[This is a review for Sons of Anarchy season 7, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]

As the final season of Sons of Anarchy progresses, it becomes clear that the true tension in these early episodes is the lingering anxiety Juice and Gemma have been carrying around and the different ways they express it. All of the various backstabbing, murdering, and underhanded deals being cooked up by Jax and carried out by SAMCRO are little more than window dressing until Juice, Gemma, or both of them are called to answer for the double homicide and subsequent cover-up that capped-off season 6.

As far as the fate of the MC is concerned, the destruction of the little-seen August Marks and the newly reinvested alliance between the Mayans and the Sons speaks to the larger picture of how and if SAMCRO will carry on once the show has reached its conclusion. But considering the magnitude of what’s at stake with Jax’s personal life and the questions of whether or not the truth behind Tara’s murder will come to light, all the wheeling and dealing we’ve seen in these first six episodes has felt a lot like the show is spinning its wheels.

A lot of that has to do with the fact that all the groups SAMCRO’s been up against haven’t felt like legitimate threats. Lin didn’t amount to much. Various gangs haven’t stood a chance against the wily MC. And even Marks’ power feels like an easily toppled house of cards at this point. It’s been one breezy encounter after another. Even the brouhaha between the Sons and a bunch of Nazis is nothing more than “a friendly little fight.”

Which is why, after last week’s cliffhanger left the emotionally unstable and despondent Juice pointing a gun at Gemma’s head, it felt like the season had gained some much-needed traction. That was until ‘Smoke ’em If You Got ’em’ opened up with Gemma walking down a desolate desert highway in the morning light.

Lea Michele and Katey Sagal in Sons of Anarchy season 7 episode 6 Sons of Anarchy: A Friendly Little Fight

It’s not as though anyone expected Juice to do the unthinkable – that’s not what his character is designed to do – but it was well within reason to believe the encounter would act as the catalyst for a more engaging episode this week, something with as much potential weight as that final encounter last week. To the episode’s credit, though, at least Juice winds up in the hands of those who can make something happen. It’s just too bad that it takes almost 90 minutes of shooting, deal-making, leather-on-leather hugging to reach that point.

Despite the sense that the narrative has essentially stalled, ‘Smoke ’em If You Got ’em’ does its best to push things along with more scenes of people being gunned down and their bodies being used to signify some kind of power shift or elicit a dramatic response.

Last week, Lin was on the receiving end of such a response when he discovered Jax was convinced he’d masterminded Tara’s murder. Things became even more awkward when Jax’s quest for vengeance was cut short by the arrival of the cops – further delaying any hope that someone will convincingly call foul on blaming Lin’s crew for something they didn’t do.

And although Lin doesn’t make an appearance here, he’s not forgotten, so there’s still hope he can, in the interest of saving his own life, help direct Jax’s rage toward the person who deserves it.

So far this season, Gemma has skated by unnoticed, playing the role of den mother to the MC while filling Jax’s head full of lies. She’s been cool, only letting what might be considered guilt for killing Tara (with Gemma, who knows whether it’s guilt or not) get the better of her when she’s alone.

And so far, only a lonely truck stop waitress named Gertie (Lea Michele) has been privy any of those one-sided conversations. As always, Gemma puts up a strong front, but here she reveals a crack in her otherwise unflappable demeanor, both with Gertie and when she finds out Nero’s been locked in a Mayan closet with Juice for part of the day and they weren’t playing seven minutes in heaven.

The cast of Sons of Anarchy in Sons of Anarchy season 7 episode 6 Sons of Anarchy: A Friendly Little Fight

It’s not a lot for anyone to go on, but if anyone is going to figure out what’s going on between Juice and Gemma, Nero might be the best guy for the job. And frankly, it doesn’t matter who figures out what, so long as something points the proverbial bike in the direction it needs to be heading.

In that sense, there’s plenty of road ahead, leading to the inevitable confrontation between Jax and Gemma where one or both of them stands a good chance of winding up dead. When the time comes, that will likely be an exciting moment for all those who have invested so much time in these characters over the past six-and-a-half seasons.

But right now, it feels like a distant spot on the horizon and no one’s getting there because they’re all locked in an all-too familiar holding pattern.

Sons of Anarchy continues next Tuesday with ‘Greensleeves’ @10pm on FX.

Photos: Byron Cohen/FX

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