If we were asked to select a theme as the backbone of Sons of Anarchy’s first three seasons, the answer would probably be “the family”, one that follows a diametrically opposite path to The Sopranos and whose mythology is still feasible, unlike that impossible rebuilding in The Wire.
But there is something else. Under the sixties’ legacy, a family’s opening is achieved through Dewey’s dream of community as collective identity model, transcending Friends’ postmodern friendship and being able to resist mass media manipulation. In that way, this could work as a democratic melting pot of all those cultures that have been expelled from the WASP Olympus: Jews, Irish, Puerto Ricans… albeit with a clear distinction between sexes, sexualities and, in a more diffused way, genres. It could also serve as shelter for the western delusion of the simple man and even have room for an atheism in a clear cultural retreat –during the second season, religion returns only to immediately disappear, like a cruel irony.
This ideal community is placed inside a territory which, in its utopian reverse, must maintain an anti-imperialism that benefits movement, the location of the same club at different places and the spatial overlap with other clubs; managing several concepts of plurality at the same time, which collide dramatically with the simple concept used by the American Establishment. However, it is in this communitarian embodiment that problems arise. From the outside, it crashes with another ethical-political regime –the government–, which aims to seize power through language –as progress– and action –the law–, assuring money and safety; that is, a theme park. But the reason why this promise penetrates now and not before is not so much a sign of the times as a reminder of a second problem. The same reason that explains why the population of Charming unrelated to the club remains off-camera: the archetype of community has faded away, becoming instead a model for a large family –which Gemma runs without any kind of moral otherness.
It is just this ouroboros between community and family that conceals the key question across at least the first three seasons: individualism. Perhaps the series’ most laudable move is that it allows us to observe the practice and apology of freedom without individualism – this even conceived as damaging. It is then not surprising that the best expression of this situation is the space and movement interlocking in the shape of confinement. Confinement not only limited to jail –the most obvious and trivial dimension– to the extent that it obscures the gap between the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2; which prevents Jax and Gemma from turning into, respectively, a nomad and a fugitive; and which decides the Ireland mission in favour of the family meeting and at the expense of the final breakdown, at last causing a return to order and forcing them to flow around the same known parameters. And if possible with more strength since it shows a powerful resistance to the individual will, the one that lays the foundation of the American Dream.
This unfinished search for a true individualism does not need a mere inversion of the previous formula either: a typically Wall Street individualism only available to a small elite while the rest of us spend the days as salary slaves. The only alternative will have to keep in mind a vindication of the past as failed, a category forgotten in the US in the pursuit of an eternal and successful present.