Bad Latin Joke

It’s Not What I Do, It’s Who I Am

Sometimes in life we find ourselves standing in a mental eye of the storm. Eventually, all things converge, and pathways either become clear or are destroyed entirely. I know; I’m currently in one.

It started when I drove to my buddy’s wedding in Salmon Arm, B.C., about 12-13 hours’ drive from where I live. I was going alone—a rarity for me, as the few road trips I take these days almost always include either co-workers or my wife and two boys. Knowing how I tend to get tired driving when listening to either music or audiobooks, I finally took the plunge and dove into the world of podcasts.

A co-worker of mine told me about a particular podcast she enjoyed called “The Nerdist.” It has interviews that are more like conversations: shooting the shit about nerd culture with celebrities both great and small. Perfect; I’m not big into celebrities, but I love funny people, and nerd culture, so it fit.

Eleven hours into my drive, as I wound my way through mountain passes, I heard, for the first time, the cultured tones of Neil Gaiman, an author that I’ve long adored. He was speaking about the craft of writing, and I listened in fascination to some of the best advice I’ve heard since my university creative writing classes with the wonderful Gail Bowen (a brilliant, successful writer in her own right, who also proved to be a brilliant, successful teacher): write like the words don’t matter. In a flash of insight and estranged kinship, I realized that I had the same problem Neil Gaiman had once suffered from: I was constantly trying to write polished drafts, and failing to put any words on the page because they weren’t perfect.
So began a weekend that re-connected me with a creative side that has lain largely dormant for months, if not years. One of the other groomsman in my friend’s wedding party is a budding writer himself, someone who understands the new world of self-publishing far better than I; our conversations sparked hope that I too can publish and see a measure of success, even if I don’t have an agent or a formal book deal. As coincidence and luck would have it, the hotel I was staying at was also hosting the Shushwap Writers’ Conference…and who was in the room next to my friend (and sharing an outdoor space with the wedding party) but Gail Bowen herself, whom I have not seen since my university days.

The way home continued the train of inspiration, as I listened to a Nerdist podcast with Joss Whedon, who spoke of his habits as a young writer, mapping out story arcs, plotlines, and even what each character knew about various events in the larger story. I realized that, while I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing an essay without a strong skeleton in place, I was approaching my stories and other writing sentence by sentence, word by word, searching for a perfect path forward while having no idea where I was going, or what the landmarks might look like on the way. It was like trying to find my way out of a forest while picking a new direction to head every few steps: futile.

Since my return home, I’ve started looking at old projects that have sat on a virtual shelf for ages, with new eyes. I’ve finished one of them, polished another, and built the skeleton for a third. I’ve set the goal of having at least one publishable story collection by the end of the year, and already have a solid idea for my second publishable piece. Hell, I’m even posting again to this blog which, despite my resolve to write more, has languished more often than not in the last 18 months.

I’m not sure what kind of world I’ll be looking at when I step back out through the maelstrom, or what will be left of me to see it, but I’m optimistic. I feel like I’ve been handed some of the tools I need to do something I know, at heart, that I’m able to do. Writing is part of how I interpret the world, and how I interact with it.

It isn’t something I do; it’s part of who I am. Thanks for throwing me the compass, and enjoy your burrito.

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Precious Songs

Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

A few weeks ago, a co-worker offered up a challenge: define my musical life in fifteen songs or less, with no two songs by the same band.

 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  That’s certainly what I thought as I sipped my coffee and considered the idea.  I mean, it seemed to me that I’d already done part of the work when I was putting together my What Will You Be Listening To? article, musing about what I might be listening to one day as I grow even older and more crotchety in a seniors’ home.

When I really started digging, though, it was much harder than I expected.  I mean, what criteria does one use to choose music that has defined them?  Worse, for the bands that I’m truly enamored of, how do I choose one song to represent their entire body of work?  And how do I organize the final product?  While we’ve become a society largely focused on adding single MP3s to our MP3 player, rather than enjoying the unique flavour that an entire album in its correct order can bring, I still can’t fully abandon the need for a narrative, a chronology, or at least a justification (if only internal) for the order in which I place songs.

