“Sons of Anarchy” recap: “Toad’s Wild Ride”

Joel McHale guest stars on "Toad's Wild Ride," the latest episode of FX's drama "Sons of Anarchy."

Those music montages toward the end of episodes are never a good sign, are they?

Yeah, when I noticed there was about 10 minutes left and the unmistakable first notes of Iggy Pop and The Stooges’ “The Passenger” came on, I knew that “Toad’s Wild Ride” had yet to deliver its biggest jolt. But more on that later.

Clay is in full damage-control mode with his Nomad flunkies, telling them there is DNA evidence that will link them to the home invasions and the murder of Roosevelt’s wife. Frankie (Chuck Zito, who you just knew was going to be a bigger presence at some point) reveals to the audience that Clay has been using the Nomads to sow dissent among the Sons and turn public opinion against them in an effort to regain his seat at the head of the table. For their help, they would get a piece of the gun and drug money. Frankie asks what the next move is, and Clay tells them they need to get out of town. Part of the pressure is also coming from Unser snooping around.

Following last episode’s run-in with Roosevelt, Jax and Bobby head over to see Unser at his trailer, where he lets him in on the detective work he’s been doing. He makes a strong case that Clay is behind the home invasions, and that he’s using the Nomads. Jax suggests Unser go over and introduce himself to the Nomads and disguise it as a cordial visit from a friend of the club. This seems like a spectacularly bad idea and completely flies in the face of that jewel of wisdom from The Godfather, “Never let anyone know what you’re thinking.” Despite his pseudo-Michael Corleone character arc, Jax has been blabbing what he knows and what he thinks he knows to just about everybody. The next morning, in fact, he goes right up to Frankie as he’s getting ready to leave town and all but tells him he knows what’s going on with the home invasions. What does he hope to gain by this? Does he not think this will send the guy running scared, or at least back to Clay? Knowledge is power, Jax, especially when the enemy isn’t aware you have it.

Unser is no better. When he goes to visit Greg and GoGo (didn’t know that was their names, but it seems to fit) he acts like a blatant busybody, even asking GoGo about the claw marks on his neck. You know, the ones the dead cop’s wife put there. Not going to tip him off, eh?

We get a peek at the new escort facility, where Lila seems to be thriving in her partnership with Nero. But that only lasts long enough for Nero to tell Jax he got a call from Gemma, who woke up that morning next to that smooth talker played by Joel McHale. After she went to the bathroom to cry in shame, she came out to find her money missing and the dude driving off in her Escalade. Gemma isn’t happy to see the whole crew show up, which is why she just called Nero. Jax is disgusted by his mom’s continued descent, seeming especially perturbed that she now drinks banana vodka. Nero leans on Jax to go easy on his mom, a risky move on his part if you ask me, but Jax seems to take it to heart. It probably helps, too, that immediately after that Nero gets a call that some of his people have located the Escalade, and that the guy who took it is still there!

Before we see that little payoff, though, there’s a long-in-coming interlude between Clay and Tara at the clubhouse where Clay tries to break the ice, acknowledging that he should be dead, saying he’s “on borrowed time.” Tara fires back saying no, he’s not on borrowed time with her, because she already considers him dead. Nicely played, doc. Clay genuinely has regret over how things went, but we all know it’s not enough to get him to really change his ways. He goes on to prove later in the episode just how cunning and dangerous he still is. Juice overhears this conversation with Tara, and begins to wonder what he doesn’t know about Clay.

We get a nice car chase, though, as the club tracks down Joel McHale, who gets the rare opportunity to lose his cool on camera. Put another way, his character pretty much puts a load in his pants once the Sons catch up with him. They take back the money he stole, rough him up a bit, but spare his life since they happen to be on the side of a major highway in full view of passing motorists. He pathetically asks if they’re now even. Nah, not really.

GoGo stops by the clubhouse to tell Clay about Unser’s little visit – like you knew he would – and Clay decides that poor Wayne’s gotta go. He hatches a plan to have Greg and Gogo break into Unser’s trailer and do the deed. We have no reason to doubt this is what will go down. But what follows is a classic Sons of Anarchy scene, filled with misdirection and dread, leading to an incredible resolution.

