If there’s one thing that no fan of Sons of Anarchy could deny, it’s that the show is driven by drama the way bikers drive their motorcycles hard across a desert highway. Episode after episode, season after season, the stakes pile up higher and higher. Risky ventures are embarked upon. Violent confrontations occur seemingly on a daily basis. There are at least as many betrayals as there are alliances (if not more). And everything is on the line: money, power, life and limb.
SAMCRO (which stands for Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Originals) is not a place for the weak. This also applies to the writers of this excellent television show: cming up with an unending progression of tension and character development is no easy task. One can imagine the writer’s room for Sons of Anarchy: “How do we put Jax into an impossible situation this time?” Or maybe, “How are the boys going to avoid going to jail forever with the law breathing down their necks?” Sometimes, the series really delivered. There were long character arcs and minor subplots which fit in nicely and made the whole experience one wild ride. At other times, the show either went off the rails, got super boring, or made choices so convoluted that the whole thing almost crashed.
Look, seven years is a long time to keep things interesting. We can’t expect every storyline to chart a clean course.
Here are 10 Storylines That Hurt Sons Of Anarchy (And 10 That Saved It).
20 The Truth About Jax’s Father (saved)
From the very first episode of Sons of Anarchy, we are drawnto the show’s central character, Jax Teller (played by Charlie Hunnam). The brooding young prince of the Redwood Originals has a lot to live up to. He’s the son of John Teller, one of the club’s legendary founders, who passed when Jax was a boy.
When Jax discovers his dad’s secret journals, the audience is clue into an awful possibility: that Jax’s mom Gemma and stepfather (and SAMCRO leader) Clay Morrow were behind John Teller’s untimely demise. This storyline simmers slowly over many episodes and even once “resolved,” continues to present a central problem: John Teller wanted the outlaw bike club to go legit. Could that ever be possible after all the crazy stuff that’s gone down? It’s a question that never stops defining the course of the show.
19 Tara’s Transformation into a Bad Girl (hurt)
Once you’re in an outlaw motorcycle club, it’s hard to get out. While there is family and security being inside the SAMCRO orbit, there is also a connection to criminality and violence. Tara Knowles (played by Maggie Siff) knew better when she escaped Charming, CA and the influence of SAMCRO. She went on to become a doctor, and only returned to her hometown to protect herself from a stalker ex-boyfriend. What happens next, of course, is violence.
As Tara sinks deeper into it all, instead of getting out of town, she returns to her old flame Jax, effectively becoming the “queen” of the club. Tara was smarter than that. It was hard to believe she kept falling into the trap of criminality when she had so many chances to get out. Her final fate should never have happened.
18 Gemma’s Abduction (saved)
Season one of Sons of Anarchy was never short of intense drama. There were plenty of wicked acts, loads of outlaw activity, and danger constantly tailed the fast-riding bikers. Audiences could have been left wondering, “What else could possibly happen that will surprise us?” by the time the second season premiered. The show answered with a storyline no one saw coming.
AJ Weston (Henry Rollins, who also voiced Mad Stan in Batman Beyond) is the leader of a gang at odds with SAMCRO. He does many evil things to hurt the club, but the worst was when he attacked and abducted Gemma Teller Morrow, Jax’s mother. The effects of this event rippled throughout the season and proved that nobody on this show was safe.
17 Wendy’s Addictive Back and Forth (hurt)
Drea de Matteo cut her TV drama teeth appearing as Adriana La Cerva in The Sopranos. She brought that experience in full force to SoA playing Wendy Case, ex-wife of Jax Teller and mother to his first son, Abel. True to form, her performance was always powerful and effective. Unfortunately, the writers overplayed her central problem: Wendy is a recovering addict who falls in and out of rehab over and over again.
While this is a realistic issue for people with substance abuse issues, her storyline often became banal, and was perhaps an all-too-easy go-to for adding drama during a lull in the series. The “Wendy’s back and using again” thing felt too contrived, too often and became more distracting than anything else.
16 War in Ireland (saved)
There were always plenty of dangerous rivals for SAMCRO. Of course, they always sparred with law enforcement, and there were plenty of other bike clubs to worry about, perhaps most notably The Mayans MC. However, the toughest challenges came from organized crime figures who could go from close ally to vicious foe at the drop of a hat. Perhaps the toughest of those situations was when SoA came at odds with their old partners in Ireland.
These guys weren’t just big-time weapons traffickers-- they grew up taking on the Empire itself and feared nothing. Their partnership with SAMCRO was always a source of comfort for the club, but once things went sour, the tension on the show escalated, keeping the audience fascinated, week after week.
