Thoughtful & Abstract: Sons of Anarchy: Season One: Ain’t Your Father’s MC

In which Shawn (@genx13) and Kim (@kimfreakinb) reminisce about Season One of Sons of Anarchy. Shawn just started watching the show this summer and Kim has been watching for years. As we run up to the final season, here are some thoughts about the show’s debut season in the fall of 2008.

Shawn: Sons of Anarchy has always been one of those shows that I didn’t watch but knew that I’d love. I loved Kurt Sutter’s work on The Shield and this show has lots of the touches of that show that made it unique in the police drama genre. The motorcycle club setting is original for a television show. It’s worked in movies and comes with a certain set of preconceived notions.

Where to start? I love the arc of Season One. We start with a birth and end with a funeral. The show starts with Wendy having Jax’s baby. The big drama of those early episodes is tempered against the survival of the baby. The finale ends with a funeral of Donna. I loved the shot of Jax walking up to the service as an Angel of Death – he’s dressed in the white t-shirt against the sea of black at the funeral. The journey of this season and I’m assuming the show is that of Jax. At the end, the more innocent Jax is dead and he’s ready to make a big move.

It’s interesting to me how they kept upping the violence ante through the season. The violence to start was usually off screen and included workers trapped in an explosion or opposing gangs being shot. By the end of the season, we had the tense shooting of Donna and the even more disturbing interaction with the witness to the assassination. I’m already heartbroken over characters that I’ve known 13 episodes. I don’t know how it’ll be after multiple seasons.

I’m totally onboard and anxious to move on to Season Two. Can you still separate out your feelings from this season apart from what has happened since?

Kim: It’s been a while since I first binge-watched three seasons before waiting patiently for the fourth! Because I watch very little TV, I’m incredibly picky about what I do spend time with. Most shows take me three or four episodes to warm up to before I decide if I’ll continue, but with SoA, I was hooked from the first episode. Trying to figure out what it was, perhaps it was my love of The Sopranos that really brought this home. I loved rooting for the bad guy who was really the good guy even when he was doing awful things, and that’s the feeling I got about Jax right off the bat.

Now, I’ll be honest and say I’ve never seen The Shield, so I don’t have jack to compare Sutter’s style to. I can say that right from the start, I dug the “no-holds barred, this is what I’m putting out there” attitude, because if you’re going with a show not on network TV, you need to push that envelope. Sure, there’s violence, there’s death, there’s unpleasant truths. But look over there! It’s a baby! It’s an Elvis impersonator! There are half naked people! And holy shit, are the people on this show attractive!

So we have the voice-over of Jax’s father via his manuscript as a kinder, gentler Son vs. Clay. We have the junkie wife vs. the hot doctor. We have the law vs. SamCro. You pointed out Jax’s white over a sea of black. It’s the ultimate yin-yang, push-pull that sets up an amazing series. You can see that there’s always going to be a good vs. evil concept, you’re just not sure who is always going to be the good guy. You can’t always root for the same person in a show like this, because you don’t know when your favorite is going to snap and suddenly be the most detestable character you’ve ever seen. Quite possibly, that’s what I love about it. I mean I want to root for Tara to get Jax away from the violence, but shouldn’t part of me want to see Jax in jail, because, well, criminal?

I think after the first season, the only thing I had difficulty with was the unlikely pairing of Jax and Tara. I get the “bad boy” attraction, and let’s face it, he’s also incredibly hot. However, at some point, shouldn’t she have grown up and stuck with professionals like herself? Is she out to save him? Did she come back because of her experience with the psycho stalker & she knew he’d take care of it? There’s a history there, first love and all that, but I look back to when I was 17 and I certainly want nothing of that life, although I do miss the boyfriend’s motorcycle. That was always fun, but I digress.

I struggled a bit with that pairing, but I also wanted it to work out. Where were you sitting at the end of season one with those two? Were there any characters you loved to hate? And which did you hate to love? You show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

Shawn: I’m so glad you brought up Jax and Tara. I wanted to specifically talk about an episode. For most people, the season is going to be emotionally dominated by Donna’s death in “The Sleep of Babies”. But I’d argue that “The Pull” is a huge key to the ongoing story.

The title “Pull” refers on the surface to the main plot of getting money together to buy some guns. But the real “pull” is that of Jax and Tara. You said it right – she should have grown up. So why is she back in town? Is she back for Jax to protect her? Or are we talking about a true soulmate? Or is the sex with Jax good enough to bring you back from Chicago (the likely answer?)? That pull between them is palpable. I can feel it between the actors.

