Why has Sons of Anarchy been all but shut out from the so-called “golden age of television”? On paper, the show has all the trappings of the era’s staples: a twisty, hyper-serialized narrative; a dark, morally dubious protagonist; a continuous stream of shocking, buzzy plot developments; and a willingness to kill off pretty much anybody. Sons of Anarchy was doing it all years before Game of Thrones, True Detective, or House of Cards premiered — so why is it barely mentioned in discussions of the renaissance of quality dramatic TV?
At the very least, a lack of explicit content isn’t Sons of Anarchy’s problem. At a time when plenty of allegedly “boundary-pushing” dramas don’t actually push any boundaries, Sons of Anarchy has served up a wide array of previously untold horrors: a man forced to watch as his daughter was burned to death; a horrific school shooting; a man drowned in a bathtub full of urine; and the near-constant threat of sexual violence, including gang rape and prison rape. “It’s not that my goal is to disturb people,” explained Sutter at this year’s Television Critics Association press tour. “But I also want that reaction to when beloved characters go away. I want people to be upset.”
Of course, a violent show isn’t the same thing as a mature show. Entrenched classics like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad delivered plenty of violence, but their existential and emotional horrors always rang out louder. At its best, the violence in Sons of Anarchy packs a similar punch; at its worst, Sons of Anarchy is stupidly gratuitous.
Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.