“You love the man. You learn to love the club.” - Gemma Teller

Last year Sons of Anarchy was one of television’s true surprise gems. The FX drama focused on the members of a violent (and very mafia-like) motorcycle gang. With story arc, action, deception and suspense that very closely resembles a Shakespearean play (with a lot more booze and guns) FX proved it can continue to turn out hard-hitting dramas.

Picking up where the premiere season left off, The Sons of Anarchy (SAMCRO) are in turmoil. The ATF is still on their backs. The gun business has dried up. They face threats to their stability unlike anything they have seen before. But, most importantly, the gang is divided. Jax Teller remains at the center of this division. He knows his stepfather and gang leader Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) is responsible for the death of a SAMCRO member’s wife, but Jax must decide whether to put his club’s, his family’s or his friend’s interests first.

The conflict doesn’t stop with Jax. Division is a central theme of Season Two. Each character struggles with his/her own internal strife. Clay must decide how to best handle a son-in-law he loves but who has begun to question authority. Tara, Jax’s doctor girlfriend, wonders if she is ready to handle the life of loving an outlaw. Deputy Chief Hale is at moral odds about how to best rid Charming of SAMCRO. And Gemma Teller (played by an absolutely brilliant Katey Sagal) faces a horror that threatens to bring down more than just her family.

It’s fitting that this season begins with the entire gang taking target practice using semi automatic guns while others in Charming, California go about their family duties. In essence, Sons of Anarchy is about family and loyalty. And while it’s a far cry from the idea of a husband, wife, two kids and a dog, the bonds and tension that exist between Jax, Clay, Gemma , the rest of the crew and their loved ones speak to what we value in those we love. Season Two puts those bonds to the ultimate test as the Sons take on threats from all fronts.

Sons of Anarchy cuts very few corners and pushes the idea of cable broadcasting regulations to the absolute breaking point. The show hits hard, is brutal and does not apologize for its characters or their motivations. The Sons of Anarchy run guns. They are bad guys. They do bad things. They kill. They cheat on their significant others. They supply guns to violent gangs and paramilitary groups. But we still root for them. They are the anti-heroes we worship despite their inherent evil. It’s the same reason we cheered for Tony Soprano and Vic Mackey. We love the bad guys. We especially love them when we feel that, in their hearts, they are just good people who choose to do bad things for their morally justified reasons.

In Season One, SAMCRO dealt with rival gangs: the Mayans and the Nords. In Season Two they come in direct contact and conflict with the Aryan Brotherhood. Led by Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin) and his muscle AJ Weston (Henry Rollins), they present a threat to SAMCRO much beyond the usual turf wars over guns and drugs. They want to take down the Sons from the inside. They are ruthless, determined and willing to go to horrific lengths to accomplish their end game: crush the Sons of Anarchy. Arkin and Rollins bring something entirely new to the show. They play the calculating and evil foil to SAMCRO’s calculation and evil. They play classic villains. Basically they are the bad guys who are worse than the bad guys we cheer for.

From the first episode, Sons of Anarchy does not let you forget what you are watching: a world where the characters live with perpetual violence and pain. They are caught in a vicious cycle that offers little hope for salvation. But this struggle is what makes the show among the best television has to offer. It is gripping, moving, difficult and redeeming.

Sons of Anarchy premieres Tuesday September 8th on FX

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