The recap sequence for “Toil and Till” begins with footage of Jax telling the Indian Hills chapter how the club is going legit, and ends with him forking an innocent man in the head. This introduction to the final season’s second episode provides a framework for what’s to come: a man whose desire not to be an outlaw has seemingly unraveled into a pile of heroin, guns, and misplaced revenge.
“Toil and Till” — certainly referring to the labor and cultivation that we’re seeing go into Jax’s and SAMCRO’s final chapter — starts with Jax waking up in bed, sun streaming in, a lawnmower tending the land outside. He’s momentarily born anew, until he looks at the empty pillow next to him, and the kitchen sink where the head that had lain on that pillow was choked, held under water, and repeatedly stabbed. His day is just beginning, with that image in his head as he draws from his cigarette. His large tattoos of his sons’ names stand out as he starts his day.
Later in the morning, Jax meets with August Marks to go over their plans, which include having Nero help orchestrate the Mayans and the Triad working together to run heroin while the groups get used to the One-Niners being the “gun kings.” Jax looks like the peacemaker on the playground, when he’s actually nothing of the sort.
August expresses sympathy about Tara but warns Jax against any revenge on the street. He says, “The greatest lesson Mr. Pope taught me is patience … If your emotions say now, your head’s gotta say later. Clarity settles all scores, pays back all debts.”
Jax responds, “Understood. When I find out who killed my wife, I won’t do a thing until the time is right.”
The way he says this — something about the moment — strongly suggests that he knows the truth. Perhaps we’re just supposed to think that he’s being convincing because he doesn’t want anyone to know what he’s already done (as he says this, Happy is disposing of a body, with its matching head left in a fortune cookie box). However, it also seems reasonable to think that he does indeed know who killed Tara, and isn’t doing what needs to be done “until the time is right.” If that’s the case, there are too many bodies between point A and point B.
The new sheriff (Sheriff Jarry, played by Annabeth Gish) hires Wayne as an investigative consultant. He told Patterson he wasn’t interested, but he changed his mind. This decision came moments after Juice cut the cords binding his wrists. Wayne, instead of fleeing, offers Juice his help. It will be interesting to see how helpful a job with the sheriff’s department is — and whom it is designed to help. Wayne is clearly suffering more and more from his cancer (he tells Sheriff Jarry that having a terminal disease means you’re in a “constant state of self-evaluation”). As Wayne loses physical power this season, he’s going to gain monumental power for or against the club. Like Jax, he clearly has many selves to evaluate, and this final chapter will show which self comes to the forefront. Wayne groans and looks weaker as his health is falling apart. However, he will likely be the one to put all of the pieces together.
When Sheriff Jarry tells Wayne they’ve been unable to question Juice, Wayne doesn’t give him up and adds that he doubts Juice knows anything about Tara. “Juice is like a child,” he says. “Not too savvy.”
Jarry smirks about the other “leather-clad Mensa members,” and Wayne says, “Don’t buy into the white-trash myth, ma’am.” He says that Jax, especially, is “as smart as he is dangerous.” Although Gemma explains to Juice that Jax bought her story because “he needed it,” the fact that Jax would take that obvious story and kill and unravel so much … is it too idealistic to think that he knows she was full of shit? He’s dangerous, but he’s also smart. There must be another purpose for this endgame.
Maybe Kurt Sutter wanted a reason for another shoot-’em-up car chase with a testosterone-heavy alternative-rock track (Sons of Anarchy is formulaic, but then again, so was Shakespeare). However, the way “Toil and Till” works the land, this bumper crop of bodies stemming just from Jax’s revenge (based on a tenuous story) doesn’t feel like the whole story.
The Indian Hills charter has teamed up with SAMCRO, and their president Jury says to Jax upon hearing his plan, “It’s ambitious. Where does it end?” We expect that Jax knows, but does he?
When Jax and his crew (along with the Indian Hills charter, led by Jury) intercept and brutally shoot up the Triad deal, they discover that Lin had been trading the weapons for heroin. Chibs suggests they split the spoils with Indian Hills. As they leave the scene, Jax thanks two young guys whom Indian Hills had set them up with (Jury said he’d met them through his “whore”) to do some driving work. Their truck was wrecked, and Jax offered to repay them, asking for their address so he could deliver the cash. Always charitable, that Jax.
Almost immediately, Lin and his crew sideline Nero (who, with Wendy, was checking out the new school for Abel). Nero — who has continued to show his adherence to truth and loyalty — sincerely says that Jax would not try to destroy this relationship that he’s been trying to build between the groups. After all, that wouldn’t make any sense.