 

What I came up with was nothing less than the musical chronology of my life.  From the music of my father’s 1950/60s childhood that he insisted was, in fact, the only real music, through a musical journey of discovery led by a best friend, to the solid, core artists that set the musical foundation of my adulthood, and finally the somewhat lighter artists that have soothed me since.  Only artists and songs that have entered my sphere, be it on tape, CD, or MP3, and never really left; they have lingered on my playlists, disappearing only occasionally, and never for long.

While these criteria did mean disqualifying many great artists, and even entire genres like the quirky and humourous (think Jonathan Coulton, The Lonely Island, or Monty Python), ultimately I think the list is stronger for it.

Without further ado, I present:

 

Fifteen Songs to Rule Them All

The Early Years

  1. Brown Eyed Girl         —          Van Morrison
  2. Paint it Black               —          The Rolling Stones
  3. Smooth Criminal       —          Michael Jackson
  4. Imagine                         —          John Lennon

 

Discovery and Wonder

  1. Paul Revere                 —          The Beastie Boys
  2. No Fair Fights             —          Prick
  3. Daughter                      —          Pearl Jam

 

The Golden Years

  1. Dolphin’s Cry              —          Live
  2. Ænima                           —          Tool
  3. Stitches                         —          Orgy
  4. Judith                            —          A Perfect Circle

 

Growing Old and Mellow

  1. Bring Me to Life          —          Evanescence
  2. Wave Over Wave        —          Great Big Sea
  3. Hurt                                 —          Johnny Cash
  4. Hallelujah                     —          Jeff Buckley

Precious Songs

 

Consider the gauntlet thrown down: no more than 15 songs, only one song per band.  What songs make the soundtrack of your life?

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The Politics of Freedom and Tradition: Niqabs, Undebated Bills, and Gym Hours

For those of you who keep up with the news, it should have been pretty hard to miss the stories involving culture and religion arising from Canadian politics over last few months—particularly those involving Muslims.

The actions of terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have led to knee-jerk reactions by governments around the world, with little hesitation or consideration for what’s fair and equitable. Worse, these reactions and “protective measures” have had a trickle-down effect, often fanning the fires of prejudice rhetoric that lurk under the surface Canada’s reputation for kindness and acceptance.

I won’t tell you that one side is always right and one side is always wrong—not only is that a fool’s errand, it would also just be adding fuel to an already raging fire. What I will suggest is that we need to stop and consider why we react the way that we do, and start to examine the differences between doing things because they are sensible, and doing things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

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It’s no secret that Canada has always had a bit of an identity crisis. Our population is a mixture of aboriginal peoples and waves of immigrants from nearly (if not) every country around the world. Northern Europeans (mostly the Scots, the Irish, and the English) came over in droves, with immigrants from Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and even China following not far behind. Now immigrants from Africa and the Middle-East are just as common, and our diversity grows, pushing at the boundaries of our national identity.

We are located just north of one of the largest military and economic powers of the 20th century, which is somewhat of a big brother, having forged an independent identity just a few scant hundreds of years before we really forged our own.

We have an independent constitution, but are tied to the British monarchy.

We are, I would suggest, a bit of a loveable mutt.

Perhaps it’s that mixed heritage, that multi-colored mosaic, that makes it so difficult for us to make distinctions between what we were, and what we have become. It certainly complicates things when we attempt to make the very human (though perhaps true of all social animals) distinction between us and them. We have such an interesting variety of traditions, from so many different sources, that it’s tough not to latch on to them, as though our very existence depends on it.

Let me give you an example.

I recall the public outcry that happened when RCMP officers were first allowed to wear religious headgear (I believe turbans were at the forefront of the discussion, at the time), rather than their traditional Stetson. People were appalled that a Canadian icon was being changed, solely to meet the needs of a special interest group. After all, nobody is required to be an RCMP member, right? But does that mean that it’s right to make it impossible for someone to meet their religious obligations while serving their country?

We continue to have the same teething problems today. Both a Quebec judge and the Prime Minister himself recently came under fire for the same thing: insistence that a niqab, a formal veil worn by Muslim women as part of an abaya head covering, be removed; the judge insisted that the niqab be removed before she would hear a case in court, while the PM noted his government’s commitment to appealing a court decision that overturned the government ban on niqabs during the citizenship ceremony.

