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'Sons of Anarchy' Dresses Tribal Warfare in Hollywood Glitz

'Sons of Anarchy' Dresses Tribal Warfare in Hollywood Glitz

Last Saturday night, FX’s Sons of Anarchy tossed a heaping handful of Tinseltown glitter over the gore, gunpowder, and mayhem to celebrate tonight’s premiere of the outlaw-biker drama’s seventh and final season (some spoilers ahead).

A lane of Hollywood Boulevard was blocked off for red-carpet arrivals in front of the TLC Chinese Theater (formerly known as Grauman’s or Mann’s Chinese Theater) to allow the black-SUV limos to deliver the cast and producers right to the entrance (press and other folk parked down the street at the Hollywood & Highland complex). The street on both sides was jammed with mostly-black-clad fans crowded behind barricades, shouting and waving signs.

Inside the Chinese Theater, so many RSVPed for the event (followed by a party at the Avalon Nightclub near Hollywood & Vine) that there wasn’t enough seating for everyone.

And all this was to celebrate a show that opened up its season with Northern California motorcycle-club president Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) beating the crap out of a fellow prison inmate with his duct-tape-wrapped fists, carving a swastika on his torso and pulling out teeth for trophies, all to the tune of “Never My Love” by Audra Mae & the Forest Rangers, featuring Billy Valentine.

Before the screening of the premiere episode, series creator Kurt Sutter spoke about being raised by women and not having a relationship with his father–something he discussed previously with Breitbart News–and always seeking brotherhood, which he has found on the set of “Sons.” In particular, he spoke of the love and occasional conflict between himself and Hunnam, to the point where he joked, “It sounds like I’m coming out.”

Lest you think some TMZ-style revelation is at hand, Sutter is married to series star Katey Sagal, who plays Jax’s black-widow mother Gemma Teller, who has been both the victim of violence on the show, including rape, and the perpetrator of her fair share of damage.

That includes the death of Jax’s doctor wife Tara (Maggie Siff) at Gemma’s hands in last year’s season finale (a drowning polished off with a carving fork, which makes a return appearance in the pilot). As you might expect, Gemma hasn’t come clean to Jax about what happened to Tara, and her efforts to cover for herself have already cost lives, and will cost many more.

Speaking to Breitbart News, Sutter said:

It’s never my intention to outdo. Look, one of the tonal signatures of the show is pulp violence. So, that is part of the show, but I don’t think it’s about outdoing or pulling back. What happens at the end of the premiere was tit for tat. I think the violence that happens as we move forward is a result of the lie that Gemma has told. It’s the original sin. Ultimately, Gemma thinks this time will be different. I’ll tell this lie this time, and it’ll be different.

At the beginning of Sons, Sutter often spoke of the show’s Shakespearean origins, how it resembled Hamlet. In some ways it does; but more than that, it’s a window into a more ancient way of life, a brutal, Hobbesian wilderness of absolute monarchs and warring tribes barely–and sometimes not at all–contained by the rules and regulations of 21st Century society.

The Sons war with “black, brown and yellow,” as they put it, with the IRA, even with other chapters of their own club. But this year, there’s no internal strife in SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original). The core brotherhood, or what’s left of it, has closed upon itself, with Gemma and Jax’s children at the center, and everyone else is expendable.

“In terms of the club,” said Sutter, “even though it’s driven by a much more violent narrative beat, that there is a level of camaraderie that we haven’t really seen since early on in the series.”

So the murders are frequent, gory, and without remorse on the part of the killers. The conventions of middle-class family life–baby toys, cake baking, falling in love–are wrapped in a bloody sheet. Nothing matters but the club, its business dealings, and visceral revenge, but not the law, not the government, and especially not God.

Oh, and if you think Sutter is done taking gratuitous swipes at Christianity after last year’s shooting at a Catholic grade school (a location choice not supported by the facts), the season premiere will disabuse you of that notion.

Although, as often happens for this former Catholic-school boy, the imagery gets confused. Why pantyhose-wearing, polyamorous male pastors of a wealthy non-Catholic congregation (not sure if it’s Protestant, Evangelical, or nondenominational) would have a picture of the very Catholic St. Therese of Lisieux on the wall is a question that only Sutter and his set dresser could answer.

So, is Sons a good show? It’s certainly not a show about good people who do good things, but even in the throes of self-indulgence and wretched excess, it is a compelling show. It’s a window into an ancient order in which only the tribe matters, a reality without sympathy, compassion, empathy, or mercy for outsiders (except occasionally among the women and the more soft-hearted men, who usually both pay heavily for their human weakness).

Fans ask if Jax will find redemption, but a prerequisite for that is to abandon self-righteousness and self-justification, to admit wrong, and to ask for forgiveness. It’s a long season yet, but with the callous indifference with which Jax dispatches his fellow men, it doesn’t look likely.

But, one of Jax’s sons is old enough now to understand that his father may not be a good man, and when will a look into that boy’s eyes–perhaps doomed to repeat his father’s life, as his father repeated his father’s life–turn someone’s stony heart?

Perhaps it’s telling that Jax’s son is named Abel, and one hopes he doesn’t share his namesake’s fate, but this is his family, his tribe, and his whole world. He may come to discover something Jax realized in an earlier season: in this little fiefdom, Jax is the lord of the manor, but outside of it, he’s just a white-trash auto mechanic who rides a Harley.

“He’s seeing the ramifications of being king,” said Sutter. “He’s in that place. He’s having to experience the ramifications of that and making decisions and leading men.”

Jax’s court and subjects may only be his fellow scruffy, tattooed outlaw bikers, his immediate family, and an odd assortment of porn stars, but he is a king in his own land, not a serf in someone else’s.

In the end, that may, as much as anything, explain why viewers in today’s America can’t turn away, even if the better angels of their nature tell them they should.

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