It’s been a couple of days since the “Sons of Anarchy” finale aired, but just in case, this is a spoiler warning. Don’t read any further if you want to avoid knowing any details of the series ending.
Of course SOA ended with a musical montage, the sledgehammer application of crucifixion imagery (with the very last dialogue of the series being a cry of “Jesus!”) and a closing title card quoting Shakespeare. I would have expected nothing less. You didn’t watch this show if you were looking for delicate subtlety. Even the strange extended runtimes of the later episodes seemed designed to pummel viewers. You’re supposed to feel like you came out of a fight after an evening with the Sons.
The name our eponymous biker gang chose for itself turned out to be apt, because they literally were the descendants of an anarchic rebellion against society… and they wound up creating a society of their own that was every bit as corrupt as their idealistic founder judged the law-abiding everyday world to be. For a gang with “anarchy” in its name, they had an awful lot of rules. At least Jax Teller never had to preside over a cromnibus spending bill debate to fund their porno operation.
The Sons’ society placed a surpassing value on loyalty – they called each other “brother” and considered snitching to the cops one of the worst sins imaginable – but they still betrayed each other on a fairly constant basis. Everyone who presided over the club ended up corrupting their power to serve some personal agenda, from enrichment to (in Jax’s case) revenge. The Sons ended up becoming everything they rebelled against, which is fairly typical of anarchic revolutions. The story concludes with the club itself showing little signs of learning any lessons, even after witnessing their leader’s ultimate act of personal sacrifice in the search for redemption.
It was still a redemption arc, even though Jax’s expressed conclusion was that he was too far gone to save, and his goal was to wipe himself out so thoroughly that his beloved sons would grow up despising his memory and choose a different path in life. Having rebelled against society, the heart and soul of the club – their legendary hero, the son of their founding philosopher – set himself the goal of leaving the rebellion behind and getting back to the real world, wanting nothing so much as a normal life for his family, and concluding he’d never be able to make that return journey to civilization himself. He was probably wrong about that, but that’s the sort of Shakespearean tragedy “Sons of Anarchy” was shooting for: greatness thwarted by personal illusions, redemption frustrated by the hero’s inability to understand his flaws until it was far too late.
The wrap-up went a little bit too much according to our anti-hero’s plan – that last episode basically involved watching him check off a To-Do List of Doom – but it was pretty satisfying. Watching people try to re-invent society is always interesting, especially when they fail in spectacular ways.