Over the years, Sons of Anarchy has been its best when its stories relate to the club, and club politics. Gangsters (and gang-busting law-enforcement) may come and go, but SAMCRO is forever. Too often in the last few seasons, the show has favored overly twisty plots and one-off actor cameos over character drama for the Redwood members we’ve come to know and love. But “Toil and Till” was an example of how all of that can work together beautifully when given the chance. This hour had some great, extended character moments, along with one long, badass shootout. Hit the jump for why clarity settles all scores, and pays back all debts.
Sons of Anarchy‘s premiere left in doubt where this season was headed, and where the retribution would take the club (and would Gemma somehow get away with her transgression?) “Toil and Till” cleared many things up, and even created a new and very important avenue for the series to go down in its final season.
There were three major things happening in “Toil and Till,” and I’ll start with the most logistical. Jax is still trying to get the club out of guns and drugs, and has some residual business with the various minority groups and the Irish to make that happen. In doing so, August is able to give him some sound advice about clarity and patience regarding his revenge over Tara’s death. He wants things on the street to be business-like (which Nero also desires), but as “Toil and Till” continued to prove, it can’t and will never be. Even as Jax thanked August for the wise words, he knew he had already started a very messy, very bloody battle with Lin.
The second component to all of this regards Jax’s plan for revenge, and the fallout that almost immediately (in true Sons fashion) begins to spin out of control. Jax confides to the Indian Hills charter his elaborate machinations for Lin, admitting he has tunnel vision on the subject. Though his disrupting of a Triad trade (guns for heroin) later alerted Lin to his involvement, Jax immediately found two guys to take the fall for it — the “local hires” from Indian Hills. But that setup had another twist: one of the guys was connected to his charter member (his son?), something he hadn’t divulged at the time. That death, and the presence of a gun he knew he had left with SAMCRO, has set up yet another blood feud, once again tied up with family anguish.
It has always been important for Sons of Anarchy to connect its slaughter with something personal. Sometimes it has worked, and many times it hasn’t. But when it clicks, it can be powerful. Most of those who SAMCRO gets into gun fights with are nameless gangsters, lackeys, or some other type of villain. When there is a personal connection, though, it helps illustrate the impact of this violence and the killings in a real way. Then, the show really begins to cultivate not only its drama, but its own moral sense of self.
The question of whether Gemma or Juice were really affected by Tara’s death (aside from just fearing being caught) was something that wasn’t answered clearly in the premiere, except to possibly exonerate Gemma. In “Toil and Till,” her calling Tara an angel to Abel, and becoming emotional when looking at the pictures of the murder scene showed Gemma is not ok. She will keep it together for the good of Jax and of the club, but when she learns that Jax’s revenge killing was only the first step in a war that could bring down SAMCRO entirely, that may set up a really interesting possibility of truth. Juice’s return at the end of the episode also showed that he could — as he has before — turn and admit the truth to the club before accepting his death (or killing himself — or at least attempting to for the second time).
It’s going to be a long time before any of that settles in, though, and meanwhile there are sure to be plenty of other twists and turns that may call these dark prognostications into question. That’s what makes the third element of this hour so important. Wendy and Nero having a talk about rehab in the car, Rat and Tig trying to out-insult each other, and then Tig pretending Rat was giving him head were just a few examples of the characters moments in this episode that felt grounded, and like the early days of Sons of Anarchy. It’s not filler, it’s what makes the show something deeper and more complex than just one about bloodlust. In fact, “Toil and Till” was one of the most Shakespearean episodes yet, by showing how Gemma’s lies — in order to protect Jax — have instead created layers upon layers of mistakes and traps that Jax is walking right in to, and how because of that, he has reset the cycle of violence against another man’s loved one. There will be no ending but tragedy, here.
Musings and Miscellanea:
— When Gemma saw Unser’s paperwork for being a consultant, I thought she was going to kill him right then and there.
— Juice, you idiot, why did you come back?!? This is not going to be good.
— Poor Jax. He really has no idea. It’s so hard to watch him lash out at all of the wrong people, too.
— Sorry August and Nero, but as The Wire already taught us, you can’t make a business out of the street.
— What if you found your mom on top of your dad, shoving a big black dildo in his ass, and he’s calling out MY name” – Rat’s trump card to Tig. I love their relationship. Tig making the fake blowjob go on for much longer than necessary was also hilarious.
— Not sure how I feel about Wendy and Jax possibly hooking up again … (it seemed lightly teased), although I do like that she’s back in the fold, because she’s the closest thing to a moral center the show has right now (her and Nero, and I liked them hanging out together).
— “Pack your shit, take the junkie’s car, and GO.” – Gemma, who will never not call Wendy a junkie whore.
— “I know a thousand places to bury bodies” – Happy. Of course you do …
— Gratuitous Charlie Hunnam shirtlessness? Thank you.
— Abel asking Gemma how she knows Tara went to Heaven, though …
— Little moments like Wendy calling Gemma and Nero “mom and dad” are important to diffuse all of the violence and darkness in the show.
— The water-tower shot and Jax turning the truck over with his truck was pretty badass. Classic Sons.