8.5

Sons of Anarchy Review: "One One Six" (Episode 6.02)

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<i>Sons of Anarchy</i> Review: "One One Six" (Episode 6.02)

Bad logic can be irresistible, and the most insidious form of that is something called the “sunk cost fallacy.” The basic seduction here is simple—if resources (money, people, time) have been expended toward some enterprise, then the enterprise can’t be abandoned or the “sunk cost” of the resources will have been for nothing. Even—and this is the key point—if that enterprise is failing. The problem, of course, is that the enterprise is failing for a reason, and throwing more resources into the black hole won’t change anything except the total cost. But the temptation to throw good money after bad can be overpowering for a reason that cuts to the marrow of the human condition: We don’t like to admit we were wrong.

America famously fell into this trap during the Vietnam War, when the deaths of our soldiers were used as partial justification for continuing the fight. If we gave up, they would have given their lives for nothing, went the reasoning. But staying in the fight just cost more lives and delayed the inevitable withdrawal. Vietnam might be the most prominent geopolitical example, but the sunk cost fallacy is everywhere—politics, business, even romance. How many longtime couples do you know are staying together in a bad relationships simply because they’ve “sunk” a lot of time into it? The current dynamic might make it unlikely that they’ll ever be very happy with each other, but breaking up would be admitting that their years together were a waste, and that idea is too painful. So the misery continues.

Two episodes into the sixth season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, I’m starting to suspect that Jax Teller might be breaking bad. Last week, I argued that the show would have a tough time succeeding if it abandoned the concept of Jax as a hero that retained a moral core despite his flaws. This was a show about criminals who keep a code, I argued, and do their best to live ethically despite existing outside the law. And while the details have varied, the arc of every season has followed the same trajectory—Jax outsmarts his enemies, the club survives a tragedy or two, the bad guys die and stability returns.

But after last night’s episode, “One One Six,” it doesn’t feel like Jax (Charlie Hunnam) is on the righteous path. Last week, a kid used one of the club’s guns to shoot up his school, and now the heat is on. Nero (Jimmy Smits) is connected to the boy’s mother through one of his former gang, and he and Jax manage to extract the woman (a junkie, which makes her even more dangerous than a rat) from under the eyes of the police to the club’s cabin. They know the heat from the public outcry could bury them if the club is connected to the gun, so the woman needs to be taken care of. There, she tries to escape, and Nero kills her boyfriend. Jax catches the woman fleeing and is ready to shoot her with the shotgun, but Nero stops him. They tie the woman down and give her a shot of heroin for serenity, but it turns out her reprieve was temporary; Jax orders Juice to smother her on the sly, and a potential witness is dead.

But while Juice feverishly washes his hands (Sons may be a modern Hamlet, but that scene was very much Macbeth), we’re left to consider Jax’s move. He’s been guilty of killing innocent people before, but it’s always been an unfortunate consequence, or an accident. This was malicious, and maybe unnecessary. It opens up a new portal for him, one that can only lead to lower levels of hell. And if we didn’t get the point from Juice’s furious, ineffectual scrubbing, the writers hammer the point home when Nero confronts Jax in a separate room: “Don’t matter what the risk is! We don’t hurt people like that.”

But Jax lies, saying it was an overdose. The two hug it out, but their eyes are clouded with suspicion.

Tara is out on bail, and her reunion with Jax, Gemma, and the boys is happy enough. But she’s scheming with Samcro’s lawyer, Ally Lowen, to divorce Jax and give custody of the boys to Wendy. It’s a bold and dangerous move, but after a last conversation with her husband, she knows it’s the right one. “I don’t know if I can ever explain this,” he tells her, “but after Ope [his dead friend], I just feel like if I step away now, none of that makes sense. Like what he did was for nothing.”

And there it is: The sunk cost fallacy, keeping him attached to the club. If he was smart, he’d realize that maybe the cycle of violence is meaningless on its face, and that getting deeper will only result in more senseless death. But he’s just as susceptible as American politicians, or unhappy couples, or anyone else.

For now, though, Tara is not. Her years with Jax, her child with him (and the adoption of another), and the fact that she may be pregnant haven’t deterred her. At long last, she knows she needs to break ties. She won’t implicate her husband in anything criminal, but she’s on her way out. The sunk costs won’t be her anchor.

To Jax, moving the club in the “right” direction is a justification for continuing to lead, and that means moving away from guns and into the escort business. The money there is “trashy,” as he tells Tara, but at least it’s not dirty. Unfortunately, Galen and the Irish gun suppliers aren’t so keen to let him off the hook, even when he offers an alternate supplier. Extracting the club will be harder than he thought, especially with Lee Toric, a retired U.S. marshal and brother of the prison nurse murdered by a club member, hellbent on revenge.

Toric is one of the show’s most bizarre characters. He has a history of violence, and a seething, desperate anger that comes out when he’s by himself in his hotel room, engaging in acts of self-violence with a definite sadomasochistic bent. He’s not the most stable enemy the club’s ever had, but he might be the most dangerous. You get the sense that if he fails to bring the club down legally, he might be the kind of man to take matters into his own hands with a KG-9.

Toric’s latest target is Clay, who he seems to have convinced to strike a deal with the feds in exchange for staying out of the prison’s general population, where Pope’s agents offer certain death. First, though, he wants to meet with Gemma and Jax face-to-face. His intentions aren’t clear, and when he tries to tell Gemma he loves her, she pounds on the door, begging to be let out. Toric is watching behind the glass, reciting two lines from Shakespeare’s sonnet 116 in a frightening whisper:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

The “it” here is time, and the implication seems to be that Gemma and Clay share something that even the betrayals and complications of time can’t change. But the secondary meaning pertains to the love of his dead sister, which may have been the last uncorrupted emotion of his life. Time may have killed her, but it didn’t alter his love, and he’s prepared to bear it out to the edge of doom.

That love is Toric’s sunk cost, but the difference between him and Jax is that he has nothing left to live for except retribution. Jax has his family, his wife, his club and the remains of a disappearing morality. But on the path he’s walking, those will all be lost, and it won’t be long before he knows Toric’s obsession and despair.