Charlie Hunnam, Sons of Anarchy

A lot can change in 14 months. And for the members of the motorcycle club at the heart of FX's Sons of Anarchy, the time that has passed between seasons may spell the end of SAMCRO forever.

Fall Preview: Get scoop on all your favorite returning shows

The end of Season 3 found Jax (Charlie Hunnam), Clay (Ron Perlman) and several other club members heading to prison to serve their plea deal sentence. Though the Season 4 premiere (Tuesday, 10/9c, FX) opens with the club's year-later release, they emerge changed men. And, no, we're not just talking about Jax's haircut.

"Jax has had a lot of time to think about the last three years of his life," creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter tells TVGuide.com. "He is perhaps a guy that thinks too deeply for this life. I think that becomes clear this season in terms of where his goals are and what his plan is."

Without spoiling too much, Sutter says the plan is basically to ensure that Jax and his Old Lady, Tara (Maggie Siff), are able to escape Charming and give their newly expanded family a shot at a non-outlaw future. That effort will be complicated by the fact that Tara has a pile of letters written by Jax's father that could implicate Clay and Jax's mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), in the death of Jax's father.

Why Sons of Anarchy boss Kurt Sutter quit Twitter

Jax's potential exit from SAMCRO is also hindered by his respect for the brotherhood. "There is a part of him that at least wants to leave club whole," Sutter says. "He doesn't want to leave the club in chaos nor does he want to bail on the club like he believes his father has bailed on the club. Jax is a little bit of an idealist and it's probably his tragic flaw. He has these ideals that he strives for that ultimately are antithetical to the lifestyle.  It's hard for things to work out OK."

Surprisingly, Jax's plans don't meet instant resistance from Clay. But that's only because Clay's increasingly debilitating arthritis has him mulling his own SAMCRO endgame. "There is that sense of, 'F*** man, I've given my life to this organization, and I'm basically left with bad hands, an empty bank account and a 20-page rap sheet,'" Sutter says. "[Clay] really sees the finish line now and he doesn't ... want to be sick and miserable, sitting at the other end of that table with really nothing to show for it.  He's taking steps so that doesn't happen."

One of those steps involves taking on new business that certain members believe could doom the club forever. "Everyone will have a strong point of view about where they're going and leadership will be tested," Sutter says. "Trust and bonds will be tested."

Sons of Anarchy exclusive: Rockmond Dunbar is the new sheriff in town

But that won't necessarily deter Clay. "I don't think he really worries so much about the consequences," Sutter says. "It's sort of that military thing, which is you go in and you do your job and you can't get attached to the casualties. Quite honestly, it's part of why he's a good leader, because he is able to make those decisions based on goals rather than perhaps the ramifications."

Unlike seasons past, however, Clay's decisions won't be overlooked by local law enforcement. With former sheriff Unser (Datyon Callie) now sidelined with his cancer, SAMCRO must learn to maneuver around Charming's new lawman, Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar). But Sutter hints that the new sheriff might not be as uncompromising as he first seems.

"[He] knows that gangs aren't going away, that they're a product of this society and that you ultimately have to figure out how to live with these guys," Sutter says. "The truth is that all these clubs have to figure out how to carve out the relationship with law enforcement so they're not killing each other and innocents don't get caught in the crossfire."

And crossfire there will be, which Sutter says may ultimately ruin Jax's plans. "His hand is going to be forced much sooner and much more brutally than he had ever imagined," he teases.

Sons of Anarchy's fourth season premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on FX. Watch the first four minutes of the premiere below: