Sons of Anarchy ended its violent ride with an equally violent finale. For some, retribution, peace and/or closure was found – but for others, it was a final bloody meeting with Mr. Mayhem. (READ: Our official Sons of Anarchy series finale review).
As fans continue to process the entire saga of SAMCRO over the course of 7 seasons and seven years on the air, we decided to look back at Kurt Sutter’s revolutionary series, which helped to both push biker “Outlaw” culture into the mainstream, and move the model of American television away from rigid old network paradigms and into the evolving tapestry that it is today.
Of course our nostalgia isn’t the usual warm, fuzzy type (that wouldn’t be fitting for Sons after all); no, we’re more concerned with dredging up and discussing the 15 Most shocking, bloddy and disturbing moments from the series – moments that literally made us cringe in our seats.
NOTE: These moments are listed in order of CHRONOLOGY NOT RANKING, in order to minimize SPOILERS. Use the Links below for safe passage if you’re not fully caught up with SoA!
15. “Fire or Knife?”
Season 1, Episode 5
By season 1 episode 5, we were well on our way toward getting to know the various bad boys of SAMCRO (and their ladies), but “Giving Back” really hammered home just how unflinchingly rigid (and often brutal) the tribal laws of the MC were.
When the boys of SAMCRO run across an ostracized ex-member named Kyle Hobart (Brian Van Holt), it seems like they will be able to work out their differences amicably – that is, until Jax (Charlie Hunnam) notices a clear violation of club law literally tatooed on Kyle’s back. As became routine practice around TM, Kyle was lured into a trap and given an impossible choice: have his SAMCRO tattoo either burned or cut off his back.
Watching grown men engage in such barbaric ritual was shocking – almost as much as watching Kyle’s acceptance of his penance. “These dudes is crazy,” is the last thing we remember thinking, as that blow torch kissed skin and we were forced to avert our gaze. Smell must’ve been terrible.
14. Mayhem Ménage à trois
Season 1, Episode 8
Jax and Tara were always the star-crossed Shakespearean love tragedy of the Sons of Anarchy saga, and nowhere was this better expressed than in one of their first (and most carnal) love scenes.
ATF Agent Josh Kohn (Jay Karnes) came to Charming pretending to be after SAMCRO when really he was after his secret obsession: Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff). With increasing creepiness, Kohn stalked closer and closer to Tara, eventually ruining his career, and finally attempting a psychotic sexual assault that got him gut-shot by the formidable Doc Knowles.
Things took a cringe-worthy turn when Jax finally dispatched the wounded Kohn where he lay on the bedroom floor – and immediately preceded to have hot sex with Tara on the bed as Kohn’s body was still bleeding out.
As titillated as viewers may have been, the scene was also oddly repellent and disturbing, as we wondered just how much “crazy” was between this crazy in love couple.
13. Mistaken Assassination
Season 1, Episode 12
Sometimes it’s not an act of perversion, violence, or general depravity that makes us cringe and recoil – it’s watching the inevitable collision that we see slowly approaching, but can do nothing to stop.
When Opie (Ryan Hurst) is framed as a snitch by a vengeful Agent Stahl (Ally Walker), Clay (Ron Perlman) takes the bait, hook line and sinker. Assigning Tig (Kim Coates) to do the unthinkable (assassinate a brother), Clay thinks everything he’s doing is flawless and justified – while we were forced to watch SAMCRO suffer the first, deep, cracks in its internal axle.
It went wrong in so many ways: Opie switches cars with his wife Donna (Sprague Grayden) at the last minute; Tig has no idea about the switch; Clay learns of the frame on Opie a second too late; Tig rolls up to that pickup truck stopped at the red light… and even clenching our eyes shut couldn’t spare our ears from the sound of that MAC-10 going off.
In a lot of ways, the brotherhood of SAMCRO died in that truck with Donna.
12. The Rape of Gemma
Season 2, Episode 1
It’s hard to even read this section header and not cringe – and what we got onscreen was much worse.
By the start of Sons of Anarchy season 2, it seemed like Gemma Teller Morrow was a force that no one could (or would want to) reckon with. It was with horror, then, that we watched mama Teller lured into a trap and wake up chained in a warehouse, with a group of masked men (the local neo-Nazis SAMCRO was beefing with) staring at her like dinner.
SoA had a unique way of consistently taking the experience of horrible moments and really twisting the knife. If watching a helpless Gemma being beaten, gang raped, and having vile racist threats being whispered to her wasn’t bad enough, we had to watch that scene unfold juxtaposed to a montage of the men in her life happy and safe, blissfully unaware that their queen was being ravaged. We’re still cringing over that one.
11. Irish Incest Alert
Season 3, Episode 10
Like we said: Sometimes the most cringe-worthy moments are not explicit instances of sex or violence, but rather the slow unfolding of a disaster in the making.
