Kurt Sutter Shakespearean tragedy/biker melodrama served us seven seasons of gritty, violent stories revolving around the Sons of Anarchy, a motorcycle club based in Central California.
Based in the ironically-named fictional town of Charming, the Sons operated a gun-running organization and attempted to maintain a balance between their criminal business enterprises and the idyllic outlaw lifestyle that motivated them.
In addition to its labyrinthine collection of combustible relationships, Sons of Anarchy made a name for itself by featuring scenes of intense violence and human depravity. The show topped itself year after year in these categories, to the point where audiences were largely numbed to things that would shock and appall in other contexts.
Kurt Sutter has long been a fan of living in this kind of extremity -- a cursory watch of his previous series, The Shield, will provide more than enough evidence of that.
This is what makes this list of jarring moments from our favorite biker show a little unexpected -- it's not a rundown of the times Sons of Anarchy horrified us with its violence and/or pathos (well, parts of it are...), it's a rundown of the times we did double-takes at the show's absurdity.
For a program as dark as SOA was, there were a bunch of times it turned on its axis and went places we never saw coming -- in good ways and in bad.
Here are the 15 Jarring Scenes That Took Us Out Of Sons of Anarchy.
15 TIG MEETS VENUS VAN DAM
Tig was arguably one of the more unique members of SAMCRO – his tastes in everything, including romance. This made even his closest friends raise the occasional eyebrow.
His infatuation with trans working girl Venus Van Dam (played brilliantly by Walton Goggins) started out as just another strange layer to the complicated mess of contradictions that made up Tig’s personality.
However, what began as a quirky crush grew into one of the most endearing romances of the entire series. We found ourselves deeply moved at the end of the show when the two actually managed to find a measure of happiness with each other instead of going out in typically tragic SAMCRO style.
Looking back on their first meeting, though, it’s jarring because before then we’d never seen Tig exhibit such honest tenderness.
He’s adorably and unabashedly smitten with Venus from the moment that he lays eyes on her, not even blinking at his buddies’ shock and amusement.
It was also one of those great moments on SOA when a group of admittedly racist, sexist, and probably homophobic bikers managed to be some of the wokest dudes on TV and only treat Venus with the utmost respect that she commands whenever she walks into a room.
Then Tig gets his bottom bitten by the guy who SAMCRO is trying to blackmail and it kind of destroys the mood, but all in all, it's one of our favorite Tig scenes in the series.
14 CLAY PREACHES TO THE CHOIR
One of the more odious afternoons that Clay is forced to endure comes when he’s locked up in federal prison in season 5 is church. While embracing religion might have been the solution for other inmates looking to change their lives, it certainly wasn’t going to be for Clay Morrow.
First of all, on any given day, Clay thinks that he’s God’s gift to the world and everyone who he’s ever met. He’s not one for much introspection to begin with unless its self-congratulatory, so the preacher telling him Jesus died so humanity could live in harmony with one another or something goes over about as well as a ton of bricks.
He endures the sermon for as long as he can without saying anything, but when the absurdity of what’s happening gets to be too much, he commandeers the attention of the congregants and offers a sermon of his own.
Without going into too much detail, he delivers an impassioned speech in support of what he really worships – women.
The whole thing is hilarious and far more entertaining than anything that the preacher was saying, so it’s not long before Clay’s got a full scale revival on his hands and the guards have to step in to shut it down.
It’s jarring because Clay’d gotten so dark by this point that actually watching a scene where we were on his side felt uncomfortable, but in a weirdly fun way.
13 GEMMA’S PASSING
It didn’t matter that we all knew Sons of Anarchy was based on Hamlet, nor did it matter that the show stuck to that format perfectly over the course of seven seasons creating expectations that the SOA characters would all eventually go the way of their Hamlet counterparts.
Opie goes just like Polonious, Tara passes away just like Ophelia (she’s even partially drowned), and Clay and Jax both go the way of their counterparts Claudius and Hamlet.
So, it really shouldn’t have been so shocking when Gemma goes out as Gertrude does (though in a far different way), but it really was.
While Sons of Anarchy pushed the enveloped when came to violence, tragedy and pathos, every show has their limits. Some characters feel so necessary to tell the story that we start to believe that their plot armor is impenetrable.
Plus, Gemma tried so hard to do what she thought was right, that even when she failed spectacularly at doing it, we still rooted for her, despite the fact that logically we knew there was no coming back from taking out Tara and standing by while Jax tore the club apart in his quest for revenge.
