Sons of Anarchy wasn’t a show I ever thought I’d watch. Believe me. I even remember walking through the TV room when my friends were watching it and blatantly disapproving. I’m more into the whole The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars sort of thing. However, last Christmas break my mother’s colleague insisted that she watch it, and I was in need of a new show to marathon-watch. Alas, I was found sitting next to my mom on the couch, watching episode after episode, season after season, until we watched the show in its entirety. What about this show of out-law motorcycle gangsters is so intriguing? Why, in a show like this, are we constantly rooting for the bad guys? “The bad guys” are often portrayed these days as, not necessarily the good guys, but the people that – even despite their malevolence – are human beings just like us. I believe that the narrative structure and character development that takes place throughout the show contributes to the way in which we as audience members can make sense of the program, as well as contributing to its overall success.
Despite the fact that the characters in this show are motorcycle gang members, they are quite relatable. The reason anyone continues to watch a television series is more often than not relatability. Jax, the main character and son of deceased John Teller, the man who founded the sons, it undoubtedly the most relatable character. His late father founded the sons on a set of ideologies that consisted of fighting for freedom and kindness for one another. The manifesto of John Teller has been long pushed to the wayside by the sons for more violent and criminal actions that or nothing but self-serving.
As an audience, we follow the story of Jax and are constantly rooting for him as he continuously tries to follow in his father’s footsteps. The fact that he has a crack baby with a washed up druggie, or kills members of various gangs somehow doesn’t have the strong effect on our minds that the fact that he’s sort of just like us does. Why is it that we forgive these seemingly unforgiving actions? Those of murder, bastard children, and drug trafficking? It’s because he’s still human. We are innately born with a sense of hope for the human race. We root for these so-called bad guys or underdogs because deep down we know that they are good people. The creator of the show, Kurt Sutter, states:
“You know, here’s how I describe all this: It’s a heavy world, it’s a dark world but as heavy and violent as it is, I like to think that ultimately there is some sense of hope. So that it’s sad and heavy, but there is always some sense of hope. Will it be a happy ending? No, but I do think that there will be something hopeful about the way it ends” (Sutter).
In terms of character development, this show is designed to make us love these characters. If we take a step back and look at the big picture vaguely, it’s easy to see that these men are some of the most dislikeable people of all time; but they’re not dislikeable characters. As is any other television series, Sons of Anarchy is set up aesthetically and narratively in a way that we only see one side of the story; the side of the sons. As an audience, we are so engrossed in the happenings of their lives that it doesn’t make a difference to us what the story of the other gangs happens to be. In fact, we’d rather not know. That sort of conflict would inevitably confuse audience members to the point where they a) couldn’t follow one set story line or b) give the audience members mixed signals, thus leaving them confused on how to feel about which characters.
In this case, since our good guys are depicted as bad guys to the general public, it’s harder to create that line of conflict between hero and villain. However, in a violent, mob-like show like Sons of Anarchy, making someone appear worse than the sons put an interesting plot twist on things. For instance, Gemma, Jax’s mother and wife of the new President of the motorcycle club, gets brutally raped by members of a rival party of the sons. During the rape she is told to tell Clay that it would happen again if he didn’t do what they asked. Now, when one of the two lead females is raped and used as leverage, you almost want this guy dead. Better yet, you want the sons to be the ones to kill him. Sutter makes the actual bad guys even worse than you could imagine so as to have you as an audience member rooting for the sons to do whatever it takes to get justice for Gemma. Alas, the line between hero and villain is drawn.
All of these things together help us make sense of the program and gives us a look into the lives of these characters that aren’t quite like us, but we’re still able to relate to them because of the human condition. We all do things we aren’t proud of, and at the same time we’re all trying to be better versions of ourselves the best that we can. We want to see justice served for people like Gemma; we also want to see confused and perplexed characters like Jax make changes for the good of others. Whether you’re in a motorcycle club trafficking guns and drugs, or you’re just a plain Jane viewing these types of people from the comfort of your own couch, aren’t we all kind of the same?