Sons of Anarchy (2008-2014) was one of the first television crime dramas to ever capture my interest. Personally, I’ll admit that a show about a motorcycle gang didn’t sound entertaining at all, until I watched the first couple of episodes. After all, Netflix’s data says that most viewers reach the point of no return from Sons of Anarchy at the second episode.
I watched Sons of Anarchy religiously from season three to the final season seven. The tragic, but brilliant, season finale left me satisfied more than any other television show I have watched from start to finish. After a two-year mourning period, I recently re-watched the entire series.
In my opinion, every single episode is fantastic in its own way, but I decided to list my top ten episodes of Sons of Anarchy. These are the episodes that moved, entertained, and shocked me the most. I arranged them based on character development, plot sequences, and production risks.
Enjoy, and of course, SPOILERS AHEAD! I did avoid disclosing the fates of crucial characters just in case someone in the middle of season four of Sons happens to stumble upon this article.
10: “Albification” – Season 2, Episode 1
The beginning of season 2 hones on the arrival of a new villain for SAMCRO. Ethan Zobelle and his associate A.J. Weston are leaders of a group called “The League of American Nationalists,” a white supremacist group. Zobelle and Weston at first seem like irrelevant forces to the Sons, but they find out in later episodes that they are using Charming Police and the mayor to force the MC out of town.
“Albification” teaches us to despise Zobelle and Weston as we watch Weston and a couple of goons rape Gemma Teller in an attempt to threaten the club. This episode lands on my top ten because creator Kurt Sutter took a huge risk with this plot twist. Gemma is a strong motherly figure for every member of SAMCRO. Her assault is extremely painful to watch, although you expect bloodshed for Zobelle and Weston following the rape. However, Gemma ends up keeping the incident a secret between her and Wayne Unser, who found her. This is one of the major times in the series where dedication to the club involves such extreme personal sacrifice, and as much as we would want to see Weston ripped limb-from-limb, we know that Gemma is probably saving Jax and the boys some jailtime. Thankfully, she eventually tells Jax and Clay what happens, prompting a much-due hunt for Weston’s head.
9: “NS” – Season 3, Episode 13
Season 3 focuses on Opie struggling with the loss of his wife, Donna. In season 2, ATF Agent June Stahl made it look like Opie was going to rat out the club because of his five-year prison sentence to protect SAMCRO. This forced Clay put out a hit on Opie, although Tig botches the hit and kills Donna instead.
June Stahl seems to switch back and forth from helping and hurting the club. She eventually digs herself a deep enough hole to prompt the club to kill her. This made my list because of how the club brilliantly set up her hit. This is one of the first times where we see how clever Jax can get with his plans. Sutter was also smart to have Opie carry out the hit by automatic rounds to the back of Stahl’s head; the exact same way Donna was executed.
8: “The Pull” – Season 1, Episode 8
The final scene in this episode always surprised me. Josh Kohn, an ATF agent who is obsessed with Tara Knowles, ends up sneaking into her house. He threatens her into having sex with him, but Tara is able to get a hold of a gun and shoots him in the stomach. She calls Jax to the house, where we expect him to proceed with Kohn carefully given his ATF credentials. After he calls Tara a whore, Jax walks up to him aggressively. When I first saw this scene, I expected a hard punch to Kohn’s face, but instead Jax puts a bullet in his skull.
This is perhaps one of Jax’s most violent moments in the series. The scene does an excellent job at portraying how Jax’s love for Tara forces him to be violent to whoever necessary, despite the possible consequences.
7: “Na Trioblóidí” – Season 2, Episode 13
Jax has overwhelming love for Tara, but that love doesn’t compare to his love for his sons. This is shown in the final moments of the episode. Jax has a golden opportunity to finally kill off Zobelle, but he gets a call that his son Abel had been kidnapped by a member of the IRA. Even though we understand that Jax has an uncontrollable need for vengeance against Zobelle for having his mother raped, he spares him to rescue his son.
