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'Sons of Anarchy' star Katey Sagal talks emotional 'Red Rose' ending

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Katey Sagal
FX

Spoiler alert: The Dec. 2 episode of Sons of Anarchy brought the moment fans have been waiting for—the answer to how Jax (Charlie Hunnam) would deal with Gemma (Katey Sagal) after learning she killed Tara and set the show’s most violent season in motion. Sagal phoned EW to talk about Gemma’s fate.

EW: Gemma is so accepting of her impending death. Were you as accepting on the day you filmed it, or did you have to fight with yourself to let her go in that moment?

KATEY SAGAL: Oh, no. I’d known for a while. I probably knew when you were hanging out on set [in early September], but we can’t talk about those things. Ever since Nero found out, and she goes off in that last shot of episode 11 where she’s in the car and singing a song to herself—I think she’s relieved. I think holding that secret and seeing what it became and the carnage it created—in some weird way, death is a relief. Not that she knows she’s going to die, but I think that she has an inkling.

One question fans will have is whether she ever thought about committing suicide to spare Jax from having to pull the trigger. After her conversation with her father, when he remembered her as a sweet girl who loved the flowers, I thought she might kill herself in the garden. But then knowing Gemma, she’s probably thinking Jax needs this “closure,” and what I can do for him is tell him it’s okay. So, do you think she ever thought about committing suicide in that moment?

Well, I would say to Kurt [Sutter, her husband and the show’s creator], “Well, she should just blow her brains out.” [Laughs] The mounting of the lie was so just intolerable. I think she could justify things up to a certain point. I think once Bobby went down, it had gone too far. But I don’t think she even knows that Jax is going to be the one to kill her. I don’t think she’s thinking that when she gets to her dad’s house. I think she’s just been really in the moment of saying goodbye to Abel, saying goodbye to her father, saying goodbye to her life. Do you know what I mean? Like, she’s not waiting for Jax in that moment, but she’s also not surprised when he gets there. She knows that eventually he’s going to find her, because he’s Jax. He’s that guy. But I don’t think she knows when.

The moment I believed Jax was really going to kill Gemma was when he shot Unser, who refused to leave. Was that the moment when Gemma realized it was going to happen?

I think the minute he showed up, she knew that was going to happen. They’re outlaws. This is their legacy. This is what they do.

When Unser turned his back and walked away from Gemma to try to make the call to the local police, a part of me wondered if Gemma would shoot him before she’d let him do that. Would she have wanted a shootout if the cops came?

I never have been asked that question…I would imagine she just doesn’t think Unser would really call the cops, so she doesn’t think what she’d do next.

The scene in the garden: Your back is to Charlie the entire time. I spoke to director Paris Barclay, and he said you just knew instinctively where Charlie was behind you and when to speak.

I could feel Charlie. There’s a certain rhythm to the way the scene’s written. We have worked together for a long time, so you just sort of sense that. Charlie and I, when we shot this episode, were both just pretty much a wreck. It was very emotional for Gemma and Jax. It was extremely emotional for Katey and Charlie. It was a lot of tears. I think we’d just been sort of happily in denial. [Laughs]

I’ve observed you on set and your ability to compartmentalize. You’d come from the table read for episode 9, in which Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) dies, and were filming a scene in which Gemma got physical with Jarry (Annabeth Gish) and threatened to shoot her in the throat, and you were still able to laugh between setups. But what happens when “Cut!” is called after the garden scene? Were you able to shake it off, or did the emotional devastation linger?

The death scene is not just the death scene. It’s also the end of the series. That’s got its own shake-off. I went for the last shot of the last episode. Most of us showed up for the final day. I don’t think I shook it off till then. And that was another 10 days. I’d say it’s still going on. It’s a transition when you have a job for that long. Especially in this business, that just really doesn’t happen that often. You become so bonded, not just with the actors, but with the crew and the writers and everybody.

After the last episode, when Gemma gave JT’s Sons ring to Abel, a lot of fans were like, “Has she learned nothing?! She still wants him to be in this life.” We’ve seen Gemma accept responsibility for the bad things she’s done and the pain she’s caused. Do you think she would change any of that in the end? Or is that not who Gemma is? She can recognize the carnage, but she’s still an outlaw and wouldn’t change it?

Well, I don’t think she’d kill Tara again. That was a completely out of her mind move. Does she still agree with an outlaw lifestyle? Absolutely. She’s a person who likes living off the grid. She likes having her own little world. She’s in total support of it. She would never want her grandchildren to do anything but that. I don’t know if she’s the kind of grandma who’d be like, “Oh, sure. You want to be a doctor? Good idea.” She’d still try to convince her child that this is the way to go. She’s adaptable. You see what she does with Wendy. She’s gonna get what she needs. So if that means accepting what she thinks is unacceptable, she’s gonna find a way to do that. I don’t think that any of this is about, “Don’t be an outlaw.” I don’t know if Jax would want his kids to go into it. I don’t know. But I think grandma definitely still would. [Laughs]

How do you hope fans remember Gemma?

She’s certainly somebody that has had a very strong presence and a strong female presence, which I think is always good. I think what I would want fans to take away from all of this is that they’ve been well entertained. They’ve been told a great story. That’s what you hope for.

And because she’s such a strong female presence, there’s a part of you that, no matter what she’s done, doesn’t want to see her fall. If she must, you’re happy that she gets that moment of peace with her father. How important was that for you?

I’ve always looked at her as having sort of a spiritual journey. Coming from that very strict dogmatic way she was raised, she’s spent a lot of time questioning, “Is there a god? Is there not a guy?” I’ve always imagined she’s walked away from the church, walked away from any kind of spiritual life, and ultimately, through the course of the entire series—even from before, with the killing of John Teller—she’s questioned all that. So I would like to think that at the end of her arc, she has made some kind of peace with knowing that there is a god, knowing that there is a spiritual order to things.

The Sons of Anarchy series finale airs Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.

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