Previously, on Sons of Anarchy … A bunch of white supremacists picked the wrong town to move into (Charming, California) and the wrong lady to gang-rape* (Gemma Teller Morrow), then spent their brief tenure in the San Joaquin county hamlet learning to regret those strategic missteps.
Also: Agent Stahl -- whom you will all remember as having an ambition-to-competence ratio of approximately 100:1 -- managed to badly bungle a plan to take down the IRA's Northern California operations. She shoots an IRA informer, Edmond Hayes, then manages to pin the murder on Gemma (who was there to murder Edmond's girlfriend, Polly, the White Supremacist's Daughter).
Unsurprisingly, Edmond's dad does not take news of his son's murder well. Clay sums it up quite accurately with: "Cameron [Hayes] killed Half-Sack and took my grandson because Stahl lied and framed Gemma."
So we start this season with Gemma on the lam, Abel off-screen with a grief-crazed IRA gunrunner, and the SAMCRO regulars up to their eyebrows in all sorts of legal trouble. Here's what happens in the Season 3 premiere:
SAMCRO's managed to get Gemma out of California, and she's parked in a motel up near the Rogue river in Oregon with a few local riders and Tig to keep her safe. Clay makes the call to keep the news of Abel's kidnapping from Gemma, reasoning that, should Gemma find out what's happened, she's likely to head back to California, thereby increasing her chances of getting caught.
Even with Gemma unaware of the Abel situation, she's still convinced she needs to get back to California, so she tries to take off. Tig is the voice of reason who stops her first escape attempt. Yeah, swirl that phenomenon around in your head like a fine wine: livestock-molesting, ear-macerating Tig is the voice of cool rationality.
But Gemma's not to be deterred. When she sneaks out of her motel room -- someone needs to tell the SAMCRO boys up in Oregon to pay attention to their surroundings -- and tries to steal an SUV, she's caught by the outraged owner, and when she stabs him, that's when the SAMCRO boys finally realize Gemma's not doing her nails in the hotel room. Tig figures that it will be a lot less stabby for the Emerald State's residents if Gemma gets what she wants, so he agrees to help her head back to her family. First step: visit her newly-bereaved, demented dad. (He's a reverend. Which explains a lot about Gemma's attitudes toward religion.)
Meanwhile, back in Charming …
Jax spends much of the episode in a fog of helpless grief. The SAMCRO regulars have no time for moping around, and they get his ass back on the bike and begin chasing down any leads they can as to Cameron's whereabouts.
However, Jax still manages to steal away for some quality brooding time at his dad's grave. Piney finds him there and tells Jax to get his head together. This gets Jax going, and we find out the real problem: He's having work-life balance issues. It's hard to co-run a motorcycle club when your work insists on breaking into your home and stealing your kid. (Who in corporate America hasn't been there?) Piney's advice? Channel John Teller: "Be loyal, decent. Love the right things."
Tara has to go talk to Stahl about Cameron's baby-napping. That turns out to be the high point of her day: Jax pulls the "I'm no good for you" act and dumps her, then she has a panic attack during a neonatal surgery. But Tara rallies -- at least on the love life front, and tells Jax, "We're just better people when we're with the people we're supposed to be with." Since Jax has spent the last two seasons groping toward a vague-yet-idealized sense of self, the idea of Tara as his ticket to being a better person ultimately convinces him to un-dump her.
(By the way, Cameron and Abel made it to Belfast, and have met his cousin Maureen [played by Paula Malcolmson, thanks to the Laws of Casting that guarantee a minimum number of Deadwood actors on any decent show]. She's now taking care of Abel.)
Then it's time for Half-Sack's wake. Over the coffin, Clay gives Jax his version of the "get your head together" talk, pointing out that Jax is a leader in the club, and that means stepping up as a leader and a father even when he can't imagine doing so. When Clay mentions that John Teller unspooled after his son Thomas's death, Jax mutters, "I'm not my old man."
DING! We have a theme for the season: Whose son is Jax, really? He has Piney counseling him to embrace the best of what John Teller had to offer -- but John Teller is dead, and Clay is alive and doing whatever he can to get the baby he considers his grandson back.
And then the episode ends with a bang -- a van pulls up outside the funeral home and begins shooting. Wounded: Chuckie the masturbating accountant and some bystander's kid. Very likely dead: Hale, who gets taken out by the van when trying to shoot it down. One of the assailants falls out of the van and he's apprehended by the police, but Jax finally snaps, flings away all three officers and beats the guy into the middle of the next episode.
* Not that there is ever really a right lady to gang-rape.
Previously on Sons of Anarchy: Meet the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Originals (SAMCRO), headquartered out of Charming, California. SAMCRO was started by a handful of alienated young men when they came home from serving their country in Vietnam and felt as if their country had no place left for them. One of those men, John Teller, had a sort of hippie-biker thing going; he is now dead, and the club's run by another founding member, Clay Morrow. Clay is nobody's idea of a hippie
Clay's married to John Teller's widow, Gemma. He's made John Teller's son, Jackson "Jax" Teller, the VP of the club. Most of the club members allegedly make their money off the auto body shop they operate, but the real truth is that they run guns, supplying all manner of groups who have their own reasons for not purchasing registered firearms. They also freelance in porn. The Charming police department is not unaware of these goings-on, but there's an informal understanding: SAMCRO keeps the town free of drugs and/or crime, the PD will not ask too many questions.
Hang on -- we're still on the background here.
Moving on to SEASON ONE: Jax becomes a father and it triggers an existential crisis, leading him to question who he is, who his father was, and what the "real" direction of SAMCRO should be. Not helping matters: his mom tries to kill his drug-addicted ex-wife/mother of his child; the former love of his life (Tara) is the neonatal surgeon assigned to his son's medical care; and Tara did not just bring emotional baggage back to Charming, but also an unhinged ex-boyfriend and ATF agent, Kohn. Jax decides against wooing Tara with flowers and skips straight to the part where he just kills her ex before Kohn can rape Tara. Truly, a love story for the ages.
Also: SAMCRO discovers that a sort of informal affirmative action is affecting their chokehold on the gun-running business; they're dealing with some racist thugs (Darby among them) who keep trying to set up a meth lab in town, thereby endangering the gentlemen's agreement twixt town and club; the SAMCRO-friendly police chief (Unser) will be retiring to battle cancer, and his replacement (Hale) is idealistic enough to believe that one does not live with the lesser of two evils, but tries to eliminate all evils. And then the ATF comes in to investigate SAMCRO, and owing to one agent's (Stahl) lethal combination of unearned hubris and incompetence, they manage to set off a chain of events that leaves Jax's BFF (Opie) a widower by Clay's right-hand guy (Tig).