Is Jax Teller actually the worst president in SAMCRO history or is he just an unfortunate victim of TV writers trapped in a twisted competition of "Look how far I can go!" absurdities?

I spent most of this week's "Sons of Anarchy" wondering why the heck the powers that be chose this episode to follow with one of only three "Anarchy Afterwords" online talk shows scheduled for this season. For much of the running time "The Mad King" is pretty snoozy stuff (if overlong, as usual). Aside from Jax trying to track down Galen and Connor -- in an effort to make peace, not war -- it's an episode rather light on action, and heavy on dull conversations doing little to move that action forward (or develop the characters, like the good old days).

There's the grotesquely "outrageous" centerpiece sequence involving two perverse prison guards forcing Gemma and Clay to have sex while they watch, and at least that made me feel something. I felt angry and cheap and used, to be specific, as if Kurt Sutter himself was a prison guard standing in my living room and forcing me to watch. It's a twist straight out of a bottom-of-the-barrel '70s exploitation movie and was executed with a comparable level of credibility. I won't even pretend to know why anyone thought it was a *good* idea, but I suppose it was time to drum up some manufactured tension between Nero and Gemma (as opposed to, you know, the legitimate tension that already exists in their differing life goals) and remind us that Clay and Gemma together is probably part of the show's endgame in some form or another, no matter how totally screwed up their mutually destructive relationship is. And because "Sons" loves to set up sleazy characters before knocking them off in a suitably grisly manner (see most recently: Toric), I'm sure the guards will pay for their sins and wind up dead by the end of the season -- even though Gemma made a reasonable argument to Clay about why he should let it go -- because that's the show's M.O.

Otherwise there wasn't much worth delving into this week ... until that ending. No matter how much Jax wants peace with the Irish, he's already doomed himself -- and the club -- to war. The Irish dropped a bomb, yo! The clubhouse exploded! Apparently everyone made it out in time (including Jax cradling Abel -- that poor, poor kid) but oh man are they gonna be pissed!

On one hand, it's nice to see Jax face some consequences for his actions and failure to realize he was in way over his head in dealing with the Irish. One of the episode's best scenes was Chibs confronting Jax and ripping the pouty president a new one for not keeping his VP (or anyone else) in the loop about what was going on.

On the other, I'm actively rooting for Jax to fail in every single episode now and I'm not sure that's the intention. The writers have clearly set him up for a fall, and they're not afraid to send their protagonist down a path illustrating how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Jax thought he was removing a cancer from the club by overthrowing Clay, only to became the club's new cancer. That's obvious, but now what? We can't really debate whether or not Jax is a good dude. He's a monster. And there's no Walter White-esque tragedy here in watching a man unleash his inner demons.

Jax is a selfish, spoiled brat who has also proven himself to be a surprisingly incompetent leader. So terrible stuff will keep happening with no real sense or stakes or logic beyond what the writers dream up. A stronger show could make hay of the unpredictability and ridiculousness of its plotting, and make us wonder if Jax has become a legitimate danger to himself. Sadly, Jax is the one sleazeball the show has to stick with until the end. It's not reassuring.

The only interesting wrinkle in where this might be heading lies in Tara's continued efforts to get the kids out of biker gangland hell. It seems like a safe bet that her plan will go down in flames, because that's what usually happens. But how far can she get before it does? And will Gemma somehow sway Wendy to her side without even realizing what Tara's plotting?

At this point, Abel has almost died so many times that only an idiot would claim he's better off in Charming or anywhere in the vicinity of daddy and grandma. Unfortunately, there's plenty of idiots to go around.

Odds and ends:

- Tyne Patterson is determined to pick up right where Toric left off in pursuing Nero, the Byz Lats and SAMCRO. But so far she only seems interested to make them the fall guys for the school shooting, which likely means she's doomed to fail. And the role is looking more and more like a waste of C.C.H. Pounder's talents.

- Last week Roosevelt seemed plenty suspicious of shady Toric. But now that Toric's dead, he's moving full speed ahead on charging Nero with a crime he didn't commit. Is it just pressure from Patterson, or does Roosevelt not see what's really going on here? Either way, the uneasy dynamic between Jimmy Smits and Rockmond Dunbar was the best thing in the whole episode.

- Two episodes now without Bobby Elvis and his nomads. Hopefully they get a big payoff soon.

- Whatever the intention, all I could think of when the SAMCRO clubhouse exploded was crazy Kimberly blowing up the apartment complex on the third season finale of "Melrose Place," which was the peak of the '90s soap's over-the-top insanity. It was all downhill after that.