It was during the hiatus between seasons four and five of Sons of Anarchy that its creator Kurt Sutter realized that a character audiences sympathized with a lot more than many others on the show had nowhere else to go but getting killed. In an interview with Deadline.com, Sutter described the decision as “brutal” but he also figured out how the death would lead the show’s leading character to the “last act”.
Over the years, Sutter cleverly built a Shakespearian story that he sometimes led us to believe virtually wrote itself – an event had to have certain consequences, etc. But there’s no doubt that Sutter’s guiding hand took us to the show’s gruesome ending with great skill.
In the fictional town of Charming, California, an outlaw motorcycle club called SAMCRO (“Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original”) dominates the community. Founded during the Vietnam War, the club’s main occupation is gun-running. After the death of the legendary president John Teller, Clarence “Clay” Morrow (Ron Perlman) is in charge and he also married Teller’s widow, Gemma (Katey Sagal). Vice president is Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), John and Gemma’s young son. When we first meet Jax, his junkie ex-wife Wendy (Drea de Matteo) overdoses and his son Abel is born prematurely. As he struggles with this situation and his SAMCRO responsibilities, Jax finds his father’s old journals detailing how the club was never meant to become the criminal enterprise it is today…
A tortuous journey
In 2008, the critically lauded drama series The Shield was canceled. Kurt Sutter, who had worked on it, moved on to his own show, also for FX, and the influence was obvious right from the start; several Shield cast members also came to appear in intriguing supporting roles over the years. As in The Shield, Sons of Anarchy explored the tortuous journey of a tough male leader who was in charge of a criminal outfit where loyalty mattered more than anything, and where the violence was usually directed at people who “deserved” to be killed. In other words, audiences understood that what these people did was bad, but as in The Godfather they also sympathized with family bonds and the concept of honor – right up to the point where events had made these men cross lines in unacceptable ways, and punishment had to be meted out.
Each season dealt with the personal crises of the SAMCRO family, as well as a more action-oriented storyline that presented new enemies and challenges. The show depicted the conservative, masculine world of motorcycle clubs but also frequently challenged it in the way SAMCRO members would cooperate across racial lines; there were even surprising (and humorous) attempts to introduce LGBT themes, with The Shield’s Walton Goggins in a wonderful, recurring performance as a classy transsexual prostitute.
Funny, brutal, engaging and ultimately heartbreakingly tragic, the show took great advantage of its cast, including pretty Brit Hunnam who turned into a California biker quite convincingly, and Katey Sagal, once of Married… With Children fame, who was unforgettable as the “old lady” who stayed true to club ethics right to the end.
The series finale was majestic, confidently directed, with an unbendingly logical ending. Kurt Sutter hasn’t been shy about his feelings for the Emmys, having been snubbed throughout the entire run of the show. But he’s in good company. He’s now been part of two outstanding drama series that Emmy has shown little interest in – what matters is that audiences and critics have compensated.
Sons of Anarchy 2008-2014:U.S. 92 ep. Made for TV. Color. Created by Kurt Sutter. Cast: Charlie Hunnam (Jackson “Jax” Teller), Katey Sagal (Gemma Morrow), Ron Perlman (Clarence “Clay” Morrow, 08-13), Maggie Siff (08-13), Mark Boone Junior, Kim Coates, Dayton Callie, Tommy Flanagan, Theo Rossi, Drea de Matteo, Jimmy Smits (12-14), Ryan Hurst (08-12), William Lucking (08-11), Johnny Lewis (08-09).
Trivia: Sagal and Sutter are married in real life; the latter also had a key role on the show as a former SAMCRO member called Otto. Sagal also contributed several songs on the soundtrack over the years. Followed by a spin-off series, Mayans M.C. (2018- ).
Golden Globe: Best Actress (Sagal) 11.
Last word: “I learned a lot after the first couple seasons, when you’re heavily scrutinized and wondering if you’re going to be picked up. That energy fed into the way that I creatively ran the show and I was much more, like, ‘we gotta do it this way.’ Not that they weren’t great seasons, but I did feel like I was saying, ‘this is what we have to do.’ By the end of Season Two I thought ‘Yeah okay we’ll probably be able to ride this out.’ The ratings continued to go up, and I came into Season Four more relaxed, the network was more relaxed, and people left me alone. I was then able to loosen my grip on the show, and that was a good thing. It allowed things to then happen more organically, and just kind of happen unexpectedly.” (Sutter, Deadline)