The 8 Ball 09.03.13: The Top 8 Sons of Anarchy Characters
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 09.03.2013
From Clay Morrow and Jax Teller to Opie Winston, Wayne Unser and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Sons of Anarchy characters of all time!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Sons of Anarchy Characters
Welcome back to the 8 Ball, ladies and gentlemen! This week we continue our September TV month with a series that is very near and dear to my heart. Sons of Anarchy begins its sixth season on September 10th on F/X, ready to rip into another storyline arc that is sure to put viewers through the ringer. Kurt Sutter has created one of my absolute favorite dramas on television as he essentially set Hamlet within the world of outlaw motorcycle gangs and in doing so created a canvas on which to do some epic storytelling. In a lot of ways SoA is one of the most criminally-overlooked shows on TV; it gets overshadowed by other (great, to be fair) series like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead and is regularly ignored when TV award season comes around...well, except for my personal favorite TV Awards in the Nortys here on 411. And yet the storytelling is just as shocking and meaty as those shows, the acting is good and it offers everything you could want. It's a true ensemble show and throughout the last five seasons we've seen some truly great characters come (and go). This week I thought I would honor the show's upcoming season by counting down my favorite characters in the series' history.
Caveat: Were they a character on the show? Then they were eligible. It's as simple as that. As for criteria, the rankings are due to personal enjoyment of the characters, actor performance, character development, storyline arc and how they fit into the world. For example, most people probably wouldn't rank Lyla but she made my honorable mention because Winter Ave Zoli played a very different kind of SAMCRO-associated woman than we've typically seen and she's pulled it off very well; she also served Opie's storyline very effectively and had great character turns of her own. I felt she fit well in the world so while she's not a regular character like, say, Tig (who I also love) she provided something very different and helped the show stay interesting.
Just Missing The Cut
• Lyla Winston
• Tara Knowles-Teller
• Juice Ortiz
• Otto Delaney
• Chibs Telford
#8: Damon Pope
As great as the members of SAMCRO are, Sons of Anarchy wouldn't be even remotely as good of a show as it is without some very memorable antagonists. And sure, some of those antagonists have come from within the organization, but the external threats have been just as important. For my money few people were quite as formidable for the Sons as Damon Pope. The Oakland gangster made quite the impact right from his first episode, being crossed by the Sons when Tig attempted to shoot LaRoy of the One-Niners in retaliation for a believed attempt on Clay's life and instead killed Damon's daughter Veronica. An apparent fan of Hammurabi's Code, Pope then lures Tig out to a train yard where he is forced to watch his daughter get burned alive in one of the most emotionally traumatic moments that the series has ever inflicted on a character. Pope then began his association with the Sons, putting them under his thumb so that Tig can be eliminated for what he did. Pope was a very different kind of adversary than the Sons had seen before; the clearest parallel would be to the similarly odious Ethan Zobelle in that they were businessmen who got ahead through brutality and crime. What gives Pope the edge is the impact he had on SAMCRO as a whole. Pope pushed Jax further down the road to becoming more like Clay than like his father and that influence will certainly be felt this season, even if Pope himself is gone. And even Pope's death has ominous tidings, as the gun used to kill him will be tied to Clay who is now in prison. Add in the fact that Harold Perrineau played the role with the perfect balance of refinement and thuggery and you have the most memorable criminal antagonist in the series to date.
#7: Bobby Munson
You gotta give it up for Bobby Elvis. Everyone past and present has served their role in SAMCRO; Piney was the conscience for example, while Tig has been the loyal solder. Bobby is the even keel that keeps the club moving safely through choppy waters. He's the most moral member of the club left (including Jax) but his role hasn't always been the moral center. Instead he's been the even-tempered voice of reason within an entire organization of hotheads; he's the glue that has held the club together when it has threatened to bust apart at the seams. Mark Boone Junior has an uncanny gift for both comedy and drama and while there have been many times Bobby's been a bit of humor inside the club, he's also been the most thoughtful and reasonable. His guiding light isn't necessarily what "the right thing to do is" but rather "what is best for the club." And in that respect he's almost prescient; he has been able to consistently see several moves ahead and guess what the consequences of certain actions may be well before others have. He's not perfect in that respect (see the affair with Luanne as a good example) but he's always there, guiding whoever sits in the big chair as long as they will listen to him. At the end of season five we see him remove his Vice President patch and that puts Jax and the club in a very dangerous situation. It'll be interesting to see where they go without him as VP.
#6: June Stahl
Okay, okay...now before you take me out into a car and shoot me in the back of the head Opie-style, just let me explain. I get that Agent Stahl is one of the most hated characters on Sons of Anarchy. And if this was "favorite characters" she probably wouldn't rank on the list. But this is the best (in my opinion anyway) characters on the show and Stahl served a very significant purpose; no one can deny how crucial she was to the series' storyline for its first several seasons. One of the many themes of Kurt Sutter's little biker drama is the way that power corrupts and that it doesn't matter what side of the law you're on; that aphorism holds true whether you have a shield or a biker's patch. Agent Stahl was the perfect example of that, an FBI agent who was drunk with power and had an obsession with taking down the Sons for many reasons. That obsession caused some of the most agonizing moments in the series for SAMCRO, including the deaths of both Donna and Half-Sack when her plans to take down the club went awry. By the end of her run on the show she's killing her fellow agent (and lover) in order to cover her back and completely focused on doing as much damage to SAMCRO as possible, no matter what's appropriate under the law. This ultimately leads to her undoing as Jax and Clay planned the whole thing and she is killed by Opie in retribution for Donna's slaying. A lot of people hated her, but her actions had enormous repercussions on SAMCRO long after her death and at the very least you cannot deny that season three wouldn't have ended nearly as satisfying if Agent Stahl hadn't been as monstrous as she was to give Opie that cathartic moment of executing her. Ally Walker played the role brilliantly and love her or hate her, she's an intrinsic part of the series' DNA.
