'Sons of Anarchy' premiere: Kurt Sutter, Paris Barclay talk twists
This post contains plot details of “Black Widower,” the Sons of Anarchy season 7 premiere that aired on Sept. 9. Read our full recap.
Sons of Anarchy‘s final season got off to a bloody start as Jax took revenge on the Lin Triad member Gemma claimed she saw leaving his house the night Tara was killed. Below, creator Kurt Sutter, who wrote the episode, takes EW inside the turns, and executive producer Paris Barclay, who directed the premiere, tells us about shooting that final scene—and shares two photos from the set.
EW: How did you decide Gemma would pin the murder on the Chinese?
SUTTER: I knew that Gemma would get the information for the lie from Juice, so it had to be something that Juice was privy to, and to me, it made the most sense, because Gemma’s not going to do something that puts Nero at odds. So she’s not going to blame it on Brown. Lin was sort of the last man standing.
DA Patterson’s speech to Jax at the start of the episode—sharing her anger over the loss of her son and nephew to gang violence—seems like not just her trying to connect with Jax, but also reminding the audience that we all say we’ll do horrible things to people who hurt the ones we love. It’s just that in Jax’s world, where bullets already fly, it’s not a leap. Is that something you wanted to get out there quickly to make viewers understand where he’s coming from?
SUTTER: I wish I had that much foresight when I wrote, but I don’t. A lot of it comes in the writing for me. It just felt like I wanted Patterson to cross the line and do something she’s never done before, which is obviously give a piece of her own information, and that just sort of came out of the scene. But I think you’re right, I think it does inform the audience. It sort of rings that bell for all of us in terms of what we plug into with this club, which is, you know, a little bit of a wish-fulfillment because they do s–t that we would love to do sometimes, but of course we have conscience and we actually abide by law, so we would never do that.
Jax’s killing of Triad member Chris Dun (Tim Park) was wonderfully, painfully drawn out. You’re just waiting and waiting and waiting…
BARCLAY: That was something we talked about. Charlie said, “I want to come in with my clothes on, and I want to take them all off.” There was a movie that he really liked, it was a Paul Bettany movie [Gangster No. 1]—he was a gangster who eventually becomes a killer. And it has a long murder scene in it, and we emulated that with Charlie’s slow measured pace, the blood on his body, the time it took. And we thought that whole thing was going to be three minutes—it ended up being seven minutes. It wasn’t boring. It ended up being really, really compelling.
How long did it take to film that scene?
BARCLAY: I think it took most of a day. There’s actually a model of the Chris Dun character [made by W.M. Creations, Oscar and Emmy winner Matthew W. Mungle’s company] that was unique and had to be manipulated a certain way, and it looked so believable. The actor came in, he saw himself, and he just went, “Oh my God.” The hair was perfect, and that’s what we actually plunged a fork into. It has a blood cavity in it, so we had one take—it was one time that Charlie’s going to be able to stab this thing because after that it was really no good anymore. So after we spent $9,000 on it, we said, “Charlie, this is the one.” One camera on his face, one camera a little wider, he reached his arms [up], and you just see the fork go in, and you could almost see people jumping back because you forget that it’s now the model of him because you had the real guy in there all night. It was identical to him.
BARCLAY: The other interesting thing about that was we had to film the guys watching it first because there’s only really the very first time you see that happening that you get a really raw, original reaction. So before we did it to the dummy, we had Charlie actually act it out as passionately as he could with the real actor for the other actors, and we filmed them first just to get their various, complicated responses. Anytime we put the camera on Tig, Happy, Bobby, Chibs, any of those guys, it was fascinating.
Over the years, we’ve seen Bobby cringe when Jax uses excessive violence. Is that going to become an issue with the club, or are they really as united as they sounded when Chibs told Jax they’re all in?
SUTTER: The thing I love about this season is that with everything that’s happening, they’re just sort of very united. It’s not like the dissention we’ve played, which was fun with Clay. Everyone gets it, everyone understands, everyone’s behind Jax. Not that they all agree with him, but they’re behind him. As individual events happen, there will be moments where Bobby and Chibs will counsel Jax in terms of, “You’re sure you want to do this?” or “Is this the right thing?” But ultimately, when Jax makes the decision, there’s no dissention. They’re making these decisions as a united club, which I think is the blessing and the curse: Yes, they’re united, but at that point, do they need the dissenting vote? Do they need somebody to say, “Hey, this is a mistake”? And perhaps their love of Jax and their desire to be supportive ends up working against them.
We’ve seen how retaliation against the wrong person sends everything into chaos and more violence. After that nine-minute end montage, it feels like that is where we’re headed. Is that a theme that you intentionally put in the show, or something that just happens where the story leads you?