Jax promises — hands up — that it “wasn’t us” when Lin approaches him. Lin tells Jax he has until noon the next day to find who hit the delivery. (Bobby told Nero that Fox News was blaming Obama, in a great tongue-in-cheek moment.)
Gemma shows cracks in her exterior a couple of times during “Toil and Till.” When Abel asks how she knows his mommy is in heaven, when Wayne says he talked to Juice, and when she sees the photos of the crime scene she was responsible for, she is visibly shaken. Her resolve and delusional sense of justice, however, keeps her from actually shaking. She pushes Juice away, giving him cash, a burner, keys, and directions to her father’s empty house. Juice ends up back in Wendy’s apartment, though, like a child coming back to his mommy. Gemma’s twisted matriarchal force, which she’s used so much for her own gain, might be coming back to haunt her.
Jax, Chibs, and Bobby — operating as their own kind of triad — go to the apartment to pay the young men. The kids sip their beer, offer a bong hit, and gratefully take the wad of cash. And then they’re gunned down. Jax and Co. quickly arrange the scene, cracking open a brick of heroin and making it look as if the two shot one another in a drug discussion gone bad. “We found the crew that hit his delivery,” Bobby says on the phone, alerting Lin that it wasn’t the Sons. What a clever move.
Except it wasn’t. Jury goes to the apartment, and it’s clear that these weren’t just any two young men. He runs to the side of one of the bodies, his dog tags dangling over the dead body. He cries, cradling the dead man — a son, or a son figure — and spots the gun, which he’d seen earlier in the day. He knows who did this, and his tears turn to rage.
Jax goes back to his mother’s home, giving her a hug and exchanging nods with Nero and Wendy. He strokes Thomas’s sleeping face as his “SONS” rings — a different kind of dog tag — dominate the scene. He snuggles up to a sleeping Abel, tears flowing from his eyes. We know what those tears are for, but we also know what they will be for when he finds out what he’s done to his own club.
“Toil and Till” tightens a web that you expect will strangle everyone. The acting is solid, and the story line leaves us questioning and wanting more. I am patient with the formulaic and perhaps overdone aspects of the show (see: the car chase) because of the depth and complexity of the show as a whole. Any doubts that this wasn’t all going to end in a bloodbath were erased during this episode. After all, Happy knows a thousand places to bury the bodies.
• Last week’s season premiere was the “most-watched episode in FX history.”
• While it is a brief conversation, Wendy speaking to Gemma and Nero about Abel’s pre-K program is powerful. Wendy points out that it’s a good, “progressive” program, and Gemma seems defensive. “This isn’t the family being lazy,” Wendy says. “This is the beginning of his education.” This small commentary on the importance of education stands out, as it’s so counterintuitive to what Gemma knows and wants for her sons and grandsons. Wendy — in her own way — is providing a glimpse of what Tara provided for those boys.
• Another noteworthy conversation is Wendy and Nero discussing addiction. It’s honest, difficult, and tense. They have served as a support to one another, and it’s refreshing to hear this kind of dialogue about struggling with overcoming addiction in this setting. Wendy acknowledges that she’s still struggling deeply, and recognizes that she seems to be drawn to the family more the “more broken” it gets. Hopefully, she will be part of the healing process. For now, I only see a friendly relationship between Wendy and Nero; however, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were the only two left alive at the end. These truthful, self-actualizing conversations highlight their humanity and innocence.
• There were a few stinging racial slurs during this episode, which make me uncomfortable, but are also realistic. This language — much like how characters treat women — gives us a way to judge how we’re supposed to feel about them (Charlie and Lin become more disgusting when they utter slurs).
• Sheriff Jarry is one in a long line of women in leadership positions on Sons of Anarchy who are not remarkable or noteworthy because of their womanhood; in other words, she’s another sheriff. She’s not a female sheriff, and Wayne treats her immediately as a superior.
• Tig’s sexuality is interesting. On one hand, the audience could see the treatment of Tig’s sexual “deviancy” as played just for a joke. However, his scenes that push the boundaries of masculine, heteronormative sexuality (this week, making Rat Boy mime that he’s giving him head, while he gets aroused from it) have become increasingly normalized, without asking the audience to be judgmental. I’m not going so far as to advocate that Tig is an inclusive, sex-positive symbol, necessarily … but I think there’s something worth noting about the normalization of some of his desires, which are presented without shame or embarrassment.
• There is nothing about that final song that I should have liked (rock-rap: not my jam), but damn, I loved it. I have a serious weakness for these final montages.