The hit series Sons of Anarchy followed members of the motorcycle gang Sam Crow. The series ran for seven seasons, over which time the members of Sam Crow original California chapter struggled against rival gangs, infighting, and various law enforcement agencies.
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From the very first episode, Sons of Anarchy established itself as something special. Most of the main characters and central themes of the show all appeared in the pilot. But there is so much packed into the show that audiences missed, all of which adds layers to the story as a whole. Here are ten things in the first episode of Sons of Anarchy that audiences missed:
The very first image of the show involves two blackbirds pecking at the corpse of a dove in the road. This is rich with symbolism. Crows are symbols of death, as well as underworld messengers, but these are blackbirds pecking at the corpse of a white bird (a symbol of virtue).
The Sam Crow uniforms are crow-black vests, while Jax encounters the journals written by his dead father John early in this pilot episode--journals which describe the morality John hoped to make a central element of Sam Crow when he founded. But the predatory blackbirds (in this case, Jax"s mother Jemma and his stepdad Clay) have killed the virtue of the group and are pecking at the corpse.
9 Hamlet References
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Little details throughout the show"s first season continue the motif. When Jax decides to go Nomad in Season 2 after clashing with Clay, this is an allusion to how Hamlet traveled abroad by ship in Shakespeare"s tragedy. After the Nomad plan is abandoned, the plot thread is dropped, but for a while, the series was set up to be a retelling of Hamlet.
This is a small detail but an interesting one. The first time audiences see Jax, he is riding his bike while smoking a cigarette. Cigarettes are a common metaphor for life and death. He is breathing in his death.
Beyond this, Jax is also playing with fire--not unlike how Sam Crow"s illegal gun sales of M4 assault rifles are metaphorically playing with fire, which leads the Mayans to literally set fire to the warehouse where the guns were being stored.
7 Snakeskin Boots
Snakes have an established history in the Western literary tradition as being untrustworthy creatures who are considered dangerous and untrustworthy. Serpents are seen as poisonous liars. So it is no accident that the camera focuses on an extreme close-up of the snakeskin boots worn by a member of the Mayans motorcycle gang as these boots tread on the soil of Charming.
The Mayans are trying to break into Charming, poisoning the town with their drugs. They also have partnered with the local Nazi gang, who lie right to the Jax and Clay"s faces during a sit-down.
After the warehouse is blown up, Clay rolls up with a crew of his guys on their bike, moving in a V formation. This has two major motifs. On the one hand, the motorcycles taking a V formation is another throwback to Hamlet, as this almost looks like knights riding their horses in formation. Jax even calls Clay the "king" in this scene.
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The other reference is to the flight of birds in their V formation--again, Sam Crow"s black uniforms and bird-like movements reminiscent of the blackbirds pecking the corpse in the first scene. The formation only lasts an instant, but it"s a visually engaging shot. Before this, the crew ride in a defensive diamond shape.
5 Star Burner
Jax"s ex-wife is a junkie who shoots up while she is pregnant with their child. To heat her spoon, she uses the gas burner on his stove. The burner is actually shaped like a five-pointed star.
There could be numerous bits of symbolism here, like seeing stars from getting high or how she"s getting burned by a hellish habit while chasing a heavenly high. The exact meaning the show"s creators had is unclear. Whatever the case, it"s just visually really cool and not something common in most stove designs.
When Jax learns that the local white supremacist gang, the Nordics, sold his ex-wife smack, he goes to their club house and beats the snot out of the dealer, crippling the man. Bobby is one of two members of the gang who back him up. Bobby is Jewish, and seeing how he is entering a Nazi gang"s home turf, he makes sure they can see the jewelry he wears with the Hebrew word "Chai."
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It is cathartic to see a Jewish man holding a gun to Nazis. Later in the episode, the show is a bit less culturally sensitive, as Bobby gets stuck with the stereotypical position of being the Club"s Treasurer.
3 Bicycles vs. Bikers
When Jax visits Opie at his home, there is an argument going on between Opie and his wife, who wants him to quit all activities with Sam Crow after having just returned from five years in lockup. Jax says he will perform the detonations work that Opie was going to do, telling the other man to attend to his family.
As Jax leaves, two people on bicycles go past. This is a small detail but it shows the contrast between the violent life of a motorcycle club and the peaceful domesticity of life in suburbia that Opie and his wife are trying to achieve.
Jax"s son is born prematurely and has some major medical conditions. To quote Jax, "he was born with half a stomach and a hole in his heart." These medical conditions are not accidental. They were chosen by the writers for their very obvious metaphors: the future of Sam Crow is gutless and bad at heart--or at the least, there is something wrong with the heart of the next generation.
Jemma reminds Jax that he also had a medical condition--a "heart defect," to be specific. This is a metaphor for how the club lost their way, straying from their anarchistic roots into the heartless activities of organized crime.
The show"s title, Sons of Anarchy, is referenced in the patches members of Sam Crow have on their vest"s logos, but anarchy has another meaning rooted in the show"s core message. Anarchy is not chaos, as the term is usually inappropriately used. Rather, it is the philosophy that people do not need rulers to govern them but can govern themselves.
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Jax"s father was an anarchist. He believed in the writings of Emma Goldman, an early anarcho-socialist leader in America who was a champion of workers rights and one of the first major US advocates for same-sex couples and sex workers. Clay practices what can arguably be called anarcho-capitalism, a form of unregulated capitalism with fascist tendencies where money is more important than people"s lives. A central theme is Jax being caught between the true anarchism his father believed in and these cutthroat business practices that the gang is currently involved in.