Sons of Anarchy is a lot of things, but a romance is not one category I think of first. So it was all the more startling to realize that last night’s episode, titled “Service,” had as its core the relationship between Gemma and Clay.

Yes, there were many other satisfying moments. If there’s one thing Sons gets you in the mood for, it’s experiencing some cathartic revenge. After Clay and Jax made their gruff apologies to each other (“I’m sorry, son”; “I am, too”), there was a moment when I sorta hoped they and the rest of SAMCRO would hop on their bikes and do some awful things to Zobelle and his League as repayment for Gemma’s gang-rape — only the worst of the many things Zobelle has caused. Jax probably spoke for all of us when he expressed his wish: “We kill them all.”

But it proved equally satisfying (and do I have to say here, SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE?) to have Clay and Jax also agree that now was not yet the time to attack Zobelle’s bunch until SAMCRO takes the full measure of Zobelle’s threat, and plans more cagily to take the enemy down without also landing the SAMCRO organization in jail in the process. This is exquisite torture for us as viewers, but smart storytelling on the part of creator Kurt Sutter and his writers: They know what we want, and are going to withhold it a bit longer. Fine, you clever devils.

The hour was crammed with all sorts of small accumulating details: Tara getting suspended for keeping Chibs from being discharged or transferred from the hospital; the terrific moment when Unser said to Hale, “Consider yourself deputy chief,” so that Hale could flex a bit more power; and — this was a big one — Tig admitting to Opie that he killed Donna, even though it was done in error.

Also hypnotic: the quiet dialogue between Jax and Opie about one ultimate goal that even SAMCRO’s new unification can’t stop — Jax’s fundamental belief that Clay has to be removed as leader of the club. “Clay is Clay because of us,” Jax observes shrewdly. “So how do we un-make him?” asks Opie. Jax: “I been trying to figure that out.” Think he will before the season’s over? Me, I’m not sure…

At any rate, let me circle back to the beginning: Clay and Gemma. Gemma’s blunt assessment of the fall-out from her admission that she’d been raped — “Clay’s never gonna want to be inside soemthing that’s been ripped up like me… He’ll find another; that’s what [men] do” — was brutally honest, almost too much to hear. “I’m not sure how much service I am to anyone,” Gemma had said to the priest, uttering the word that gave the episode its title. (Well, she was almost of service to Tig, who’s heading down a bad road in reaching out to Gemma for affection, and in general becoming a depressed, guilty, forlorn man.)

And so when the episode culminated in Clay and Gemma having sex, making love, the moment didn’t seem at all melodramatic or false. It just confirmed what we know about Sons of Anarchy: That no matter what subject matter it approaches, it does so with a go-for-broke, heightened realism that few TV shows can match.

What did you think of last night’s Sons of Anarchy? Can there only be two episodes left this season? How soon before Zobelle gets what’s coming to him?