2009-11-23 : The interesting prob with Sons of Anarchy

I've watched a good bunch of Sons of Anarchy now. I'm not quite caught up but getting close. Here's what I think: its writers expect us to make allowances for the characters for what they feel, over what they do. For instance:

Clay: I'm going to keep this thing secret from Ope to protect myself.
Jax: Well I'M going to keep it secret from Ope too, but I feel cranky about it.

The writers expect us to think that Clay and Jax are morally different - that Jax is a better person than Clay - even though they're making the same moral decision.

It's something that The Shield (for instance) never asked of us, but something that Battlestar Galactica (for instance) expected of us constantly. I'm finding it weak, but a pretty interesting weakness.

Otherwise it's a fun show.

1. On 2009-11-23, Buddha said:

Hmmm... interesting. I'm not certain that I am 100% grokking what you're driving at, though, so let me know if this is it:

If I understand correctly, even though Jax is keeping the secret to "protect" Ope, he's still acting in the same way as Clay, which means that despite the different emotions that are occuring behind the decision, since they are taking the same action they are essentially making the same moral decision?

When you catch up, I'd love to know what you think of Tig's morality...

Anyway, I'm digging the show too!


2. On 2009-11-23, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

I was willing to hang in with Battlestar Galactica because I was operating on the assumption that that stuff would all bubble over eventually. It did, with Geda and Tigh, but Roslyn basically acted, in the end, as an ineffective conscience. Pegasus showed us the consequences of her absence, but the near-literal marriage of the military and political bodies largely undid her powers to act on her feelings.

But since BSG's conclusion was, "It's OK. God will sort it out," none of it mattered in the end.


3. On 2009-11-23, Ben Lehman said:

That's a pretty common failing of writers.


4. On 2009-11-23, Vincent said:

I think it may be a thing I've just recently learned to notice, so I'm like, look! There it is! And there! And there!


5. On 2009-11-23, Shane said:

Now you mention it, seems to me that maybe The Shield used that on purpose..

Shane did something bad because he got scared and overreacted.
Vic covered it up because he thinks it's Good Guys v. Bad Guys.
Lem went along because Vic said to.
Acaveda went along because he's ambitious.
Wyms cos it's how things are done, and is it worth the effort to change.
Why will Dutch join in, and does that somehow make it ok? The thing still got done, and no one's gonna pay for it or make it right.

and I think that's pretty cool.


6. On 2009-11-23, tonydowler said:

Nice observation! This is a technique that used to bother me a great deal, but nowadays I generally ignore it, and am pleasantly surprised when it's not used. I think I'm a poorer TV watcher for it, though. With BSG, for example, I purposely ignored a lot of the problems with the show. I enjoyed it more, but I'm less able to talk about it critically.

Can we use "writing at" as a phrase here? As in "I feel the writiers are writing AT me, rather than TO me."


7. On 2009-11-23, Vincent said:

As I was watching the end of season 1, I said to Meg "the writers' fingerprints are all over this show." I was talking about the plotting, but yeah, it's all part and parcel. The plotting is how I know that they need me to think that Jax is a better person than Clay, for instance.


8. On 2009-11-23, Chris said:

The problem I've had with it is that I expect followup when they give me that- I expect the cranky character to turn around some point later and draw the line, "You know what? No, this isn't ok.", and they never do.

It's even more irritating when a character points it out to the cranky character ("You know what? You're not different than me...") and then they still try to let it slide.


9. On 2009-11-23, Brand Robins said:

So do they expect you to judge them in the same band, but differently within it, or on a different band all together?

That is to say, in a lot of shows Clay and Jax are both (good/bad) because of what they do, but the reasons for doing it may make one of them less/more good/bad. In other shows the fact that they're doing the same thing doesn't matter at all, different reasons for the same decision make the decision a different decision as far as the morality of the writers is concerned.


10. On 2009-11-23, Ben Lehman said:

For what it's worth, this is also how the Bush/Cheney government worked.


11. On 2009-11-24, Larry L said:

That's an interesting assumption. I guess I would charitably assume this is character development, so when some other thing goes down in the future, you're like, ah-hah, that's why Jax did that.

Although I guess the situation like Chris describes could occur, where it turns out the writers are being much more haphazard with the foreshadowing than you initially suspected, in which case I'd feel like I was cheated out of my *cough BSG cough* investment.


12. On 2009-11-24, valamir said:

I'm not seeing it.

I think the show goes out of its way to show Clay as being both dedicated to the good of the club, just with radically different ideas on what actually IS good for the club.  Much the same way as politics involves people being passionate about what's good for the country with radically different ideas about what actually IS good for the country.