SUTTER: I think it’s always about story. Montages are so great because I can squeeze two acts of story into one song because I can do time cuts. It just gives me so much more freedom. It’s the one device that allows me to extract from the reality of how we do the show. To me, it’s the tragedy of Gemma, who really believes she’s protecting the club and really believes what happened with Tara was indeed an accident. She’s convinced herself that if she tells the truth that it will create more damage, that the alter-truth is better than the real truth. Ultimately, not being aware of all the circumstances that are going on with the club in Stockton and in Oakland—she’s not privy to all of that s–t—the lie sets things in motion that she will slowly become aware of, realizing once again what the lie created.
Gemma talking to Tara, as she did at the sink in that montage, is something we’ll see again. What do you like about that device?
SUTTER: It does a couple of things. One, it suggests that Gemma is getting closer to that line of madness. There’s a little bit of Long Day’s Journey into Night in that sort of processing s–t out loud. It’s not like she’s nuts—it’s not like she sees Tara or anything—but the idea of her relieving her own guilt to a certain extent by having these conversations to Tara, letting her know what’s going on, that everything’s going to be okay, I think suggests a certain amount that Gemma is going to take responsibility, postmortem, of what she did. As the intensity and the wreckage of that becomes greater, and the conversations continue, that dynamic will start to squeak a little bit more and get a little bit crazier.
The kiss between Gemma and Nero earlier in the episode got a great response at the premiere over the weekend. How important is it for you to have people still rooting for that relationship?
SUTTER: I knew that that relationship wasn’t going to go away. I knew that Nero would distance [himself] really to protect Gemma. And now, feeling that he has somewhat begun the repair process and maybe the danger is subsided to a certain extent, the first thing he’s going to do is reach out to Gemma and see where she’s at. I like the idea of Gemma feeling like in the dark place she’s in, that she has something to hold onto.
We’ve seen promos that show Juice does eventually ungag Unser and they talk. What can you tease about where they’re headed?
SUTTER: You know every season, I never quite know what I’m going to do with Unser, and ultimately every season, he ends up intrinsically tied to all of our characters and prominently in the mythology. We had an opportunity to do that this season with Juice, and then Unser becomes aware of what’s going on with Gemma—but doesn’t become aware of anything obviously that really happened [with Tara’s murder]. It just puts Unser in this position of wanting to honor his promise and his commitment to Tara in terms of taking care of those boys, and yet he’s thrust in the middle of these other relationships, and his love he has for Gemma, and the connection he has to the club—so he gets pushed and pulled in a lot of directions this season. He’ll ultimately have a connection and a professional dynamic that happens with the new sheriff [Annabeth Gish, introduced in episode 2]. So it’s just so funny how he ends up becoming the glue for the entire season year after year, and every season, we’re like, “Oh, what the f–k are we going to do with Unser? Maybe he just has cancer.” It’s just ’cause Dayton [Callie] is so f—king great. You can just do anything with him. He has a gravitas.
Just going back and looking at how the series started, with a beef between the Mayans and Niners over SAMCRO-run guns, did you always know it would come full circle like this?
SUTTER: I don’t know if I knew that, I just know it’s so “of the life.” The war’s on and the war’s off. Like the Vagos: We had Vagos on the set first season, and then all of the sudden, they were beefing with the Hell’s Angels and then we didn’t have them on the set, and blah blah blah blah blah, and now they’re friends again. So I knew in the world itself that all these relationships changed constantly. And I love the idea of seeing those relationships morph—they’re friends, and then something happens, and then they’re friends again…. It’s no different than any other political landscape. It’s no different than us and the Soviet Union, you know. Those relationships, those tensions, are built-in. Sometimes you can work around them, you can function within them, and then something will set them off, a series of events, and suddenly you’re at war again. I knew I wanted to honor that because that’s real. I had the opportunity to do that last season, and the relationship between the Mayans and the Sons will continue to change. You’ll see the kings sort of barter and make deals over territories. It’s all f—ing politics.
“Favor” feels like a dangerous word this season. Aryan Brotherhood shot caller Ron Tully (Marilyn Manson) told Jax he may need one in the future. How soon might we see him collect?
SUTTER: “The favor” is not so much about a specific favor, as it is the idea that the relationship continues. That alliance will continue to serve Jax.
I assume the Piedmont Grace head and assistant pastors getting killed by mistake as SAMCRO tried to help the Grim Bastards track down an East Dub wasn’t just a fun, slightly controversial scene. It’s something that will play into the story this season?
SUTTER: Yes. I don’t want to give away spoilers… But I like the idea of things that feel a little absurd and odd that end up being plot points at some point.
Did FX give you any note like, “Pastors. Really, Kurt?”
SUTTER: They have given up trying to gage my moral compass.
And lastly, was there any creative inspiration behind Bobby and Chibs literally dragging information out of the wheelchair-bound East Dub?
SUTTER: I feel like I’ve offended pretty much every group so far, so I didn’t want to leave the handicapped out.
Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.