Sons of Anarchy: “A Mother’s Work”

The title of the Season 6 finale of Sons of Anarchy, “A Mother’s Work,” gives a pretty strong hint of where the episode is heading. There’s really no need to talk about this episode without discussing the ending, so if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now.

If you’re just interested in the man hugging, this was a particularly extravagant episode. After stingily parsing out the man hugs for most of the season, the men in this episode could barely make it through a scene without hugging one another. Especially at the end of the episode, with Jax preparing to give himself up to Patterson, he gave a good tearful man hug to each every member of the club. Every type of man hug imaginable has occurred in Sons of Anarchy, but tearful man hugs remain a bit of a rarity, and this episode certainly had a bunch of them!

Otherwise, “A Mother’s Work” may be my least favorite Sons of Anarchy episode in the whole series.

This was an oddly paced episode, clocking in at an hour and twenty minutes, much of it involving soft conversations and other discussions between characters. And every scene of conversation seemed to go on and on. By the time the episode hit the hour mark, things were looking like they were going to be resolved if not happily at least satisfactorily—Jax was going to admit to being the source of the gun used in the school shooting, Tara was going to be left to do whatever she wished without reprisal from the MC as well as having the legal charges against her dropped. Then when the episode simply refused to end, but keep going on and on, I suppose this was supposed to be either building suspense or setting the audience up for a violent surprise, but, quite honestly, I just found it annoying. And the longer the episode stretched out, the more certain I became that Tara was not going to make it to the end, and that Gemma finally cracked and went after Tara in her own kitchen stabbing her to death while also holding her head under water (Gemma, at the very least, is thorough) was not much of a surprise either, at that point. At least, the murder itself wasn’t, even if the method was. A drug befuddled Gemma received a garbled version of events from Unser, and, then, rather than picking up the phone to call Jax and see what the hell was really going on, she instead lay in wait for Tara and murdered her.

The surprise was Juice coming in behind Lt. Roosevelt (who, inexplicably, as Tara’s protection, let her stay in the house by herself after spotting Unser’s truck—stolen by Gemma—in the driveway, and limiting his search of the house to yelling out “Unser” at the door) after Roosevelt belatedly realized that something might be wrong—and shooting him. And then working to cover up Gemma’s role in the murder of Tara. I’m not sure how that will all play out, but it seems that Jax, who walked into the house and discovered the two bodies just before Patterson arrived, will end up charged with the murder that his mother committed.

So, this was not my favorite Sons of Anarchy episode. It seemed forced and manipulative. I’m okay with the killing off of characters, and it certainly seemed that throughout this season that Tara’s time was coming to an end. But, the way the scenario played out just seemed senseless and clichéd (such as the moment Tara smiled in relief that all her plans had turned out—right before Gemma emerged to confront her).

Sons of Anarchy “A Mother’s Work” By the Numbers:

White Doves Cut Bloodily In Half By a Speeding Motorcycle: 1

Man Hug Count of the episode: 12

Season Six Man Hug Count Total: 32.


The Walking Dead: Too Far Gone

The Walking Dead has reached its mid-season hiatus, and pretty much everybody is now dead (well, okay, not really, but the television series remains true to the spirit of the graphic novel series on which it is based, and, thus, not even beloved major characters are safe). Although the episode aired over a week ago, perhaps this is a good time to note that there will be spoilers for anyone who is still catching up on the season.

As noted in earlier blog posts,  what The Walking Dead shares with a more traditional western is an interest in observing humanity in a “state of nature,” in returning to a time before the institution of the laws of civilization in order to examine what is essential about human nature outside of the influence of society.  The frontier setting of the western provides a “state of nature” environment where that investigation can take place. Different westerns suggest different philosophical positions as to what human existence would be like in a state of nature.

In The Walking Dead, different characters suggest different philosophical positions. Rick, especially the Rick that consults with a committee before making decisions, has become (like Herschel) someone who seems to follow John Locke in believing in a social contract (based, more or less, on notions of property, even as both Herschel and Rick also believe in—or are at least open to—sharing property). The Governor (or Brian or whatever name he’s currently using) is thoroughly Hobbesian— believing that in a state of nature every person is out for himself, and that without the order of government (or another type of authority), we are in a state of continual warfare. In this state of nature, it is kill or be killed (or, in Walking Dead terms, kill or be eaten).

The property in question is the prison, which Rick and his group currently occupy and thus possess. From the Governor’s Hobbesian point of view, it’s perfectly acceptable for him to take the group’s property—if that is what is necessary for the survival of his group. The Governor’s speech to his followers doesn’t quite put it that way, but he convinces them to follow along.