So why the insistence on removing the niqab? Two reasons have been suggested: confirmation of identity, and respect. The first is a straw man argument; applicants to court and those participating in citizenship ceremonies can have their identities confirmed in a private setting (and do so already). The second reason is grounded in cultural and religious tradition. The prevailing tradition in Canada is to remove one’s hat when inside, as a sign of respect. As much as this has eroded (and I’ll note that many people do wear ball caps inside, despite this tradition), it is still generally held to during formal occasions. Both the PM and the Quebec judge have stated that a failure to follow this tradition is, in fact, a sign of disrespect for the proceedings. The PM has also stated, in response to criticism from other political parties, that “almost all Canadians oppose the wearing of face coverings during citizenship ceremonies,” and that the act of wearing the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.”

I think it’s fair to say that these comments have been divisive, splitting Canadians (those that have paid attention) at both the political and grassroots levels. Some argue that those coming to our country should conform to the existing value system, while others argue that religious and cultural traditions of all Canadians should be upheld. The far larger problem that arises is the almost inevitable descent these “conversations” make into racist rhetoric, Islamaphobia, and misogyny.

So what’s the middle ground? Surely there are cultural and religious values that we need to respect—for if we value our own, it’s unfair not to value those of others. At the same time, we do have established traditions, and it’s just as unfair to completely dismantle them for the sake of inclusion.
I would suggest that the way forward is through a conscious evaluation of the cost of change versus the value of tradition, specific to each case. I want to go back, for a moment, to my example of turbans for RCMP members. What is the value of the traditional Stetson? As with all uniforms, I would suggest that the primary value is in visual recognition; we see the RCMP uniform, and we know precisely who they are. Do we lose that recognition if we remove the Stetson? Do we suddenly fail to recognize the uniform as uniquely RCMP? No; clearly there are enough visual indicators remaining. That suggests to me that the remainder of our attachment to it is probably little more than nostalgia and resistance to change—understandable, certainly, but not necessarily of any inherent value.

20150312 - Dontevenknowyou

 

By contrast, what value is there in allowing someone to wear a turban? Well, if we accept that wearing it is a fundamental part of someone’s cultural or religious values, so strongly ingrained that disallowing its wear would force the applicant to choose between serving his god and serving his country, then we’re talking about a fairly significant loss affecting a large cultural group. From a national perspective, we’re also reducing the pool of applicants available to fill an important job, and depriving the country of tax revenue it would receive on the RCMP officer’s potential earnings. Perhaps most importantly, we’re shooting ourselves in the multi-cultural foot; with a country already made up people and traditions from diverse backgrounds, and heavily dependent on immigration for growth (our birth rates are low, meaning that without immigration there will be too few to pay taxes and keep social programs going), there will eventually come a time where the majority is no longer of western-European descent and Christian background. We can choose to embrace multiculturalism, or continue with a cultural hegemony that will one day see prevailing traditions supplanted entirely—except perhaps poutine; I feel like that’s something most of us can agree on.
Let’s return to your regularly scheduled programming: the niqab. Let’s apply the same evaluation. What will be lost by allowing someone to wear the niqab? As previously noted, identity is not an issue, as a judge privately confirms the identity of each person prior to the ceremony. That leaves tradition: a vague sense that it’s inappropriate for people to wear headgear of any kind during a formal ceremony—though this rule is frequently broken by brides during weddings, orthodox Jews, and a large cross-section of religious officials.

So then, what is the value of allowing niqabs? Let’s start with the entire point of the ceremony: inclusion. The whole reason we have a citizenship ceremony is to ceremonially welcome new immigrants into the Canadian family. They are becoming part of the greater us, and are therefore to be granted all of the rights and freedoms of expression and belief that we enjoy. Let’s be clear, as well: we’re not talking about telling your teenage son not to wear the band t-shirt with the aborted fetus on it; we’re talking about preventing people from wearing clothes that form a significant part of their religious and cultural identity. They aren’t doing it to be rude or to challenge us, and it costs us nothing to allow it.
But “where does it all stop?” you ask. “Are there any situations where we should be favouring existing practices over newcomer requests?” Let me propose one more evaluation. Recently, a student at McGill University has come forward to request female-only gym hours, citing her cultural and religious beliefs as the reason.