The episode has the action packed attack on the crew at the bar with the IRA contact by the Mayans. This leads to Jax going to get the medical supplies from Tara. There’s an emotional tenseness that offsets the violent confrontation earlier in the episode. When Kohn walks out of the bathroom when Jax initially leaves there’s a moment when I don’t know if I can take any more. The torture of Tara is almost out of place in the type scenes we’ve had up to this point in the series. This emotional torture and sexual threat is much more personal than the violence we’ve seen regarding drugs and weapons. It brings the series to a whole other level.

The combined culpability of Tara and Jax in the death of Kohn pulls them closer together. The intimacy of the sexual assault on her combined with the ultimate sexual union of Jax and Tara after the murder sets their relationship in a spot that we will refer back to as Wendy returns to the fold a few episodes later. This pull isn’t even necessarily love. There’s the telling moment in a later episode where Tara tells Jax she loves him when they wake up and he doesn’t say anything.

I think their relationship is representative of the pull that many of us feel in our lives. Jax is a complex person who is pulled in many directions. He’s got the pull between the mother of his child and a woman who might be his soulmate and chance at happiness. He’s got the pull of his father through the book. He’s got the pull of trying to get out of the violent lifestyle but constantly being pulled back in. It’s the story I want to see play out the most over the next seasons.

Who am I loving and hating? I think I’m most intrigued and repelled at the same time by Tig. They aren’t pulling any shit with him are they? He’s a violent man. His solution to problems is typically violence. He offsets Jax well. But I’m having a hard time forgiving him for some of his actions. I think I root for Half Sack the most. The prospect gets all the crap jobs and has suffered but never wavered in his dedication to the crew. It’s that dedication that isn’t sugar coated and laid out there. It’s the reason they will do illegal things often – for their brothers.

There’s a pull to this show that I get after Season One. The haunting use of the Andy Williams song in “The Pull” stays with me. “I can’t get used to losing you / No matter what I try to do / Gonna live my whole life through / Lovin’ you.” There are losses in the show. I see that in almost every episode. I’m sure it’s going to keep happening. You don’t forget them.

I wanted to ask you about music in the show. I find it equally formulaic they way they use it and affecting at the same time with their unique choices. How are you with the music? And I’ve shown you mine – what does yours look like?

Kim: I wasn’t overly wild about the music in Season One. There were some excellent tunes and I prefer the bluesy ones to anything else. Anytime you can work in the Black Keys though, it’s going to be a win. I think as it flows into following seasons, the songs get more powerful, and the music carries much of the story, if you choose to listen. In Season One, the most meaningful song for me was “John the Revelator” by Curtis Stigers & The Forest Rangers. It was such a daunting tune and when set with the death of Donna and the way the entire face of SamCro changed with those events, it foreshadows what’s to come.

You mention Tig. He does some awful things, yet has quite the conscience that appears with the Opie/Donna story. You see it clearly when he can’t shoot Opie in the doll warehouse. I think he later says something about not being able to do it while he was looking at him. So, the drive-by was the perfect setup for him to have this moment, where he could be 100 percent Clay’s boy and earn his keep. And for Tig, that’s really what it’s all about. Side note: this is simply an excellent choice of casting with Kim Coates. He’s got that unruly, curly hair that dares you to fuck with him and balances it out with those beautiful eyes that hold his kindness and compassion. You get some of that from Tig later in the series.

Favorites out of Season One, easily Jax and Bobby. I remember wanting to like everyone. I really liked Bobby, as he was the guy I just wanted to hang out and drink beer with. He’s the kind of guy who can be intimidating when he needs to be, yet can hang out with kids and make everyone smile. Jax, the obvious heartthrob, but in season one, he still looked so much like a kid to me that it was tough for me to see him as anything but a lost 19-year-old boy who needed someone to take him by the hand and show him a better way. Granted after the steamy scene between him, Tara, and the dead body, it was a little easier to see him as something I’d move to Charming to chase. Or fix. I think that may be what I liked about Tara being there – maybe she could fix him. Only she was quite wishy-washy and I wondered how she was going to stand next to Jax with Gemma looming around the corner.

I wanted to like Opie, I really did. But I just wasn’t feeling it for him in Season One. I thought he was like a sore-tailed cat who couldn’t say no to either his wife or his club, so he was just going through the motions, waiting for something to break one way or another. You’ll see his evolution through the next few seasons and it’s an incredible journey.

