Mandi Bierly
September 07, 2010 AT 07:51 PM EDT

Image Credit: Prashant GuptaSons of Anarchy returns tonight to FX (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET). Haven’t tuned in before? Catch up with the three-minute video primer below. You won’t regret it. Season 3 finds the motorcycle club, which runs the town of Charming, Calif., and guns, facing trouble in every direction. They’re looking for Abel, the eight-month-old son of emotionally-wrecked Jax (Charlie Hunnam) who was kidnapped in last year’s finale by a member of the IRA who believed Jax’s mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), had killed his son. Gemma is on the lam after being framed for the murder by ATF Agent Stahl (Ally Walker). With the club showing that even they’re vulnerable — and a shocking act of violence in the final moment of tonight’s premiere — Charming and its police chief (Dayton Callie) begin to question whether the Sons can keep them safe. We caught up with creator Kurt Sutter for a look at what’s to come:

• The premiere picks up a few days after Abel’s been taken. “Jax is really where we saw him last with the devastation of losing that kid. That ultimately is his struggle coming into Season 3, his journey through that loss and the need and the motivation to find his son,” Sutter says. The club will run the scenarios of where Abel might be and figure out what action needs to be taken — with each episode essentially being the next day in the search. “So it’s really dropping into these characters’ lives at the emotional crux of a very intense period. Like last season, which covered the whole arc with Gemma and the reveal [of her rape], it probably covered maybe four or five weeks in time. This season will be even tighter,” Sutter says. “The entire season will only span a matter of weeks. As a result of that, at the very least, the emotional ramifications of that child being gone will absolutely play through the entire season. It’s about the day-to-day of it.” Is there really a chance that baby Abel won’t be returned? “I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say regardless of what the outcome is, whether it’s getting the baby or not getting the baby, what I do is look at my characters and say, ‘What’s the best emotional journey I can take them on?’ Not say, ‘Well, I can’t do that because people won’t like it,’ or ‘I can’t do that because you can’t kill off an infant on TV.’ I try not to live by those perimeters, and I’m supported by a network that embraces that. Whatever the most interesting and diverse and unexpected outcome is, that’s the story I want to tell.”

• The season dives into the mythology of the club by taking some of the action to Belfast, where an internal IRA conflict between the Sons’ Irish contact Jimmy O (Titus Welliver) and the priest (James Cosmo) who serves as consigliere to the cause mirrors last season’s battle between Jax and his stepfather, club president Clay (Ron Perlman). We’ll learn how the Sons got into running guns and whether Jax’s late father should be on as high a pedestal as Jax places him.

• We’ll also uncover more of Gemma’s history when we meet her father (Hal Holbrook). “Every once in a while you have a wish list, and you’re lucky enough to get the people at the top,” Sutter says of casting Holbrook. “I had the notion of doing this little arc with Gemma, and her being on the lam and where was she gonna go, and I knew I wanted to introduce her father in this episode and see what that relationship was like. I had a couple of phone conversations with Hal and we sat down and talked, and he’s just an awesome guy, a very soulful guy. This interesting thing happened: My wife lost her dad really young, and Hal would have been a peer of her dad’s. She just kind of fell in love with Hal. It was nice because it really comes across on the screen.”

• Jax’s relationship with Tara (Maggie Siff) continues its bumpy ride: “Again, the emotional ramifications of what’s happened to Jax and Tara [who was with Abel and club prospect Half-Sack, who died trying to stop the abduction], I think that’s a really difficult thing for any couple to get through, and as a result, it’s gonna be shaky for them. They’re both gonna struggle with not their love for each other — I think that’s pretty solid — but Jax is gonna struggle with ‘Is it a good thing or a bad thing that she’s here?’ And Tara’s gonna struggle with ‘Why am I here? Why am I drawn to this guy?’ Tara’s trying to figure out how she fits in this world, and Jax is trying to figure out if he indeed has the right to ask her to be part of it.”

• Chief Unser’s loyalty to Clay gets tested: “Their relationship has always been about keeping Charming safe. It’s why Unser’s in bed with the outlaws. Events have happened in Charming that Clay can no longer manage or control. Ultimately, Unser is really forced be a cop, and he decides he can’t be in their corner,” Sutter says. “The violence that happens in the premiere episode will resonate throughout the season.”

• Want to know about that awesome tease in the season 3 trailer of motorcycles buzzing a man buried to his head in the ground? Don’t ask Sutter. “I’m really not happy that was in the promo,” Sutter says with a laugh. “It’s the ongoing battle that you have with the promotions department on the show: Yes, you want to tease people. Yes, you want them showing up. But it’s difficult for me when I see revelatory things that happen in episodes ending up in two-second sound bites in a promotion that ultimately, I feel, undermines the power within the episode. I don’t want to talk about it, I’d rather just have people watch it and try to enjoy it.” Can we ask about Gemma punching a woman in the face in the trailer? “Well, Gemma punching, you know, that happens pretty much once or twice a season,” he says. “It’s a woman you meet in episode 1.”

• Expect the season 3 finale to have more closure than season 2’s. “Not to get arty here, but if I’m looking at potentially six or seven seasons of the show, I feel like the end of season 3 is perhaps the end of the first act. So I think it will feel a little more complete, and definitely not as open-ended as perhaps season 2,” Sutter says. “I know some of the fans were disappointed that Zobelle [Adam Arkin, as season 2’s arch-villain] didn’t end up in a hole somewhere. But the reality is those guys get away. It was important to me to not tie that up. Those guys are pretty devastating, miserable people, and our guys are outlaws. They’re not master criminals. They’re guys that think with their guts and do things with their hands. They were sort of outclassed by a rival like Zobelle, and ultimately, it wouldn’t have been true to have that guy suffer his fate at their hands.”

• Get over the Emmy snubs, fans. He has. Sutter made no secret of his disappointment that his deserving wife, Katey Sagal, didn’t receive a nod this year, but he’s past it. “What I think ended up happening is that both Katey and I started believing the hype. She was on everyone’s list, and you try to stay removed but it’s hard. You get sucked into it so that you ultimately then can’t help but be disappointed. For me, I’m more pissed off at myself that I got sucked in and I was disappointed than I was disappointed. You know what I mean? Because I’m so used to not getting any Emmy love from being on The Shield for seven seasons,” he says. “Ultimately you chill out and it doesn’t really matter.”

For scoop on all the best shows, pick up Entertainment Weekly’s Fall TV preview issue on stands Sept. 10.

Read more: Ken Tucker reviews Sons of Anarchy

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