'Sons of Anarchy' season premiere: Kurt Sutter on the disturbing turn
Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched Sons of Anarchy‘s season 6 premiere, stop reading now. Creator Kurt Sutter explains the motivation behind the shocking final twist — and the other disturbing turns along the way. Read our full recap here.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the end of the episode, a young boy used a gun in a school shooting . It’s one of the weapons Jax had the club give Nero’s crew last season. You’ve wanted to do this story for years. Why, and why now?
KURT SUTTER: As much as I don’t want to do something because it is sensational, I also don’t want to not do something because it might be perceived as sensational. My desire to do this story just felt very organic to the world: These guys deal guns, and there’s a certain amount of disconnect once you put those guns out on the street not really knowing whose hands they’re gonna end up in and what violence that they create. You sorta sell and move on, not unlike a drug dealer who doesn’t really know the emotional impact of their product. And to have a father [Charlie Hunnam’s Jax] who’s struggling with boys of his own and questioning the violence of his life, and is this right for his kids — it just seemed like a very organic story to tell. And I waited because I knew that ultimately the emotional and social impact would be great, that it would be hard to have that story happen and then move on to a couple seasons where these guys are selling guns and just livin’ their life. I knew if we did it, it would really have to be at the end and, ultimately, I realized it was a good way to take us to the end. [Ed. note: Sutter expects the series to run seven seasons.] It’s not being done arbitrarily. It ultimately becomes the final straw in their relationship with the gun business and the domino that takes us to a fairly tragic and epic conclusion. It impacts all their relationships: It impacts their relationship with the IRA, their relationship with local law enforcement, their relationship with other charters, and, more importantly, it really impacts their relationship with Charming, their hometown. Maybe they’ve lost their favorite sons status over the last four or five years, but they’ve never really been seen as a danger or as a pariah, and that really changes this season as a result of that.
Tell me about the decision to make this young boy, the 11-year-old son of Nero’s cousin’s old lady, the shooter.
Here’s what I dig about we tend to do on this show: We have a lot of what I like to call epic absurdity on this show. It’s really big and runs right up to that line of being fantastic. But then we tether it into some sense of reality and we always connect it. So what was almost like a throwaway line in terms of story in season 5 with Jax saying, “Look, let me just give your guys a few guns, it makes everybody happy” — that innocent move that no one thinks is going to be bad — is that little thread that comes back to bite them in the ass. Sometimes it’s not the huge moves or machinations, it’s just the simple moves that get us into trouble. Jax probably was not thinking through the consequences of what might happen with that. As far as the kid — that was a bit of a risk. We don’t do flashbacks on this show, but there was a part of me that said, maybe we can play with the audience a little bit: Do they think it’s some sort of young Jax, or at least thematically, are we trying to say something? I think the interesting thing is people who see that on my show start to think, oh my god, what awful thing is gonna happen to this kid? You just assume because he’s an innocent that he will ultimately be the victim of something, and then to flip it and have him be the perpetrator of the violence as a result of that perfect storm — it’s hopefully what will feel organic but also surprising to people.
We don’t do political stories on this show. This isn’t about me making a political or social statement about gun violence and blah, blah, blah. So it was a difficult balance for me, because I didn’t want the story line to become about that. And yet, I had to acknowledge some of it because if I didn’t, it would feel irresponsible. So I tried to, as the season progresses, layer in enough of my point of view so there is some sense of responsibility in terms of the controversy but it doesn’t become a narrative arc about gun violence. It ultimately stays about the impact it has emotionally on our characters. My point of view — and I still believe this — is that one party is not responsible for those things. Meaning, in my opinion, it is the gun laws, it is the level of illegal guns that people can buy on the street, it is the issues we have with mental health, it is our education system, it is the responsibility and burden on the family. What we weave in organically, I think, is the sense that there are a myriad of circumstances that create this perfect storm, and ultimately, law enforcement needs to hang the responsibility on somebody. So it’s the CCH Pounder character [District Attorney Tyne Patterson] that we introduce in episode 2. She is looking for the face of the devil to hang this crime on. But again, what I hope gets conveyed is the idea that there is not necessarily one party responsible for what happened with this kid.
