(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen all of the episodes of Breaking Band and Sons of Anarchy and want to avoid spoilers, go here.)
I’m a hopeless Sons of Anarchy junkie. What’s not to like about a show celebrating white trash thug life full of bikers, gangbangers, crooked cops and the IRA? And good luck finding a positive female role model on the show; unless of course, you’re looking for guidance on how to be an uncommonly effective floozy, hustler, porn star or drug addict, in which case you’re neck deep in female role models. Hell, even the bright and impressionable young surgeon who we were sure would emerge as the show’s moral compass, Dr. Tara Knowles, has been reduced to a corruptible, vindictive, dope-smoking moll, carrying out the club’s bidding with a frighteningly warped sense of duty and determination.
But holy shit, is it fun to watch. The best part is the utter unpredictability that scatters plotlines in more directions than a lawn sprinkler. In fact, the show’s one consistent element is that ultimately, everyone is hopelessly self-centered and despite token oaths of allegiance to the club, nearly every single character has placed their own small-minded self interests ahead of SAMCRO when confronted with the choice. Violence, double-crossing and pure, unfiltered revenge flow like a river of blood through the streets of Charming (a name clattering with such heavy-handed irony that it has become entirely un-ironic).
Ultimately, it’s the recurring theme of revenge that powers the show, and as last night’s episode came to a bloody close, I wondered how Jax, the club’s young new leader, would respond to the events that ended the episode, nearly all of which will require some measure of pure, sweet payback.
Thinking a bit more, I soon found myself disappointed when it occurred to me that beyond the edgy facial hair and bouncy trot, Jax isn’t all that compelling of a leader. As a second-in-command, he’s all aces, but as the head honcho, not so much. Sure, he’s beaten guys to death and he’s not above running guns or drugs to make money for the club, but as far as crime bosses go, he’s too much of a people pleaser. Jax is always trying to connect with his adversaries, smoothing things over by looking them in the eye and plaintively asking in that Jax Teller nasally mumble, “How can we make this right?” Ultimately, Jax lacks that maleficent streak that his murderous stepfather Clay so gleefully celebrates week after week. Clay is all about merciless domination over all foes; Jax is all about everybody being buddy buddy.
As I mulled these thoughts, I heard myself say, “Jax is no Walter White.”
I’d much rather see Breaking Bad‘s high school chemistry teacher-turned-drug kingpin Walter White handle the revenge business of the Sons of Anarchy. Now there’s a guy who knows how to savor an opportunity for payback. He might have the long-term vision of a fruit bat, but there are few pleasures more supreme than Walter White go all Heisenberg on some cocky rival who has made the fatal error of underestimating the chino-wearing meth cook.
Walter is, of course, impulsive, awkward and naive and we can be relatively sure that he is currently en route to the doorstep of an unpleasant ending. Still, he’s way more fun to watch than Jax.
I got to thinking–who’s a better leader? Who would I want at the head of my criminal organization? I researched the leadership qualities that distinguish great leaders in the corporate world and I measured up each crime boss to see who would ultimately emerge the better leader. Here we go:
If anything, Jax has too much vision. He grapples with his vision of the club the way most people grapple with a dinner menu. Torn between his dead daddy’s vision of the Sons of Anarchy as a mischievous bunch of bike-riding goofs and his step-dad’s view of the club as a brutish crime syndicate, Jax consistently aligns his actions with the future of the club.
Walter White’s vision is always short term and forever changing. First he wanted to be a really good chemistry teacher, but then with his cancer diagnosis, he decided to become the best meth-cooking family provider ever. Then he found that he really liked cooking meth, and he wanted to be the best meth cook ever. Walter soon found that killing rivals was a real hoot, and now he wants to be the best drug kingpin ever. More short-sighted than Mr. Magoo, Walter’s dearth of vision is one of his fatal flaws.
EDGE: Jax Teller
It’s sort of funny talking about integrity with regard to crime bosses, but in this realm, integrity is simply the quality of aligning one’s (albeit warped) values with their actions.
Integrity also requires honest communication, and Walter White is about as good at honest communication as a five year old caught peeing in the corner of the boy’s room. He will say anything to get out of trouble or to get what he wants, ever-manipulating his wife, son and trusted associates to get his way. He tends to regard the ideas of others the way a pedestrian regards a pile of dog shit.
Jax, on the other hand, because he’s all about everybody liking him, tends to do what he says he’s going to do, opting for deceit only when it serves the greater interests of the club. Jax is all about building consensus and whereas characters like Gemma, Bobby Elvis and Clay routinely throw people under the bus for even the most fleeting of convenience, Jax can be counted on to generally do what the president of the MC is expected to do.
EDGE: Jax Teller
Jax can’t wait to leave the Sons of Anarchy. Even though he tends to carry out his responsibilities with a healthy measure of integrity, he has already tried to blackmail Clay into allowing him to leave the club and if given the opportunity, Jax would happily ride off with Tara and the boys, never to place another kilo of cocaine in the hands of a Mexican cartel again. He’s like the CEO looking for the right time to unfurl his golden parachute and jump out of the plane.
Walter’s dedication to his criminal enterprise is single-minded and ruthless. He allows nothing to get in between him and his meth biz—not his adulterous wife, not the welfare of his baby nor his own health and safety. In fact, when Mike presented him with a free pass to get out of the meth business altogether and retire as a wealthy multimillionaire, Walt instead killed Mike.
