Love of Leather and Country
by DICK CHENEY
Sons of Anarchy
creator Kurt Sutter
I always wondered what happened to the British kid in Undeclared. (I assumed porn.) Then I was gchatting with Grover Norquist last year, and he was telling me about his favorite show, Sons of Anarchy. On Sons Charlie Hunnam portrays Jackson Teller, the vice president of his motorcycle gang and the practitioner of the worst American accent outside of Simon Baker. Grover bought me the show's first three seasons on DVD as a thank you present for a bunch of jokes I wrote him about Ezra Klein. That gift changed my life.
At base, Undeclared and Sons of Anarchy showcase essentially the same concept. Both concern groups of friends a little too overeager to explain how virulently heterosexual they are, adding up to something of a these ladies protest too much, methinks type situation. Each show concerns a counterculture not commonly exposed to the mainstream light; in the case of Undeclared the fact that college is a gigantic scam perpetuated by Fredric Jameson and Judith Butler, and in the case of Sons of Anarchy the fact that a motorcycle gang is basically an enigmatic cover story for a bunch of guys to ride on big metal phalluses.
I never understood the appeal of a motorcycle before, and I still don't. For a show concerned only with people devoted to the speedy vehicles, Sons of Anarchy hardly ever shows the members of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original (SAMCRO) admiring or enjoying their motorcycles. As transport, the devices are convenient because they can be ridden fast and hidden easily, but these jockeys don't seem to care much for their steeds. They're more into quietly serving out jail time and absolute monogamy.
Hunnam's Jackson Teller had a high school relationship with Tara (Mad Men's Maggie Siff) that engendered a love that never abated. Despite the fact that he turned into a drug-running, guns-abusing freak like his father, she's still attracted to his hard pecs. Even after he cheated on her with an adult film performer, she was still fine with it and raised his children without complaint, then went to her job as a hospital surgeon. And that's not all!
Listening to the British Hunnam pridefully spout the various details of the arms trade is about as believable as imagining that a University of Chicago educated doctor would ever copulate with him, but that's part of the fun of Sons of Anarchy. As the show's current season came to a close, the union has been so insanely ludicrous that the Sons of Anarchy writing team has the couple communicate only through cliché, as with this charming exchange from the penultimate episode of the season:
TARA: Tell me you love me.
JACKSON: I love you, Tara.
Do you love me?
TARA: If you make it stop I will.
I love you Jackson.
Jesus, did none of these people watch Tell Me You Love Me? Clearly not, or they would have cast Adam Scott as a rogue biker named Frederick de la Santos and I wouldn't have to watch him tongue kiss Amy Poehler anymore. Why not embark on a crossover episode, like when Urkel hit that girl on Step by Step with his car?
Jackson's mother Gemma Teller is played by Married... with Children's Katey Sagal as an aggressive, controlling presence in the lives of her son and husband. She reminds me of my wife Lynne if every third sentence out of Lynne's mouth was, "Don't hurt my baby." Her ongoing feud with Drea de Matteo was the highlight of the show's first season, although the fact that Drea did not get naked and that they never showed her shooting up heroin or bearing Jackson's baby somewhat lessened my interest in the storyline.
Sagal's first serious dramatic role is a mixed bag. (I'll be scrambling my metaphors a lot in this paragraph.) Her ongoing marriage to show creator Kurt Sutter has hardly engendered goodwill among the fanbase, and including her original music was another fly in the ointment. The fact that her husband (Ron Perlman) beat the shit out of her and all she did was frown a lot constituted the final straw for me, however. Sagal actually enlists her son to kill her husband, but he has to leave him alive because of the CIA. Fortunately this storyline doesn't seem likely to go all Boardwalk Empire but I still get kind of creeped out by the way she looks at Hunnam.
Even when Sons of Anarchy gets silly, like when they debuted Tom Arnold as a wacky pornographer, the show usually redeems itself. There are actually many moments when Sons of Anarchy crosses conventional lines, such as when valued club member Juice tried to hang himself from a tree with a steel chain. You don't often see a suicide attempt on cable television these days, although god knows the British host of The X Factor should give it a shot. Also, there should be a specific viewer warning for having to see Ron Perlman's exposed belly.
To join the Sons of Anarchy, a member has to get a back tattoo. If they leave the group, they have to get it inked over or removed. I believe the Church of Scientology and the Heritage Foundation have a similar policy. The most common method of leaving the SoA is by death, and this season's death march has already claimed club founder Piney (William Lucking, not that it matters now). Ron Perlman shot him in the chest with a shotgun because he had an incriminating letter, setting up the weathered veteran as the show's biggest heel.
Also on the death list was poor Herman (The Shield's Kenneth Johnson) whose main crime was being cast on the doomed NBC version of Prime Suspect. Most of The Shield, Deadwood and Oz have taken their own place in Sons of Anarchy; you'd be surprised to know how few actors there actually are in the world, maybe 600 total not including Tom Cruise or his wives. They get thawed out of cold sleep every Tuesday.
Last night the show's many concurrent storylines converged in a not-so shocking season finale. When we had last left club president Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), he was lying motionless in a hospital bed after being shot in the stomach by Piney's son Opie (Ryan Hurst). Instead of actually having the balls to kill off the most famous actor on their show, Sons of Anarchy creator/actor Kurt Sutter (below as incarcerated member Otto Delaney) chickened out and left Clay alive.
Jackson Teller had long calculated a plan to leave his club in the dust, move to Portland and start up a bed & breakfast with his wife. Instead, in the season's climactic finale scene, he ascended to the presidency of his little club. He explained the change of heart by saying that it would be one thing to simply abandon his club, but another to destroy it completely. I sympathized with him for the first time then because it's the same way I feel about having to watch the second season of Game of Thrones. Then again, how could it be as bad as A Dance With Dragons?
Jackson's tough decision is the exact same as Kurt Sutter's. When you make a beautiful piece of art, the second hardest thing to do is to leave it behind entirely like Larry David and Seinfeld, but the most painful thing to do is turn it into something unrecognizable. Sons of Anarchy lost its way a little bit this year by not changing enough in seasons past. Any character, no matter how finely drawn, becomes stale after we see them in identical situations over and over again. Consciousness change through repetition is only another myth perpetrated by the American political process.
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