Why the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Premiere Was Gratuitous and Horrifying and Totally Awesome

No one’s given up on Game of Thrones, so why take offense with the violence in the season premiere of Sons of Anarchy? Come on, writes Paula Szuchman, if you're a fan, you know what happens when bad guys get their hands on guns. (Warning: spoilers abound.)

Prashant Gupta/FX

What’s worse? A gang rape or a school shooting? Burning a girl alive while her father watches or cooking a severed head into a vat of chili? Drowning a man in a bathtub of urine or asphyxiating a junkie with a pillow?

By now you have probably read plenty about Tuesday night’s Sons of Anarchy premiere and the school shooting that punched viewers in the face at about 58 minutes in. Given that SAMCRO corners the illegal gun market in Charming, you can probably guess, without me spoiling too much, where the KG-9 used in the shooting came from.

And so it is, that after five seasons of shameless violence, of women routinely being beat up and men bludgeoning each other to death, it’s the killing of kids by another kid that seems to have pushed some viewers over the edge.

Writing in The Daily Beast, Jason Lynch called the episode a “mistake” and the show unredeemable. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the show got cancelled. Worst thing ever,” wrote a commenter on this review.

Me, I was more like these guys:

The whole episode was classic Sons of Anarchy: murder, motorcycles, retribution, misery, gore. Someone’s always being killed in a sick and twisted way. Just when Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) thinks he’s out, SAMCRO sucks him back in. Tara’s leaving. Tara’s not leaving. Gemma’s getting even. In between bad things happening, people have hot sex. And the zingers! “You know I listen almost as good as I suck dick,” Colette Jane (Kim Dickens), the new madam in town, tells Jax. That’s a sentiment I can get behind.

If you’re a Sons of Anarchy fan—I binge-watched the last two seasons while I was on maternity leave, usually while breast-feeding—you’re a person who can handle watching pretend bloodshed. So why now, after all the gore that’s preceded it, are people taking offense at a school shooting? Yes, it’s “gratuitous,” if by gratuitous you mean those kids didn’t have to get killed for the show to exist. But Otto Delaney (played beautifully by showrunner Kurt Sutter) biting off his own tongue and being prison raped at dawn each day aren’t necessities, either.

And yes, it’s horrifying to watch. But so was Gemma being gang raped by white supremacists in season two.

And yes, Jax and his SAMCRO brothers are more concerned about covering their asses then mourning the dead or pondering their complicity in the murder of kids. But what do you expect? They are cold-blooded killers. Anyone who has been charmed into thinking they have remorse—real remorse, the kind that, I don’t know, makes you change your evil ways—is kidding themselves.

Also, and here’s the operating principle of this episode: sometimes, when you’re in the gun business, someone gets ahold of one of your guns, and kills children. It’s called causality.

Or, as Sutter has described the event, “very organic to the world.” I’d argue that the shooting was a far more believable plot point than Tig drowning a guy in a bathtub of piss, pissing on his dead body, and dumping him off the docks—and far more heart wrenching.

In his review for The Daily Beast, Lynch disagrees, saying that Sutter has crossed a line: “Rooting for SAMCRO to get the better of other gangbangers, white supremacists, drug dealers, and other assorted lowlifes is one thing (sure, our guys are bad, but these other people are so much worse!), but we’re now being asked to cheer for a group that not only helped enable a school shooting to happen, but also has zero guilt over their involvement in the deaths of multiple children.”

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Yes, that’s exactly right. Just as we cheered for a group that gunned down Opie’s wife in Season 1, that stabbed a prison nurse in Season 2, that refer to women as “gashes,” and that “enables” the death of at least one person in every single episode. I don’t know how many people Jax has killed, or ordered killed, but it’s a lot, and by my non-TV-life moral code, killing just one person is crossing the line. Still, I can’t take my eyes off the man.

So what’s the red line when it comes to violence on TV?

No one’s given up on Game of Thrones, where people are flayed to death and rape is as routine as flossing. The Sopranos lives in the pantheon of great TV despite its hero being an unrepentant serial killer. We don’t totally hate Breaking Bad’s Walter White, even though he was cool with the murder of one kid and the poisoning of another.

The school shooting on Sons of Anarchy was horrifying. But it wasn’t shocking, given that the main characters in the show are gunrunners. Just as it’s horrifying—but not shocking—that school shootings happen in real life, given that in this country, crazy people can get their hands on automatic weapons with relative ease. Nor is it shocking when bad guys go about their lives, pushing their kids in swings and having barbecues.

So I’m not giving up on the “epic absurdity” that is Sons of Anarchy. Sutter promised “the ultimate comeuppance” in this season, and I need to know what that means.

It’s like this guy says: