All it takes is a couple of neo-Nazis to make a motorcycle club looks angelic, and the introduction of baddies Adam Arkin and Henry Rollins add an unseemly but compelling element to FX’s revved up “Sons of Anarchy.” As for exec producer Kurt Sutter, what he puts real-life wife Katey Sagal through in the premiere is ripe for years of marriage counseling.
As the second season begins, Opie (Ryan Hurst) is still devastated by his wife’s murder, a killing that was supposed to be perpetrated on him after Sons leader Clay (Ron Perlman) thought Opie had betrayed the gang to the feds.
Opie’s closest confident is Jax (Charlie Hunnam), and the relationship between Jax and Clay — the two are often at odds over the club’s direction — gives a more sympathetic edge to Jax, who would like to see the Sons avert violence except when necessary.
Hunnam sometimes suffers from not having enough of an on-screen presence — possibly because he’s not as physically imposing as several of his co-stars.
For a show where emotions are muted behind the crackling of leather jackets and high decibels of highway-bound Harleys, the relationships between Clay and wife Gemma (Sagal) feels genuine, as does the renewed passion of Jax and high school g.f. Tara (Maggie Siff).
While the Sons sometimes disagree about the best way to feed the club’s coffers in a world where gun running doesn’t pay as well as it once did, they unite in their disdain for Arkin and Rollins’ white supremacists. Evidently, even hardened criminals don’t want to be labeled racists.
The two demand the club stop selling weapons to minorities. When Clay doesn’t comply, they seek revenge — only not against him, causing fallout that ripples through subsequent episodes.
Sutter, a writer and producer on “The Shield,” fully understands the power of violence in getting a point across, yet the premiere’s closing sequence runs a very fine line between demonstrating the neo-Nazis’ brutality and a gratuitous display.
If that scene and another in which Opie’s slashes open the chest of a rival club member are any indication of the season to come, subtlety won’t be riding a hog anytime soon.