6: “With an X” – Season 4, Episode 6
This one makes the list, as well as many other lists that I researched, because of how he interacts with Ima, a porn star working for the club. Jax and Opie willingly have affairs with Ima when they struggle with their relationships with their wives. It gets to the point where Jax feels that his attraction to Ima will again result in another affair harming Tara. He is so blinded by his love for Tara and his guilt for his affairs that he beats Ima bloody and spits in her face, telling her to stay away from the club. Overall, we see a really ugly side of Jax that is disappointing to watch, but the creators use his disgusting act to demonstrate his dedication to his faltering relationship with Tara.
5: “Darthy” – Season 5, Episode 12
At this point in season 5, Wendy is in the process of pursuing custody of Abel from Jax and Tara. She believes that Abel is in true danger as conflict with the IRA and SAMCRO mount up. Prior to this part in the series, Wendy was a heavy drug addict, as she overdosed while she was pregnant with Abel. Now, after being sober for three years and completely re-inventing herself to help other addicts recover, she is in a prime position to win a custody suit.
Jax believes that Tara is the one that should be raising Abel. He also does not want to separate Abel’s from his step-brother Thomas. In a drastic attempt to ruin Wendy’s credibility, Jax stabs Wendy with a syringe and shoots a “speedball” into her arm. This attack was truly vile on Jax’s part, but crucial for Jax’s character development. At this point, we understand that Jax is a smart man and a smart criminal, but easily blinded by vengeance and love.
4: “Poor Little Lambs” – Season 7, Episode 4
This episode, along with the following episode on my list, are extremely dark given the history of gun violence in the United States. This is the episode where Henry Lin, the leader of the Chinese Triad gang, orders his men to slaughter everyone at Diosa Escorts. Jax and Nero arrive to find bodies all over the floor and bullet holes in the walls.
It is such a terrible scene to depict and a huge production risk to take on the part of Sutter. The power of the scene resonates with past mass shootings in the country, making the loss of everyone at Diosa much more powerful.
3: “Straw” – Season 6, Episode 1
This episode makes the list for the same production risk, although for Kurt Sutter, this one must have been tough. One of Nero’s henchman has a son of elementary-school age, who is seen acting strangely throughout most of the first episode of the season. We find out that he is disturbed when he takes a KG-9 out of his backpack, walks into his school, and opens fire on students and teachers.
“Straw” aired in September 2013, not even a full year after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012. I remember talking about the episode with a friend the next day and I remember saying it was too soon for that shooting scene to happen. Sandy Hook hadn’t even reopened at that point; the aftermath of the shooting still reminiscent across the country. This was a huge production risk on the part of Sutter, and despite the subject matter, it worked beautifully. It was one of the best season openers of the series in my opinion.
2: “Papa’s Goods” – Season 7, Episode 13
The final episode of Sons of Anarchy had to be entertaining and bring closure to friends. Many shows have ruined this for viewers such as Dexter and Lost (to name my least-favorite endings). Sons ended with a tragic bang, but it was the most-perfect ending Kurt Sutter could create after the craziness of season 7. As I said in the beginning of the article, I am not going to disclose the details of the final scene because it involves many crucial show characters. Viewers have already seen it and already know what happens, so we will skip by it in case someone in the middle of the fourth season is reading this.
1: “Red Rose” – Season 7, Episode 12
Many argue that “Papa’s Goods” is the best of them all, but I really believe “Red Rose” encompasses all of the ugliness that Sons of Anarchy gave us throughout seven seasons. Jax is forced to commit a terrible act that he knows will send shockwaves through his club, his family, and his own personality. Jax’s character development comes full circle in this episode. He does what he does best: kill. He has a thirst for violence that will always be present, even when it comes to someone he loves.
Did you agree with my list? Feel free to comment with any suggestions, thoughts, or questions!