Sons of Anarchy 7.02 Review: “Toil and Toll”

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One of the problems Sons of Anarchy runs into is that its often trying to tell a four-hour story in the span of thirteen, stretching stories out beyond their credibility, creating story structures so complex and intricate, only a slight of hand or conveniently hidden plot twist can get them out of it. Often, all this time-wasting comes at the credibility of its characters, people who harp off at the mouth about their ideals (remember when Jax wanted something better for his children?) but only seem to act to protect them in Big Moments – and all throughout “Toil and Toll”, I found it hard to match up the words I’ve heard and the actions I’m seeing.

Take Bobby, for example: why the hell is he on board with this plan to exterminate every Asian gangster from Oakland to Stockton (because as you’ve noticed, there’s never more than one gang per race on this show), along with the rest of the Sons? In fact, why is Jax so ready to take down Lin’s entire organization? Are we really supposed to believe our shaggy protagonist believes his mother’s terribly-thought-out lie about Lin arranging for Tara to be brutally murdered (“their beef runs deep enough”, she tells Juice… It does? Since when?), and that Jax really thinks this idea is going to work, all while precariously trying to establish a new gang hierarchy in the gun trade (which the Asians aren’t in anyway, trading their guns for heroin on a regular basis)?

If one takes a single step back and objectively observes the behavior of each character, almost none of them make sense. It seems they’ve all been pushed to the extremes of their character: Happy’s doing a Breaking Bad impression with a smirk on his face (and a gangster’s head in a classy, racist delivery box), Jax is smoking non-stop, and it seems Tig has mentioned rape, being raped, or gay sex in every scene he’s been in for the first two episodes. Like Jax’s plan to senselessly murder every “slant” (Chibs’ words, not mine) associated with Lin, there’s no logic in how Sutter and company are turning it up to 11 for the Final Season.

And with nothing but the backroads gang execution for “Toil and Toll” to explore, the episode feels hollow. I don’t feel much for Gemma tearing up over pictures of dead Tara: it’s too late for the show to gather empathy for her, wasting time with her telling Abel that Tara was an angel (I don’t want to bang the ol’ “child actors” drum, but that kid’s line readings are unintelligible) and crying in Unser’s depressing trailer (by the way; Unser’s a cop again and he still has cancer, so look for him to die sooner rather than later… he doesn’t want “to see anymore death”, and I’m sure Jax will help him on that journey real soon). It’s impossible to make me feel sorry for her, after the years of manipulation she’s put everyone through (decades, if we go back to John Teller’s life) and the current gang war she’s starting over her inability to come clean with her psychotic ways.

If anything, “Toil and Toll” just reminds us that Jax and Gemma are borne from the same unstable, murderous cloth: and while I don’t think that’s the point of Sons of Anarchy, there’s at least some narrative symmetry found in their mindless, endlessly short-sighted behavior. The one place that kind of symmetry does work however, is with Wendy and Nero: their car ride was the best scene Sons of Anarchy has done in years – yes, I mean that, years. Relaxed and free of having to serve as plot points for a moment, Wendy and Nero driving to the pre-k she wants to put Abel into was a wonderful little scene, a beacon of Wendy’s growth since the pilot, for the first time her character finding a connection among a group of people that just want to hate her for her past mistakes (she even references her old junkie self from season one; she’s literally the only character who has matured on this show! At all!).

It was the rare moment of cathartic release for Sons of Anarchy, letting two people enjoy a smile together, instead of the dour, sunglass wearing frowns constantly filling up the screen in the first two episodes. But then it’s back to its own idiocy, reminding us once again that Juice is an idiot and doesn’t deserve to live through anything (WHY WOULD HE NOT LEAVE CHARMING – and why did he drive down Main Street when he thought he was going to?), Unser’s going to die, by cancer or by bullet – and pounding home the fact over and over that Jax’s plan to take down Lin is going to fail miserably. But we know all this already: “Toil and Toll” takes all 52 minutes to remind us of this stuff, a depressingly rote, repetitive hour that already feels like the show’s running out of meaningful story to tell. Then again, maybe I’m the only one who hasn’t been numbed by Sons‘ musical montage and obsession with constant, “gritty” violence: “Toil and Toll” just feels more of the same, with the small added boost that this is the end, so we won’t have to sit through these same rhythms again for another season.

[Photo via FX]

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