Jax Teller has been the central figure of Sons of Anarchy for six years now, and it’s unclear whether he’ll survive through the end of the show. Jax has been through an incredible amount during his documented time with the Sons, and has endured more than most humans ever could. Given that the show is wrapping up, now seems as good a time as any to go back and try to understand a little bit about Jax in terms of who he was, who is he now, and how he got that way. Spoilers follow.
It will surprise few to learn that at least in its early stages, Sons of Anarchy was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Though the two certainly had their differences, the central plot remained the same. Hamlet uncovers through the ghost of his dead father, than his brother the king killed him, and married his mother. Sound familiar? The overarching plots of Hamlet and Sons are identical, putting Jax firmly in the role of Hamlet himself.
The early years of Sons are almost entirely about the Shakespearean struggle for power between Jax and Clay, with John Teller’s letters revealing the truth about his death acting as the “ghost” in the situation. Slowly everyone figures out what Clay did, and Jax is pretty much the last to know. By the time things reach a head, Jax is more than ready to kill Clay, and perhaps that how it should have happened, but the show had other plans.
Eventually, around season three, Sons deviates from the Hamlet path, opting to keep Clay alive given that he’s a great character and the show wanted to keep the central conflict going between him and Jax for years. Eventually Jax does kill Clay, but its less out of revenge at that point, and more out of necessity. Their conflict doesn’t come to a head in quite the same way as it does in Shakespeare’s play, even though it shares many, many elements.
For the last few years now we’ve known Jax as the President of the Sons, no longer taking a backseat to Clay after he was ousted from power, jailed and eventually killed.
There have been quite a few stages of Jax’s priorities over the years. First it was about finding the truth about his father, then wrestling power away from Clay. Then it became about protecting Tara and his new family, but now with Tara dead, he’s barely looked at his kids and is now all about solidifying power for the Sons, after years of trying to get out of their many illegal activities. In his schemes now, he is playing black, white, latino and Asian gangs against each other, presumably on a lengthy road to make the Sons rule the heap, but it remains to be seen if he’ll achieve his ends.
Jax is an interesting character because unlike many other “antiheroes” on TV these days from Walter White to Dexter, morality is rarely on his side, and it’s kind of always been that way. Jax has killed to protect his family and friends yes, but he’s also killed for revenge, killed for power, killed for business or killed just because he wanted to. Though he’s generally thought of as being on the side of the angels, Jax has a ridiculously high body count to his name if you really stopped and looked at it, and though most names on it are “bad guys,” I’m not sure Jax is excused from being one himself.
Now, for instance, we saw Jax torture a Chinese gang member who he thought killed his wife (he did no such thing) and now he’s going around betraying every single business partner or ally he’s had in order to acquire more power for himself. Past that, Jax actually turned on his own last season, handing over Tig to August Marks, assuming he would die, after going out of his way to avoid doing so in the previous season. Tig made it out okay, but Jax didn’t know that.
Jax is a complicated character, but I’m not sure I know where his head’s at in this final season. All his most major enemies, the ones that have really, truly wronged him, are dead, from Clay to Pope to half the law enforcement agents in California. Now he’s inventing new enemies to fight, and he’s almost become the villain himself.
[Photos via FX]