‘Sons of Anarchy’ recap: ‘Wolfsangel’ ups the body count

Everything that happens in this week’s “Sons of Anarchy” could’ve been condensed into a pretty solid hour of TV. So why did “Wolfsangel” have to be yet another unnecessarily bloated 90 minute episode?

Yes, there’s a sizable body count — though the character who seemed most in danger last week (Tig) was apparently in no danger at all — but sans commercials, the episode runs one full hour. That’s longer than an average installment of “Game of Thrones” (or any other commercial-free HBO or Showtime drama), and it feels desperately stretched. There’s no rhythm, no urgency to anything that happens. And that’s extra frustrating because Kurt Sutter surprisingly demonstrated some good judgment in bringing Lee Toric’s arc to a swift and violent finish here, instead of dragging out the maniac’s downfall for multiple episodes over weeks and weeks in typical overblown fashion.

If only it was more satisfying. Toric’s last words (“I didn’t even see that coming”) should’ve echoed our feelings as viewers, but the padded running time made his death all too easy to anticipate. It started with the smart decision to let Roosevelt quickly catch on to Toric’s sloppy attempt at framing Nero (we know Roosevelt’s no dummy, while Toric is an obvious freak and Nero is as much of a saint as a reformed biker outlaw can possibly be). I was looking forward to some degree of cat and mouse between Roosevelt and Toric, and yet all the Sheriff’s skepticism did was speed up the ticking clock that’s been hanging over Toric’s head. (Fair enough if the end result is getting rid of Toric faster.)

By the time we see Clay slip Otto the knife during his visit, it’s clear Sutter doesn’t even want us to be surprised when Otto attacks Toric (so the whole mess ends the way it started — with a Toric being stabbed to death, yeesh). The attack itself is one of the biggest moments in the episode, but it just deflates on screen with all the dramatic tension of air going out of a balloon. We’re left with nothing but relief that another disastrous law enforcement character has departed the show. And more relief when Sutter allows Otto to depart as well, in a hail of bullets following season after season of brutal behavior and extreme suffering.

In comparison, I really didn’t see Filthy Phil’s death coming. Neither the character nor the actor (Christopher Douglas Reed) ever added much to the show, but he’s been hanging around since early on in Season 3. That’s a long time for someone to be dispatched with a single, sudden, shot to the head. Phil’s murder (along with the murder of another, even less significant, prospect) served the dual dramatic function of making it clear the Irish aren’t going to take Jax’s disobedience lightly and adding another wrinkle to SAMCRO’s membership challenges. Jax is truly running the club into the ground, and we’re seeing Chibs get less and less tolerant of the president’s self-serving leadership. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see someone other than Jax or Clay in charge?

Meanwhile, the most intriguing subplot continues to be Tara’s play to protect her kids. The writers have done a good job doling out information about just what she’s up to, keeping us guessing and drawing us in deeper every week. She is in fact working with Wendy in an effort to undermine Gemma and the club, but how closely is Wendy following her instructions? Did Wendy tell Gemma that Tara is “completely disconnected” and “hellbent on getting the boys out of Charming” as part of the plan (so Gemma will be more likely to accept Wendy as a guardian) or part of her own agenda? Plus, Unser walking in on Tara’s meeting with Wendy and Ally Lowen means he has knowledge that could come into play with Gemma at some point, even though he chose to side with Tara at the hospital.

Fortunately, Jax is still too distracted — with the club, the skinheads, the Irish, August Marks, Barosky, his girlfriend and the continued headache of guns — to notice.

Odds and ends:

– Between the “Breaking Bad” finale and Jax’s retaliation tonight, not a good week for white supremacist asshats on TV.

– Unser was attacked for no other reason than he parks his trailer where SAMCRO does their business. He has a good point about the danger of simply being around that environment — especially for the kids — but wouldn’t the smart thing be to move?

– Last time we saw Mitch Pileggi as reformed skinhead Ernest Darby was back in Season 3’s “Turas.” Nice to know he’s been behaving himself.

– Speaking of former “X-Files” cast members, yes that’s Robert Patrick (fresh off arcs on “True Blood” and “Last Resort”) as the president of the San Bernardino chapter. (And John Hensley, of FX’s “Nip/Tuck,” as the young guy with him.) And yes it’s a pointed contrast that his club votes down picking up SAMCRO’s gun running when Jax barely puts anything to a vote these days.

– August Marks explaining why Tig is still alive in a single throwaway line: “Let’s just say it wasn’t Traeger’s time.”

– Roosevelt dropping a truth bomb on Nero: “There’s no dignity in what you do. Call it what you want but you make money off the low self esteem of broken women.”

– Anyone else worried about Nero? He should know better than to drop hints with Gemma about running away — as much as she cares about him, she cares about her grandkids even more. Next week is one of only three episodes with a scheduled “Anarchy Afterword” after show online. (The others are the premiere and finale.) So it should be pretty big, right?