Gemma: "Not a lot of grey in this life sweetheart. Extremes become average."
Tara: "I'm not sure I find that comforting."
Gemma: "You're not supposed to."

"Sons of Anarchy" certainly went to extremes this week. From a jaw-dropping bit of stunt casting so ridiculous you had to love it, to a tragic burst of violence too predictable by half, "Orca Shrugged" wasn't lacking in big events. But the problem of making a show that lives on extremes is that those extremes can become average. And while this episode was an improvement over last week, it still wasn't anything special.

Except, perhaps, in every minute Walton Goggins was on screen as transsexual prostitute Venus van Damme. From the boobs to the hair to the ass-less latex get-up, seeing Shane Vendrell/Boyd Crowder like this is probably the last thing any "Sons" fan or avid FX viewer ever expected. The show did a great job of ensuring the cameo would be a surprise by not announcing it in advance, including it in any publicity or even listing Goggins' name in the opening credits.

As Goggins proudly pranced around the room, pulling off the neat trick of both embracing the character's camp value and taking her completely seriously at the same time, several of the "Sons" regulars could barely contain their laughter -- which worked in the context of the scene. The convoluted reason Venus was there -- to pose for photos to use as blackmail material so a member of city council would help put Jacob Hale Jr.'s Charming Heights project back on track -- hardly even mattered. It was just a completely silly sequence that everyone on both sides of the camera was clearly having fun with. And like a sequence out of a smutty Marx Brothers parody, it kept piling crazy on top of crazy.

First, Marshall Allman (also of "Justified," as well as "True Blood" and "Prison Break") showed up as the councilman's stepson who idolizes SAMCRO and winds up in a compromising position of his own. Then the comatose councilman woke up and flew into a rage, screaming like a madman and biting off a chunk of Tig's butt. Cue Kim Coates' punchline: "Why does this always happen to me?" (Wocka wocka!) As if that wasn't enough, there was a follow-up scene of Tig with his pants down on the table in SAMCRO's meeting room while Tara tried to stitch him up. (I'm pretty sure this episode set a series record for gratuitous and unsightly male nudity.)

There was nothing silly about the return of Sheriff Roosevelt's wife Rita (Merle Dandridge), who we haven't seen since Season 4's finale. The couple's struggle with infertility was revealed last season, and "Orca Shrugged" followed up on that with the news that she's pregnant. It was easy to tell from the way the show made such a big deal about this piece of information that Rita wasn't destined for a safe, happy pregnancy. Sure enough, just a few scenes later she was attacked by the home invaders, pulled out a gun for self defense and wound up shot in the stomach. It was a clumsy bit of set-up and payoff all around, but hopefully something that gets us one big step closer to bringing this tedious home invasion business out into the open.

The other major item on the episode's agenda was bringing Gemma back down to earth. She's been verging on cartoon villainy so far this season -- lashing out at anyone and everyone in her way -- but there seemed to be a deliberate choice to remind us of her vulnerability throughout this hour. It was there in her discussion with Nero about why he's not returning her calls, in her heartfelt plea to Jax not to shut her out ("You can't hate me Jackson. You're the only thing I still love."), and in her reconciliatory conversation with Tara about the hard life of being a SAMCRO old lady. Sometimes the hot-and-cold rivalry between these two is tiresome, and sometimes it's actually sort of touching. Tonight was a move in the right direction.


For the rest of SAMCRO, though, it was mostly just running in place.

Odds and ends:

- Another week without Harold Perrineau as Damon Pope. I'm still holding out hope the show will flesh him out beyond uber-villain status, but maybe I should lower my expectations.

- The bare knuckle brawl between Jax and Galen O'Shay made me wonder if anyone on the "Sons" staff was influenced by the documentary "Knuckle." (That wouldn't be a bad thing.)

- Was it just me, or was Walton Goggins a more convincing sex worker than Ashley Tisdale and Winter Ave Zoli combined? At least he wasn't prettier.

What did you think of the episode?