It’s not at all uncommon for a series to follow up a huge, game-changing episode — like the one Sons of Anarchy Season 6 threw at us last week — with a rather ho-hum affair. And while some big stuff does indeed happen in “The Mad King,” including one, ahem, explosive ending, for the most part it’s a rather subdued hour filled with the mechanics of moving pieces together for whatever is to come later on.
Lee Toric’s death apparently wasn’t the earth-shattering event for the characters that it was for viewers (at least me anyway), as they tend to just treat it with a collective shrug. The only people tangibly affected are Nero (Jimmy Smits) and Tara (Maggie Siff), whom are both worse off, given Toric’s involvement in their legal entanglements. Basically, it looks like Otto (Kurt Sutter) killing Toric was an organized hit on behalf of the club to eliminate a problem. In the wake of Toric’s death, Patterson (CCH Pounder) is on the warpath to make somebody stand justice for the school shooting, and she sets her sights on Tara.
The other big killings from last episode — Phil and the prospect — leads Jax (Charlie Hunnam) and the Sons to hunt down some Irish henchmen to learn the whereabouts of Galen (Timothy V. Murphy). An impaled hand, some other beatdowns and they end up getting an audience, via cellphone, with the IRA bigwigs a.k.a. The Kings. He explains the situation, that Marks (Billy Brown) is willing to take over the distribution for the guns, but Galen was having none of it. Jax thinks he may have gotten through to them, but little does he know that Galen is actually sitting with the Kings, all the while punching holes in his story. They need to stay with Clay, he tells them, and therefore the Sons are completely superfluous. Implication: They can be disposed of.
Clay (Ron Perlman) learns of this through a special delivery in prison, an extra helpful librarian who hands him a copy of Edgar Rice Burrough’s classic pulp adventure The Mad King, which hey, may or may not contain some thematic relevance as well, what with its plot about mistaken identity and royal usurpers. But inserted in the pages is a note telling him that Galen has arranged for his escape and transport to Ireland, where they want to set him up with his own distribution network. Clay apparently still has a conscience when it comes to the club, however, as he goes to great lengths to try to let them know about it. Clay sets up a conjugal visit with Gemma (Katey Sagal), the only way he can communicate free of a wiretap.
So, Gemma goes, and this leads to one of the more sickening scenes Sons of Anarchy has pulled in awhile. Well, one that didn’t involve bloodshed. Clay tells Gemma what he needs to tell her, then instructs her to have Jax tell him how to proceed. All well and good. But then the guards reveal themselves to be less than honorable, as they demand payment for their allowing the privacy. They want to see Clay and Gemma, um, get conjugal. And they’re not just going to watch either. They’re going to pleasure themselves during the show. Clay and Gemma are not having any of it, but after some baton-induced violence and other threats, the estranged spouses proceed to give them the show they want. Interesting that the episode cuts away and doesn’t allow us to see/subject us to the spectacle of watching Clay and Gemma try to be intimate after everything that has happened, and in those circumstances.
So yeah, ew. And double ew given that one of the perv cops looks like Doug Jones, Perlman’s Hellboy costar. Now anytime I see Hellboy and Abe Sapien together, I have to think of this. Ugh!
It’s to Ron Perlman’s credit that no matter how awful Clay gets, he’s some how eventually able to elicit some semblance of sympathy.
Tara’s custody plan hits another snag when Wendy (Drea De Matteo) starts to lose her nerve a bit, thrown off by how continuously nice ot her Gemma is. And yes, Gemma does say some nice things, about how she loved Wendy before she became a junkie, and that she is a perfect fit for Jax. But can’t she remember how Gemma tried to kill her in the hospital? Or how Jax tried to wreck her sobriety by forcing her down and shooting her up? Wendy shares her conflict with Tara, so Tara tries to calm her down and get her to look at the big picture. Wendy says she needs some Abel time, and Tara agrees to it.
The climax comes at the clubhouse, where everyone is winding down at the end of another busy, blood-filled day when all of a sudden everything changes. Jax notices a shamrock pen sitting on the bar and wonders where it came from. Chuckie says it was from a beer delivery guy earlier, and Jax and Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) look at each other in confusion until it all starts to make sense. The Irish are planning to blow up the clubhouse, like right now. So they hurry up and get everybody out of there, and this evacuation scene includes a harrowing race against time as Jax runs into Abel’s room to scoop him up and out. This being Sons of Anarchy, I was fairly certain we were in for yet another tragic, senseless death, and it being a child was certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Or perhaps there would be some kind of cliffhanger, making us wait a week to see if any kids died.
But lo and behold, everybody makes it out safe. They can’t focus on their happiness much, though, as they are looking at their notorious clubhouse going up in flames.
So this episode ends with the complete in figurative and literal shambles. Somewhere Lee Toric is smiling.
Photo: Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX