Sons of Anarchy Review: "The Mad King" (Episode 6.05)
The strangest, most unpredictable season of Sons of Anarchy continues unabated, and if you love the way the Charming universe has decayed over the past five episodes, you probably loved “The Mad King.” Sources close to Kurt Sutter, the show’s creator, indicate that Sons has one more season in store, but at the moment it’s hard to imagine how the club can even survive the next episode.
We know that Jax Teller has lost his moral anchor—so far this season, he’s been corrupted by the gavel to such an extent that he’s become almost indistinguishable from Clay Morrow—but right now that’s old news as he and the club face a litany of enemies who make Jax look like a choir boy. Chief among these are the Irish Kings, the northern Irish separatists who have been running guns along the West Coast through the Sons for years. Jax wants out, and has for quite a while, but with the bodies piling up the situation has become more urgent. Last week, he lost Filthy Phil and a prospect after Galen, the Irish ringleader, failed to appreciate his desire for a graceful exit. In response, the club raids an Irish warehouse in a shower of bullets and reckless driving in order to extract contact information for the higher-ups in Belfast.
With the promise of mercy to one of Galen’s captured underlings, Jax gets the number for a burner cell phone and places a call to the IRA leadership. Little does he know that Galen is at the table with them in Belfast, and he makes his plea for the Irish to take their guns to August Marks and the One-Niners, a black club who are eager to expand their business empire. They pretend to consider it, but Jax’s hope that their greed will outweigh their racism is naive. As Chibs (an Irishman himself) later tells him, “that will be a first, Jackie boy.”
Instead, Galen has a better plan. He’s going to reach out the unkillable Clay Morrow in the Stockton prison, arrange for him to get out (the details here are unclear), and run the gun business by himself with a new crew. As for Jax? “He gets what he wants,” says Galen, leaning forward with that menacing smile. “Out of guns…and ties severed.”
The Irish get the proposition to Clay by slipping him a note on page 47 of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Mad King. Hence the episode title, of course, though it’s unclear whether this refers to the angry kings of the IRA, or the crazy king, Jax, who seems hellbent on destroying his own club. Clay doesn’t say yes right away, instead arranging a conjugal visit with Gemma to get word to the club. He pulls it off, but things take a bizarre turn when two prison guards, skeletal perverts both, force the two to have sex in front of them. (If that sentence feels sudden and out of place, imagine what the scene was like.)
In the meantime, Tara is still trying to get the kids out of Charming with Wendy’s help, but she has conflicting emotions when Gemma (who once tried to kill her, we should remember) shows her some actual human kindness. Or some approximation thereof, anyway. Things are going even worse at Diosa, the new whorehouse in Stockton, where the heat on Nero (Sheriff Roosevelt doesn’t believe he killed one of his hookers, but the death of Lee Toric and the evidence in Nero’s car makes it really hard not to book him) and the club is compromising things for Charlie Barasky, the retired cop who just wants to make money without the complications of violence.
In the midst of all these impending failures, Jax reaches the Irish Kings one more time, and they tell him to have the whole club at the table at 8 p.m. to make a quick vote on the future of guns. Since the Sons are on lockdown, it’s not just the members who are inside the clubhouse as the hour approaches, but everyone even loosely connected to them, including Tara and the children. Waiting for the phone call, Jax notices a shamrock pen, and discovers from Chuckie that deliveryman brought them a keg of beer earlier in the day. He realizes it’s a bomb, and with seconds to spare, he clears the clubhouse, grabbing his older son Abel and dashing into the courtyard. The cops are there to pick up Nero, and as everyone reaches safety, the episode ends with an explosion that destroys every inch of the club’s home. Whether anyone failed to make it out…that remains to be seen.
Season six has seen the club’s ranks thinned by a nickle-and-dime approach; A death here, a defection there, an imprisonment there. Messing with the Irish, though, nearly brought on the final reckoning, and the annihilation of the club and everyone near and dear to them in one blow. It’s hard not to believe that this is the price of Jax’s ill-advised tightrope walk. In seasons past, he’s flirted with total destruction, but the fact that he was a good guy in a sea of moral degenerates gave the impression that he was protected by some universal force. Not God, exactly, but the karmic divinities within his world. Charming has never exactly been realistic, but it was close enough so that we didn’t have to suspend our disbelief. Now, as Jax breaks bad, there’s a pressing sense that his protection is gone.
Yes, he survived, but so does the anger and wrath confronting him on all sides. Even his club isn’t happy; his unilateral decision-making would be forgivable, maybe, if he was right. But to go rogue and be wrong is a sin past redemption. The golden boy has been knocked down in everyone’s esteem, and the fallout of the bomb can only leave him weaker in the president’s chair. It seems now like he’s fully lost the morale and loyalty of those close to him, and the IRA isn’t exactly an enemy he can defeat with one of his brilliant schemes.
My initial reaction to Season Six was slightly negative, because I didn’t think Sons of Anarchy would work with Jax as a compromised figure. We needed a beacon of rightness to sustain our interest, and after he defeated Clay there was nowhere for the writers to go, and so they undermined him little by little until he wasn’t the man we recognized. But with the knowledge that we’re in the penultimate season, I have to admit that I’m intrigued. Sutter and his team have set up a moment of vulnerability for Jax, and it’s one he brought upon himself. There needs to be accountability here—more than just a near-miss of an explosion—even if the squaring up falls short of Jax’s death. It made sense to guide him through the valleys of darkness when he still glowed with a semblance of goodness, but now that his soul is compromised, he’s given himself up to the whims of fate, and he’s due for some comeuppance. Whether the show has the courage to deliver that retribution is the question that will define its last two seasons.