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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burnthewitch

On Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi, and an Ugly Shirt: Death by Social Media

I shouldn’t have to start this apologetically, or defensively, but I do so to try and deflect some of the cannon fire that will undoubtedly be turned my way and hope that a rare few people will actually read through to the end.  I am not a misogynist.  I have studied both feminist and masculinity theory, and put a great deal of thought into what defines male and female gender roles.  I also consider it essential that men and women feel safe and accepted when coming forward to report sexual assault, and I think that some of the recent discussions surrounding Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi may have assisted with that; that’s great, and I hope we’re moving toward a society where anyone feels free to bring forward their complaint to the proper authorities, and can be confident that those authorities will take it seriously and investigate it thoroughly.

That said, the wave of condemnation that has swept through social media toward Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, and Dr. Matt Taylor of the Rosetta Mission Team is absolute bullshit.

CannonFire

I won’t go into the details of the allegations against Ghomeshi and Cosby; I expect that anyone who can find my little corner of the internet has long since heard a nauseating amount about them, and they aren’t central to my point.  Dr. Matt Taylor, I’ll note, is a scientist with the Rosetta Team who wore an anime-style shirt with half-naked women on it during the highly-publicized Rosetta landing.  He was immediately taken to task by media and feminists the world over, leading to a tearful apology from him, and continued vilification of both him and the parent company for the Rosetta team.  All up, it was probably a poor fashion choice from an equality perspective and (frankly) ugly to boot.  He’s the only one of the three that we can say, without a doubt, is guilty…and it’s of having poor taste.  Already, his sentence has been carried out, as I expect the day that should have been one of the brightest and happiest in his career has become a nightmare.

 

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What unites the stories of Ghomeshi, Cosby, and Taylor are the absolutely vicious social media backlash that has condemned all of them, acting as judge, jury, and executioner.  Facebookers, bloggers, and tweeters were quick to seize any crumb of “evidence” that could be found online about the cases, making instant assumptions of guilt, and calling for condemnation on a global scale.

This is not justice; this is a witch hunt–death by social media.  None of these men have been charged with anything, yet, let alone sentenced.  Despite this, they are already guilty in the eyes of the public, and condemned for it.  I’ve even seen the condemnation extrapolated to include all men of power; one blogger on Huffington Post went so far as to say that she had once been abused by a man in power and been too afraid to come forward—that’s why she believed Ghomeshi’s accuser.  That’s like me believing all servers are assholes because I once had bad service at McDonald’s.  Do serving jobs inspire crankiness for a lot of people?  Sure.  Does power corrupt some men?  Sure; some women, too.  Does it then follow that we should, as individuals and as a society, immediately condemn all servers as being poor workers and all men in power as corrupted, based on some random person’s experience?  No.  No it does not.  That’s why we have police investigations, courts, and due process—not just Twitter and Facebook users with limited information, a lack of suitable expertise, and no requirement for adherence to anything resembling impartiality.

 

 

Is Jian Ghomeshi a terrible person?  It seems likely to me, based on everything I’ve read, but I’ve never even met the man.  I could say the same thing about Kanye West, for that matter.  Is he guilty?  Ask the courts, if it ever comes to trial.

Should we condemn and ignore everything Bill Cosby has ever done because he MAY be charged with sexual assault some day?  There are artists and writers throughout history that have done terrible things and we still value their work; is Cosby different?  Is Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable to be condemned for Cosby’s actions?  More to the point, perhaps, is Cosby guilty?  It certainly seems unlikely that so many women would have come forward to falsely accuse him, but I’m hardly in possession of all the facts–nor is anyone else at this point.  Ask the courts, if it ever comes to trial.

Should we condemn Dr. Taylor, assume that he is symbolic of all things misogynist and exclusive in the scientific community, and ignore his participation in something that may help shape science for decades to come?  Or should we appreciate that he’s an individual, probably with a poor fashion sense and an interest in anime, who made a wardrobe mistake, and move on?  At worst, we can accuse him of objectification, but it seems awfully hypocritical for society to decry Taylor’s shirt while buying copy’s of People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” issue with a shirtless Liam Hemsworth in record numbers.  Is it because we’ve learned not to expect anything better from pop culture, but hold our scientists to higher standards?  Somehow I doubt it.

Maybe it is easier to “burn ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out,” but I like to think we’re better than that.  Prove me right.  Tweet away.

burnthewitch

On Raising Hobbits

“For all hobbits share a love of things that grow.”

 

This summer, every venture into the backyard started with the excited cry “let’s go check on the garden.”  My 3.5yo sprinted ahead of me through the grass toward the back of our lot, already intent on the raised beds I put in in the spring.  “Look!  The tomato is getting bigger!  And here’s our first pea!” (every pea is the first pea, just as every bean is the first bean and every carrot is the first carrot).

I’m pretty sure that I’ve killed every house plant that I’ve ever owned—including cacti.  Hell, if I’m being completely honest, my first year as a gardener wasn’t that much more successful: I gave the cucumbers some sort of fungus by watering their leaves; the broccoli was ravaged by cabbage moths; the tomatoes were put into the ground too late to produce much of anything; and both the potatoes and carrots had far more above the soil than below thanks to over-fertilizing.  The difference now that I’m older, though, is that I’m starting to learn from my mistakes; next year will be better.

None of this matters to my son, though.  In his eyes, our garden is the pinnacle of success, each tiny carrot a delight, and each pea a source of excitement.  I expect that next year will be no different—the joy for him isn’t about a large harvest, it’s about cultivating life, nurturing it from humble, tiny beginnings and watching it flourish, becoming ever stronger and more amazing.

 

Watching my son, his touch careful and gentle on tiny tomatoes and pea blossoms alike, his tiny face joyful and delighted, I guess that’s what matters most to me, too.

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That Old Familiar Stink

I walk in through those doors I’ve walked through so many times before.  You’d expect the place to smell of sweat, like an old wrestling mat, but it doesn’t; it smells of cleaners and dust—dust that lays caked on the industrial beams and support wires that snake high into the building.  The clanging assaults my ears for a moment before fading into a familiar jingling melody.  I’m home.  For the first time in almost four years, I’m back in the gym, with the intent to destroy and rebuild myself anew, like a phoenix arising from the ashes (or perhaps Prometheus regenerating his liver for the final time, after Hercules frees him); naturally, I have my wife to thank.

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A Sad Day for a Great Man

I caught myself ignoring the best part of my day this weekend.  I was pushing my 3 year old son on a swing in our backyard, lamenting the time that I could be spending on other projects–projects that never seem to get done unless I consciously put everything else aside and focus on them.

I was irritable about my son needing me to push CONSTANTLY.  There’s no giving him pushes and then going to do something else these days; it has to be non-stop pushes.

 

Suddenly, I realized that I was missing out on the best part of my day because I was too blind to see how great it really is.  So let’s try it again.

 

On a beautiful, sunny, Saturday afternoon, I was giving my 3 year old son pushes on his swing in our wonderful, green backyard.  I could smell the musky scent of the cedar playstructure, the gentle green of the trees, and grass, and that sweet, damp, post-rain smell that seems to come from everywhere at once.  My son was laughing, having fun, and being silly.  Life was perfect in that moment, and I was reminded this week of just how important it is to live in those perfect moments, while we still have them.

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