#5: Wayne Unser
If Sons of Anarchy is Hamlet (and it is), Wayne Unser sort of started off as the series' Polonius. Obviously I don't mean that in the direct narrative way; that role is more accurately filled by Bobby or Piney, depending on your interpretation. But more specifically, Polonius is the one who sees many of the truths of SAMCRO and acts more foolish than he actually is, which we see several times throughout the series. That he's also great as a comic relief character doesn't hurt matters either. However, like all the characters on the show Unser is more than just a Shakespeare-inspired creation. Thanks to Sutter's writing of the character and Dayton Callie's fantastic portrayal, Unser has grown to be more than just the corrupt former sheriff who the Sons rely on; he becomes perhaps the most intrinsic person associated with the club who isn't either a member or an old lady. He keeps Gemma's secrets, and the unrequited love Unser has for Gemma is one of the great relationships on the show. And he grows to the point where he's willing to stand up against Clay, as dangerous as that is for a former sheriff who the cops don't need because he was corrupt and who also happens to be dying from cancer. Every character on SoA is a shade of grey, and make no mistake; Unser is no white hat. But of all the shades of grey, he may just be the lightest shade we have.
#4: Opie Winston
Aw, Opie. You can call him the Horatio or Laertes of Sons of Anarchy (I've actually seen some very compelling arguments that he's the Ophelia in a non-romantic way), but in reality he's Kurt Sutter's Job. Opie has one of the more tortured storyline arcs in television history; seriously, nothing goes this guy's way. He's just gotten out of prison when we first meet him and struggling with his wife, who doesn't want him to get back in with the club that he did time for. Then he gets targeted by Stahl and used as a pawn against Clay, which ends up with his wife dead. It's two seasons before he gets justice on the first part of that. His father is murdered by a corrupt Clay, his best friend is forced to shut him out and even turn on him in a crucial moment, his second marriage falls apart and then his tale abruptly ends when he allows himself to be beaten to death in prison in order to protect Jax. Ryan Hurst played it all with dignity and class, making us feel for Opie more than any other character on the show. Hurst has an unbelievable skill at using his physicality; there are times watching the series that you truly forget how big of a guy he is. And then you get those moments where the cap comes off, his hair starts spilling in directions and he's a force of nature. If this were purely favorite characters Opie would be easily topping my list, but there are three that are more important to the series and they have to be given their due.
#3: Clay Morrow
We can't say we didn't see Clay's storyline arc coming a mile away. Okay, the specifics weren't laid out or anything, but I don't know anyone who didn't think that at some point in time Clay and Jax were going to come to a crossroads and well, the show is about Jax. So he was going to have his downfall. But I don't think anyone could appreciate how far Clay would fall before he finally went down. A huge amount of credit has to be given to Ron Perlman; not only is he the most recognizable actor on the show and can't have hurt its ratings, but he's also got an amazing ability to portray a character who does horrible, horrible things and yet still manages to inspire sympathy. Even when we were horrified and knew that Clay had well past the point from which he couldn't come back, Perlman (and Sutter) made us feel for Clay so that when he gets thrown into the back of a police vehicle and hauled off we feel bad for him somehow, despite the fact that he's killed several people and nearly burned the club to the ground. Clay Morrow was (and still is; he ain't dead yet) a necessary character in this show's mythology and he's easily one of the most compelling because while he makes choices that are really abhorrent, we understand why he did 99% of them and even if we hate him, we don't want to see him go. That's a rare gift.
#2: Jax Teller
As I said with Clay, Jax is the centerpiece of the show. And I've felt for years now that Charlie Hunnam doesn't get enough credit for playing Jax; the actor has really grown with his portrayal of the character and we've seen a very realistic progression from a fresh-faced and idealistic young man who wants to follow his father's path to a man who's balancing on a knife's edge and in danger of falling the way of his hated stepfather. A role like Jax would have been a show-killer if the wrong person had been cast; it's a deceptively difficult role to pull off and he could have easily been turned into a whiny and unsympathetic type that makes us cheer for the villains. Hunnam has consistently proven himself capable of the task though. As the show has progressed his relationships with all the characters are what anchor the show whether his romance with Tara, his love/hate relationship with his mother, the disintegration of his friendship with Clay and Opie or even his adversarial dynamics with Eli Roosevelt, Agent Stahl, the Hale and many others. Jax is the foundation of the show and Hunnam has taken Sutter's writing to heights that other actors couldn't have.
#1: Gemma Morrow
There's only one Gemma Morrow; everyone who tries to become like her just ends up seeming like pretenders to the throne. A lot of people rolled their eyes when Sutter cast Katey Sagal, his wife of a year at the time, in the role of Gemma. This is not to say that Sagal wasn't (and isn't) talented, but most people only knew her either as Peggy Bundy from Married... with Children, the voice of Leela on Futurama or Cate on 8 Simple Rules. This was a very different kind of role and it goes without saying that it's her best work to date. Sagal immediately proved naysayers wrong by becoming the hardest, most manipulative character on the show while still able to imbue a sense of sympathy. Gemma has been through hell during the show's run but she always lands on her feet and whenever she gets knocked down, she's usually kicking you before you even realize she's back on her feet. She is by far the most compelling character on the show and my definite pick for the top character on the series.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Thirteen (1975) Episodes Watched: 621 Last Serial Completed:The Android Invasion - The Doctor and Sarah find themselves in the English village of Devesham near a Space Defence Station. The village seems deserted, the telephones don't work, calendars are stuck on the same date and white-suited figures are wandering about aimlessly. Who are the Kraals and what are their plans for Earth? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.