Sons of Anarchy: My Problem With FX’s Outlaw Soap Opera

Recently it was announced that Jimmy Smits and Donal Logue will be returning to FX’s juggernaut Sons of Anarchy Entering its 6th season this fall, the highest rated show in FX history has an incredibly loyal fan base filled with people who believe it is quality television.

Bringing back Smits and Logue is truly great for the show. Their work last season was a much needed breath of fresh air for a series that’s been stumbling for at least the last year and a half. However, while I loved Smits and Logue, I’m not sure their return will bring me back for another season of sloppy, convoluted writing on a show bloated with unresolved threads and a plethora of unlikable characters.

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Let me start with the 4th season finale. The amateur way the writers threw away an entire season’s worth of plot in the first 5 minutes of the episode really stuck with me as I went into season 5. They had spent an entire season building toward this one singular resolution for the major threads of the show, only to piss it away in the cold open. This was the death knell of the series for me.

I did end up liking some of the storylines in season 5, though. Laying Pipe was a truly haunting episode. But the writers write like they have ADHD and the countless plot threads are hard for even me (a seasoned TV viewer) to keep straight. Following a show is a commitment to me and if I can’t say with certainty what exactly SAMCRO is up to, then that is a major writers’ room problem.

By the way, the handful of episodes they burned up with the break-ins in season 5 annoyed me. It was obvious that Clay was behind them, yet it’s presented as a huge shock to us and the characters. How could it not have been him?

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Blatantly horrid writing aside, I thought the season 5 finale was good. But it wasn’t great. Ron Perlman’s talent has kept his character alive a season or two too long and the show seems to have a selective memory when it comes to being a Hamlet interpretation. I genuinely enjoyed the fruition of Jax’s plan, though. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be watching season 6 so I’ll have to check with Facebook to find out how Clay escapes death. Again.

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There’s also a small aesthetic problem I have with the production in general. It’s the use of CGI blood in lieu of squib packs. I don’t remember it being so blatantly CGI in the past, but starting in season 4 I was highly distracted by it. Nothing can deflate a very intense scene for me like amateur CGI blood. I’m assuming it’s either a cost or time saving measure. Either way, it’s the highest rated show in FX history, loosen the purse strings a little bit for some fake blood and overtime. You wonder why your show is snubbed every award season, Sutter? It’s because your effects look like a college kid just got his first Macbook and skipped the tutorials on Final Cut.

My current disapproval of the show is something that’s been steadily growing out of a season 1 nitpick. Kurt Sutter was a writer for The Shield prior to starting SOA. The Shield is easily one of my top five favorite dramas and one of the best shows of the last 20 or more years.

So imagine my irritation when, from the start, it’s felt like some of the bigger moments of Sons of Anarchy have piggybacked off of better executed plots in The Shield. The season one tragedy involving Opie, Opie’s wife and Tig mirrored (at least circumstantially) a defining moment in The Shield. The only difference is the characters involved in The Shield had multiple seasons’ worth of character development going for them. Another example is Juice and Roosevelt’s situation being similar to Lem and Kavanaugh only it’s lasted twice as long and has no real payoff in sight.

Sons of Anarchy being The Shield‘s “cousin you see a couple times a year at family gatherings” really set it up to fail for me. Anti-heroes were written to perfection on The Shield. You root for the Strike Team but you shouldn’t because they’re greedy and only become more despicable as the series unfolds.

When it comes to Sons of Anarchy, they’re outlaws from the start. It’s hard for me to root for someone when the solution seems simple enough: don’t do illegal shit. This is a double standard that isn’t wholly unfounded considering The Shield had an entire episode devoted to a flashback of the Strike Team becoming corrupt. The cleverly named “Co-Pilot” showed the justification the characters felt they had in cutting some legal corners. Sons doesn’t have that level of characterization nor is it capable of it at a conceptual level.

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The show had one sympathetic character and they bashed his head in with a pipe. Now we’ve got no one, except for maybe Juice. But his “I’m half-black and the club is going to murder me” plot went downhill fast. I get the sense the writers were purposely dragging it out as a safety plot. If they caught some writer’s block down the line, they had a big plot just begging to be resolved.

The show has many problems and I’m getting sick of writing about it. The bottom line is that Sons of Anarchy matches The Shield‘s tone and general style to a tee. If you love Sons, you’ll love The Shield. The inverse, sadly, is not the case. Sons of Anarchy is like The Shield if the latter traded in badges for motorcycles and had no redeemable characters. I think I’ll skip season 6.

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So what do you think of Sons of Anarchy? Leave a comment and let me know. And don’t forget to follow the blog on Facebook and Twitter: @ObsessiveViewer.