EDGE: Walter White
Are you kidding me? This is almost a weakness for a true crime boss, right? Not necessarily. Flashy displays of generosity, contrived or not, have long been a hallmark of some of our most colorful baddies. Whether it’s Tony Soprano buying his ungrateful brat an SUV or Vito Corleone making promises on his daughter’s wedding day, villains tend to enjoy the esteem built by wanton displays of generosity.
Jax Teller would love to be magnanimous, but he’s barely got two nickels to rub together and he spends half his time neck deep in other people’s shit, so the opportunity for Jax to display this quality are few and extremely far between. Jax’s idea of magnanimity seems to be a bro chat with one of the guys.
Walter, on the other hand, thinks big in all areas, including the measure of his pimping. Buying his kid a souped-up new car or paying off Hank’s rehab bills are both examples of Walt’s grand, distorted sense of magnanimity.
EDGE: Walter White
This one’s a no-brainer. Jax has zero problem admitting fault, asking for help or acknowledging that he has no idea what to do. There should be a drinking game involving Jax apologizing to someone for one of his guys screwing up, or saying, “How can we make it better?”
Walt, on the other hand, has systematically eliminated all traces of humility from his persona. While he was once a stumbling, good-natured teacher who seemed to exemplify the very essence of this quality, it is clear that five seasons of blood lust, moneymaking and unchecked greed have led him to the conclusion that humility is a weakness to be stomped out like a fly in the lab.
EDGE: Jax Teller
Walter is so shady, he makes a black hole look bright and blinding. Walt seems utterly incapable of any prolonged measure of honesty or openness with anyone—particularly himself. The secret to Walter’s continued survival (not success, but survival) has been his ability to keep important details to himself, letting his plans unfold often with no other characters ever knowing what’s happening. even as they play key roles (I’m looking at you, Jesse).
Jax is actually an adept strategist whose openness has earned him the trust of the guys in the club. In fact, Jax is so open that even the guys secretly working against him know how to push his buttons to get what they want. Open to the point of appearing one-dimensional, Jax is now keeping a diary, just like his murdered ghost of a father, laying out all of his thoughts, hopes and feelings like a teenage girl in the weeks leading up to prom.
Edge: Jax Teller
When Jax is crossed, he’s always down for revenge, but it’s almost always the eye-for-an-eye variety, executing his revenge with brute, impulsive reactivity. Last week they tracked down the corrupt prison guard who orchestrated the death of Jax’s best friend, Opie. With the guy tied to a chair in his home, Jax walks around him once or twice then beats him to death with a snow globe. Are you kidding me? One of the members of the MC is a skilled torture. That’s his whole damn job! Why wasn’t his phone blowing up when they caught the guard? The very guard who had Jax’s best friend killed! Surely something a bit more elaborate than a quick battering with a holiday ornament would have been more appropriate.
Walter White oozes creative evil out of every pore. To get Jesse on his side, he doesn’t try to reason with him or to seduce him with praise or gifts; instead, he poisons the little boy of Jesse’s girlfriend, in the calculated gamble that Jesse would blame Gus Fring for such unbridled cruelty and dive back into Walter’s cancer-free arms. Pure, malicious genius. Walter White can’t make a cup of coffee anymore without coming up with five different options for doing so, three of which involve killing someone.
EDGE: Walter White
People who are fair, by definition, are concerned with other people on some level. The quality of fairness requires an active acknowledgement that someone is owed some thing or some recognition. Walter is about as far from fair as you can get without the benefit of a space telescope. His series of double standards, not to mention taking Jesse’s fairly-earned money on more than one occasion, establish that fairness is a quality that Walter White is profoundly lacking.
Jax is all about fairness, which makes him a good negotiator. Even this season, when required by Pope to mark one of his brothers for death, Jax agreed to the decision (well, fair is fair, after all; we killed one of your guys so in all fairness, we should kill one of our guys for you), then agonized over the decision to the point where he seemed ready to offer up himself as the only fair alternative. You can bet the nose on your face that Clay would have sold anyone up the river for far less. Jax is hardwired for fairness, making this a no-brainer.
EDGE: Jax Teller
Neither are particularly strong in this area. Walter spent a lot of time being played by Gus and other characters, including his brother-in-law Hank. Assertiveness was his greatest deficiency through the first few seasons, and even now, although he is power-hungry and thoroughly bat-shit crazy, Walter prefers seditious plotting to overt assertion; he won’t tell you to go to hell, but he’ll convince the guy down the street that you slept with the guy’s wife and hand him a tire iron as the guy starts heading over to your house.
Jax stands up for himself in front of both criminal rivals and the law, but he’s let too many guys screw him over (like Tig or Clay) and get away with it. Unlike Walt, Jax would tell you to go to hell, but later he’d ask if you guys were cool.
I’m sure Jax Teller has laughed on the show, but I can’t recall ever seeing it. It’s like his two most important pieces of clothing are his Sons of Anarchy cut and his “Mr. Serious” pants. He’s always moping, seething, contemplating or stewing in something or other. My version of hell would be having to spend eternity in a stand up comedy club with Jax Teller as the only act.
Walter White laughs all the time, especial when one of his plans comes together. He has proven himself an engaging storyteller and he has used humor to lift the spirits of his son and Jesse on more than one occasion. While he’s no Chris Rock, Walter has showcased a range of emotions, including big swaths of happiness and humor.
Edge: Walter White
Winner: Jax Teller.
Honestly, I didn’t see that coming. That all being said, I’d LOVE to see a showdown between Clay and Walt.