Review: ‘Sons of Anarchy’: Great men are almost always bad men
Writing about last week’s episode was like pulling teeth for me. I wanted to say so much about it, about Clay and his confession, about how I almost felt sorry for the man, and about the revelation of Jax’s that he’d become the man he never wanted to be, but I just couldn’t figure out how to do it. And just when I thought I’d finally put the finishing touches on it, just when I thought I was finally able to pull it together into a string of coherent words and sentences, WordPress ate it when I tried to publish it. So I guess it wasn’t meant to see the light of day.
Sometimes you just have to accept your fate. I wasn’t meant to review last week’s episode – easily the best of the season – and Jax wasn’t meant to stay the man he was. A lot of what we can take away from this season of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ is that Jax, no matter his good intentions, was fated to go down this path. As our dear beloved Opie pointed out to Jax last season, the power of the gavel corrupts the man who holds it in his fist – and last week Jax accepted his misdeeds when he told Bobby, “Opie was right – the gavel corrupts. You can’t sit in this chair without being a savage.”
Now, anyone who’s ever taken a high school level history course has probably heard the phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the phrase is actually just one part of the original quotation. The quote comes from a letter by Lord Acton in which he states, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” And while we can see the obvious truth of the first half of that statement, it’s actually the last sentence that I want to focus on for a minute: great men are almost always bad men.
Great men in this case means men who wield some sort of power, men in leadership positions who have the ability to effect change, to influence the minds and actions of others. And Jax Teller is a great man; he’s the president of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original. And while the Club votes on a lot of issues relating to the club – he’s not running a dictatorship or a monarchy, which is what the original quotation actually refers to – he still has immense power as he’s responsible for the Club. And unfortunately for Jax, he has a lot of ambition.
Jax wants to return the Club to the days of his father and Piney. And he’s well on his way; he successfully orchestrated a convoluted plan to take down Clay, he got the club out of the drug running game and the gun business, and the RICO case has successfully been resolved courtesy of one Otto Delaney freak out. But in order for all of that to happen, Jax had to change and become a different man – he had to become a bad man who did bad things.
And it’s not say that Jax was a good man when he took the presidency from Clay. Not a single character on ‘Sons of Anarchy’ could ever be described as a good person, especially if they’re wearing the Men of Mayhem patch on their cut. These men are murderers and outlaws. But Jax, as the Hamlet of this story, has always been seen as the one brother with a conscious. And yet, this season his conscious seems to have all but disappeared as he made back room deals, injected Wendy with heroin and used his own mother in his revenge plot to bring down Clay.
Yes, he may have succeeded in accomplishing his goals for the Club, but at the expense of his personal life. Doing all of those things for the Club has left Jax more fractured than ever before. His family is falling to pieces at his feet; his best friend is dead, his wife tells him she’s leaving Charming and taking the boys to Oregon just before she’s arrested for conspiracy to murder, and his vice president just resigned from the position over a disagreement in the way Jax has been running the Club. Nothing about Jax’s life is stable or even remotely all right. His good intentions for the Club have changed him and possibly ruined whatever chances he had at making it out of the Club and out of Charming in one piece.
It could be argued that a lot of Jax’s rash decision making this season was a direct result of watching his best friend die one of TV’s most gruesome deaths. The anger that Jax had been stewing in since the revelation at the end of season four that Clay murdered JT came to a head after Opie’s death. The anger and desperation claimed him and made him unable to think clearly, unable to work through his decisions before acting. Now, no one would ever really accuse Jax of thinking first and acting later – that kind of mentality gets men killed in this kind of world – but there were many times this season that I felt Jax and the Club could have easily avoided further complications had they just taken a minute to breathe.
Now Nero is back in the fold and wrapped up in the Club’s business (and Gemma’s bed sheets); Tara, who went out on a limb for the club in order to get the RICO case dismissed, is facing conspiracy murder charges – to which Jax seemed unaffected almost to the point of concern; and Gemma has everything she wants as Clay has been arrested for murdering Damon Pope (Jax planted the gun Tig used to kill Pope) and Tara is in the back of Roosevelt’s cruiser – she’s back at the helm as the reigning Queen of SAMCRO. And in case you didn’t notice, that final scene of Jax and Gemma with the latter wrapping her arm around the King of SACMRO mirrored the final scene of season four when Tara stood by her man as he took the presidency. And that scene in itself was a mirror of an old photograph of Gemma’s involving herself and JT from the early days of SAMCRO.
Whether or not Gemma was behind Tara’s arrest, she’s definitely not upset about it – after all, she threatened to have her arrested if she so much as stepped one foot outside of Charming. But Jax’s own emotionless face as he watched his wife and the mother of his sons being carted off to jail was chilling. I find it hard to believe that Jax was behind her arrest, even if it means Abel and Thomas remain in Charming. And I also find it hard to believe that he’s not silently stewing in his own anger at the situation – because he let his wife walk right into that jail and he let her have access to Otto knowing what kind of man he could be. But the flip side to that is that Tara should have known better. I’m not saying Tara is dumb, because she’s not, but for some reason at least once a season the writers turn Tara into a complete moron – she should have known better than to bring a crucifix to Otto.
One could argue that Jax’s silence as Tara was arrested was a result of Tara having just told him about the job offer in Oregon and that she planned to take the boys with her. Jax loves Tara and it’s possible that he’s regretting his actions over the course of this season – regretting his actions that led to the fracturing of his personal life.
Jax is angry that he let himself be turned into Clay by the power of the gavel. He’s angry that his best friend saw no way out of his less than charming life and sacrificed himself for the club and to ease the pain. And he’s angry that Tara would think about leaving him and leaving Charming. But more importantly, I think he’s angry that he wasn’t able to avenge his father’s death the way he desperately wanted to. Which harkens back to the review I wrote for last week that none of you got to actually read: all of Jax’s anger this season has stemmed from finding out the truth about his father’s murder and all of his actions have been to fulfill his father’s wish to return the club to its original purpose.
All Jax wanted was for his life to be beautiful. He wanted the Club to be a brotherhood and he wanted his wife and children to be at his side. But not being able to avenge his father’s death means all of that pent up anger and frustration has been released and projected on to everything and everyone else in Jax’s life, which in turn has made for a trail of blood and tears and personal low points. Whether or not this path of personal destruction will continue into season six and beyond is yet to be seen, but I think that we’ve hit the point where Jax has to turn things around. Because if he doesn’t, he’ll succumb to the same fate that took so many great men before him; he’ll die in Charming, never having known a life without murder and blood and guns. He’ll never experience life outside the club.
Photo credit: Prashant Gupta/FX