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13 responses to “Sons of Anarchy: My Problem With FX’s Outlaw Soap Opera

  1. I agree with your assessment. Now, I’m a big fan of seasons 1-4, regardless of their flaws and low points. I am also a fan of the Shield. Season 5 of SOA was a huge catastrophe in my opinion. I thought the first 3 episodes were really excellent. Killing Opie was such a dark and well crafted moment. It was very ballsy and I was excited to see where the show went from there. However, episode 4 was horrendous and the season got worse from there. The writers couldn’t seem to maintain the momentum and instead the rest of the season felt so sloppy and poorly executed. The show, which is supposed to be about a motorcycle club completely devolved into a show about girly drama, women arguing over their kids, cat fights, and random jerry springer drama. The new characters were completely wasted. Outside of Jimmy Smit’s and Donal Logue (who was barely on the show) the rest of the new characters were duds. They weren’t developed and served no purpose. The cartel storyline from season 4 was dropped aimlessly. The overall editing and pacing of the season was a mess. You described it best, saying it seemed like the writers suddenly had ADHD.

    The biggest problem for me is that the show has become stale. Kurt Sutter is trying to rely on the same character relationships and storylines every season. The whole Gemma vs Tara thing is tiresome and dull. Jax vs Clay has been done to death. The family secrets and drama thing has gone on way too long. I just don’t care about Gemma. I don’t care about Tara. So much time is spent on them and yet they have nothing interesting, relevant, or exciting to do. I wish they would just kill them off already and move on. Same with Clay. I love Ron Perlman, but treading the same ground with his character each season has grown annoying. Kill him off or take his character in a new direction. I really wish Kurt Sutter would have the guts to push the envelope and make some hard decisions and implement some change. Take the characters in some new directions. Take the show in a new direction. The great thing about the Shield was that each season was different. Each season went in a different direction and had a different overall feel to it. They didn’t stretch out the same story for multiple seasons. I still love the first 4 seasons of SOA. I’ll probably tune in to 3 or 4 episodes of season 6 and see if it improves at all. I’m interested to see what will happen with Donal Logue’s character, who seemed interesting last season. I just hope they don’t waste him like they wasted the cartel storyline.

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    • Thanks for the comment! I honestly think killing Opie was the best thing they’ve done, at least in a while. It was brutal and shocking. Other than that, season 5 was a bust. I liked the revenge plot but, like everything else, they dragged that out a lot.

      Jax’s plan was a clever way to end the season and tie up a lot of things. But it wasn’t interesting enough to make me care about the show again.

      I absolutely agree that it’s turned into Jerry Springer drama. It’s really turned into a white trash soap opera and it really irritates me.

      The storytelling has been so erratic that I can’t keep things straight. I was lost during the season trying to figure out who the club was dealing with for the feds’ investigation. I eventually just gave up and turned my brain on autopilot til the finale.

      You’re really spot on with everything. The character interactions really are getting tiresome. And the main problem is, I just don’t care about the characters. I love Ron Perlman too and I think Kurt Sutter does as well and that’s why his character is still around.

      At this point, I think the show is irredeemable for me. The Shield was much better in every capacity. It’s a shame that, in my opinion, the only quality from The Shield that Sons of Anarchy adapted was its gritty atmosphere.

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  2. I agree. You make some excellent points. It’s really a shame that the show went so downhill after Opie’s death. They had such a great opportunity to shake things up, take the characters in some new directions, and turn this world completely upside down. Instead they chose to have random cat fights, women arguing over their kids, and other meaningless bullshit. I just cannot believe how lazy the writing became. If you think about it, we got about 4 or 5 of the same conversations between Wendy and Tara, with some slight variance. Seriously, the conversations were almost exactly the same. Wendy: “I want to see my son!” Tara: “No!” Why exactly did we need all those conversations with women arguing over their kids? Do the writers really think that makes for quality television? But then they give us almost the exact same dialogue and same context each time over multiple episodes. The lack of effort and imagination just blows my mind.

    You are correct in saying that the writing in season 5 was erratic. Season 1-4, although sometimes sloppy in their execution, had a story that went somewhere and everything came together at the end. There was a continuous story that more or less made sense. In season 1, they were trying to gather enough money to save their gun business and avoid the feds. In season 2 they were trying to defend their town against the white supremacists and Zobelle. The story was continuous. What was season 5 even about? We had Opie’s death and the Pope/Revenge plot, Gemma becoming unraveled, the relationship with Jimmy Smit’s character, Tara and Otto, a former fed turned vigilante, Jax struggling to lead the club, Clay trying to undermine Jax’s leadership with the Nomads, Jax trying to take the club legit, etc. It’s all over the damn place. Nothing seemed consistent or focused. The entire season felt like the characters reacting the one random event after another. Gemma does something, the characters react. Some random event occurs, the characters react. Rinse, repeat.

