A cure for those post-Breaking Bad blues: FX’s underrated, under-seen crime saga Sons of Anarchy.
Walter White is dead. Breaking Bad is done. There is no more to that story, and after an epically satisfying final season, the time to move on is well upon us. No television series has ever grabbed me like Breaking Bad, and I’m sure there are millions that would agree. Its flawless list of elements, from the writing, to the acting, to the visual aesthetics and editing, the music and sound – they all congealed to form a wonderfully tasty paste that stuck in your mouth, got sucked into your brain and stayed there, in the best possible sense.
Beyond all SOA’s macho hilarity, turf wars and gun-running, there’s the promise of something more
As Jesse Pinkman smashed through those gates and drove away, screaming towards freedom, and as Walt slowly bled out, laying on the floor of his magic theatre, I realised I too would have to move on and shift my gaze. I’d have to look elsewhere for that all-encompassing escapism – a fresh story to brand the heart and mind. Needless to say, Breaking Bad left a void, a void I needed to fill. It was then that a clever little brother of mine pointed towards Sons of Anarchy. I’m happy to say that the void has been filled.
Created by Kurt Sutter, FX’s Sons of Anarchy has been airing since 2008. I’d heard good things – I approached the first episode with optimism, but as pilots/series premieres go, Sons’ first episode was one of the best I’d seen, hooking me hardcore in under an hour of action. There were great characters, there was intense action and there were some deep personal mysteries and drama to get me guessing straight away. We have a motorcycle gang, full of macho hilarity, disparity in ranks, turf wars raging, gun businesses a-running, whilst a crazy mother pulls all the strings. There’s a baby birthing, old love returning and a crack head ex-wife all thrown in the mix. And beyond all that, there’s the promise of something more, a free and moral way for SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original) to make their living.
Many things made Breaking Bad special, but at its centre it was about a man trying to make his mark on the world, losing almost all sense of morality in the process. It was the deep personal transformation of Walt that was so mesmerising to watch, from, “Woah this gun is heavy, Hank, I better go make some pancakes!” to, “I’m the one that knocks and I’ll poison your kid if I have to!” I can’t think of any TV series where the protagonist has gone through an internal metamorphosis of such gravity, constructed in such a concise and intricate manner, that in the end it all made perfect sense.
Like with Breaking Bad, behind all the madness of drugs, guns and gangs, Sons of Anarchy has a strong family theme
Our hero in Sons is Jackson ‘Jax’ Teller (Charlie Hunnam), and though his journey starts on the opposite side of the law – as a gun-running, happy-to-kick-some-ass-at-any-point biker ‘club’ member – after one episode you can see change is on the horizon. Breaking Bad had Walt versus Jesse, that strange sort of father/son relationship where there were more complications than games of catch, and in Sons we similarly have Jax versus Clay, head of the Charming chapter of bikers and Jax’s step-father of sorts, played perfectly by the awesome Ron Perlman. Like with Breaking Bad, behind all the madness of drugs, guns and gangs, there’s a strong family theme. The club is just that, a family, and a wonderfully dysfunctional one of course.
All that aside, it’s the little things that added that sheen and sparkle to Breaking Bad: Badger and Skinny Pete, Saul and his onslaught of hilarious metaphors, pizzas on roofs and the music music music. Sons has its own great side-characters, like Unser, the worst police chief ever, who despite his balding head has haircuts more often than Walt Jr. eats breakfast. The Sons creators love a montage, and there’s no shortage of these either, with some of those scenes being the show’s most poignant and beautiful. There are also some heavy moments – the grit and darkness will leave those with weak stomachs feeling a little fragile for sure, but that’s just further testament to Sons’ quality.
Sons of Anarchy is not Breaking Bad. It must be conceded that the acting isn’t always great and some of the dialogue can be a little unconvincing. With Breaking Bad, immersion was all-encompassing – it was easy to forget one was watching a TV show. With Sons of Anarchy, there are a few too many moments that pull you out of that world. But there’s a slew of reasons to give Sons a run out. For me, it certainly fills that Breaking Bad void.
All images: FX