So what would be lost by approving the request, and dedicating facility hours solely to women? Well, all university students pay (generally a fee over and above their tuition) for access to the campus’ recreational facilities. Dedicating facility time solely to one sex has the effect of reducing the overall available use times for all of the other sex. Let’s say, for example, that one hour was dedicated every day to women. Over the course of the 8 month school year (we’ll ignore spring/summer here, as only a small portion of students attend during that semester), that represents around 242 hours (approximately 34.6 weeks at 7 hours per week) that all male students are paying for, but not receiving. According to McGill’s website, 17,329 males attended McGill in 2013. That means that a total of 4,193,618 person-hours in the gym will be lost to males in the course of one year.

Now, what is to be gained? As with previous examples, I would suggest that there is a level of comfort and inclusion involved—the women who would prefer to attend the gym with only their own sex for cultural or religious reasons could do so, provided the gym hours chosen worked with their schedule. The problem is that we’re talking about a very small group who fit all of the following criteria: a) female, b) works out at the gym; c) belongs to culture that requires specific coverings for women in the presence of men; d) is unwilling or unable to wear those specific coverings while working out; and e) has a schedule that works with the hours chosen. Admittedly, there may also be women that belong to other cultures that simply desire to work out in a female-only environment, but that’s entirely preference, not ingrained culture or tradition.

So what we end up with is a situation where change would offer a minor benefit to a very small few, and a detriment to many. It seems an obvious choice. Things change a bit when you consider something like swimming times, where it’s clearly impossible for women to wear culturally-appropriate attire, which is why I don’t take issue with McGill’s existing policy for female-only hours at the pool. However, it seems pretty clear that the proposed change to gym hours and policies is poor value for the cost.
The problem is that we aren’t stopping for careful, logical consideration of cost and value when we run into these sorts of issues. Instead, we have knee-jerk reactions that may ultimately cost us some of the freedoms we take for granted as Canadians. I offer for example Bill C-51, which is currently making its way through the federal legislative process—with limited debate, consultation, and testimony by experts. All of these normal checks and balances are being manipulated and minimized by a government that claims the majority of Canadians support its actions, while at the same time building support and soliciting funding through deliberate fear-mongering—something that smells and feels distinctly Orwellian.

Also Orwellian are the contents of the bill itself, which limits free speech and protesting, while giving authorities much more power to deal with people that may do things—because “thoughtcrime” may be punishable, and it may start with a 7-day detainment without any need for charges or oversight from the court system. Upon application of a cost/value evaluation, it seems pretty clear that there is a significant cost to freedom involved, the extent of which we may never even realize without further analysis, debate, and expert testimony. The value is equally unclear. I’m not sure that there’s anything law enforcement will be able to accomplish with this bill in place that they can’t do now without being in direct violation of Charter rights.

So what can we do about any of this? Certainly, there’s something to be said for the voice of the people—messages delivered to government and media making it clear that the public does not support actions like the niqab ban or forcing through a bill that may fundamentally change our rights and freedoms. However, I would suggest that the most useful action is also the easiest: stop, think, and discuss. Don’t give in to fear of the unknown and respond with the expected knee-jerk. As Red Green said: “[like it or not,] we’re all in this together.”

It’s Been a Long Time, Baby…

So, it’s been a long time now.  I’ve tried to write a new post more times than I can count, something grand and wonderful, recapping the former year and hoisting the sails for the next, but it seems there’s always too much to do, and too little attention span available.

 

Why should this be any different?  I’ll tell you why: because when I’m done typing, I’m going to push “publish.”  If that means this cuts off somewhere, I’m sorry.  Really, that’s not necessary out of step for my personality.  Do you remember that Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns brings in Grandpa Simpson and some other gangbusters in to break up the protest around the nuclear plant?  His main tactics involve telling stories that go no where–like that time he had an onion tied to his belt.  I’m a little bit that way too; no, I don’t have an onion tied to my belt, but there was this one time…

 

For those of you that read my blog over the past year, you’ll have seen a bit of a movement from defeatism to self-reflection, and from daydreaming to seizing the day.  And then…nothing for nearly six months.  Nothing but a re-post and updating on a piece from December 2013 on where I thought Sons of Anarchy was going to end up, based on Hamlet, and an analysis of how well my predictions went, following the finale.  While the prediction article proved to be my most popular post ever, drawing in tens of thousands of visits from Google in just a couple of months, I couldn’t help but feel like a bit of a fraud; after all, it was a [shudder] re-post.  It seemed I had lost the vim and vigor that kept me, and the blog, going.

