‘Sons of Anarchy’ recap: ‘Authority Vested,’ wedding bells and prison cells

After last week’s incendiary season premiere it’s probably for the best that “Sons of Anarchy” reined things in a bit in episode 2. This was a relatively calm installment — at least by “Sons” standards — with no torture, no murder, a single car chase that was more exhilarating than ominous, and a major event in the lives of two characters handled with genuine affection.

The very best moment was simply two guys talking shop in the front seat of a pickup. Sure, they happened to be discussing illegal activities, but it was still a friendly and relaxed chat that demonstrated how strong “Sons” can be when it steps back from hyperactive plotting and lets its characters breathe.

That dialogue scene was between Jax and Nero Padilla, and gave us more insight into the new character played by Jimmy Smits. They struck up an easy banter (“How long you been working girls? How’s the money?” “Weapons man, that’s a lot of heat.”) and bonded over both having a son damaged by a junkie mother (Nero’s kid has spina bifida, while we know Abel was born premature and spent his early days in intensive care). Nero also revealed he spent most of his 30s in jail before giving up drugs and turning his life around… assuming you consider pimping a valid life choice.

Their chit chat came to an abrupt halt when Nero noticed they had a tail, and turned a car chase into an impromptu game of chicken. Jax actually looked a little freaked out when Nero started gunning directly for the other vehicle, but there’s no damage done. Nero’s exclamation afterward — “That was fun!” — summed it up pretty well.

Jax gained more than a new friend during the hour. He also gained a wife. After four seasons of a tumultuous love affair, Jax and Tara are now a married couple. And if their nuptials were less ceremonious than Opie and Lyla’s wedding last season, it’s entirely possible these two will have better luck keeping their relationship together. Tara certainly knows what she’s getting into at this point. When Jax promised he’d “make an honest woman out of” her after his proposal, Tara responded under her breath, “Good luck.” Whether or not you buy Tara’s devotion to Jax and tolerance of his devotion to the club, there’s no question she’s committed to this path at the moment.

Tara even accepted Gemma’s offer of the wedding rings she and J.T. wore. Gemma’s implicit endorsement of the marriage came with words of support, or maybe words of warning, for Tara. “There is no one else who understands what you are going through right now better than I do,” Gemma told her. It’ll be interesting to see if one of the arcs of this season is to bring these two closer together or push them further apart.

With Jax headed to prison, Tara may need to rely on Gemma more than she’s expecting. Jax seems rather confident the CIA will get him out (and if I was the star of the show, I would be too), but we know they’re willing to “plan B” the situation if need be. Maybe that means Jax will wind up doing a little time and finding ways to evade Damon Pope’s boys in the slammer.

I don’t have much more to say about tonight’s episode, but I do want to take a moment to thank everyone for the great comments last week. I’m hoping you’ll keep the conversation going all season long, I always feel like it adds an extra dimension to the recaps here at Hitfix.

I also want to pull out two comments from last week for a little more attention. Katherine Boyer Coble posted this about Tig watching Dawn get burned alive: “Bit surprised nobody noticed the sad poetry of this. Remember the two Mexican girls dead in the gun warehouse in the series opener? The ones that were burned to death in a pit? The ones Tig had sex with and treated like meat? It was the memory of those two women that kept me from full-on grieving for Tig.”

The connection didn’t occur to me, but strikes me as an important one. Someone on “Sons” is always seeking retaliation for something, and no one’s smart enough to realize the cycle is never gonna end. Meanwhile, the grief, guilt and anger inspired by or from the retaliations never really goes away, it just keeps gnawing at their insides as the years go by.

And Timm S pointed out another Tig detail that I intended to mention in the review, but didn’t get around to: “And, TIG RACISM! He’s not only going to cut off Pope’s head, but he will do so to Pope’s black head!”

Tig swearing revenge on Pope by spitting out, “I am gonna cut your ugly black head off,” is just one of several ways “Sons” is already actively engaging with race this season. One thing that really intrigues me about Pope’s arrival on the show is the opportunity it gives the writers to explore the Sons’ African-American rivals beyond just fringe appearances and “One Niner” references. At the same time, this exploration should inevitably draw out the frequently latent racism buried in the club. We got a little bit of this last season through Roosevelt putting pressure on Juice by threatening to reveal that his father was black, but that potentially explosive story was ultimately disarmed by Juice’s one-on-one conversation with Chibbs and the “deus ex CIA.”

This week, Tig discovered his surviving daughter Fawn (Lexi Sakowitz) in a compromising position with her black boyfriend (Amin Joseph), a nice way to twist the knife a little deeper on a situation where the Sons are eyeing every black face with even more suspicion than usual these days. On the flip side, we had Unser’s reasoned conversation with Roosevelt about why he doesn’t believe the break-in was black retaliation: “It felt more white to me … sloppy, clumsy, the beatdown was obligatory not angry.” I welcome any reminder that this MC is rotten at the core, and racism is just one of the symptoms.

Odds and ends:

– It’s great to see Robin Weigert back on the show as SAMCRO’s lawyer Ally Lowen (last seen in the season three finale “NS”). Hopefully they’re ramping up a more substantial storyline for her as Jax tries to minimize the fallout of the RICO investigation.

– We had two references this week to Clay’s sudden irrelevance: When he went to visit Opie to make amends and plead with him to come back to the club, Clay stressed that he’s “almost dead” and “half done.” Then when a prison-bound Jax tells Bobby to watch out for Clay, Bobby answers “No problem there, he’s a broken man.” I guess that’s what we’re supposed to believe, but I’m not buying it and I don’t know why any of the characters would either, except they probably need to let their guards down to allow Clay time to plan his comeback.

– Call me nitpicky, but Lyla’s return this week meant another glimpse of the show’s elaborate vision of the porn world, which always seems more like an outtake from “Boogie Nights” to me than anything resembling the cheap, DV realities of 21st-Century porno.

– The home invasion subplot was mostly lingering on the back burner this week. It’s good to see Unser on the case, but the major development was the closing shot of two documents pulled from Clay and Gemma’s safe: a birth certificate for Thomas Wayne Teller and a marriage license. What could the thieves want with those?

What did you think of “Authority Vested”?