Gemma’s lie took out more characters who we liked than guns did on this show (RIP Bobby Elvis). However, seeing it happen felt so tragic and final that we couldn’t help but look at the big picture and face that the show was really ending and would not shy away from tragedy.
12 ASIAN ELVIS STAYS IN CHARACTER
Part of what made Sons of Anarchy so great was its commitment to absurdity. While most of the time it focused on heavy drama, violence, and tragedy, it also created a world filled with quirky, esoteric characters, each of whom had very distinctive, and often funny traits.
Bobby Elvis was a shrewd, morally ambiguous man who could be as vicious as he could be kind and wise. He was also a massive Elvis fan and worked as a lookalike in his off hours. As one does…
We’re introduced to this fact in the pilot, so right out of the gate SOA let viewers know that this show was not going to rest solely on biker stereotypes.
The scene we’re discussing here was one of the first times the show made us do a delighted double take and signaled that we should expect more than just guns and violence.
When Bobby Elvis shows up to a gig only to find out he’s been replaced by an Asian Elvis to appease the largely Korean audience, he does not take it… well. Neither does his crew, which is, at the end of the day, just as vicious as it is supportive.
They attack the Asian Elvis, and that was sickly funny in its own right, but the icing on the cake of this ridiculous B-plot is that the other Elvis doesn’t break character for a second. That was the moment that we realized that we were in for a real wild ride.
11 OPIE AND LYLA’S WEDDING
Opie and Lyla really should’ve worked. On paper, their story is romantic, beautiful, and sad. In execution, it was mind-numbingly dull, predictable, and unrealistic – and given the weird and wacky depths plumbed on this show, something had to be really off-the-wall wrong to not work in the context of the SOA universe.
However, Ryan Hurst did too good a job of playing up Opie’s depression and hopelessness in the wake of Donna’s passing.
The prospect of a two-dimensional character like Lyla being able to form a healthy and equitable relationship with him wasn’t believable.
Conversely, Winter Ave Zoli played Lyla as so blindly loyal and devoted to Opie that it made it frustrating to watch her try to fix a man who was so obviously broken beyond repair.
Their wedding should’ve felt like we were watching Opie turn a corner, and it was clearly meant to be a rare pure and happy occasion for SAMCRO. However, because Opie and Lyla’s relationship was such a snoozefest to begin with, there wasn’t any real payoff to seeing them tie the knot.
We all knew that Opie only had enough room in his heart for Donna, and watching him pledge allegiance to Lyla felt contrived – not something we can accuse SOA of very often, so it stuck out like a sore thumb.
10 LINCOLN POTTER SAVES THE DAY?
One of the more esoteric and delightfully ambiguous characters gifted to us by Sons of Anarchy was United States Attorney Lincoln Potter.
He was a vicious, Machiavellian antagonist who had the guts to take down SAMCRO, the Real IRA and the Gallindo crew, and he very nearly pulled it off.
While he was ruthless in his methods (he despicably blackmailed Juice by threatening to tell the club the kid was bi-racial), he was so committed to and skilled at his job that we couldn’t help but be fascinated by him.
Plus, he was more or less on the same moral plane as most of the protagonists on SOA, and his character’s existence underscored one of the show’s central themes – heroes are just bad guys on good days and vice versa.
He remained largely unpredictable for almost the entirety of season 4, and never more delightfully so than when he foiled Nathan Hale’s development plans for Charming.
Never having liked the sleazy, greedy real estate mogul and just having seen all his plans to end organized crime in Charming come to a big fat nothing, Potter decides he needs a win. So he heads to the city council meeting where Hale is getting approval to build and reveals that one of Hale’s investors is extra shady.
He feigns moral outrage in a hilariously melodramatic soliloquy and rides off into the sunset knowing he at least accomplished that much.
9 GEMMA AND TARA TAKE CARE OF NERO’S ASSISTANT
Nero’s assistant and half-sister Carla was one of SOA’s more broken recurring characters. She was always pretty unstable, but it was still pretty horrific and disturbing that she was so obviously in love with her brother.
Honestly, that probably would’ve gone down better with SAMCRO than her interference in club business did. She tips a rival gang off about a possible leak within Diosa, and the ensuing fallout puts Jax in danger.
Gemma doesn’t take kindly to this and neither does Tara when Gemma reveals Carla’s role in Jax’s latest scrape. Also, Gemma desperately needed a way to deflect some of Tara’s anger off of her and onto someone else, and Carla was just the lady to step in.