 

A lot of the reasons behind this are personal–so try to keep them between us, if you would.

Finances have been a struggle since the day I left university, and the addition of a house and kids only makes that harder.  While things are starting to look a bit sunnier now, it’s been one of the toughest years my wife and I have ever been through financially, and there is no part of our lives that hasn’t been affected by that stress.

Mental health has been an issue, as I have struggled not only with financial strain, but issues with my family, including a set of estranged parents, and even with my own body, as I struggle to take off the weight that I’ve put on through the sleepless, stressful first years of my sons’ lives.  Recovery is always slow and difficult with all things mental, and I liken it to trying to live in a house while gutting and renovating it.  After all, you can’t really get outside of your own head, can you?

I’d be lying if I didn’t include jealousy and intimidation, as well.  There is a wonderful community of Dad Bloggers out there, who are (by and large) warm, supportive men.  They are also a bunch of successful jerks (I kid, but I don’t).  There are so many great bloggers out there, even in my very niche, that seem to be doing the job better than I am, and finding more success doing it.  Though I try not judge myself against the successes of others and be overwhelmed, it’s hard not to.

 

So what’s changed?  Nothing drastic, surely.  But maybe there’s a slow growth there, a vine pushing up toward the sunlight.  As I watch my little hobbits grow larger and ever brighter, and push myself back into the light from the darkness, I reach for my pen.

Ego sum. Hic sol venit.

Welcome, belatedly, to 2015.

Sons of Anarchy: A Series Finale Explanation

If you’ve read my other article, Sons of Anarchy: A Series End Prediction, you’ll have seen my attempts to guess which characters line up with the characters from Hamlet, and even MacBeth.

The series finale was this past Tuesday, and, after taking some time to process the events, I wanted to offer how I saw the chips fall as Jax Teller took his final ride.

First, a quick review; my original character picks were:

Jax as Hamlet, Clay (and potentially Nero) as Claudius, Gemma as Gertrude, Tara (and sometimes Wendy) as Ophelia, Chibs as either Polonius or Horatio (with Bobby another possibility for Polonius), Juice as Laertes, and Marks as Fortinbras.

How wrong I was, in so many ways–and you’ll see how my opinions evolved, if you look back at my updates as the season progressed.

 

So how did things change?  The major dynamic, in so many ways, was the decision to make Gemma into Claudius.  Certainly, the seeds were sown early, with the death of Clay and then Tara, but it didn’t become truly obvious to me until Gemma’s body count EXPLODED in this season.  Just as Claudius was ultimately responsible for the death of almost everyone in his court, so too did Gemma preside over the slaughter of SAMCRO, and most of the nearby rival gangs.  Interestingly, though, Gemma also embodied many of the traits of Lady MacBeth, who pushed her husband to kill the king, and then proceeded to fall apart mentally as a result of her decision.  Like Lady MacBeth, Gemma spends a significant amount of time talking to people and things that aren’t there.  I would also suggest that Gemma dies by her own hand; yes, Jax pulls the trigger, but it’s her decision to stop running and wait for Jax, and then push him into finishing it for her.  Jax is merely the vehicle for her self-destruction.

Surprisingly, it was Uncer that filled the role of Gertrude, as signified by the goblet next to his body (Gertrude dies after drinking from a goblet Claudius has poisoned, intending it for Hamlet).  In the play, Gertrude was generally clueless; she never really grasped what was going on, but she loved both Claudius and Hamlet, as she had loved Hamlet’s father.  Uncer has always loved Gemma, and loves Jax like a son; unfortunately, his inability to grasp what’s going on, and a stubborn desire to do what he sees as right puts him directly into the line of fire.

Surely, there is no arguing that Tara was anyone but Ophelia.  Even her death echoed both the play (where she drowned), and her time as an “old lady.”  Gemma drowns her in the kitchen sink, hits her with an iron and stabs her with a fork–indicative of both of their domestic roles.

As it turns out, Chibs was indeed Horatio; a long-standing friend of Hamlet/Jax, he lives to bear word of what has happened, and is left to clean up the mess.