When SAMCRO headed to Belfast, Ireland to make new strides in the gun trade and recover Jax’s kidnapped son, there were many hurdles in the way. Yet, true to form, “Handsome Jack” managed to snag a little lovin’ along the way – only this time it got weird.
For three episodes viewers were treated to the dramatic irony of watching Jax slowly fall for (who we knew to be) his half-sister, Trinity (Zoe Boyle). Gemma’s love of keeping secrets nearly made things get real gross; by the time Jax and Trinity were about stripping down to hump, most viewers were screaming, “Noo!” like Darth Vader, eyes firmly covered. Thankfully, Gemma and Maureen Ashby (Paula Malcomson) decided to let the light of truth in at the eleventh hour, thereby avoiding that dreaded “three-headed grandchild.”
10. TM Domestic Bliss
Season 4, Episode 1o
After being dethroned by Jax, Clay Morrow was a shadow of himself; but that didn’t stop the cunning ex-King from plotting from the shadows to ruin Jax – and eventually to kill Tara, as well. Luckily for Clay (judging from the season 7 body count) his assassination attempt on Tara failed; unluckily for him, Gemma found about it.
Gemma and Clay had been headed for an implosion almost as long as Gemma/ Tara/Jax triangle; but when that showdown finally came, man was it ugly. Watching the former King and Queen of SAMCRO battling one another (and eventually Clay giving Gemma a full finger-ring beatdown) made us turn away in disgust.
SAMCRO’s coveted Outlaw nobility leaked out of Gemma’s gashes and bruises onto that kitchen floor, and after that, we were finally ready for Mr. Morrow to meet Mr. Mayhem.
9. A Million Little Pieces… of Laroy
Season 5, Episode 1
Sons of Anarchy season 5 came riding in like a bat out of hell on flaming wings of horror and carnage, which started right about the time that a recurring character was given a nonchalant and horrifying send-off.
We had watched SAMCRO beef and conspire with black gang leader Laroy Wayne (Tory Kittles) through five seasons – and in that time, the biker and banger boyz had even established some sort of strange, tenuous bond. Enter big boss Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), a nightmare combination of CEO cunning and gangster ruthlessness, who had a grudge to settle with both the Niners and SAMCRO.
As the two men involved with the death of Pope’s daughter, it’s debatable who got the worse payback: Tig or Laroy. All we know is that when Pope’s enforcer, August Marks (Billy Brown), casually popped open a rail yard storage bin to reveal chopped up bits of what used to be Laroy, we didn’t just cringe; we nearly lost our lunch (see above).
8. Tig’s Sins of the Father
Season 5, Episode 1
The Sons of Anarchy season 5 premiere was only getting started by reducing longtime characters to chopped up bits; Damon Pope and August Marks followed up their horrible introduction with what is still considered one of the most nightmarish mind-f**ks in the series – if not all of TV.
Tig was reckless when his vendetta against Laroy got Pope’s daughter (a bystander) killed; Pope thought it best to even the scales by chaining Tig to the ground and forcing him to watch his troubled junkie daughter, Dawn, burn.
One would think it couldn’t get worse than that – but SoA found a way. At first Pope makes Tig (and the audience) think Dawn is already dead; it’s only when the gasoline is poured on that the girl wakes up in horror and pleads for her daddy to save her – pleas that turn to shrieks when the fire gets lit.
You didn’t have to be a parent to have that moment turn your stomach. If you weren’t cringing in pain and hurt for Tig, brother, you may not be human.
7. Opie Up to Bat
Season 5, Episode 3
Sons of Anarchy season 5 nearly wore fans down in its dark and traumatizing first two episodes, so it was like a final sucker-punch to the gut when creator Kurt Sutter pulled another shocking moment of horror out in episode 3 – a moment that would trump just about anything the series had pulled before.
Jax and a small squad of SAMCRO members are thrown in county jail and given an ultimatum orchestrated by Pope: Jax must choose one of his brothers to die. Ever the noble leader, Jax refuses to budge; and ever the good friend, Opie ultimately steps to be the sacrifice his club needs.
Gentle giant Opie couldn’t be given a clean, noble end – oh no, not in the world of Sons of Anarchy. Continuing in Season 5’s dark sadism, Pope forces Jax and Co. to watch through a window as a room full of black inmates beat Opie to death with a pipe.
We’d wager that few fans kept a poker face when that last pipe blow came crashing down toward poor Opie’s skull.
6. Everything Otto
Seasons 1 – 6
What else need be said except his name: Otto Delaney. You could hand-pick any of the nineteen episodes Otto appeared in during the series, and pretty much all of them were cringe-worthy for one reason or another.
From the beatings, to the rapes, to the mutilations (and self-mutilations), violent attacks and crushing moments of heartbreak; Otto Delaney suffered more than pretty much any character we can think of in television. And this is a man who started out the show on death row. Geez.
