This contains major spoilers for this week’s Sons of Anarchy. Avoid if you haven’t seen it yet.
I have something of an irrational, yet unabashed love for Sons of Anarchy. I don’t question it; it just is. It’s a truly awful show that I can’t really defend, yet I love it. As a kid, I had a thing about bikers. I bought into the romantic open road thing. See, I thought bikers were lovable goofballs of the open road who solved their disputes with law enforcement with truckloads of fireworks because of movies like Masters of Menace. It was always so exciting seeing a bunch of bikers on Harleys, feeling that rumble as they pass by on road trips. Especially to a kid stuck in the back of his mom’s minivan, it looked like freedom.
It wasn’t until later that I found out about the virulent racism, sexism and drug running. The personality type of a biker is the type that leads to things like Orlando area shootouts and to a man being beaten nearly to death in front of his family on the Upper West Side while undercover cops looked on.
Like mobsters though, it’s interesting on film. It says something about our society.
As show creator Kurt Sutter likes to endlessly tell us in every interview he does, Sons of Anarchy is basically Hamlet with bikes, guns and porn stars. Jax is Hamlet, Clay is Claudius, John Teller’s writing is the Ghost. Gemma seems to have more of a Lady Macbeth thing going on, but it still fits.
But now there is this: they’ve killed off the character who I think was the most interesting on the show.
On Tuesday night’s episode, in a convoluted prison break ruse, Jax informs Clay that the club has unanimously voted that he meet Mr. Mayhem and shoots him in the neck. It was one of those moments. “Wait, what? Did that just Happen?” The show has a lot of them. But as the episodes ends with medical examiners leaning over Clay’s corpse in a pool of its own blood, there can be no mix up. Clay is dead and there will be no Ray, Clay’s long lost evil twin. Ron Perlman is not in the cast any longer. Confirmed.
Jax, though, is intensely boring, just as any character whose defining trait is a control of his own rage is. He is a chess player in a checkers world, one who makes few mistakes and one who seemingly never miss a beat or an opening, which puts him so far ahead of everyone that it becomes incredibly dull. His smug face in the preview for next week’s episode teases that it doesn’t get any better.
Clay, for all of his many and extreme flaws, was the show’s most interesting character. He was a master checkers player, which put him just far enough ahead of the others to be a good leader, but not that far. He made mistakes, and plenty of them. His mistakes got people wronged, hurt and even killed. In his most horrifying moment, like Tony Soprano and Michael Corleone before him, he almost kills Gemma during a fight. His removed ease with violence and bravado were often scary, but it was his inability to control his rage that made him compelling. It is, in fact, what eventually gets him killed.
As the Claudius character, it’s not a surprise he’s gone, just that he’s gone this soon before the end of the show, which still has at least another season to run. From here on out, we just have Jax, alone on his throne with no competitor, no underworld mirror to measure against.
Sons of Anarchy is a show about the least interesting character on it.
And it’s not alone.