Bobby, in his death, did become the character of Polonius, though it seems a disservice to his character to suggest it, as Polonius was haughty, arrogant, and bumbling; Bobby is none of these things.  He was loyal to the end.  There is no denying, though, that he died because of Jax’s mistake.  In the play, Hamlet stabs Polonius through a curtain, believing it to be Claudius; in SoA, it is Jax’s misreading of what kind of man Marks is that leads to Bobby dying in his arms.

Juice was Laertes, I believe, but the show allowed a resolution that never happened in Hamlet.  Laertes and Hamlet were actually friends before Hamlet inadvertently caused Ophelia’s death (by suicide), and mistakenly killed Laertes’ father, Polonius.  By the end, Jax and Juice have actually had the opportunity to resolve their differences–as much as that is possible, anyway.  In return for Juice’s information, Jax allows him a quick death, at the hands of Tully.

Fortinbras is but a minor character in Hamlet, but Sutter took him to a different level by channeling him through Nero, and having Jax make a very specific request.  In the play, Fortinbras is a foreign king come to visit, and he takes word of Hamlet (and everyone else’s) death, in essence ensuring that everyone knows what a hero Hamlet was.  In one of the most painful moments of the episode for me (hitting me right in the daddy feels), Jax asks that Nero not hold back, but have Wendy tell the boys that their father was not a good man–he was a criminal and a murderer.  He wants only for them to grow up ashamed of him, so that they will never feel the urge to follow in his footsteps.  Nero, as a former king (gang leader), steps into the role and carries out Jax’s request.

 

Let me set aside Hamlet for a moment, though, and talk about some of the things that happened outside the text.  First, the performances, particularly from Charlie Hunnam (Jax) and Tommy Flanagan (Chibs), were outstanding.  Jax transitions from the angry, vengeful, broken man we’ve known for the entire season, into a calm, peaceful, and loving character that has embraced his eventual fate.  Hunnam’s facial expressions alone were remarkable, fully conveying the change that has occurred in Jax’s soul.  Chibs has to grapple with the loss of a man close enough to be his son, who is also his president, and his friend; Flanagan managed to simultaneously encapsulate grief, pain, and enduring strength throughout his performance in the finale–it was another great performance from a diverse and under-appreciated actor.

I was deeply intrigued, though not surprised, to see the homeless woman return, and it was great to see her handing over the blanket–tying together Jax’s disastrous career as the president of Redwood Original.  Tied to the homeless woman/angel (or so I thought of her) were the bread and wine references.  These felt a little heavy handed at times, but certainly got the theme of redemption across; as Jax’s blood flows toward the crows picking at the wine-soaked bread (great connection back to the first episode of the series, BTW), you know that he has successfully atoned for what he has done.  This is not to say that he is in any way a good person–as he himself is well aware–he has done what he can, with the tools and knowledge he possesses, to make right what he screwed up.  For that, and for freeing the hearts and minds of his sons, he is redeemed.

 

There has been a lot of controversy over Sutter’s decision to have Jax kill himself, but I truly think it was the only way.  While I outspokenly didn’t think he could follow in his father’s footsteps and kill himself, Sutter made it clear that the two actions were not the same: J.T. killed himself out of despair, leaving everyone else to deal with his baggage; Jax did his best to clean his house, and then killed himself to rid his sons of the last tie they had to a life that would destroy them.  Maybe a better man would have had more options, but Jax Teller was not a better man.  The only thing he could do was meet death with a smile on his face.

Sons of Anarchy: A Series-End Prediction

Looking for an explanation of the series finale and an analysis of which characters from Hamlet each SoA character lined up with?  Come check out my series end analysis!

 

 

UPDATE: December 4, 2014  (Originally published December 16, 2013)

The final ride is next week.  That’s right: next week.  Now that everyone has had a chance to catch up on the penultimate episode (except, perhaps, for those of you viewing through the Playstation Network, which a colleague has been furiously tweeting at for not posting the new episode in a timely way), let’s see how things are playing out.

This was a HUGE episode, with three major deaths: Gemma, Uncer, and Juice.  I should have caught the signs FAR sooner, but last night was the first time it really clicked for me that Gemma spent a LOT of time in chapels (particularly at the hospital) during the first few seasons.  This was echoed last episode, when Gemma ran back to her father’s parish, and again in this episode when she went to her father’s very religious nursing home, and was mistaken for someone “from the church” by her father.  This reflects, quite directly, the scene in which Hamlet plans to kill Claudius, but waits because Claudius is atoning for his sins and would go straight to heaven, regardless of his crimes.

