It’s a show about a biker gang, helmed by someone (Kurt Sutter) with a history of working on “guy shows” (before this, he wrote for The Shield), and you might expect that the women would be ornamental at best. Or, perhaps more likely, they would be the kind of women who prove their worth by being “tough as any guy.” Yet the two primary female characters, Katey Sagal’s Gemma and Maggie Siff’s Tara, are neither. Gemma is indeed tough, and Tara seems at times like a Gemma in training, but they aren’t defined solely by their toughness (or their status as ornament). Tara continues her struggle to find her place in what at one point seemed an alien world, while Katey Sagal is so amazing as Gemma that she’s able to handle everything her real-life husband Sutter throws at her (and you can tell how highly he regards her strengths that he keeps piling it on … he knows how good she is). Meanwhile, I could add another several paragraphs talking about how insanely hateful Ally Walker is as the slimy federal Agent Stahl … now there is a woman defined by her willingness to be “tough as any guy,” but it’s not a good thing, she’s one of the most evil people on the series.
And it says something about what makes Sons of Anarchy unexpected … it’s a difficult show to pin down, because it explodes your expectations. It is indeed about a biker gang, but it’s also about Gemma and Tara. It takes its moral quandaries seriously, yet humor pops up just when it’s needed. It’s about loyalty, to one’s family and to one’s extended brotherhood, but it doesn’t shy away from the more nefarious deeds of its heroes and heroines. One character can tell another, “You love the right things,” and it’s presented without irony, even though we (and they) know that the right love often leads these characters to do wrong things.
The comparison seems to be made partly in jest, but Sons of Anarchy really is a take on Hamlet, and it earns the comparison. And it’s easy to understand the claim that the show is popular with women. As I said when describing how my wife loves it, it’s a family drama with great writing and acting, plus they blow shit up … what’s not to like?