Clay clearly views the SoA as being a net benefit to Charming and thus feels ok with the excesses they take as being their just due.  The show suggests that the majority of Charming agrees with them.  While the writers clearly have control over what the townsfolk feel, I can easily see how many people in the real world would have no problem with the SoA in their town.  Sure they're an extra legal organization, but they keep their shit out of our town and their presence keeps the majority of dirtbags off the street...I think history is full of examples where that was a generally acceptable situation for a community.

So I'm not seeing the show illustrate Clay as being any less moral than Jax.  They both have the weakness of plunging in without considering the consequences, and that's where they become their own worst enemy.  But I haven't seen either do anything that wasn't (at the time) seen as being right for the club...even if later it was shown to be poor judgement.  I think pretty much all of the SoA club acts regularly with poor judgment, but I don't see much difference in morality.

Now this is a Monkey Sphere morality that divides the world in to "me and mine" vs. everything else.  But I don't see the writers showing Jax as being any different in that regard.


13. On 2009-11-24, Vincent said:

Ralph: Right. Whatever Jax feels, he quite consistently makes the same moral decisions Clay makes. I just think that the writers expect us to judge him differently because of how he feels.

Brand: Well, the show really has only two moral bands. First: selfish violent people. Second: rapists and white supremists. There are also a few innocent children, but they don't have any moral voice, they exist as moral objects for the others to act upon and react to.

In the first band, some people have the opportunity to and are capable of acting effectively on their selfishness and/or violence, while others don't and aren't, but that's not a moral difference. The show certainly doesn't present victims as inherently morally superior to their victimizers (which is just fine with me).

There is an interesting counter-case to Jax and Clay, which is Tara and Gemma. Here's how it looks:

Clay: I'm going to keep this thing I did a secret, to protect myself.
Jax: Oh yeah? Well I'm going to keep it secret too, to protect you, but I'm cranky about it.


Gemma: I'm going to keep this thing that happened to me a secret, to protect Clay.
Tara: I'm going to keep it secret too, because I promised you I would.

Jax's reasons for keeping this thing secret are the same as Clay's, but the writers expect us to think differently about them as moral decisions, because Jax doesn't feel content about it and Clay does. Tara's reasons for keeping this other thing secret ARE different from Gemma's, and the writers are right to expect us to think differently about them as moral decisions.


14. On 2009-11-24, valamir said:

Can't say what the writers intended, but I didn't get that they intended us to feel differently about Clay vs. Jax except for the usual TV appeal of Jax being young and hot and Clay being...not so much.

I certainly didn't get the impression that Clay was content with his decision.  Rather the opposite.  I got the impression that he was totally torn up inside about it, but, as a veteran who's had to make hard decisions before, is better at keeping it opposed to Jax who gets to be all idealistic because he's never been tested...or Tig who goes to pieces when he finds out he's not the ruthless hard ass he thought he was.


15. On 2009-11-25, Julie, aka jrs said:

I must be slow. Vincent, can you be explicit as to how the writers are relaying this expectation? I mean, is it in narrative events, the way other characters respond, use of background music, scene editing, or something else entirely?

Note: I have not seen Sons of Anarchy; I have seen much (not all) of The Shield and Battlestar Galactica.


16. On 2009-11-30, Vincent said:

All of those, plus casting like Ralph says, yeah. It's especially evident in how the other characters respond. Here's an example from a very recent episode.

Ope finds out the secret that Jax and Clay were keeping from him. He and Jax are talking.

Ope: You were keeping it secret from me too?
Jax: Yes, to protect Clay, same as Clay.
Ope: But you felt cranky about it?
Jax: Exactly.
Ope: Cool. Clay's a real jerk, let's get him.

Related: all of the characters are motivated to preserve the status quo, sometimes head-scratchingly, and the writers keep giving them great opportunities to do so. Are they preserving tensions, blocking immediate resolution in order to build to a final gigantic explosive mega-blowout? Possibly, yes. Am I confident that they are? No! I think that maybe they're just flubbing their escalation.

Ope: ...But let's not get him right now, right?
Jax: Right.
Ope: Cool. Got your back, brother.


17. On 2009-11-30, Vincent said:

Oh and it remains, otherwise, a fun show.


18. On 2009-12-01, Vincent said:

And dur on me. How many episodes of this show have I watched? 20+? And when did I catch on that Jax is Hamlet? Last night? Sad, Vincent.

Gemma's like "it's like his father is speaking to him from the grave. WINK."


RSS feed: new comments to this thread