    Let’s not forget the stale character relationships/interactions. How many times now have Gemma and Tara gone back and forth in their love/hate relationship? It’s become so dull. I think Kurt Sutter is a talented writer. He has some good ideas. He was great on The Shield. I wish he would have the balls to change it up and if he insists on the same character interactions/relationships, then change it up enough so that it’s interesting and relevant. Look at Vic and Shane in The Shield. Their interactions never felt entirely stale because the writers always had them in different positions or predicaments that kept their relationship relevant. It was always shifting and changing. Keeping the Gemma/Tara and Jax/Clay dynamic exactly the same for multiple seasons has grown increasingly bland.

    I’m honestly torn because I love the earlier seasons despite their few shortcomings. It kind of breaks my heart that season 5 was so god awful. It hurts especially in this day and age when it is difficult to find consistently good TV shows.

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    • I think Season 2 was their strongest season to date. Zobelle was a fantastic villain and I remember the big story of the club wanting to protect the town being really good television. Not to mention Gemma’s story arc that season. Really incredible.

      I think the show would benefit from a return to that. Bring Zobelle back (if I remember correctly, he got away) and conclude that storyline.

      While I’m talking about Zobelle, the club was fighting against the construction of Charming Heights, right? In season 5 weren’t they helping it get built? Where did this change come? I’m sure I would be able to follow it better if there weren’t 20 different things coming and going in the series.

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      • I believe the change came from Jax being in charge now. In the past it was always Clay making the calls as president, and he was very stubborn against Charming Heights. But with Jax in charge he’s shown that he is willing to push the club in new ventures, one being brokering a deal between Hale and Pope for the funding for Charming Heights. In that deal he was also able to secure maintenance contracts and a cut for the club. If you remember, the season left off with Jax holding the contracts and the power. He could easily destroy the contracts, and have the Oakland investors pull out, leaving Hale in the lurch and assuring that Charming Heights doesn’t happen.

        And as for The Shield comparisons, I don’t think they are fair. The Shield has two things that Sons will never have, that made The Shield the phenomenal show that it was, and that’s Shawn Ryan and Michael Chiklis. Sons is its own show, and they deserve to be seen as such.

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      • Ok, yeah, that makes sense now. Thank you. Jax has wanted to take the club legit as well, so I think that’s a step in that direction as well.

        Yes, Shawn Ryan and Michael Chiklis (and let’s not forget Walton Goggins, as well) did elevate The Shield to a place that not many other shows can reach. But there’s no denying Sons of Anarchy feels like The Shield. From the camerawork to the tone and dialogue, it is heavily influenced by The Shield. Bringing in the One Niners, while a nice nod to The Shield, invites these comparisons that ultimately hurt my enjoyment of Sons of Anarchy.

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  5. I didn’t like the show when I first watched it. The first episode I saw was Fun Town. I was flipping channels when nothing else was on. My first thought was oh my….not watching that again. Well the next Tuesday rolled around and nothing was on so I watched that episode. Then I was hooked and wanted to know more about the show. I fell in love with the SOA and couldn’t wait for the next season to happen. For Jax to revenge the wrongs that were done and make them right against Clay.

    I wasn’t impressed about the first six episodes of it. But in the end I was once again hooked. It seems more about women sometimes then it does about the actual MC and Jax trying to get revenge. Yeah I get it tits sell. I also thought that Tara was going to hang tough with her man and we would be seeing her step up soon too.

    Then season three happened. It was very disappointing and I was like WTF! is this even about. I swore if season four wasn’t any better I was done with it. It started strong with Jax wanting to get out and knowing what the right thing was to do. I agree that some of that season just had to happen for the show to progress forward. Once again I thought Tara was going to hang strong in the end with her man. But no….she is the most undecided character of them all. She is leaving, she is staying, she is loving the club, she is hating it. Come on. Just pick one already. Please there is no way you can be involved with them and not know what is coming in your life.

    Season five left me really confused. Like Tara is always on the fence so am I. I have been reading about season 6 spoilers and if they are true and that is where season six is really going…..I’m out. I’m cutting my loses of putting five years of time into this and I’ll stop watching it. I plan on checking out the first couple of episodes and if they all over the place I think my love of the SOA will be gone.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Donna. It’s too bad the show has been so inconsistent. I did genuinely enjoy some parts of the series, but It’s just been few and far between, in retrospect.

      It’s funny, I’ve heard some of the hype surrounding the premiere. I haven’t read any spoilers (the way I prefer it). But the hype is making me a little bit curious. Knowing season 7 will be the last, I might actually check out season 6’s premiere. I have my problems with the show, but I’m not above admitting that one of it’s strengths is its ability to shock and its refusal to pull punches.

      But I’m still lost when it comes to some of the specifics of what the MC is into. I really can’t be bothered to follow the really convoluted plot anymore either.

      Thanks again for reading!

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  8. How was Dopey sympathetic? “I have two kids but Da Club (that killed my wife) is more important. SAM CROW 4 LYFE DOODS! I GOT DIS! PS could someone take care of my kids, assuming anyone even remembers them?”

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