Let’s back up and start from the beginning of the episode: Otto (played by Sutter), we learn, has been getting raped daily in prison at the request of Lee Toric (Donal Logue).
You know, there’s very few showrunners who will take one in the ass for his show — I just want to say that publicly, and you can quote me on that. I think it’s my ongoing devastation of Otto. Toric’s sort of reaching for anything he can get at this point. Otto is the guy that is directly responsible for the death of his sister. It remains unpleasant.
Lyla (Winter Ave Zoli), bruised and burnt from a shoot she didn’t know would be torture porn, crying “Please, oh god, I want Opie” to Jax — it just about made me burst into tears.
Like I said when we killed Ryan [Hurst’s] character, his ghost really is hanging around. It impacts Jax and it impacts other people, and Lyla, in that moment of devastation, wishes that she had her hero to protect her. I think it’s the motivation that Jax needs to go and really f— these guys up. Look, there’s not gonna be any scenes where Jax is at Opie’s graveside talking to him. We’re not that show. But I do think the emotional weight of Opie will continue to be referenced throughout this season. There’s a few times where Jax talks about the loss of a brother and the impact of that. We will, if not consciously, at least unconsciously, have a sense that it’s what’s pushing him along and it’s the reason why he’s perhaps not ready to abandon anything because if he did, what Opie did would be in vain.
Jax told Tig (Kim Coates) to set the Iranian porn producer they’d caged free, but the guy made an ill-timed comment about Tig’s daughter and Tig killed him — by drowning him in a urine-filled tub, which Tig then took a piss in.
Too much? [Laughs]
I’d say right at the line.
Yeah. It was one of those moments where I was writing, and suddenly I was like, Ohmygod, Tig’s pissing on his head. Okay. [Laughs] I feel like we couldn’t have that story unravel without it having some emotional impact on Tig and the horrible thing that he saw happen to his kid. That does come back, and perhaps does not end well for Tig as a result of that. For me, it’s acknowledging that even the legitimate business that these guys are in — porn — is all, like, f—in’ fringe stuff. It’s a fraction off of being illicit and bad. Fetish porn is okay, but torture porn is not okay. Not that I should be the arbiter of where that line is drawn [Laughs], but you know what I mean. Really, is anybody in that club capable of drawing a moral boundary at this point? [Laughs]
In order for Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) to get right with Juice (Theo Rossi) still being in the club, Chibs beat the crap out of him at the garage. It was a tough scene for us to watch and one that Gemma (Katey Sagal) saw and didn’t try to stop. She knew it had to happen.
It’s interesting, that scene was actually in the finale of last year. I think we shot it in Clay’s house after the arrest, but it felt like way too much happening to Juice at the end of last season. I didn’t put it in the finale cut because it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t quite sure why, but as the premiere shaped up, I was like, Oh, that’s why, because now it’s about Chibs finding out that Jax is sort of giving Juice this pardon and Jax isn’t saying why, and Chibs ultimately has to get right with it himself and is gonna do it by doing what these guys do. It’s their own form of justice, their own form of flogging. And we have Juice ultimately just f—in’ suckin’ it up and takin’ it. If Juice and Chibs were going at it and fighting together, Gemma may have, at that point, tried to intervene. But what she saw was clearly a beat-down and Juice knew he deserved it, so I think in Gemma’s mind, she understood this is something that had to go down and both parties are aware of it, so she was gonna let it happen.
Jax cheated on Tara (Maggie Siff) with Colette (Kim Dickens), a madame who wants to legitimize her brothel by teaming up with Diosa. I was yelling at my TV as he walked up those stairs.
For me, and I think this is communicated, there’s a disconnect that Jax feels with Tara. And Jax has that weird connection with his mom. I think Jax is a guy that needs a strong woman in his life. In fact, I think at some point this season, Bobby [Mark Boone Junior] says that to Tara. So the connection Jax has to Colette — not that I want to suggest that it’s incestuous — but there’s just something sweet, and gentle, and maternal about her energy. Like, when he’s watching her make the bed, and she’s taking off his shoes. She’s an older woman. There’s just something incredibly nurturing about her energy that perhaps he hasn’t been getting from Tara or he’s missing from that relationship. So for me, it was more about that. There’s a different need going on there. It’s not lust as much as it is emotional. I never intended it to be some love triangle thing. For better or for worse, it’s just part of how these guys live. Not that that makes it okay. It ultimately becomes a professional complication for Jax as they get into business together.