15 The Kidnapping of Abel Teller (hurt)
When things really came to a boil with Ireland, there came a point where one of the survivors of that conflict went a step too far: a member stole Jax’s son Abel in retaliation for a loss he had suffered.
Now, it is fair to say that this is a scary plot twist. To lose a loved one to an international mobster is a nightmare-- and therein lies the problem. In a series filled with histrionics, this event turned it all up to Spinal Tap’s proverbial “11” on the drama dial. It’s not like SAMCRO didn’t have enough crazy stuff happening. This storyline just felt like it brought the show from serious drama into daytime soap opera territory.
14 Tig’s Romance with Venus Van Dam (saved)
Once in a while, it’s really nice to see a show that’s virtually founded on stereotypes – big bad rough and tough biker gang, in this case – and take a major step away from said stereotypes and into an unexpected subplot. One of SAMCRO’s hardest dudes is the ever-loyal and always crazy Tig Trager. He would literally do anything for the club. Few on this earth would mess with him.
Who does he eventually fall in love with? Venus Van Dam – a trans woman, played with unexpected grace by Walton Goggins (a long way from his groundbreaking hard-as-nails cop role on The Shield). This romance between an unabashedly macho criminal and a gender-bending outcast was a great way to turn all the archetypes on the show on their heads.
13 Juice’s Betrayal (hurt)
Sure, Juice was as rough and tumble as any of the other guys, but he was also probably one of the sweetest and most reliable of that ragged bunch. At one point, facing blackmail from a local cop who has learned a damaging secret, he betrays the club. This “terrible secret” was about his racial origin. Could he have not come forward to the club with this and avoid all the troubles that came later?
As his fate unfolds, viewers could be forgiven for screaming “Just tell them the truth!” at the screen. It may have been more interesting to see if the club could break an outdated, racist rule rather than force Juice into a corner.
12 The Rico Case Subplot (saved)
Season four of Sons of Anarchy was an interesting midpoint to the series. Enter attorney Lincoln Potter. He spends the entire season hounding SAMCRO, building a “RICO” case against them. This is the sort of criminal charge that could send club members to prison for decades.
Potter is a ruthless operator, skirting the law many times, and committing many an underhanded act to get the results he wants. This storyline was a true nail-biter, seeing Jax and his pals walking the edge of danger like never before. For many fans, this was the single best season and the RICO case hanging over their heads made it so.
11 The Painful Existence of Otto Delaney (hurt)
There are many, many bad character arcs in Sons of Anarchy. If you ask us to choose, Otto Delaney may be the most heartbreaking of all. Doing a major stint in prison, largely for deeds committed in SAMCRO’s name, we watch as he is systematically degraded through violence, hopelessness, and abandonment. We won’t go into all the indignities he suffered here, but suffice to say, it got tough to watch.
There was a heavy imbalance to his tormented existence which many viewers grew tired of and which perhaps should have been abridged. Interestingly, Otto is played by the show’s creator Kurt Sutter, so at least we know he didn't give his character any special treatment.
10 Saving Tig from the Wrath of Damon Pope (saved)
As mentioned, Tig Trager is one of the most loyal and brutal members of SAMCRO. He also happens to be one of the dumbest of them. In many instances, he has been easily manipulated by others. People like Clay Morrow and Agent June Stahl take advantage of his hotheaded nature and manipulate him into doing some bad things. One of those drives him to the misdirected dispatching of the daughter of dangerous gangster Damon Pope. From that moment on, Pope demands Tig’s head, and the Sons are driven into an impossible conflict trying to balance defending their pal and maintaining peace and business with Pope’s operation.
The plot builds and builds with no way out seeming to emerge for the biker. When the final resolution does happen – it’s totally unexpected and incredibly satisfying.
9 Tara’s Stalker (hurt)
As previously mentioned, Tara Knowles only came back to Charming because she was being stalked by her evil ex, Josh Kohn. While it was an interesting device for bringing the conflicted Tara into the story, this subplot suffered from being at once believable and tough to swallow.
Does a surgeon in Chicago really have no recourse in this type of situation other than turning to a bunch of outlaws in a small biker town? Would such an accomplished professional really risk everything to get drawn back into the outlaw lifestyle just to get away from a stalker? If Tara hadn’t proven to be so confident and strong in so many other ways, perhaps this story would make sense. As it stands, it felt like a clumsy device to introduce Jax’s main love interest.
8 Exploring the Belfast History (saved)
SAMCRO has some important history with their Belfast, Northern Ireland chapter. Its connection is especially important to Jax Teller as a thread of his deceased father’s past has a strong hold there. In season 3, the Redwood Originals travel there in pursuit of Jax’s stolen son Abel. While that subplot was less than strong, it opened the way to exploring the people and events in this European chapter.
