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Outlaw Management: My Anger and Disappointment With the Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller, and Kurt Sutter


 I have always enjoyed quality drama in books, television, and movies.  It is so admirable the creative ways that authors use to conjure believable characters out of nothing but pure inspiration.  The use of the word “conjure” is pivotal in its importance with this article since fictional characters are created, not born and raised from birth.  All too often, people fall into the “Star Trek Character Trap” (I just made that up) where they over analyze the consistency and depth of fictional scripts.  Back in 1986, a memorable skit on SNL, starring Bill Shatner at a Star Trek convention poked fun at the fans for over-analyzing the show into minutia.  Shatner’s stabbing lines including “Get a Life!”, and “ . . .move out of your parent’s basement . .” coupled with the players’ characters reactions (Dana Carvey, Jon Lovitz, and Kevin Nealon) were priceless.  Forget all of the controversy and upset fans, the truth is that the show, like so many other iconic creations was 100% conjured by its creator, without any idea how it would grow and sustain like it had.

    A perfect example is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe.  Her first book served to be a wonderful start of a franchise that allowed millions of 10-12 year old children around the world to grow up and live through characters their own age.  How could she have even guessed the enormity of the following that was created from her whimsical story of a young wizard going to special school just for people like him.  Before she knew it, Rowling was scrambling to construct a universe to house such an infinitely expanding storyline. 

     The writers of science fiction, or even fantasy have to take on incredible risks on how they frame their “human” stories amongst the backdrop of a world that doesn’t exist in real life.  Writers of contemporary drama have to build their characters out of real life material, current events, and perhaps even from an amalgam of family, friends, and acquaintances they have known, met, or heard about.  Why does all of this have to do with management you ask?  All real drama is based on interactions and the correct and incorrect way people handle conflicts, challenges, and adversity.  If you have ever participated in training or done any reading regarding case studies that in many cases are dramatizations or even complete fabrications based on real experiences.

     From season 1, Sutter has been setting up Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) as the Villain Extraordinaire of the show; the killer of SAMCRO founder of John Teller.
Ron Perlman as Clay Morrow
 In fact four seasons revolve around the exposure of Clay as the root of all evil and the wrong person to lead The Sons.  Jax, the prodigal son of John Teller, in his altruistic quest to transform the club back to his father's vision is a conflicted leader.  Five seasons into the series, Jax becomes president, and continues to demonstrate what an awful manager he is.  Every leader makes some mistakes when leading for the first time, but I haven't seen a cascade (avalanche is more appropriate) of terrible decisions that result in even more destructive bad decisions since the New Deal.

     Through all of Jax's machinations to get the club out of the gun business, he keeps repeating the mantra "Just trust me, I know what I am doing. . . ."  At first, it is actually believable, but after the 700th murder it bleeds of desperation, inexperience, and outright stupidity.
Brit Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller.
I still can't place the accent he was s
searching for, but it was awful.
 Unfortunately the stupidity isn't just limited to El Presidente, but also to every one of his loyal minions that listen and follow him.  This includes of course Tig, who in his psychopathic humor manages to screw up every thing the club tries to fix.  Chibs, who isn't much better, from his blind following, constantly comforting the failing Jax, and his extremely poor judgement in shagging the local Sherrif (over and over, WTF?).  The only saving grace was Bobby Munson, whose good judgement was rewarded by a gruesome death at the hands of another poor leader, August Marks (thank you writer's guild) and Jax's loyal friend Opie, who was also sacrificed for "The Greater Good."

     Management can be measured in many ethereal ways, but is best measured by empirical results.  Every organization has Key Process Indicators (KPI's) established through an analysis of the core processes.  Performance against these targets is a direct measure of effectiveness.  In the case of SAMCRO, we will use the following as KPI's and targets:

1) Getting out of the Gun Business.  Target: Out of the gun business, executed poorly
2) Profitability.  Target:  Growth in cashflow that is consistent and sufficient to fund members booze and sex habits.
3) In-Prision Percentage.  Target:  Only lifers behind bars.  Members in prison are an incredible liability, especially since you spend favors and valuable resources keeping them alive, and rape free.
4) Criminal Activity:  Target: Don't get caught doing anything stupid, so you can spend money on booze and women.
5) Death and War:  Target:  Use murder as a means to an end, and not just a stop-gap method of preserving the status quo.  Deaths per 10,000 incidents would be the metric.

     Through the first five seasons, Jax dreams of a SAMCRO that is legitimate (sounds like something Michael Corleone wanted, original idea . . . .NOT) in its business dealings.  The whole premise behind being in the club is to live free and ride.  Business is just a means to achieve that end, not the end itself stupid.  Kurt Sutter did some very interesting research into 1% MC's, and had a readily available consultant in Sonny Barger.  Perhaps this may be part of the problem;  as a founding member of the Oakland charter of the Hell's Angels, the goal of living free was blurred with the need to perpetuate the "business" that supported the lifestyle.

     There are two fatal flaws in Jax's leadership style that led him to fail so miserably.  One of these is the overuse of murder as a method of control.  A true leader can't simply kill hunderds of people in an attempt to solve conflict.  The hydra simply grows exponentially with every head severed.  Historically, even with Josef Stalin's 20 million, showed how it solved nothing for the former (former being the operative word) Soviet Union.  The other flaw is in Jax's inability to control his temper, and a blindness to the flaws of others when making complex decisions.  His dealings with the Irish Kings, Pope/Marks, Chinese Triads, and even the ridiculously inept Byz-Lats just shows how he repeatably makes terrible decisions, with too much emotion, based on the insufficient gathering of intelligence.