Who did I dislike, as a character, in Season One? Clay Morrow, hands down. Ron Perlman does such a fantastic job of making me want to crush him from my couch. I think I even did the close one eye and squish his head between my fingers once or twice. Every little thing he did made me cringe. Gemma also was on my list of people I loved hating Season One. I just wanted someone to smack her and remind her that she has a place and it’s not at the table. But that’s part of the culture of this club, isn’t it? She’s the matriarch of this rag-tag group of guys and the glue. She’s integral and belongs in this role, but I also wanted to see her in more of the old-lady shoes. The metaphorical ones, not orthopedics.

One thing I simply love about SoA is that Kurt Sutter has found a way to take these criminals and make us care about them and their well-being. I know at the end of Season One I wanted a happy ending for everyone, but knew that would never be possible with the lives they lead. It’s tragic and hard to watch at times, but that’s the way it should be. It’s real life and natural progression, just boxed a little differently.

Where do you see life heading for little Abel? Following in the footsteps of father and grandfather? Does he have a chance to get out from under the desperate, crushing life he was born into? Let’s root for the baby. He can’t screw too much up at this point in his life.

Shawn: I think you are hinting at the strength of the series as I see it so far. It’s a group of outlaw bikers who are involved in murder, guns and drugs. But it’s a story of family that runs deep through every story. The MC is just an extended family. These relationships within the family are what keep me coming back.

The most interesting is the patriarchy here. We have Jax and his father who’s a real presence in this season because of the voice over. I think it is a very soothing and calming voice to Jax. It is the voice of perspective coming from “beyond the grave”. His words are guiding Jax into adulthood. Clay is the immediate father of SamCro and the man that Jax has turned to since his father left. I see the two as different sides of the same coin. They both have the future of the family in mind but have seen very different versions of that.

With the birth of Abel, Jax has started a journey to decide which father he will become. This season showed him different benefits of the way each man views running the club. Clay is a hard man to rebel against and I certainly get the feeling that he would choose the survival of the family (SamCro) over his relationship with Jax.

The final episode plays “John The Revelator” (I’m glad you mentioned it) and I think that’s telling. One it is a really dark song. The foreboding of what that funeral means to the future of the club is evident. But the imagery of John the Apostle opening the Seven Seals mirrors the images of Cain and Abel in the Old Testament. I think that you can’t completely apply the symbolism. Cain and Clay are close. Clay is the murderer like Cain. And Abel may grow to be the shepherd.

That’s what is keeping me at a high energy level for Season Two. It’s family. These aren’t the Waltons. But there’s love. It’s heartbreaking to see Piney deal with the death of his daughter-in-law. It’s Jax holding Abel. It’s Gemma watching her son become a man. It’s Clay and Gemma coming together after a long day and knowing that they always have each other. This story will not end well for most of them. I know that. It shouldn’t. The family is strong. The sun shines strong on our white clad Jax and his son. The Sons are strong.

Lead me out of Season One and into Season Two, Kim.

Kim: One great big dysfunctional family. I think that pretty much sums up most of America. There’s a song you’ll hear in Season Five that’ll tie that together for you, but for now, mum’s the word.

I think the first season did a fantastic job of drawing the viewer in. The characters are amazing, and you’ll watch them grow into their own skins over the next few seasons. We didn’t even touch on Sutter’s portrayal of Otto. We didn’t mention Juice or Happy. Did we talk about Chibs? I think we will in future seasons. We’ll talk a lot about their roles in the club and I’ll try to avoid the thoughts I have about each of them that aren’t entirely ladylike. By the end of Season Two, I think I’m pretty solid in my love for these characters and to lose one would be a crushing blow. I think that investment in the characters is what makes you feel like you’re part of this family. It draws you in and while you watch in horror at some of the things they do, you’re just hoping that they get through it ok, without jail time or, worse, getting killed.

Season Two, you’ll get some resolution on Opie regarding Donna’s death, you’ll get some new assholes to hate and you’ll get to see Henry Rollins in a white dress shirt (hot). You’ll get more Irish (yay accents!) and I think Chibs talks a bit more (yay accent!).

Whereas Season One eased you into this tragic lifestyle, Season Two is going to bend you over and forget the lube. You’ll get some horrible realities, some spectacular guest stars and a few heart wrenching moments with some of the best acting I think Katey Sagal has ever done. Not to mention porn stars, guns, overzealous lawmen (and women) and fantastic storytelling about our Men of Mayhem.

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Shawn Bourdo

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