Season two of the FX drama "Sons of Anarchy" is primed to end with bloody payback. It's likely to be pretty.
The Sons, a fierce and fiercely close-knit motorcycle club, are set to wreak havoc on enemy forces that have cut into their outlaw livelihood and horned in on their turf (the curiously named town of Charming, Calif.).
Further upping the ante for the season conclusion (Tuesday at 10 p.m. EST): The club must teach the ultimate lesson to that band of white separatists who, at the season's start, sent the club a message by seizing and raping its matriarch, Gemma Morrow.
Played by Katey Sagal, Gemma is dishy, shrewd and tough as wife to the club's president (Ron Perlman) and mother of its twentysomething rival for the throne (Charlie Hunnam).
But recoiling from the shock and shame of her attack, she has shown viewers a previously unglimpsed vulnerable side.
"This season I had to keep asking myself, 'Who IS she, vulnerable?'" says Sagal. "I had to trust that people are multifaceted, that everybody has different colors. But week by week, I was having to check: 'Where am I with this character?'"
With her long, lean figure and ascendant cheekbones, Sagal first found fame as Peg Bundy, the big-haired, smart-mouthed housewife for 11 seasons on the Fox sitcom "Married... with Children."
For three seasons she starred on the ABC comedy "8 Simple Rules," which was rocked by the sudden death of co-star John Ritter early its second year.
Along the way, she snagged the role voicing sexy one-eyed mutant Leela on the cartoon series "Futurama" (now back in production for Comedy Central, where, next summer, 26 new episodes will supplement the reruns the network is airing).
But with Gemma, Sagal has given life to a character that makes the audience forget those she invented before.
Gemma came into her life thanks to her husband, Kurt Sutter, who created "Sons of Anarchy" after seven seasons as writer and executive producer of FX's landmark cop drama "The Shield."
"He began researching outlaw motorcycle gangs and came up with a great sort of mythology about that world," Sagal explains. "And during that time, he said, 'I have a part for you.' I was excited about it. But I didn't really know what it was. I don't think HE knew what it was."
Despite the initial shortage of details about the show, "I knew it was going to be dark and violent, and I was up for that." Sagal laughs. "I spent many, many, many years doing a different kind of thing, and I was ready for a change, so 'Bring it on!' was what I felt like."
But make no mistake about what, in her view, makes the show special.
"I know there's nefarious behavior, and gangs, and guns and gunrunning. But to me, 'Sons of Anarchy' is a family drama," she says.
Granted, the family is a band of outsiders, outcasts who have cast their lot with the club, however at odds they may behave within it. (Among the series' large ensemble, Mark Boone Junior, Tommy Flanagan, Johnny Lewis, Theo Rossi, Ryan Hurst, William Lucking and Kim Coates play other club members.)
Like Gemma, they've got personal issues that don't get much personal scrutiny.
"Those people are all about shame, guilt, denial, secrets," says Sagal. "They just sit on stuff and it builds up and then they shoot people. They don't go to therapy or do yoga."
At the same time, these are not goons or buffoons, any more than Gemma is the cliche motorcycle mama. They're relatable to viewers as fellow members of the nation's least exclusive club: the struggling working class.
Business setbacks, and worse, abound for the Sons. They seem to never get ahead. They keep on trying to provide for themselves and their loved ones. They do what they feel they have to do (guns, drugs, porn as well as the auto-mechanic business that gives them some cover) to hang on.
"I think that's what viewers are responding to," says Sagal. "The characters' everyday-ness."
No wonder the audience has averaged a robust 3.6 million viewers this season _ up one-third over last year.
Now, as Sagal awaits the "Sons" finale (she says she holds off screening each episode until it airs), she plans to fill her hiatus with voicing sessions for "Futurama."
Plus making music. An accomplished singer before she started acting, she spent a decade touring with such headliners as Bette Midler, Etta James and Bob Dylan. Today she has a band and performs around Los Angeles.
"I'll always play music," she says, adding with a wry laugh, "I don't worry too much about making a killing."
She'll also have welcome time to spend with her young teenage daughter and son from a former marriage, as well as her daughter, almost 3, with Sutter.
And she'll wait to find out what Sutter cooks up next year for Gemma.
"He has his own space in our house and he goes in there and makes stuff up, then just comes out with it."
Only once did she offer him a suggestion: that Gemma _ who, like most of the family, consumes plenty of tobacco and pot _ go cold turkey.
"I don't like smoking those fake cigarettes. They taste horrible," she explains. "He said no."
FX is owned by News Corp.
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EDITOR'S NOTE _ Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org