Betrayals pile up like dead bodies and suspicion flows like blood as FX's "Sons of Anarchy" (9 p.m. Sept. 6, FX; 3.5 stars) begins its fourth season. But that's life in Charming, Calif., home of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original (SAMCRO), and its crowded list of enemies.
After 14 months in prison, several members of the club come home to Charming, but things are not as the Sons left them. Land-grabbing Mayor Jacob Hale (Jeff Kober) has pushed through a housing development on land the club used for its criminal enterprises. The new sheriff, Eli Roosevelt (Rockmond Dunbar), is not an ally to the Sons like former police chief Wayne Unser (Dayton Callie) was. And the feds, in the form of assistant district attorney Lincoln Potter (Ray McKinnon), are snooping around again.
The first person we see Tuesday is Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), awaiting his release and no doubt missing his "old lady," Tara (Maggie Siff),and his sons. It's an appropriate opener, because when you strip away subplots about kidnapped babies and Irish connections (which, by the way, I didn't think diminished Season 3), you're left with the show's underlying theme: family.
And things aren't looking good for Jax's SAMCRO family. Founded by his now dead father, John Teller, and run by his step dad, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), who is married to Jax's mom, Gemma (Katey Sagal), the club is in turmoil.
Clay, realizing his hold over the Sons can't last forever, advocates a divisive, dangerous mission and new alliance. Tara has been reading John Teller's letters and thus digging up old, damning secrets. Jax has had a lot of time to think about the future with SAMCRO while in prison.
"I think you were put into my life to get me out," he tells Tara. "The bond that holds the club together is not brotherhood; it's just fear and greed now."
In order to fully appreciate "SOA," viewers have to buy into Sutter's premise that murderers can be sympathetic and heroic, but that's not hard to do with such intelligent writing and so many mesmerizing performances. (Special mention goes to the remarkable Callie, whose every word as cancer-stricken Unser weeps sadness and regret.)
As appalling as Jax's murderous actions have and no doubt will be, he's fighting to give his family a better life, and there is nothing criminal about that.