Gemma’s position as Claudius is flavoured by overtones of Lady MacBeth, as well, as she quietly looks to her past and then (in essence) commits suicide via Jax.  She knew he would come for her, she accepted it, and she was ready for it.  I also liked how Nero’s concern for Jax’s soul echoes, in part, Hamlet’s hesitation in killing Claudio.

Uncer’s death was also illuminating, particularly in the last shot of him, when a goblet lies at his side.  At the end of Hamlet, Claudius attempts to poison Hamlet, only to have Gertrude drink of the same cup and die.  Uncer, with his general lack of understanding of what’s really going on at times, and with his love for both Gemma and Jax, becomes Gertrude in the end.  Props to Kurt Sutter for his skillful, subtle homage.

Juice’s death felt a bit rushed, but I’m honestly glad his suffering is over–and that he got to finish his pie.  I still see Juice as a Laertes figure, so it will be interesting to see if the vehicle of his death is somehow echoed in how Jax goes (both Hamlet and Laertes die by the same poisoned sword).  I’m not sure I see that coming, though.

 

There were a few other interesting bits in this episode, outside of the deaths.  For one, I found it interesting that the Jax and Wendy end up having sex.  This brings things back full circle to the beginning of the narrative.  At its heart, Sons of Anarchy is a story about fathers and sons (JT/Jax, Clay/Jax, Nero/Jax, Jax/Abel, and a number of other potentials), so the real start of the story is Abel’s conception–the moment Jax became a father.  We didn’t see that, having fast-forwarded a bit to Abel’s birth, but it makes sense from a narrative perspective for the story to return to its beginnings.  Why this worries me, though, is how narrative theory affects the possibilities for the series end.  There are really only two choices for the end of a story: things are forever changed, or everything returns to status quo.  I fear that the return to the beginning of the narrative signals not only the closing of the story (you’ll notice that most good stories somehow circle back to close where they began), but the perpetuation of the cycle from JT/Jax to Jax/Abel.  Jax asking Gemma for JT’s manuscript makes me worry for Abels future–though this is counterbalanced a bit by Jax asking Nero to take Wendy and the boys to the farm (please run quickly, you four!).

Lastly, Jax’s limp.  Now, this may be nothing; in fact, I understand that Charlie Hunnam broke a toe recently, and that may be all there is to it.  It does bear some consideration, though, that Hamlet dies not of a sword through the belly, but of a small poisoned cut…

I can’t wait for next week!

Don’t forget to come back after the series finale to read SONS OF ANARCHY: A SERIES END EXPLAINED

UPDATE: November 20, 2014 

Two episodes left!

There have been a ton of GREAT comments here, and I much appreciate each and every one of you that has shared your view of how the finale will go.

It seems that most of you expect Jax to commit suicide.  I don’t agree, because I don’t think that’s in him.  The most depressing suggestion thus far, I think, is that the cycle will simply repeat, with Abel stepping in Jax’s shoes, Wendy into Gemma’s, etc.  While that makes great sense, actually, the optimist in me hopes that we see something else come of this.

I have trouble seeing Jax as a man that commits suicide.  Yes, he’s broken–badly broken in this past episode, particularly.  He’s also a man to take on responsibility for his actions, though, and I’m not sure that sense of responsibility will allow him to die by his own hand; while he might believe the club better without him, it would also absolve his responsibility to fix what he has broken.

I think this last episode has also been an interesting look at Gemma.  There was really no telling what direction she would go once she had lost everything.  We’ve seen her broken before (just before/how she met Nero is a good example), but she’s always had Jax and the boys.  Now she truly has nothing.  I wondered if that wouldn’t lead her to kill herself, like Lady MacBeth, and that felt all but confirmed when she sat at her kitchen table talking to Tara.  Now, I’m not so sure.  Above all, Gemma is a consummate survivor and master manipulator; still, I don’t feel like even the loss of everything else in her life has been sufficient punishment for what she’s done.  I must say, though, that I don’t think it will be Abel pulling a trigger.  He may have been the one to get the ball rolling, but he ultimately loves her, and doesn’t seem to have the ability to hate her for taking Tara’s life.  At this point, I honestly wonder if it won’t be Uncer pulling the trigger…

One last note:  Charlie Hunnam and Theo Rossi were SUPERB in this past episode.  Wow.