It all starts out going pretty much according to the plan that Clay laid out, with him visiting Unser to do a little prep work for the break-in. Unser tells him, “You ain’t gonna like what I’ve done with the place,” a sly reference to the bulletin board showing his investigation into the home invasions. He keeps a gun nearby (and you could say almost on) Clay the whole time, and Clay acknowledges that he understands why. He apologizes to Wayne, telling him he was a good friend, and that he’s sorry he messed that up. Sounds like the kiss of death, right? Then we hear the rumblings outside of Greg and Gogo about to break in and we’re expecting the worst, especially not long after hearing Unser say he expects to be dead in a year (Oh yeah, he has cancer. I almost forget that every episode, and I sometimes wonder if the writers did, too, maybe giving it to him early on and now regretting it.). But as the door comes crashing in, Unser gets a shot off and blows away one of the Nomads. Clay gets his gun out and … takes out the other.

Whoa.

Now, OK, it’s still very possible at this point that Clay will take out Unser. Heck, maybe it’s even more likely, seeing as it’s completely logical to think Clay would somehow find it the honorable thing to do to kill Unser himself. But instead it’s yet another lie, with Clay saying he suspected the Nomads and thought they might come pay Unser a visit. Classic Clay bullshit, and Unser buys it (kinda sorta), shooing Clay away while he’s left to clean up yet another murder scene.

Juice, who was sitting outside while the whole thing went down, is really starting to wonder what the flagnard is going on. You get the sense this isn’t going to end well for poor Juice-y, but he’s survived a lot so far, so maybe there’s hope. He tries to talk to Clay about it later, but Clay is able to deflect it.

Jax has a one-on-one with Gemma where they hash out their troubles. She apologizes for her behavior, and for years of trying to find the love that died with Jax’s father in Jax. He tells her he loves her, and that it’s all going to turn out OK. He even goes so far as to urge Tara to cut Gemma some slack, and a great way to do that is to let Gemma watch the boys while he and Tara spend some time at their cabin.

Nero and his crew eventually catch up with McHale again, this time cutting him off before he hits his next mark, and delivering a vicious (possibly fatal?) beatdown. This once again gets me wondering if this is really the end for McHale’s role. With Ashley Tisdale’s appearances still leaving me scratching my head, it’s setting a pattern for odd use of famous guest stars. I see far more potential for Tisdale to return, but still, seems like a loose end.

RELATED: Most unlikely guest stars on Sons of Anarchy

Gemma goes out to Unser’s and they have a heart-to-heart, with her admitting that when he told her off last episode, he spoke the truth. But hey, don’t ever do it again. They smoke together, make up, unaware that the last Nomad, Frankie Diamonds, is driving off after observing the scene. Won’t be the last we see of him.

Jax and Chibs head over to Clay’s where Jax again spouts off his mouth, telling Clay exactly what he thinks is going down. Clay again tries to play it off as Damon Pope’s doing, but Jax ain’t buying it.

OK, that’s when we get into that music montage. “The Passenger” plays while people are traveling: Jax and Chibs to the cabin, and Gemma taking the boys to her house. Yeah, it’s a sinking feeling from the beginning. It’s not surprising at all when an SUV pulls up alongside the bikers and begins shooting. They get run off the road, but when one assailant steps out to finish the job, Jax guns him down. The other guy drives off before they can get to him. They pull the mask off the dead guy to reveal that he’s black, which we know will lead them to think Pope had something to do with it.

But the more gut-wrenching set piece is yet to come. Gemma seems a bit groggy as she’s driving down the road, the vehicle swaying dangerously from side to side. Sure enough, she goes into the other lane directly in the path of an oncoming semi, but manages to steer out of the way just in time. She’s unable to regain control, though, and the car goes careening off the road down a hill and into a tree. The last image we see is Gemma slumped over unconscious on the steering wheel, Thomas crying but unharmed in the back seat, and little Abel with a nasty head wound, bleeding onto his plush toad. (Had to get the episode title in there somewhere, right?)

It brought back immediately that awful Season 2 cliffhanger when the Irish kidnapped Abel and Jax had to watch as his son was being taken away. Man, Kurt Sutter plays dirty, totally not above using sweet angelic children to stick it to the audiences.

Here’s where I realize just how lucky I am to be in my position. FX provided a screener for next week’s episode as well, so yeah, I immediately put that on to see what happens next. Yeah, when it comes to kids, I gotta know.

Now it’s my turn to play dirty. Check back here next week to find out.

Photo: Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

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2 Responses to “Sons of Anarchy” recap: “Toad’s Wild Ride”

  1. Dp says:

    FYI – in the heart to heart with Jax and Gemma, she’s talking about her son/Jax’s brother, Thomas, not Jax’s dad, John. And I’m guessing (hoping) Abel will be just fine. But if I had the opportunity to watch something in advance to make sure, I totally would have too.

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