     Meanwhile, all of his supporting club members join along in the idiot parade, which results in the gruesome deaths of so many people, it is beyond feasibility.  Even in Puzo's The Godfather there isn't such wanton death as there was in Sons of Anarchy, particularly when Michael had to "settle" family business at the end.  The overuse of murder as a plot device is really bad leadership by the show creator Kurt Sutter and his team of lame and shallow writers.

     What really disappointed me through this entire series was the lack of proper and effective character development.  There were so many opportunities to develop the characters in a deeper fashion, instead of them remaining like cardboard silhouettes, and behaving in such a predictable fashion.  There were hints that this could be possible and actually happen, particularly with Tig's involvement with the murder of his daughter at the hands of Pope and Marks, or when Bobby left the charter presumably to be a Nomad only to fall short and just bring in more idiots into Redwood.  For the most part, most characters didn't grow more than Chucky's missing fingers (another big disappointment), and I cannot accept that.

     Like everyone else watching the show, I did enjoy Tig and Happy's antics, especially the way Happy's (ironic) deadpan style played off of Tig's zany perversion.  I even enjoyed an emotional brotherhood between Chibs and Juice before Sutter and his hacks completely destroyed Ortiz senselessly.
Poor Juice, I really wanted to see you
kill Jax.
The downfall of Juice, the impetus of which was for a unofficial club rule (being of African-American heritage) that Jax simply does away with in order to bring in T.O. into the club created a cascade of pure torture for a guy who just didn't deserve it.  The destruction was done simply for sensationalism. Juice's character could have been used to solve any number of functional problems with the story line, instead, viewers were forced to watch the grinding down of the only character that possessed any depth in the last episodes.

     So, let's review the trail of broken leaders that were produced by this miserable series.  A series that had so much potential, but was trivialized and dumbed-down to satisfy the simpleton masses.  I know it is about a motorcycle club, but there is still a level of sophistication in organized crime that can be used for quality drama.  This series had that ability and potential, but was written for an Idiocracy.
You broke my heart Chibs, you broke
my heart. . . . . .

Chibs:  Pure muscle and loyalty.  A descent lieutenant, but not a true leader.  Wth Tig as a VP, there is no hope.  Holy Shite! C-
Happy:  Pure psychopath.  A good killer and possibly a future as a deadpan comic. I enjoyed his character's quirky personality, but the ability to manage . . .  D
Tig:  Impulsive and without self-control or direction.  As VP under Chibs, the club has no future.However, Kim Coates gives a great performance, but as a leader . . .  F
Ratboy:  Always has a "I am gonna Sh*t look on his face . . . .nope. F
Tyler:  Are you kidding?  This guy perpetually has the "WTF am I going to do now?" look on his face.  I would have liked to see him wasted.  F
Ron Tully:   I simply cannot understand the dichotomy of the Aryan/homosexual dynamic that is in so many prison movies.  I think Marilyn Manson gave a descent performance, but the character was a trite anachronism. D
Nero Padilla:  I love Jimmy Smits as an actor.  He actually performs well in this role at first, but after the 129th "Aww Man!" I lost interest in his abilities as a character and as a leader.
Clay Morrow:  Actually, Clay led well, and had a much lower body count than Jax, brought in more dough, and less heat from the fuzz.  I give him a B+
Unser:  What a Dope! What does this guy really stand for?  Beats deadly cancer like a drum, but accomplishes absolutely nothing. D
Althea Jarry:  She had real potential, until she was written as a sex-crazed mistress . . .Forget it! D
Opie:  Now Opie was a deep character, and was written well, but like Juice, the mental midget writing team sacrificed him to give the proverbial Fonz more momentum in jumping the shark and giving this series two more years of life. A-
Bobby Elvis Munson.  Bobby was the most dynamic and credible character, on equal level as Opie.  Unfortunately, his sophistication threatened the writing staff, so, they off'd him.  B+
August Marks: Always with a blank look on his face, wish they would have killed him in prison. C-
Gemma Teller:  More depth would have made for a better role.  A background on her could have explained her vindictive manipulative personality, but unfortunately Katy Sagal is Kurt's real-life wife, so she let him write her two-dimensionally.  D
Jackson Teller:  You personify amateur in every sense of the word.  Your body count was stratospheric, and your machinations simplistic and too often unplanned and ineptly executed. D-
Kurt Sutter:  Two words; "You Suck" .  As for a grade, in the words of Dean Vernon Wormer, ". . .no grade point average."

     Not only did Jax Teller fail to lead properly, he used his disposable fate to wrap up and "settle" all "family" business by not only killing all basic enemies in the final episode, but also himself so that his club wouldn't have to carry out the Mr. Mayhem vote.  So, instead of driving himself off of a cliff ala' "Thelma and Louise" he decides to put one more soul at risk by driving into an oncoming truck.
Kurt Sutter - The Biggest Loser
 C;mon Sutter, you could do better, what did that poor schmuck do to deserve risking his life to end your stupid story.  I will chock it up to poor leadership. Again.  Does this crap ever end?

There is however one shining star in this drama.  A leader who stays the course throughout each season, scene, and situation.  A leader who remains in control of his domain not by raw force, but by cool and calculated decision making.  He is able to achieve the goals of his club, reducing the need to kill unless unavoidable, and is truly the last man standing when all the dust settles.  Marcus Alvarez.  Even when SAMCRO is on his doorstep, locked and loaded, he comes out, protects his family, keeps his cool, and comes out on top.  Marcus, I give you an A+, an exemplary mark as an effective manager.  You maintained order, control of your club, didn't resort to flashy maneuvers or antics, showed net growth and profitability each year.  If you were a real guy, you would be a Fortune 500 CEO.  Keep the faith brother.
Marcus Alvarez (Emilio Rivera) A+ Manager


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