 

UPDATE: November 14, 2014

We’re now nearing the end of the season, and I can’t help but look back at what we’ve seen.  There have been some great comments on the original post, bringing in some fabulous ideas, such as Gemma surviving to choke on her own guilt (potentially after watching Jax kill himself), or having a direct confrontation between her and Abel.  Let me share what I’ve seen.

First, I think it’s worth noting that another Shakespeare play has quite firmly put its foot in the SoA door: Macbeth.  Gemma’s scenes of talking to Tara’s ghost echo Lady Macbeth’s troubled visions and sleepwalking after the  killing of King Duncan, as she attempts to rationalize and lay to rest her part in the murder.  This role works well for Gemma, who has an enormous body count stemming from her actions, and has goaded both Clay and Jax into committing any number of atrocities.  It may be worth noting, then, that Lady Macbeth dies by her own hand when she is finally overcome with the guilt of what she’s done.  It may be that Kurt Sutter is setting Gemma up for a confrontation with Jax that she will escape from, but lose everything she holds dear; at that point, she may feel she has no other option than suicide.
If we stick with Hamlet, however, it’s interesting to note that Bobby died as a direct result of Jax’s actions, placing him in that key Polonius role.  As for poor Nero, he seems so close to finally getting his farm and getting the hell out of charming–kind of like that old cop cliche where they’re killed only days before retirement.  Things don’t look good for Nero, in my opinion, which is a damned shame because he’s probably the most honorable character on the show at the moment.

Certainly, I have had to revise my opinion of who will play Fortinbras, coming in at the end to find the ruins of SAMCRO.  I had thought August Marks the likely candidate, but that seems somehow unlikely given the events of the last few episodes.  Perhaps Lodi or even Alvarez will have to step into those shoes.

One thing is very clear, though:  shit is about to hit the fan.

 

UPDATE: September 12, 2014 

So I’ve watched the season premiere now, and had a little bit of time to reflect on it.  While it would be a reversal of sexes, it may just be possible that Gemma is actually the Claudius figure.  She was effectively behind the murder of JT, whose “ghost ” haunted Jax.  She also played a part in the death of Clay.  Far from an antagonist, Nero seems to have taken on the role of placator and diplomat, while Gemma has grown only more ruthless, throwing people under the bus at every turn.

The finale, then, would be Jax killing GEMMA, after she accidentally gets Nero killed during a plot to kill Jax.  Frankly, given her single-minded focus on her grandchildren, it’s not particularly far fetched to see Gemma going after Jax, nor would it be remotely surprising to see her ruthlessness result in the inadvertent death of Nero.

Little else would really change in this scenario, oddly enough.  Juice, I think, is still the prime choice for Laertes, though I’m starting to wonder if maybe Chibs isn’t too dedicated to Jax to serve as Polonius.  You know who isn’t, though?  Tig.

Hmmm….

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I’ve loved Sons of Anarchy from the first season.  The writing is excellent, the acting is well done, and the characters are engaging.  I suppose it helps that I used to ride motorcycle when I was younger, and perhaps that Kim Coates, the exceptionally talented actor who plays Tig, lives only a couple of hours north of the city I live in, but it’s the story that’s held me for six seasons.  Now, with only one season left in the series, I’d like to offer my (somewhat) educated opinion on how I see this marvelous story concluding.

 

SPOILER ALERT:  IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE SOA SEASON 6 FINALE, STOP HERE.

 

It’s not a big secret that SoA resembles Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  In fact, I might argue that any story written about a son whose father is killed and supplanted will be seen that way, solely because Hamlet is so well remembered among Shakespeare’s plays, and is still often taught in high school.  However, as the seasons have played out, it has become clear that Kurt Sutter is using Hamlet as inspiration for his own masterpiece, though with his own artistic interpretations bridging the gap between the life of the privileged Prince of Denmark and the son of a biker gang king.

Being a literary nerd, I can’t help but make the connections between Hamlet and SoA, and I thought it might be worth sharing my thoughts on it, for those who may not remember Hamlet as well, or may not have bothered to make the connections themselves.

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