Tara delivered her own beat-down to a woman who stole her blanket in jail.
There’s a big shift, obviously, with Tara this season. We watch the education continue. I think the emotional impact of her going to jail does not land lightly. [Ed. note: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT! Skip the rest of this paragraph if you haven’t seen Orange is the New Black.] It’s funny, my wife [Katey Sagal] has been watching Orange is the New Black. I’ve not watched the whole season, but I came in, and it’s such a great show, and I watched a couple sporadic episodes, and then I watched the finale where they end the season with the main character having this emotional shift and beating somebody down. I thought, well, that’s the difference between me and Jenji Kohan [creator of OITNB]: she ends her season with the beat-down and I begin my season with a beat-down. [Laughs]
But for me, that was about Tara being in this really different emotional place and perhaps a little disconnected. It’s like the education of her becoming an old lady is ultimately not what Jax fell in love with. You know what I mean? He fell in love with the sweet, nurturing innocence of who she was, and yet, to be his old lady, she has to become something else that ultimately may be not what he wanted. So it’s the contradiction of okay, now I’m beatin’ the s— out of somebody, and now you are going back to somebody who is nurturing and maternal. I’ve become what I needed to become to be your old lady, and now that’s not what you want.
We have to talk about Lee Toric naked in front of the mirror. You get Donal Logue to do some amazing things this season.
[Laughs] That was my homage to Apocalypse Now, my homage to the Martin Sheen scene. Donal is so f—ing great, he just goes there. He’s like, “Yeah! That’s awesome! I’ll just be naked.” It’s like, “Okay. Knock yourself out, brother.” Toric has got some demons. We set it up last season that he obviously has these medical issues, and whether or not we ever reveal specifcally what those are, we’ll see. But he’s a guy that perhaps has his own ticking clock, and perhaps that’s part of what’s motivating his obsessive need for finding justice or his brand of justice.
In the end, Clay (Ron Perlman) decided to give the guard Toric’s card rather than enter gen pop where he knew he’d be killed. He said he wanted a deal.
I don’t want to reveal which way it’s going, but what I think is interesting is, if anybody is a match for Toric, it’s Clay. Clay is a guy who’s been around the longest, and has seen guys like Toric, and knows that dance. So it’s not much of a chess match with Toric and Tara, but it’s an interesting chess match with Toric and Clay.
This premiere was relentless. I’ve seen episodes 2 and 3, and they slow down a bit. It’s almost like a depression sets in with the weight of all the things the characters are dealing with. Was that change in pace you knowing fans would need a chance to catch their breath or simply what the story dictated?
I think a little bit of both. I think organically, it’s what’s going on, and that will continue to happen this season. It’s sort of like at some point, the speed and the aggressiveness that these guys perpetrate will ultimately have to slow down. But I also think this season they’re forced to be a little bit more reflective because of what’s happened. It’s funny, I had a conversation with [exec producer/director] Paris Barclay going into episode 9, and I said, “This is an episode where we have probably more scenes of two people just talking to each other than we’ve ever done before.” And it wasn’t like I started out the episode saying, “Let’s do that.” It’s just the nature of where it’s going. Not that we don’t continue to be driven with action, because that’s what the show is and that’s never gonna really change. But I do think it does slow down a little bit. I think it’s why the episodes are so much longer [and many will run over an hour]: We still have those components, but it’s hard for those things to happen now and not result in other scenes about the impact of those things.
In the first few seasons, we could have stuff happen, and because it was the first time it was happening with a certain amount of people, you didn’t have to worry about where it was going. And now, when you come back around and you’re dealing with those same people and same relationships, and their mythology is deeper and their relationships are thicker, you have more story to tell. You have to reveal more, so it just becomes much more complex. Interestingly enough, I think the same thing happened to us on The Shield — as the seasons progressed, not that we didn’t have action, but Vic [Michael Chiklis] became much more reflective, as did the other characters, because there was so much more history to play. You couldn’t ignore the four or five seasons of history that happened that the audience has shared with you. By the nature of the mythology growing, it’s forced to expand.