Gemma tells the guys watching Carla to take a walk, and then she and Tara proceed to rough up Carla together.
Now, any scene featuring Gemma and Tara actually working together was usually welcome, but it was just kind of uncomfortable watching two women beat up another woman.
Tara was always the voice of reason and generally abhorred violence (she was right, given how things turned out), so this scene of her channeling her inner Gemma wasn’t fun. In fact, it was just kinda gross.
8 GEMMA AND NERO MEET FOR THE SECOND TIME
Gemma met Nero after having a few too many drinks one night and winding up sleeping at his place. She had no recollection of any of this when she woke up, so she was understandably surprised and terrified when she realized she had no idea where she was or whom she was with.
Also, given Gemma’s track record with men, we were kind of scared for her.
Gemma suffered extensive assault in the first four seasons of SOA, so we were sort of trained to expect anyone she was with to treat her like either a punching bag or a mother. Also, given Nero’s day job, it was easy for us to profile him into less of a nice guy than he ultimately turned out to be.
So when he sweetly talked Gemma off the ledge and seemed to almost like her crazy side, we kept wondering when the other shoe would drop.
However, it never really did. Nero just tried to be the best boyfriend, friend, and surrogate father that he could be for the final three seasons of the show.
The couple’s tragic end and Nero’s utter devastation at Gemma’s betrayal made us go back to this first scene in our head for refuge. It sticks out in a good way for being one of the few times someone took care of Gemma instead of the other way around.
7 CLAY HURTS HIS WIFE
In season 4, turmoil within the Sons and within the tenuous motorcycle-gang community at large reaches a peak, and Tara is faced with the reality that her sons cannot be allowed to grow up within such a warped values system.
Unfortunately, her revelation draws suspicion from Clay who’s worried that she’ll sacrifice the club in order to save herself and Jax from the lifestyle. Not to be outdone, he puts a hit out on Tara in an attempt to silence her.
It goes horribly awry and while that means that Tara survives, she suffers permanent nerve damage to one of her hands that basically cancels her career in medicine.
When Gemma gets word that Clay was responsible for the attempt on Tara's life and subsequent maiming, she confronts her husband with more rage and hatred than we’ve ever seen from either of them.
The two hurl venomous insults at each other until finally Clay starts hurting her. The scene left viewers horrified and actually kind of shocked.
Granted, we already knew that Clay was more than capable of being that violent, but this incident pushed him far beyond any redemption and marked the beginning of his final descent into super-villainy.
We all knew he had it in him, but meeting his evil face-to-face was more chilling than we could’ve ever expected.
6 JAX’S FINAL LOOK
Sons of Anarchy made it very clear from the start that despite moments of levity and hope, audiences were watching a Shakespearean tragedy unfold before them. To quote another epic: “If you think this story has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”
As the show drew to a close, the Hamlet parallels grew more and more clearly defined. Once Jax ended Gemma’s life, his path in the finale seemed pretty well laid out, but… we still had a little hope he’d find some way around it.
However, those hopes were dashed by a Mac truck driven by Milo, Gemma’s long-haul friend from the previous episode.
While Jax ultimately went out smiling and on his own terms, we still didn’t want to see it end this way.
It made for an incredibly poetic and justified end for the biker who’d committed so many sins in his final ride, but we couldn’t get fully behind the idea that poor Thomas won’t get to know either of his parents.
However, we knew we were watchingSons of Anarchy, not General Hospital, so part of us knew it was going to turn out this way from day one, but it was jarring to see it head on.
At least Jax made sure that his sons wouldn’t have to make the same impossible choices that he had to.
Kurt Sutter’s been at the helm of three very violent dramas (The Bastard Executioner, The Shield, and SOA), and he’s clearly a massive fan of a third (Deadwood).
He has a small pool of actors who he liked to rotate in and out of all them when he could. Actors from The Shield routinely showed up on SOA, and many embodied characters that would become legend on SOA.
Ally Walker played the grotesquely corrupt DEA Agent June Stahl who, among many other things, helped off Opie’s wife Donna, and Walton Goggins played everyone’s favorite working girl Venus Van Dam.
Even Katey Segal had guest starred in two episodes of her husband’s other show.
However, it wasn’t until the very end of season 7 that Sutter really brought the two shows front and center with a guest appearance by Michael Chiklis in the final two episodes.