Besides all of the interesting characters, secret pasts are discovered and more insight into the Ireland gang is gained. It’s all very compelling and made for one of the stronger Sons of Anarchy seasons.
7 The Convoluted Stockton Subplot (hurt)
The last couple of seasons of Sons of Anarchy were a little anarchic. Subplots were being shot out at the audience in rapid fire. New characters and storylines kept popping up while the bigger questions needing answers were stretched out and often put on the back burner. Did we really need that many new elements as we approached the end of the series’ run?
One of those convoluted story arcs involved a bunch of crooked cops in Stockton, CA. All this new bunch of players and messes did was introduce useless new layers of complexity in a show that needed to wind things down. One good thing about the subplot: the lead crooked cop was played by Peter Weller, the star of the original version of Robobcop!
6 SAMCRO vs. Agent June Stahl (saved)
June Stahl gave SAMCRO the first of their many difficult challenges for the first three seasons of the series. Determined to bring the Sons to justice for their crimes, she also had a chip on her shoulder to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Her thirst for personal glory often led her to doing some awful things – including tricking Clay Morrow into believing that Opie Winston was a rat. This spurred Clay to give an order to end Opie’s wife’s life.
It was a tragic thing for an innocent to pay the ultimate price in a game between two other parties. The back and forth between Stahl and the bike club was an astounding bit of prolonged drama. It all ended literally with a bang that viewers will never forget.
5 Wayne Unser’s Obsession with Gemma (hurt)
There are few things as pathetic as an unrequited young man's crush going unrequited all the way into middle age. That’s how it was for Charming’s sheriff Wayne Unser. He longed for Gemma Teller Morrow for decades. He had many reasons for assisting the club with their illegal activities and shielding them from other law enforcement, but chief among them was his love for Gemma.
Even after contracting cancer and being forced to live out his retirement in a trailer, he still keeps bending over backwards for the devious wife of SAMCRO president Clay Morrow. In the end, his obsession with Gemma literally costs him everything. The show could have played into the nuances of their relationship better than it did.
4 Clay’s Dirty Deeds (saved)
Ron Perlman is famous for playing a demon in Hellboy and he portrayed no less of a devil in his role as Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy. Ever the steadfast leader of SAMCRO, the motorcycle club’s president always presents a “firm but fair” face to his extended biker family.
Behind the scenes, Morrow has pulled off some huge betrayals. As mentioned, he helped end the life of John Teller. As the series progresses, we see him engineer the dispatching of anybody threatening his rule: club members, their relatives, and even his own family. While he’s also a shrewd leader who has often done well leading the club, his twisted sense of survival is brutal. Eventually, his misdeeds do catch up with him, and the whole ride along the way is absolutely captivating.
3 Jax Goes Nomad (hurt)
For those who don’t know much about the outlaw motorcycle gang code, the whole concept of “going nomad” can be tough to understand. The Sons of Anarchy have multiple chapters throughout California, America, and even the world. If a member doesn’t want to be associated with any of these geographical chapters, then they are part of the dissociated “Nomad Charter” – a gang without a real home.
One subplot has Jax leaving SAMCRO in frustration, riding out on his own. Very quickly, events bring him back, so it's basically the equivalent of a teenager running away from home only to show up for dinner that same night. It didn’t last long, but this subplot made Jax seem juvenile.
2 The Tragedy of Opie (saved)
One of the toughest story arcs in the Sons of Anarchy could be called "The Ballad of Opie Winston." Early on in season one, we find this close friend of Jax Teller on parole after doing hard time for the club. Proclaiming he “needs to earn” to support his family, he chances breaking parole and gets involved with SAMCRO all over again. In the course of events, Opie loses his wife, his father, and in the end – absolutely everything.
Despite him being a hard biker, audiences never get the sense that he’s a mean or evil person. He’s just trying to get through his life, making money to support his family through the only real opportunity he has available to him. He’s such an engaging character that his whole arc, even the bitter end of it, is very rewarding to watch.
1 SAMCRO's side business (hurt)
There are so many ways for an outlaw biker gang to make money, it boggles the mind. SAMCRO pretty much tried them all. Gun running is one of the big sources of their income streams. Then there is the trade in illegal substances. Perhaps most unpleasant of all is their foray into the world of selling companionship.
Yes, of course this is common in many real-life scenarios. It also makes for an overabundance of misogynistic scenes in the series – which it already had plenty of. Sons of Anarchy could have just as easily stayed away from “the world’s oldest profession” and still been just as effective on the drama front, if not more so.
What other storylines stood out on Sons of Anarchy? Let us know in the comments!