“Sons of Anarchy” up to, but not including, tonight’s series finale
Remember that time, roughly seven years ago, when FX debuted
a little old show revolving around a biker club that lived in the ironically
named town of Charming? And how back then, we had great ambitions for a certain
blonde-haired member of that organization? He had lofty visions of setting the
club right, getting the girl and finally breaking free from the cycle of
violence that had always plagued his family. Remember all of that? Well, nowadays
that’s a distant memory, given how much “Sons of Anarchy” and its
leading character has changed.
When we first met Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) back in Season
1, everything about him was somehow lighter.
He still had his best friend in Opie (Ryan Hurst). His high school sweetheart,
Tara (Maggie Siff) had returned to town and things were starting to heat up. His
club seemed like a right old gang of lovable misfits, thanks to their
diaper-wearing antics and nights spent impersonating Elvis at the bars. Heck,
even Jax’s hair was a lighter shade of blonde back then.
Then things slowly started changing. Showrunner Kurt Sutter
put Jax through the fictitious ringer, transforming him from a wide-eyed gangster
into the hollowed out man he’ll be when “Sons of Anarchy” takes its
final ride on Tuesday night. It isn’t a new device — we’ve seen it done
before, most notably when Vince Gilligan took Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and
transformed him from Mr. Chips to Scarface (as the now-famous pitch goes) on “Breaking
Bad.” The difference is that here, Jax Teller was never really a good guy,
a Mr. Chips. He was just a good guy compared to many of the people around him,
and he wanted to get better.
In early episodes, Jax had a personal code. He looked out
for his family, his club and aspired to a future that didn’t end in blood and
crime, the way his father imagined in the journals he left behind. That last
item was in direct conflict with Clay (Ron Perlman), then-club President and
Jax’s stepfather, whom we later found out had orchestrated John Teller’s death
when those two clashed over running guns. With Clay around it was easy for Jax
to be the good guy, as Clay slammed the gavel down on ghastly tasks and claimed
responsibility for many deaths, including the accidental killing of Opie’s first
In the beginning, when Jax had to kill, it was always
portrayed as something that needed to be done for the greater good of the club,
and it was never overly violent. In the first season he gunned down Tara’s ex
and stalker, and while the two shared a weird sex scene beside the corpse, it
wasn’t a drawn-out death or an act of vengeance. The worst we saw Jax, in those
first seasons while he tried to convince everyone to go legit, was when we
thought he might be Agent Stahl’s (Ally Walker) rat. But even that turned out
to be a setup and Stahl was killed as Jax’s voiceover explained that he would
never betray his club. Sure, Jax killed, but he wasn’t in the same league as
Clay, who selfishly murdered in order to keep his secrets. Or the same league as
those white supremacists, who raped women in order to send a message. Or even the
same league as his mother, who notably took a baby hostage by holding a gun to
By the fourth season, however, “Sons of Anarchy”
had started to undergo a shift in tone, kicking off a season in which Jax was
left with two choices: take the gavel from Clay and become SAMCRO President, or
throw it all away and leave with Tara and their children to start a new life.
Jax was forced to choose the former, still believing he could take the club
legit, despite all of the moving pieces involved and alliances with other
groups who weren’t going to let that happen so easily. As he started to
actually accomplish this, everything else around him seemed to fall, especially
with his family.
By the time we got to the sixth season, things had started
unraveling. Jax finally killed Clay (shooting him in the neck) and started showcasing
his violent nature in other ways following Opie’s brutal death. Like brutally
killing the sergeant who allowed that terrible scene to play out. Like asking
his mom to have sex with her former abusive husband to get his secrets. Or by
giving Tig (Kim Coates) up to a man who wanted to kill him, or by ordering
Juice (Theo Rossi) to kill an innocent mom, or by shooting up his recovering addict
ex-wife Wendy (Drea de Matteo) so that she couldn’t help Tara raise the kids.
Meanwhile, the level of violence performed by people around
Jax continued to climb, desensitizing us to a point. That school shooting, for
example, or Otto being raped in prison and biting off his own tongue to keep
from talking. Then there was Tig’s daughter being burned alive in a hole, Clay
biting off a fellow inmate’s nose and Otto killing a nurse with a crucifix.
By time Tara’s brutal death went down, Jax was ready to wage
war. At the beginning of Season 7, when he brutally tortured and stabbed Chris
Dun in the head with a carving fork while methodically smoking a bloody
cigarette, we knew it was too late for the guy we once rooted for. Heading into
the series finale, with Gemma (Katy Segal) and Unser’s (Dayton Callie) deaths
now also on his hands, Jax has left a string of other brutal, often senseless
murders in his path.
As a result, he has been transformed into a completely
unrecognizable antihero, one we viewers might not struggle with saying goodbye
to. As it stands, Jax now has one final chance to make things right before the
Mayhem vote goes down and a death sentence is potentially handed out. And of
course the question from the beginning of the series—whether he can leave
behind a legit club for his sons—still hangs in the air. Here’s hoping the last
seven years weren’t all for nothing.