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?


  1. I get why some people are upset. I wasn't. Mostly because the drug stuff goes over my head, those are complex dealing that needs a graph that I can refer to. I watch the show for the inter-dynamics, the complex relationships, so on that end I felt the ending was fulfilling. Except for Opie. WHERE IS HE! That will bother me to Sept.

  2. Frankly, this didn't disappoint at all. People insist on thinkin' that SOA is like Hamlet. It's not. It's loosely based. There's a difference.

    In the 2nd part of the finale, we see Clay get the biker equivalent of castration - his patch taken from him as pres. He has basically been put into Piney's spot. Just there. A vote and to keep the IRA happy. What has happened to him is worth than death. The power structure has changed. It's no longer Clay's club, but Jax's. Nothing point that out more than his movin' Tig from the right hand seat to Chibs' former seat, while Chibs' was moved into the right hand position. Additionally, we have Jax/Tara re - enacting the shot of Gemma/JT. The King is gone, long live the king.

    Loved all the build up of Potter's RICO investigation only to have it rent asunder by the CIA. As usual, one arm of government refuses to work with the other. While I suspected Luis Torres all along, it never occurred to me that Romeo was either a rat (which I thought Torres to be) much less workin' with the Feds! Nice.

    Possibly because of having creative leaning/inclinations of my own), which is why I chose to comment as anonymous, given the fact that this blog has chastized my work before)I don't feel let down at all by this past Season of SOA. I get where it's goin'.

  3. If the show wasn't going to kill Clay or play out the consequence of Juice being half black, then they should not have pushed both characters to such extremes.

    I've read the term "cop-out" alot today and that's what it felt like.

    I wonder how the club is going to feel about their new President, Romeo Parada, cause it sure as hell ain't Jax in charge of Samcro.

  4. Something I didn't put together until reading your post is that trust is at a very low point right now for the club. Trust and belief in your brother is what the club is founded upon. Opie doesn't trust his BFF 4 Eva anymore because he is withholding the truth and pretty much every promise that Jax has made this season is broken. How Jax can build the trust of his brothers, a few of whom I'd assume aren't a believer in his ability as a leader, will be a tough task for the new King.

    Like you, I could never turn down this show, but it's become clear that the show won't pull the trigger on the bigger issues. I think Clay got his own version of death. Losing his spot in the club and having his wife and stepson against him is his won version of death.

    If SOA were to be stacked up against the best dramas out now it would still be in the top, without question. But if it will ever reach the upper echelon remains to be seen.

    Glad to have ya back! :)

  5. I'm with Kayteadee. I'm not going to stop watching, and I'll always be a fan; but I'm no longer a SOA fanatic. Sutter made it clear that it's just a bombastic soap, and I'll treat it as such. No deep themes, nothing but entertainment.

    The issue is that in being treated as such, you can't get upset about not getting "Breaking Bad" recognition when you're admittedly aiming towards "Burn Notice" levels of entertainment. I'm disappointed that Sutter doesn't want to go greater into it, but it's his show. It's now firmly implanted in the second-tier of good TV shows, it's above the USA cable shows but below Justified, The Shield and most of HBO's good dramas.