The first season of the FX series Sons of Anarchy started out strong, building up momentum until it reached its high point two or three episodes from the season finale. The second season picks up where the first left off; in terms of both story and emotional energy that propels the story. And in much the same way the first season built to an unrelenting fever pitch of violence and brutal emotions, so too does the second season.
Set in the fictional small Northern California town of Charming, Sons of Anarchy chronicles the lives and exploits of a motorcycle club that operates a volatile criminal empire within the otherwise sleepy little town. The leader of SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) is Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman), an aging warrior who inherited the leadership reigns after the death of founding member John Teller years earlier. Clay also inherited John's wife, Gemma (Katey Sagal), and her son Jax (Charlie Hunnam), the vice president of the motorcycle club, and heir apparent to the criminal empire. All of this is established in the first season, along with the fact that Jax, now a father to a newborn baby son, has begun to question the violent world in which he lives in. An unpublished manuscript of his father's autobiography speaks to Jax like the voice of a ghost from beyond the grave, setting into motion and new found sense of purpose that puts him at odds with Clay. The rift between Jax and Clay is torn wide open when Opie (Ryan Hurst), Jax's best friend, is set up by ATF Agent June Stahl (Ally Walker) as an informant. In reality, Opie is not an informant, but Clay thinks otherwise, and orders his death. In a cruel twist of circumstance, Opie's life is spared when Donna, his innocent wife, is accidentally gunned down by Tig (Kim Coates), Clay's mad dog enforcer. As the first season ends at Donna's funeral, SAMCRO is on the verge of being torn apart.
Season Two of Sons of Anarchy starts off in the wake of Donna's murder. Tensions are running high, and loyalties are divided, as Jax keeps his knowledge of who committed the murder and who ordered the hit a secret. While Jax is calculating his next move and trying to keep SAMCRO from falling apart, Clay attempts to reestablish the club's gun-running enterprise through his connections with the IRA. Things become even more complicated when a white separatists movement led by Ethan Zobelle (Adam Arkin) sets up shop in Charming. Zobelle, along with his chief enforcer, Weston (Henry Rollins), issue a warning to SAMCRO that the gang's days of dealing weapons to black and Mexican gangs have come to an end. Ignoring the threats of Zobelle, Clay promises that business will go on as usual. In an effort to shake up the Sons of Anarchy, a group of masked men led by Weston kidnap Gemma, and proceed to beat and gang rape her, telling her after the fact that the worst is yet to come if SAMCRO doesn't stop dealing guns. And all of this happens in the first episode of the second season.
The first season lays the groundwork for what is to come over the following twelve episodes of SOA. Devastated by the attack, Gemma--the matriarch of the SAMCRO kingdom--begins to fall apart. In her weakened state, no one is there to smooth over the tension between Jax and Clay, and the power struggle between begins to worsen. Making matters worse is the fact that Opie, emotionally broken by the death of Donna, sides with Clay, unaware that the gang leader is responsible for the death of his wife. Meanwhile, Zobelle and his white supremacist flunkies begin their systematic attacks on SAMCRO, who are caught unaware at every turn. Jax forms a partnership with the wife of a jailed member of the club, which leads the gang into the porn business, and into a violent rivalry with an unscrupulous producer (Tom Arnold). And if all of this isn't enough, Zobelle manages to muscle in on the club's gun-running business, which attracts the attention of the calculating Agent Stahl.
Loosely based on Shakespeare's Hamlet, Sons of Anarchy spent the first season creating a world in which SAMCRO lives and operates. Relationships were established and were introduced, often wide brush strokes to define them. The second season is spent defining the characters with much finer detail, especially the supporting cast. With Jax and Clay already well established in the first season, the second season concentrates more heavily on others, including Gemma, who was already pretty well defined in the first season, but was destroyed this time around, only to end the second season in a state of limbo. The corrupt police chief Unser (Dayton Callie) takes on a more pivotal role as a surrogate father figure for Gemma, when he finds her beaten and raped, and agrees to not tell anyone what happened. The terminally ill Unser's loyalties to SAMCRO and his commitment to upholding the law make him a complex character, but no less so than his deputy Hale (Taylor Sheridan), who is caught up in Zobelle's attempts to take over Charming, and his desire to keep his beloved town safe. For Hale, who can't stand SAMCRO, he must decide between the lesser of two evils.
Running for a total of thirteen episodes, Sons of Anarchy: Season Two, crams a ton of story and subplots into a relatively limited number of episodes. In addition to the larger story of the rift between Jax and Clay, and the battle against Zobelle and crew, there are side stories dealing with Jax's girlfriend, Tara (Maggie Siff), and her problems on the job, Opie and his budding relationship with a performer from the porn business that is now part of the SAMCRO empire, and Agent Stahl returning to Charming to bust up the IRA side of the gun-running business. All in all, each episode is packed with story and character development, and as a whole, Season Two is a bit stronger than Season One. The show and its cast and creators are in a comfortable groove with this season, where instead of establishing the world of Sons of Anarchy, they are instead running around and exploring it.
Season Two ends in something of a bloodbath and culminates in multiple cliffhangers. If the show continues at the pace if has already established, Season Three will be a doozy. Fans of the first season will not be disappointed with Season Two, and though watching the first season is highly recommended, the shows creators do a solid job of recapping past events with exposition that never seems clunky or contrived. This means that you can skip Season One if you feel so inclined, but ultimately it takes that first season to really appreciate how well-crafted the second season is.