Sons Of Anarchy season 6 episode 5 review: The Mad King

Matthew salutes the writing on Sons of Anarchy once again, but asks for respite from the psychological torture scenes...

This review contains spoilers.

6.5 The Mad King

For me, this week’s episode was very much about putting the Irish back into the forefront of Sons of Anarchy‘s story structure. For the first time since season three, we are once again in the presence of the Irish “Kings.” The theme of the past coming back to affect the present again appears when we are reminded by Galen that Teller is weak like his father JT, who also wanted to get out of the gun business. From a storytelling perspective, Jax’s trajectory seems to be leading to a showdown with the IRA, meaning that he could be heading down the same tragic path as his father.

Several of the themes discussed in my previous reviews were very much present in this episode. There’s the aforementioned ‘past coming back to affect the present’ concept, cemented in the viewers’ minds by the fact that the school shooting will not go away. We also see the idea of personal responsibility being connected to how the actions of the characters impact the world around them. In a very poignant scene when Nero and Jax are together it is Nero who once again accepts the fact that the school shooting was at least in some way his fault. Of course, Jax is very quick to deflect any responsibility in relation to the school shooting; he simply does not see anything wrong with they way that he runs his life and conducts his daily business. Arguably this is one reason why Nero, played brilliantly by Jimmy Smits, has been such an important addition to the show. His character’s connection to the Catholic faith as well as his ability to act with some sense of morality has given us a chance to see just how far Jax has strayed from any moral centre he may have had.

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Naturally, as this is Sons of Anarchy, you can once again add another scene into the most disturbing moments on the show list, though at least we were spared actually witnessing the act happening this time around. I am referring to the scene when Gemma visits Clay in the prison and the guards decide that they want to enjoy themselves a little too much during the lovemaking that they demand takes place between Clay and Gemma. It was one of the few scenes in recent cinema or television history that has reminded me of the infamous rape scene in Pulp Fiction in both its visual and psychological connection to the idea of sex being used as a way to both degrade and destroy a person’s psyche. Sons of Anarchy has never shied away from these types of scenes and it has done an excellent job of portraying just how brutal and absolutely horrifying prison can be. That being said, personally I could use a slight break from these types of moments on the show, though from a storytelling perspective, the downward spiral for these characters continues to twist in some very uncomfortable and disturbing ways.

Overall, this week’s episode slowed down the pacing of the storytelling and it really only came together in the last few minutes. After watching the ending, it makes sense that much of this episode was setting up for an explosive finish in the most literal sense of the word. Certainly, there are dire consequences to be paid for messing with the Irish, and Jax – usually the smartest man in the room – was completely duped and almost led his entire “flock” to the slaughter. His family as well as his club brothers were almost all killed by the Irish in an attempted hit that left their clubhouse burned to the ground. It now seems that the Irish as well as Roosevelt and District Attorney Patterson are going to be amongst the main villains of this sixth season.

It is also not surprising that Jax’s hubris almost lead to his death and that of his family. Earlier in the episode, Jax was smart enough to say that if the Irish really wanted to come after him that they would go after his family and that is exactly what was coming but he was not able to see it because of his pride. The show has spent a great deal of time trying to get the viewers to distance themselves from Jax and this episode seemed to make us want to root for him again. For the first time in what seems like forever, we see Jax actually put the needs of another person above his own. This happened when he realized that the clubhouse was about to be blown up and he ran to save his son. It was nice to get a moment to connect to our main character again. Considering just how vengeful Galen has been, as well as seeing how Jax’s mother Gemma was essentially raped coupled with the two prison guards who are portrayed as the absolute worse types of human beings, we’re asked to take a step back and realize that in this violent world perhaps we need to root for Jax because even though he has committed acts of violence, he is certainly not one of the cruel sociopaths his family continues to suffer at the hands of.

It was a nice touch by the writers to have Clay get contacted by the Irish in prison by using a book called The Mad King, a reference to the fact that Clay is fulfilling the role of King Claudius from Hamlet (even down to sharing the first three letters of his name). To further the connection, Unser refers to Gemma – who also shares an initial with her Hamlet predecessor Gertrude – as the Queen.

I love this show and although I did think that this episode was a bit too slow at times, there was a big payoff at the end and it seems that every week the stakes get raised for every major character. That type of writing has to be respected and applauded. I would however like to get a slight reprieve from the onslaught of psychological and physical beatings that these characters seem to be taken on a weekly basis and if next week’s episode does not involve a psychological torture scene I would be more then grateful.

Read Matthew’s review of the previous episode, Wolfsangel, here.

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