This is my husband’s acid comment when he catches me watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy for the second time. It annoys Joe when I view TV shows more than once. He and a coauthor write books on film and eco-criticism, and they study certain movies over and over to analyze them. Maybe he wonders why I would subject myself to the monotony for no productive reason. Or maybe the obsessiveness of my behavior disturbs him. (He’s threatened to divorce me if I re-watch another series that shall remain unnamed.)

The blond psychopath he’s referring to is Jax Teller, hero of Sons of Anarchy, played by Charles Hunnam. And yeah, I like looking at Jax. A more macho version of Brad Pitt, Hunnam frequently displays his lean, muscular, elaborately tattooed body in the shower and in bed. He talks in a flat, kind of dumb California accent and — in the early seasons before experience hardens him — walks with the swagger of a juvenile delinquent. Somewhere inside me, a sixteen-year-old self is altogether smitten. “He’s so tortured,” the sixteen-year-old sighs. “He’s good at heart, I just know.”

For those who missed the series, it follows the exploits of the Sons of Anarchy, a biker gang who make their living as gunrunners. They buy weapons from the IRA and sell them to other gangs, who seem to go through them the way a whore goes through condoms. The Sons style themselves as a motorcycle club and have a clubhouse at the Teller-Morrow automotive repair shop in the bucolic town of Charming, California. They even have their own acronym, SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original), pronounced Sam Crow. The townsfolk call them Sam Crow as if they were one individual, which is about right. Like any gang, they’re a tight-knit group with one set of rules among themselves and another set for the outside world.

However likable they seem at times, the Sons are psychopathic ruffians. Hardly an episode goes by without them gunning down two or three dozen people. If they walked into the bar where I was sipping my non-alcoholic beer, I’d head for the nearest exit. Slowly. I wouldn’t want them to notice me. Yet I can’t get enough of them on screen.

Episode-5-12-Darthy-Promotional-Photos-sons-of-anarchy-32833730Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), the grizzled club president, is one of nine founding members of the Sons. Another is John Teller, who died years ago in shadowy circumstances. It’s gradually revealed that Clay and John’s wife Gemma (Katey Sagal) — now married to Clay — caused John’s death. As John and Gemma’s son, Jax is heir apparent to the club’s leadership. He eventually takes over from his unwilling stepfather.

The other Sons, in fact all the show’s characters, are given enough complexity to make them real. Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) earns extra cashes for alimony payments by performing as an Elvis impersonator. It’s hard to reconcile the overweight, sequined guy on stage with the hitman who guns down a venal government official. Tig (Kim Coates)  is eager to pull the trigger but tortured by guilt afterward when his bullet hits the wrong target. Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) burns for vengeance against the psycho IRA guy who sliced his face from ear to ear and stole his wife and daughter. Wayne Unser (Dayton Kallie), Charming’s chief of police, has been in bed with SAMCRO for decades and at times almost seems like a member of the club. He’s in love with Gemma. When she’s framed for murder and on the run, he aids her without a moment’s hesitation.

Jax finds himself torn between his father’s idealism, as revealed in the journal he left, and the hard pragmatism and ambition of Clay and Gemma. His ambivalence about the club’s criminal enterprises drives much of the conflict within the family.  There are echoes of Hamlet, with Jax as the brooding son and Clay as the uncle who has taken his dead brother’s wife. Gemma, however, is no foolish Queen Gertrude. She’s more like Lady Macbeth without the guilt.

When Jax marries his childhood sweetheart, Tara (Maggie Siff), Gemma’s connection to her son is threatened. A skilled surgeon, Tara stitches up the Sons’ gunshot wounds and learns to shoot a gun, but she doesn’t want the outlaw life for their children. She urges Jax to abandon the Sons. He also wants something better, but his loyalty to the club and lack of middle-class job skills keep him from walking away. After Clay cedes the presidency to him, he tries to move Sons out of gunrunning and into pornography, a less violent business, but various forces work against against him. Tenuous alliances with other gangs and with the IRA suppliers depend on the continued arms trade. Feuds with other gangs and various federal investigations require his immediate attention. And both Gemma and Clay want things to remain as they are.

Clay will do whatever it takes to protect himself and SAMCRO. He coldly orders the death of Opie (Ryan Hurst), a brother he believes has turned rat. Opie has been set up by villainous ATF agent June Stahl (Ally Walker), but Clay doesn’t know that. When Opie’s wife is killed by mistake, Clay feels — kinda bad, but not bad enough to fess up. The truth would destroy the club and turn Jax against him since Opie is Jax’s best friend. So he deflects blame onto a rival gang, leading to needless killing.

Tara discovers the truth about John Teller’s death. Clay tries to have his daughter-in-law killed. The attempt fails, so he settles for destroying evidence and killing a club member in whom Tara confided. Once again he deflects blame onto another gang. More needless killing.

newclubimage-sons-of-anarchy-37962003Knowing that Tara is serious about leaving Charming for good, Gemma frames her daughter-in-law for a crime and testifies against her. To save Tara from prison, Jax makes a deal. If the DA’s drops the charge against Tara, he’ll plead guilty to one of the many crimes he’s committed. It comforts him to know his children won’t grow up to be outlaws. Gemma learns that Jax is going to be arrested and assumes Tara has ratted him out to save herself. In a rage Gemma stabs Tara with a carving fork and drowns her in a sink of dirty dishwater. A brutal scene, but far from the worst in this series.

Jax goes crazy after his wife’s death. Gemma fingers an Asian ganger for the murder she committed, leading to yet more needless killing. (Seeing the pattern here?) Of course Jax wants revenge. He tortures and kills the poor guy. Brutally. At great length . . . Well, at least he strips off his shirt before getting to work. Those muscles and tattoos look good even with blood on them.


Photos courtesy of always fabulous


I write violent stories. It’s hardly surprising that I enjoy violence in movies and on TV. Here’s a post on another of the antiheroes I’ve grown to love.

I never watched the series 24 while it was on TV. Then one evening I was casting about for something to pass the time on Amazon Prime and decided to try it. Big mistake. This series is like the popcorn at movie theaters. I generally avoid that popcorn — way too much salt, minimal nutritional value, and weird fake butter that smells like it could be carcinogenic — but once I start munching I finish the whole bucket. Same with 24. Caught in the relentless machinery of its suspense, I devoured every single episode of all eight seasons, plus the ninth one that aired last year.

suspense, violence, tortureThe series follows the exploits of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a former Special Forces guy working on and off for a government agency called the Counter-Terrorist Unit. Season after season he saves America from deadly terrorist threats in a world where the terrorists are all masterminds and the government functionaries who combat them are — with the exception of Jack and a few others — incompetent or corrupt. At first he comes off as such a straight arrow that more than one bad guy refers to him sneeringly as a Boy Scout.

A Boy Scout with merit badges in assassination, carjacking, and torture.

Jack Bauer will do anything to complete his Mission. If he needs to persuade a white supremist gang of his bona fides, he shoots a prisoner and presents the guy’s severed head to the gang’s leader. Jack can be very cold. He’s ready to expose a terrorist’s innocent daughter to a horrific deadly virus to force the man to cooperate. And don’t piss him off. He’ll cut your guts out. Literally.

If Jack needs a vehicle to pursue a bad guy, he forces a random motorist from his car at gunpoint. Of course he says something like, “I need your car, sir,” or “I don’t want to shoot you,” instead of “Out of the car, bitch.” When you’re staring down the barrel of a semiautomatic, courtesy makes a lot of difference.

Jack Bauer tortures suspects to obtain information despite the unreliability of torture as an interrogation technique. Even in the world of 24, it often fails to yield results. Jack himself is tortured repeatedly but never gives up information, not even during the nineteen months he spends in a Chinese prison camp. Some of the terrorists are equally tough. Yet the good guys and bad guys torture their enemies routinely because, what the hell, now and then it works. And Jack is always Running Out of Time and compelled to Do Whatever It Takes.  In Season 6 he ends up in front of a Senate subcommittee investigating the illegal use of torture by the government — until the FBI borrows him to help fend off yet another terrorist threat and he interrogates a suspect with the help of a stun gun.

Kiefer Sutherland, 24Despite his violent ways, I can’t help liking Jack Bauer. He’s an idealist willing to give his life, if necessary, to complete his Mission. The US government doesn’t bother rescuing him from the Chinese prison camp until a terrorist offers vital information in exchange for him. (He once tortured the terrorist’s brother to death and understandably the man wants payback.) Jack is okay with being tortured to death in a good cause. “It would be a relief,” he says. This is so sad that I can’t help feeling for him.

Jack is loyal to his friends and fiercely protective of his family. Not that he has many of either. The people close to him keep getting killed, starting with his wife in Season One. His daughter manages to stay alive, but much of the time she can’t stand being around him. She’s kind of a whiny brat anyway.

So he battles his way through season after season, emptying countless clips of ammo into bad guys, becoming increasingly grizzled and stoic and lonely. His occasional private tears show that he understands how much his work is eroding his humanity. In the final season, I keep hoping he can retire at last and spend time with his granddaughter. Instead he meets a predictable unhappy fate. He gives himself up to the Russians to save the one friend he has left.

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Video streaming is dangerous for me. I’m obsessive, and unlimited access to TV episodes has turned me into a binge viewer who consumes up to fourteen 40-minute episodes in a single day. It’s unhealthy and certainly unproductive. Over time patterns have emerged from my viewing choices. Disturbing patterns. I prefer stories with violence — lots and lots of violence— and heroes who are psychopathic and downright scary. Now I’m setting out to understand who these characters are and why I’m drawn to them despite the terrible things they do. I’m beginning with Dexter Morgan, protagonist of Dexter. I wrote this post a few years ago, while Dexter was still on cable (and before poor Rita gets slaughtered by the Trinity Killer), but my feelings about the lovable serial killer haven’t changed.

As one of six million plus Facebook followers of the Showtime series Dexter, I occasionally visit his page to view the photos and video teasers. Photos of Dexter (Michael C. Hall) draw effusive comments from women who think he’s “so Hottttt!!!!” and “soo sexy.” A more thoughtful fan muses that he’s “nothing special,” but nonetheless “that guy is killing me softly.” Not that I’m judging anyone here. I’ve watched every episode of Dexter at least twice. Like the women who coo over the photos, I’m besotted. Sometimes I do wonder why. Dexter is, after all, a serial killer.

The third fan is right, it’s not his looks. Though Michael C. Hall has a certain animal magnetism, he isn’t wildly handsome. The attraction is to the character he plays so well. Thanks to his foster father, a policeman, Dexter has learned to channel his murderous impulses for the good of society. He only kills murderers. “Taking out the garbage,” he calls it. His job as a blood splatter analyst for the Miami police allows him to identity the people who have gotten away with murder, and he takes care to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But he’s still a psychopath with a compulsion to cut people into little pieces. It’s really, really icky.

Dexter-Morgan-dexter-8253574Much of the credit for Dexter’s lovability goes to the show’s writers. The stories are told from his point of view with voiceover narration, so viewers see the world from his perspective. At the beginning of the series, he presents himself as a monster incapable of connecting with other human beings. His loneliness is touching. Every season a story unfolds, and at the heart of each one is Dexter’s quest to find somebody who sees and accepts him for what he is. Things never work out. His would-be friends and lovers are either so homicidal he’s forced to kill them, or like Lumen — a woman seeking revenge on the men who raped and brutalized her — they aren’t homicidal enough.

This need to be truly seen could explain some of his ritual. He speaks to the murderers on his killing table and confronts them with their victims. He wants them conscious when he cuts their faces to make the blood slides he keeps as trophies. They must see what they’ve done. And they must see him.

Despite his expertise in killing and not getting caught, Dexter is hapless on a social level. He’s perplexed by the most ordinary situations. Since he can’t feel emotions the way others do, he has no idea what to say or how to act. Often he mimics what he observes other people doing or saying. Dexter botches his wedding proposal to Rita twice. Then he hears a stalker confess to killing the unreceptive object of her passion. “My life was an unanswered question,” she tells a detective tearfully. “He made everything real.” Dexter recycles the lines when he proposes to Rita a third time. She bursts into tears and says yes. As much as I like the character of Rita, I can’t help laughing at how easily she’s taken in.

As the series continues, Dexter slowly discovers his humanity. There are dramatic turning points. In the first season his biological brother – a psycho killer like him – demands that he kill his foster sister. “Does it have to be Deb?” he asks plaintively. “I’m – fond of her.” But of course it has to be Deb. Forced to choose, Dexter slays the newfound brother who sees and accepts him rather than the sister with whom he has grown up and who has “a blind spot” when it comes to him.

Rita-Season-2-dexter-17806622In the second season he chooses the clueless Rita over Lila, his soulmate. Over and over he thwarts the monster in himself and affirms his humanity. In the end he becomes a lovable human being with a bad habit. Messy and morally dubious, but no worse than drug addiction. It’s both apt and ironic that Dexter has to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings because Rita thinks he’s a heroin addict. Speaking to the group, he describes the Dark Passenger that compels him without specifying what it compels him to do. The other addicts assume he’s talking about drug addiction and nod in understanding.

Poor Dexter, he can’t help himself. He was traumatized as a child. And the world is better off without the murderers he kills. I’ve had my problems with substance abuse. I get lonely too. Sometimes I have no idea how to behave around people and have to fake it, just like Dexter. We’re so much alike. And now that I really look at him, he’s so Hottttt!!

I see you, Dexter! I love you just the way you are.



Photos from Fan Pop