It is a bloodbath and that's how Sons of Anarchy ends. It had to be that way.
All along, creator Kurt Sutter noted the inspiration SoA owed to Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet. And, Hamlet is a bloodbath.
UPDATED ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2014, one day after the series finale. Yes, spoilers ahead!!! The updates breakdown the predictions, what happened and how the outcome fits the 'Hamlet' mold.
It had to be a bloodbath. To be a Shakespearean tragedy, the protagonist must die. He must die violently and it must be as a result of his own bad choices. In fact, just about everybody dies. They must. The end.
Read the latest article explaining Why Jax Teller Must Die - From Hamlet to Oedipus!
Let's take a look at the players and see how they match up to the bard's tragic counterpart.
Of course, Charlie Hunnam's Jax Teller is the Danish Prince, Hamlet, plagued by the ghost of his murdered father. Clay Teller (Ron Perlman) is Claudius the would-be king who murdered Hamlet's pops. Gemma (Katey Segal) is Gertrude, partner-in-crime to Claudius. Ophelia, the suicidal beauty betrothed to Hamlet, is Tara (Maggie Siff). And, Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) would be Horatio; loyal friend, and one of the few survivors, left to tell the tale.
Throughout the first four seasons and part of season five, I had always assumed Polonius was Piney (William Lucking) and Opie (Ryan Hurst) would be Laertes seeking vengeance for the death of his father, whom Hamlet killed. Events of seasons four and five changed that outcome when both Piney and Opie are removed from existence.
So that left Bobby (Robert Boone, Junior) as the most likely candidate to take over for Polonius and Juice (Theo Rossi) to be Laertes. There is an argument to be made that Laertes could have been Tig (Kim Coates), but he switched loyalties (from Clay to Jax) rendering that outcome impossible. There was a Laertes dark horse candidate, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Then there's Fortinbras, a young prince left behind to clean up the mess. My guess (at one time) would have been Sheriff Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar) as the most likely candidate. Good old Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie) cleaned up plenty of the club's messes, but was ultimately too old and too guilty to fill the role of Fortinbras. More discussion on Fortinbras to come ...
Who lives? Who dies?
Spoilers Ahead: The rest of this article assumes you have seen the series and know the outcome.
They all die ... mostly. Here's how, according to Hamlet!
Ophelia (Tara): Get thee to a nunnery! In Hamlet, Ophelia is at the mercy of the men in her life filling her with the expectations of who she should be. Conflicted with loyalty to her father and brother (Polonius and Laertes), she eventually drowns in a river, a likely suicide. Tara finds her career ruined, her family in shambles and she is facing hard time. Suicide seemed an option ... but that's not exactly how it worked out. Instead, she stays in Charming and this proves a type of suicide. Tara dies, just not exactly how expected.
Her death is at the hands of Gemma, which leads to the final conflicts and resolutions of the series. Nevertheless, her death is terrible and true to a Shakespearean tragedy. This did set the way for the Hamlet-Laertes standoff.
Polonius & Laertes (Bobby, Juice, Others?): There were multiple possibilities throughout the series for this connection. All along I had thought this would be Piney and Opie. Piney would have been the perfect fit for Polonius, with Opie being Laertes. In the play, Hamlet accidentally kills Polonius, and Laertes plots his revenge, leading to the bloody and deadly climax. This could be an indirect outcome, but it would cut out the heart of Hamlet. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that these two characters are elsewhere.
Dark horse candidates initially included Kurt Sutter, himself, as Otto, who was rolling over and turning on the club before biting off his own tongue off, but this was unlikely and didn't fit the Polonius-Laertes mold. There was always Lee Toric (Donal Logue), brother to a woman murdered in a club-related homicide. Oh, yeah, he was a formal U.S. Marshall and directly responsible for getting Tara a set of orange overalls. Only, his relationship to Jax was too distant and his demise (while satisfying as a viewer) was most un-Shakespearean! Laertes is like a brother, which really only left Juice by the end of the story. There was, for a time, a possibility that Tig's loyalty to Clay could trigger a Laertes reaction, but that was not a final outcome.
