"Sons of Anarchy": The Prince,
The Spy, and The Biker who Came in from the Cold. By James J. Murtagh, M.D.
Biker drama echoes both Shakespeare and John Le Carré.
spoiler alert. If you have not seen the final episode of Sons of Anarchy, do not read further. The
episode contains a major plot twist which is discussed in this Op-Ed.
The season finale of Sons of Anarchy, the brash new
biker-gangster drama, ended this week in the funeral of an innocent woman mistakenly
gunned down in a blood feud. This is not just another crime story- Sons is
even more ambitious than The Shield, The Wire or The Sopranos. Sons of
Anarchy is one of the best counter-espionage stories in recent memory- worthy of
John le Carré, even of Shakespeare.
Sons borrows from the two best spy stories of all time - The Spy Who Came
in from the Cold, and Hamlet. The Prince, the Spy and the Biker are all
totally disillusioned anti-heroes, acutely aware of gross rottenness. Ghosts haunt
all three. His dead father haunts Hamlet the Prince. Dead secret agents haunt Le
Carré's British Spy. The ghost of his father and other demons haunts Jax the Biker.
The Prince, the Spy and the Biker all use expendable double
agents and triple agents. Do Rosencrantz and Guildenstern even really know whom they
work for as they blunder into execution? Does the British Spy's girl have any idea
why she is gunned down on the Berlin wall?
Anarchy explicitly rules all three stories. How can the body
politic be cured of rank and rampant corruption? When Kings are criminals, no one is
In Sons, bikers are in a kind of cold war with the FBI.
Just as le Carré's spymasters set up their own agents to deliver lies, the FBI
frames a biker to falsely appear as an informant. Sons baits their dirty lie
with detailed artistry to trap their man behind enemy lines.
The Prince, the Spy and the Biker all
contemplate and wreck horrific collateral damage. Hamlet sacrifices a dozen innocents
to bring down Claudius. British Control sacrifices dozens of their own agents. The
Bikers sacrifice their own to protect "The Brotherhood."
Hamlet a real secret agent? True, he
doesn't have a James Bond car, lasers, or a decoder ring. But Hamlet claims to act
for King and country, and has the code of a double 0 - he has a license to kill, or be
killed. He kills Polonius by mistake, then expects some lackey like Felix Lieghter to
Thinking too much only causes more carnage. Hamlet hesitates to
kill his evil stepfather while at prayer, contrasting the ruthless Laertes who would
cut a throat in the church to end a blood feud. The Spy and the Biker also hesitate,
with disastrous results, while more ruthless Laertes-figures execute without remorse.
All for the greater good. Hamlet,
British Control, the FBI (and the Bikers) all see the deaths of innocents as the cost
of doing business. It's all part of the game, as Omar Little might say on The
The Prince agreed with Omar, when he
observed that each goes to gain a little patch of ground with no profit in it.
British agent Leamas deeply understands that the secret service
undermine the values of the West. Straddling the Berlin Wall, Leamas cannot
distinguish West and East Leamas. How to know which way to jump?
The Biker's nemesis FBI agent Stahl ruefully admits, "I guess I'm feeling guilty about making orphans." She shrugs, and continues the game, despite the lack of profit for anyone.
To be, or not to be? Ultimately, that is the question for the Prince, the Spy and the Biker. They all end up taking up arms against a sea of troubles, but ultimately, their fate is clear.
The Prince and the Spy both get their most fervent wish, and are
granted the boon of release in death. Before dying, both are dipped in bloodbath.
Odds are the Biker will join Prince and Spy in a not too distant
James J. Murtagh Jr.