Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sons of Anarchy: Make Me No Promises

My reaction to the finale of Sons of Anarchy makes me think of politics and how candidates try to manage (and often lower) expectations for performance prior to a debate. How much did we hear that Sarah Palin was sure to have her clock cleaned by Joe Biden, an experienced debater, in the time leading up to the 2008 Vice Presidential debate? Plenty. And when debate time came, Palin didn't implode and we all perceived her performance to be successful because her campaign had lowered our expectations for her performance. Sons of Anarchy has taken the opposite approach to managing expectations: set the bar high and then come in well underneath.

After watching the finale, I've adjusted my expectations downward. And that's okay. I expected SoA to be great. It isn't. But it's still pretty fucking good. I've accepted that the Sons of Anarchy that Kurt Sutter is making is a different show that what I would like it to be. Fundamentally, Sons of Anarchy is a show that won't eliminate characters to advance the story. Kill off all the David Hales and Kozicks of the world that you want but the core cast is untouchable. Given that SoA spent the better part of the season fueling our bloodlust for Clay, it's hard not to feel as if those our expectations were manipulated. Again (See: Season 3 finale switcheroo).

That may come off as overly harsh. I don't mean it to be. From a fan perspective expectations are important because they represent a contract with the show. We agree to watch, to be immersed in the setting, to fall in love with the characters, to suspend disbelief when we need to, to obsess, to analyze, and to count down the days until the next season begin (272 days until September 4, 2012, if you were interested). On the other side, the show and the people who make the show promise to tell good stories, portray their characters in a convincing, compelling, engaging ways, and to hold those characters accountable to the rules in the show's world.

In a lot of ways, I feel like Sons of Anarchy hasn't been holding up its end of the contract. Maybe my expectations are misplaced. Maybe the show sets expectations too high. Regardless, it's time to reevaluate my relationship with the show. Here is my new contract with Sons of Anarchy:

  • I'll keep watching because I am interested in what happens next but I'm not buying any more hype about the broad Shakespearean themes of the show. Those allude to broader artistic ambitions that Sons of Anarchy appears to be uninterested in pursuing. It's a soap. Period. So let's just stop talking about The Bard, the Prince of Denmark, and Lady Macbeth, shall we?
  • I will ignore promises that Sons of Anarchy will do anything other than entertain. Promises that the show will address latent and institutional racism in our society? Promises that the show will explore post-modern themes associated with the nature of SAMCO--is it a club or a gang? Promises that there are consequences for characters and their actions? Pffft. Whatevs. I'm not taking that bait any more. 
  • I will crack jokes about Gemma as a GiLF. 
  • I will mimic Tara's crazy eyes in the mirror when I'm bored.
  • I will enjoy the shots Jax's bare ass.
  • I will cherish any scene with Tig in it. With or without baby oil.
  • I will continue to be on Team Opie
  • I'll appreciate scenes like the closing one of the finale where Tara kneels, Jax is king, and Gemma emotes for dramatic and comedic reasons. 
  • I will expect the late-season Get Out of Jail Free Card.
  • I need to stop threatening to break up with the show. We all know it's an empty promise. Besides, I would miss all my SoA friends too much. 
Okay, what did ya'll think? Do you have a new contract with the show?