Ultimately, Laeretes proves to be Juice and the standoff would be the lies surrounding Tara's death. And, rather than a poisoned sword, Juice pricks Jax with the poison of truth -- truth is the poison that ultimately leads to the death of both Gemma and Jax.
When all is said and done, Bobby is the final "Polonius Catalyst." Juice didn't exactly launch into a frenzy due to Bobby's death, but rather his exclusion from the club. Also, Juice is ultimately responsible for most of the death in the final season. In short, any of the club members who have died and can connect their deaths to the Jax-Clay war, are a symbolic representation of Polonius, and Juice is the son of that mess, serving as Laertes.
In the play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Laertes is controlled by others, much like Juice is at the command of many others at different points. In a final confrontation with Hamlet, Laertes poisons a fencing blade, leading to the deaths of the main characters. As previously mentioned, in SoA, the greatest poison is the truth. In a final confrontation, Juice reveals the truth to Jax about Gemma having killed Tara. This truth leads to the death of each of them.
Gertrude (Gemma): My initial thoughts were that her death would come at the hands of Clay and Juice as they made plans to kill Jax. She would be the (semi) innocent victim to their war. Upon her death, the truth is exposed and Jax would pursue Clay. Or course, this changed with Clay's death, however, the stage was set. The impact of Clay and Gemma's role in the club had long-standing effects, ones which those steeped in blood could not recover nor return. For Gemma, Jax, Juice and Clay, the only feasible outcome was death.
Claudius (Clay): Clay had to die. His conniving had to be revealed. He was villain and Jax was destined to kill him. It's that simple. To do anything less would be to stray too far from calling this anything to do with Hamlet.
Oddly, I did not expect Clay to die so early in the series. While Clay was alive, the primary conflict with Jax was with him; however, after Clay dies, Jax is sent into a two season downward spiral carving out the path of his own demise.
Hamlet (Jax): Hamlet dies from a minor wound infected with poison at the hand of Laertes. With that, Jax too dies. He had to. There cannot be a happy ending in a Shakespearean tragedy or it is not Shakespearean at all. Jax watched those he loves die (Tara, Opie, Bobby and Gemma). He didn't directly kill Juice, but commanded his death. He killed Clay and was simultaneously responsible for the death of other club members. In his quest, he revealed the truth behind his own father's death (that it was possibly suicide rather than murder), the deceptions of Clay and Gemma, and the truth about Tara's murder.
The truth of his past and his own crimes is too much for him to overcome. Keeping the form of a Shakespearean tragedy, the protagonist must also have a final revelation about his own role in his fate while simultaneously having an awareness that it is too late to go back and change anything. Jax is fully aware of his role and that he is "not a good man" but rather a detestable criminal. This is the final truth that sets him free. Jax's death is at his own hand, but it was necessary. It was the only way he could save those around him, reconcile his past, atone for his misdeeds, and return order to the world of Charming.
Fortinbras (Nero/Alvarez): Eli Roosevelt seemed a likely candidate for a while but he died along with Tara falling victim to the violence. Instead, it is really Nero and Alvarez who fill this role. Nero will be tasked with cleaning up the messes of Jax's family life and Alvarez stabilizes the criminal life, bringing order to the chaos that has engulfed the town of Charming for far too long.
Horatio (Chibs): The final battle was not a battle at all. After the major players die (Gemma and Juice), Jax cleans up much of the mess himself, then following his father's footsteps, he commits suicide. His death frees the club and his family of the consequences of his criminal actions.
Chibs didn't exactly hold the dying Jax Teller in his arms and whisper the equivalent of, "Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" However, his compassion, his friendship and his love for Jax are enough.
And thus will conclude The Tragedy of the Sons of Anarchy.
by Brian Barsuglia
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