“You don’t hate me because I’m bad, you hate me because I’m familiar.”

Clay delivers that line to the soon-to-be-dead Lee Toric, in a typically stoic show of defiance against a foe who will stop at nothing to make sure those he deems responsible for his sister’s death are punished as he sees fit. The line says a lot about Toric and accurately pinpoints the character before he meets his bloody end, but even though ‘Wolfsangel’ is chock full of character deaths and gruesome violence, that last bit about familiarity really seems to stand out.

In fact, this season of Sons of Anarchy has only been remarkable for how familiar the storyline has felt up to this point. What started with a shocking season opener that appeared as though the tough-talking, gun-toting Sons (and by extension, the show itself) were poised to address something as potent and contentious as the topic of gun violence, has now all but shifted back to the more habitual realm of SAMCRO working against the myriad forces out to get them, and/or paying back violence visited upon them with swift retribution.

After the third episode, ‘Poenitenita,’ it was clear that the school shooting had been put on the backburner (if not forgotten about altogether), and the primary concern of the narrative was to illustrate Jax & Co. distancing themselves from the gun and the family of the shooter because, as Toric demonstrated, those elements could easily be linked to the club.

In a way, all of that meant Sons of Anarchy felt as though it was distancing itself from the very topic it had dared to bring up, leaving us to ask: If not this, then what? Especially since this current storyline is setting the table for the series’ supposed conclusion next season, a more developed plotline might have emerged by now – an issue that’s not helped by the fact that every episode so far has been extended between 13-30 minutes).

But the extra time has been used to suggest and hint at things like the scheme Tara and Wendy have going on, and to lead the audience to wonder what stroke of luck will see Tig Trager escape all but certain death after Jax practically gift-wrapped and delivered his “brotha” to August Marks (which, when you consider this was a major plot point of last season, it’s hard not to feel like Sons of Anarchy has been here and done that).

Even the unexpected deaths of characters like Filthy Phil, Otto and the vengeful Lee Toric felt as though they were taken out of the Sons of Anarchy playbook from four seasons ago. And when the show throws in events like the Aryans dragging Unser from his trailer and carving a swastika into his stomach, or Galen taking Jax’s order of “hands off” way too literally, the violence no longer feels particularly shocking or even provocative; it just feels arbitrary and a little tired.

Still, it’s not hard to imagine that the end of Lee Toric is simply the end of the season’s first act – and therefore the beginning the story’s rising action. With the easy wickedness of Toric out of the way, perhaps the season is headed toward a showdown between the MC and CCH Pounder’s DA Tyne Patterson, who may yet find a way to bring the discussion of gun violence back to the MC’s table.

Sons of Anarchy continues next Tuesday with ‘The Mad King,’ @10pm on FX.