Add the footnote that the character was played by series creator Kurt Sutter (the very man guiding Otto’s terrible fate), and every horror Otto suffered – or perverse deed he committed – took on meta levels of “WTF???”
5. Fatal Femme Fight
Season 6, Episode 13
One of the most riveting aspects of Sons of Anarchy had nothing to do with the boys of SAMCRO – but rather the cold war between the queens of the MC, Gemma and Tara.
For six seasons we watched Gemma and Tara play a chess game of being nemeses, frienemies, mentor and pupil, co-conspirators and iron ladies of a royal family. It was inevitable that the two women tugging for Jax’s heart were going to come to a standoff; but nobody realized just how brutal and bloody it would be.
Gemma and Tara’s kitchen brawl wasn’t so much about the situation at hand as it was about the powder keg of anger and hurt between the women finally exploding in the most ugly way possible. By the time Gemma shoved a carving fork into the back of Tara’s skull the entire fanbase was cringing (or crying), as we all realized the last bit of light and/or hope was fading out of Jax Teller’s world.
4. A Fork for a Fork
Season 7, Episode 1
Sons season 7 opened with a depiction of Jax in prison mutilating a man – which clearly spelled out that the conflicted anti-hero we’d followed through the series was no more. This was the beast John Teller hoped his son would never become, and even with a gruesome re-introduction, we didn’t get our full look at the demon inside Jax until the end of the season 7 premiere.
After luring Henry Lin and his gang in under peaceful pretenses, Jax (following a finger pointed by Gemma) finally got hold of the man he believed was responsible for his wife’s death. What followed made us cringe more than just once – not to mention gag a few times.
The brutality of the torture was sickening, the musical track by Yelawolf was poetically haunting, and Jax – the broken, deluded monster man – finally manifested in the blood and tattoos across his body, as he rubbed salt in the gaping wounds of the wrong man. When the end came, and Jax raised that carving fork above that poor Asian man’s head, it was hard not to look away (the sound was pretty gross). Harder still not to cringe at the sight of Jax’s horrible grin, as he reveled in the sick carnage.
3. The Mutilation of Bobby
Season 7, Episodes 7 & 8
Bobby Munson (Mark Boone Junior) had been a fan-favorite character since the beginning of Sons of Anarchy. Wise, loyal and fair, Bobby represented the code that SAMCRO’s members were ideally supposed to carry in their hearts.
When August Marks’ men snatched Bobby, we all hoped our favorite Elvis impersonator would make it home safe. But in the dark, final ride season of the show, we instead had to watch Bobby (literally) get taken apart, piece by piece.
We cringed when his eyes were gouged out; then again when his fingers were cut off; and we all cringed in pain watching SAMCRO reeling in grief when Marks double-crossed Jax, blowing Bobby’s brains out right in front of him. A violent (and for us, traumatic) end for SAMCRO’s wise old owl.
2. The Rape(s) of Juice
Season 7, Episodes 10 & 12
Suffice to say that by the end of Sons of Anarchy, Juice (Theo Rossi) had become the new Otto. From being blackmailed into betrayal, to failing at suicide and tragically misplacing his loyalties time and again, Juice ended the show in hell; or rather in Stockton prison, being passed around for everyone’s pleasure.
It wasn’t just the sight of Marilyn Manson’s Tully raping juice that disturbed us the most – or even the huddle of Chinese gangsters that raped him later. No, what made us cringe the most was the dead look in Juice’s eyes each time, and the knowledge that SAMCRO was doing him just as wrong as the rapists. So much for brotherhood; Juice’s mealtime execution looked pleasantly merciful by comparison.
1. Matricide Mayhem
Season 7, Episode 12
You know something is bad when Game of Thrones characters frown upon it, and matricide happens to be one of those things. Yet, in the penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy, Jax found himself at long last facing his mother Gemma down the length of a gun barrel.
When it finally did play out, was it really Jax taking responsibility for he and his mother’s many lies and misdeeds? Or was the whole thing one last manipulation by Gemma? Or perhaps it was a moment of painful realization and admittance for them both, as expressed in one of Gemma’s last statements, “This is who we are.”
Whatever the case, it was hard to watch as the fall of House Teller (and Jax’s soul) was made complete.
Those are the fifteen moments from Sons of Anarchy that didn’t just shock us or make us sad – they made us cringe in either fear, horror, disgust or even awkwardness.
Of course there are so many character deaths to consider – Clay, Unser, Piney, Half-sack and other prospects – as well as violent moments of rape, murder, sexual deviancy and twisted psychosis that seemed to be everyday occurrences around Charming, California.
If you have any more great (read: terrible) memories to share – join us in the comments!
Sons of Anarchy is now complete; you can catch up on seasons 1 – 6 on Netflix, while season 7 is On Demand and will be on home video soon.