Even more jolting than that was the fact that Chiklis’ role as the sweet, benign truck driver that eventually winds up being Jax’s final boarding call.
Chiklis went against both his and Sutter’s type of violent, ruthless antihero, and that made Milo’s scenes with Gemma and his final appearance in the finale something truly unexpected from both the actor and the show.
4 INTRODUCING RON TULLY
Marilyn Manson has proven time and time again that he’s an extremely talented actor as well as musician. From his first role in David Lynch’s Lost Highway to his current work on Salem, he’s definitely more than just a stunt cast.
However, we didn’t get on board with Ron Tully right out of the gate. As good of an actor as Manson is, he never quite made us believe he was a white supremacist.
In his first appearance, Tully and Jax work out a pseudo-alliance between their two groups after Jax presents his fellow inmate with the teeth of someone who snitched.
It’s a weird introduction to say the least, and it kind of overshadows the appearance of a renowned rock star like Manson showing up on SOA like it’s nothing.
It was also kind of strange that Sutter would bring in a new character of such prominence in season 7 when the show had a literal quadrillion loose ends to tie up. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the strange, slightly unsettling character that was Ron Tully – as we already mentioned, Manson is certainly talented and his scenes remain eminently watchable.
This first one, though, rocked our brains, and not in a great way.
3 TIG BREAKS UP A FIGHT
Tig was an enduring source of surprising and often contradictory character traits throughout all seven seasons. As off-putting as he could be, he could inspire just as much tenderness in his scenes with Venus Van Dam, with his daughter Dawn and, of course, anytime he got close to a dog.
We knew Tig had soft spot for four-legged friends because we’d seen it manifested in his hilarious beef with Kozik over the dog Missy and his refusal to let Juice put down the dog to which the younger man had accidentally given methamphetamines.
However, our favorite “Tig loves dogs” moment was by far his rescue of a grey pitbull from a rival gang’s brutal dog fight.
After Tig sees an owner mistreat one of the dogs, he threatens the man and rescues the pup from an awful fate.
Having lost his daughter recently, Tig’s desperation to save something hit us real hard in the feels.
His initial reaction was hilarious in how overboard it seemed, but in the face of such animal cruelty, it also felt appropriate. As we got to watch Tig finally get to be a hero for once, we were pulled out of the crushing brutality that was of the end of season 5.
2 DONNA TAKES HER LEAVE
Opie’s wife Donna losing her life was SOA’s first signal to its audience that this show wasn’t going to shy away from darkness.
By eliminating her, not only did they bring a tragic end to her life (at the hands of the very violence she tried so hard to escape), but they also made sure Opie would never be the same again.
The minute we realized that Donna was going to fall victim to Clay’s planned attack on Opie because Tig did not think to ask questions, we knew that the only happy ending that Opie would ever get was snuffed out along with her.
This scene shook us on so many levels because we knew we’d be feeling the implications of it for years down the road-- and we did, to be honest.
After this event, Opie mostly succumbs to depression and hopelessness aside from occasional moments happiness with his kids and Lyla. His eventual self-sacrifice left Jax lonely and bereft, and when Jax lost his own partner, there was no one around to stabilize him.
Also, frankly, as much as we love Tig Trager, there was always something irredeemable about him due to his participation in this tragedy.
Granted, everyone involved in this hit got paid back in spades, but considering that’s exactly the kind of thing Donna wouldn’t have wanted, none of Opie’s vengeance felt like justice.
1 CLAY AND JAX HUG IT OUT
Season 2 was brutally bookended – the show’s sophomore year began with Gemma’s assault at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood and it ended with Jax, Clay, and the rest of the club exacting their fierce revenge on those who perpetrated it.
In a moment that was as chilling as it was sickly satisfying, Jax is the one who puts down Weston, the man who led the attack on his mother.
It’s a point of no return for the character who’d initially wanted to evolve the club into something more closely resembling his father’s original vision and less like the outlaws they’d become under Clay and Gemma’s leadership.
However, the truly bizarre moment came after the deed was done and Jax returned to give Clay and the other club members the “good news.”
Clay congratulates Jax, calls him a good son and the two embrace. It’s a rare moment of paternal love between the two who were, for once, totally united in their vengeance for Gemma.
However, it was also hard to swallow because it meant that Jax had sacrificed a degree of purity and morality and become more like Clay was now fully perpetuating the systemic violence that he’d once tried to eradicate.
Can you think of any other jarring scenes that took you out of Sons of Anarchy? Sound off in the comments!