‘Sons of Anarchy’ recap: Tara’s last stand in ‘Huang Wu’

By now we know what’s working, and what’s not working, this season on “Sons of Anarchy,” and “Huang Wu” suffers for focusing too much on the wrong half of that equation. After last week’s episode so effectively built up urgency and suspense, this week’s was the equivalent of letting the air slowly out of a balloon that had been primed to pop.

There was a ridiculous amount of wasted time here. (Or is it just padding to get to 90 minutes?) And that started almost immediately in the back-to-back scenes of Clay filling in his Irish prison contact about his trial date being moved up and Margaret telling Tara about her frightening chat with Gemma. Two lengthy, ponderous, dialogue-heavy scenes that communicate very little and offer nothing new about the characters. For a show so prone to montages as a way of “checking in” on various storylines, it’s just silly how much time has been spent this season on entire scenes that could’ve hit the cutting room floor.

More than just padding out the running time, the whole Wrath of Galen subplot consistently drags everything down. It’s one of the show’s least interesting conflicts yet and the best thing to be said about it is that it’s still secondary to the Tara arc in the bigger picture. Unfortunately, episodes like this, which devote extended time to Galen’s increasingly ridiculous shenanigans, wind up doing more damage than they should. He’s a cartoonish nemesis and whatever problems he causes — like shooting the Chinese gang members in a misguided display of power — never connect as fascinating twists in an unpredictable plot. They’re just silly annoyances.

While the writers are jumping through hoops to service the Irish storyline and remind us they haven’t forgotten the school shooting (as they do tonight with Jax’s visit to the school, and sad-faced observation of two boys a little too excited about communion wafers), we’re losing the thread on Clay, losing the thread on the rest of the club (what’s up with Juice? Tig? Bobby?) and giving short shrift to new additions (like Barosky and Patterson, who both could’ve been more fleshed out by this point). Kim Dickens’ role as friendly neighborhood madame Colette has been particularly aggravating, especially since it seems to have been designed entirely to lead up to tonight’s big moment of Tara catching her in the act with Jax.

Now, I’ll buy that Jax’s infidelity still hurts Tara even after everything she’s done, but if we’re supposed to take that as the moment she finally flips the switch on any notion of loyalty to her husband, no thank you. The show has deliberately destroyed Tara’s entire support system (it was foolish to trust Wendy, Unser and Lowen — the club’s lawyer! — in the first place, but she did it) and tried to convince us that Wendy’s good advice (“Just stop lying, it’s the right thing”) won’t work because Gemma will never listen (she’ll just threaten to kill Tara instead) and Jax can’t be trusted. It’s a viable combination of twisted logic and frustrating inevitability, but it’s not great drama.

It’s awfully shaky to believe that discovering Jax hasn’t been faithful after learning his wife faked a miscarriage and wants to divorce him is what actually makes Tara hit rock bottom. And sending Tara straight to Patterson — who conveniently can’t help her now that Jax’s offer to turn over Galen is in the works — just so Patterson can reject her and Tara can really go mental turns the whole thing into another example of the writers forcing story onto character instead of letting characters drive the story.

That said, there’s a raw, direct, honesty that can’t be denied in Maggie Siff’s delivery when Tara falls apart in front of Jax outside of Diosa: “Look what you did to me. What’s happening to me? What happened to me?”

If only it didn’t feel like it was Siff addressing the writers just as much as Tara addressing Jax.

Odds and ends:

– Tara backed over Juice’s bike with her car! At this point, the poor bike might be even more abused than Juice. I’m more concerned that I have no idea what mental state Juice is supposed to be in. He seemed more together this week than he has recently, but why?

– Unser and Nero bonding was a good thing, and the adversarial back and forth leading up to that was even better. Nero: “I guess the cancer’s eaten away that part of your brain that can actually hold a conversation?” Unser: “No, it’s eaten away at my patience for people I don’t give a shit about.”

– Gemma’s decided to play mama bear to Wendy now and give her some “If you use again I’ll rip your tits off rehab.” That can’t be good, for so many reasons.

– We get another “Deadwood” vet as a guest star courtesy of Keone “Mr. Wu” Young as boss Lin. I guess that’s something.

– Oh yeah, the Chinese have Happy as a hostage. I guess that’s something else.