatever other reasons, creator Kurt Sutter did not want to kill him.  So instead they came up with a ridiculously contrived twist that forces Jax to keep Clay alive, albeit powerless.  It reeks of potentially keeping around a main villain too long, a la Sylar from Heroes or Ben from Lost, thinking you can squeeze a few more drops out of what was once such a fruitful source of captivating villainy.  The smart move is to kill them off when they’re on top, when they’re at a place where you say, wow, that was an amazing villain, but if they continued on any farther, they’d start to lose some of their edge, credibility, or begin to come close to repeating an existing storyline.  SEASON 1 DEXTER SPOILER – Dexter did the smart move for example with killing the ice truck killer at the end of season 1 – many other showrunners would have drooled over the dynamic Dexter and his brother had and envisioned a future where they match wits continually.  DEXTER SPOILER OVER

Justified risks facing this concern with Boyd, but so far, the writers have been just clever enough, combined with the fantastic acting of Walter Goggins to keep Boyd interesting without going far enough to put them in a position they have to kill him or look ridiculous for not doing so.

Anyway, this comes all the way back to Sons of Anarchy in that, nothing will irritate me more than a slow rise to power for Clay when he should have been killed.  Sure, he couldn’t have died in the plot, because of the crazy plot twist with the Feds representing the cartel, but that felt a bit contrived as a way to prevent Jax from leaving and to keep Clay around.  If Clay has to be around, I hope he just stays pathetic and on the outs, and if anything a lone wolf, rather than somehow convincing Gemma to get back with him, or the club to follow him again.

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