There's no crying in outlaw biker gangs, right?
As Sons of Anarchy roars back for its third season, the leather-clad, gun-running testosterone that has fueled the series takes a bit of a backseat to resolving last season's cliff-hanger: the abduction of Jax's infant son, Abel.
"I just wanted to begin the season showing the emotional devastation of that," creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter tells TVGuide.com. "Even though these guys navigate in a fairly dangerous world, ultimately what happened to Jax is not in the outlaw handbook."
When the show resumes, Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is so crushed that he can barely lift himself from the floor to bathe. And even though his fellow club members understand his grief, they also grow frustrated at his lack of interest in retaliation. "We're playing with the idea that perhaps Jax is too deep a thinker and perhaps too sensitive for this lifestyle," Sutter says.
And the club isn't the only support system Jax turns his back on. Rather than accept any comfort from girlfriend Tara (Maggie Siff), Jax insists that she leave Charming, so as to remove herself from any further danger.
"I know it's really difficult for couples who go through a tragedy like this. Whether it's losing a child or whatever it may be, the majority of couples don't make it, and I think I just needed to acknowledge that with the two of them," Sutter says.
"I think they're both struggling with their level of guilt for what happened," Sutter continues. "Ultimately Jax can barely wrap his brain around what's happened to his kid, and the idea that he suddenly is responsible for other lives, including Tara, is just something he can't deal with. It's really a selfish act — although he feels he's doing it to for her own good, he's really just doing it to protect himself."
Meanwhile, Jax's mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal) is on the lam after committing one murder and being framed for another. But news that her mother has died pulls her back home to check on her dementia-suffering father (guest-star Hal Holbrook). "It was an interesting way to bring Gemma back to those childhood emotional arcs and to see some of what made her who she is," Sutter says of the character's detour.
Ironically, it's Clay (Ron Perlman), who Jax butted heads with throughout Season 2, who puts things in perspective for Jax. And in the premiere's final scene, Jax's pent-up rage finally comes surging out. "There's something unleashed in Jax, and it's very scary," Siff says. "And that really is what fuels the whole season: the adrenaline and the unleashed terror and anxiety about reclaiming this child."
The journey to find Abel leads Jax and the rest of the club to Belfast, Ireland, where they reconnect with past adversary Jimmy O'Phelan (Titus Welliver) and some new characters, including a priest (James Cosmo) and one of Jax's father's former lovers (Paula Malcomson).
It's in Ireland that Sutter's true vision for Season 3 — an exploration of three generations of Tellers — takes root.
"[I wanted] to draw some of the parallels between Jax and his father," Sutter says. "As we dive into the back half of the season, we'll begin to reveal a little bit of the mythology of Jax's dad and who he was and some of the events that were part of his life that will ultimately come back to haunt Jax. ... Maybe stuff that knocks him off the pedestal for Jax a bit."
Sons of Anarchy premieres Tuesday at 10/9c on FX.