The episode’s most explicitly western moment occurs when the Governor and his “army” drive up to the gates of the prison and the Governor tells Rick that he has “until sundown” to get out of town—or to get out of the prison.

Rick offers to include the Governor’s group in the social contract, to take them in and let them share the prison. This is a compromise the Governor is unwilling to make. Rick tells him, however, if he insists on taking the prison, Rick’s group will fight back. In Lockean terms, no one has the right to take your property from you, and you are well within your rights to fight and kill someone who tries to do so, as such an act would be a violation of the most fundamental—most natural—element of the social contract. And, as Rick notes, if the Governor chooses to act in (from Rick’s perspective) a savage manner and reject the civilized offer of inclusion in the social contract, the only result will be deaths on both sides, the destruction of the prison’s defensive properties, and the subsequent incursion of zombies, making the prison uninhabitable for either party.

If there is any doubt that the Governor is not “too far gone,” he ends it by beheading the captive Herschel. That act sparks a battle, and the body count is high on both sides, although a group from the prison escapes on a bus, and the last we see of Rick and Carl, they are fleeing on foot from the zombies (attracted by the noisy battle) who have flooded through the prison’s breached defenses. The final shot is a nice visual nod to the graphic novel series, filmed from a point and view and angle that replicates the drawing of the pair fleeing from the prison in the comic book’s version of the fall of the prison.

The problem with the Hobbesian world view, the episode seems to suggest, is that is too optimistic. A philosophy of kill or be killed suggests that someone will survive. “Too Far Gone” suggests that enacting that philosophy means that, instead of producing winners and losers, everybody dies.

WLA at American Literature Association Conference

This is a quick reminder that the WLA has the option of organizing panels for the American Literature Association conference. The 25th annual meeting of the ALA will take place May 22-25, 2014, at the Hyatt Regency Washington at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The deadline for submitting final program info to the conference director is 30 January; thus, if you have a panel that you’d like to organize under the WLA banner or a paper you’d like to place into consideration for WLA sponsorship, please submit it to me (Prof. Nicolas Witschi, Western Michigan University, at no later than 23 January. For further information, please consult the ALA website at

All topics and subjects related to western American literature will be considered. Because this is technically the ALA’s biennial “west coast” meeting (write to me offline if you haven’t heard about why this is the case), the WLA has two sessions available to it. I will pull together from any and all proposals our two sessions, and those individual papers not placed on a WLA panel will still be forwarded to the ALA conference director for consideration as a stand-alone proposal.

Western Posters Museum Exhibit

The Denver Art Museum (DAM) invites visitors to explore how Polish poster artists captured the essence of the American West through their conceptual works of art in Rebranded: Polish Film Posters for the American Western. On view February 16 through June 1, 2014, Rebranded presents movie posters created during Poland’s communist-era that remain virtually unknown to the American public. Drawn entirely from the Autry National Center of the American West, Rebranded features 28 original posters by some of the most recognizable Polish artists, including Jerzy Filsak, Wiktor Górka and Waldemar Świerzy that reflect the experimental spirit of the famed “Polish Poster School.”

“For more than three decades, the Polish graphic film poster was one of the country’s highest art forms,” said Darrin Alfred, associate curator of architecture, design and graphics at the DAM. “The poster became a source of great national pride in Poland and its role in the cultural life of the nation is unique. These works were one of the few forms of individual artistic expression in the nation under Communism.”

SoA: You Are My Sunshine

You know, I’m not sure who artist is that performs the song “You are My Sunshine” at the end of the Sons of Anarchy episode that shares a title with song, but, man, that was the bleakest version of that song that I have ever heard. Is it possible to talk about a “dark” “Sunshine”?

The episode was not exactly a bright summer’s day either, with a goodly amount of death and destruction, a falling to pieces Juice nearly ending it all at Nero’s house of pleasure, and Tara stepping out finally on her own.

The best western moment of the episode: Jax convinces the Chinese gangster that he is giving them Conner along with the Irish guns, but, it turns out to be an ambush that leaves the Chinese dead in burst of slow motion violence that would have made Sam Peckinpah proud. “This is some real cowboy shit here,” a ruffled Conner tells Jax, and he was right about that.

Not much hugging in this episode, unless you count the supporting of a nearly unconscious Juice as a hug, but, really, it’s not, and having one of the newest members learn about the meaning of brotherhood by helping Bobby pee by holding his penis isn’t a hug either (although, it was one of the few amusing moments in this otherwise dark episode).

Sons of Anarchy By the Numbers:

Man Hugs: 2

Season Man Hug Total: 20

Number of Hands Needed to Hold Bobby’s Penis While He Urinates: 2