'Sons of Anarchy' producer Paris Barclay defends Jax's finale choice
Spoiler alert: Sons of Anarchy‘s Dec. 9 series finale had an ending that left many fans with a burning question: If Juice was told a Son doesn’t commit suicide, how was that an acceptable option for Jax (Charlie Hunnam)? Executive producer Paris Barclay explains.
EW: One question that keeps coming up in the comments of our recap is how Jax could commit suicide if Sons don’t. I feel like creator Kurt Sutter may have addressed this during Anarchy Afterword when he described it as Jax’s “greatest sacrifice.” He truly believed he was doing it for the good of others, not for himself. Is that how you view it, or what is your take on that?
Paris Barclay: Well, there’s two different ways to look at it: One is that he is no longer a Son at that point, so the question is moot because he’s already relinquished his president’s patch to Chibs and he’s just a human being. Chibs was holding the presidential patch before Jax committed suicide. That’s the technical answer. The second answer is, and I really like it, the sacrifice. There’s a lot of religious imagery that happens here—between the blood and the bread and the outstretched arms. There’s something going on of a person who believes that what he’s doing is the best thing for others—specifically for his family. He really wants to leave a legacy that’s negative in his kids’ minds. He wants them to feel bereft. He wants them to hate him. He’s said as much. I don’t know, if my father, who’s still alive, committed suicide, that would be a difficult thing for me to forgive. So in a way I think he’s also cementing the future that he wants for his children of never going into this life and never finding anything attractive about it. And that’s a big sacrifice. So there! (Laughs)
Jax had that speech at the marker of his father’s accident: “I know who you are now, and what you did.” He says they both realized that a good father and a good outlaw can’t settle inside the same man. Some fans are having a hard time accepting that Jax would “abandon” his boys, who end up with Wendy (Drea de Matteo) and Nero (Jimmy Smits). Do you see it as “abandoning”?
I don’t. Just what I was saying, this is the way he wants them to look at him, which is not as a hero but as a criminal. And also, as Charlie explained it in the Afterword, I don’t think that the actual [decision] of what he would do with the truck was conceived until he saw the truck. I think a lot of different possibilities could’ve happened: Suicide by cop. Maybe he was thinking, “They’re gonna get me sooner or later.” I think when he saw the truck and put it together—there’s just one little shot of his eyes glancing and a flicker of a smile—that he found the poetic balance of that. And then he recognized, of course, Michael Chiklis and said, “Oh, this would be so great. The guy in The Shield would run me over. Perfect!”
I gasped when I saw that it was Chiklis, mostly because I was like, Why didn’t I think of this watching the last episode? Of course that’s why he’s here playing a trucker.
What Kurt never explained to me–and I heard it in the after show and I thought, “Why didn’t he mention it? That’s so good”—is his thinking about the way fate works then. If Milo had not stopped and taken Gemma somewhere [in 712], he might have not been coming back at the same time that he was. It’s one of those butterfly effect kind of things. And while certainly it can be looked at as some kind of a contrivance that it would happen to be the same guy who took Gemma somewhere who is in the same truck, there’s also something interesting about the decisions that Milo made to help and assist in her final journey ending up being the things that put him in this place at that time unable to stop that truck. I’m saying, “This is written.” It’s a story. It’s a mythology. It’s supposed to have a shape and a form. And that’s part of the form of it all. It’s built in reality, but it’s not a documentary. It’s a story. (Laughs)
Let’s talk about that roof scene between Jax and Chibs (Tommy Flanagan).
This episode was Tommy Flanagan’s best work on the show.
I agree. Tommy Flanagan found a place going through the pain and dealing with Jax’s decision of just a mature, less emotional Chibs. Just grave, emotionally spent but at the same time solid and present for his friend. That has a lot to do with Tommy Flanagan and a lot to do with Kurt Sutter’s direction, which I think is undervalued. But Kurt has a way of helping all the actors to quickly find the tone that he imagines. And he never imagined that this is gonna be a super emotional farewell. I think their farewell when Jax was headed to prison [in the season 6 finale] was more outwardly emotional than this final farewell. But this one I thought was more powerful because their eyes were drier.
There was also that scene where Tig (Kim Coates) was talking to Chibs about whether they were really going to vote for Mayhem for Jax, and there’s a single tear clinging to Kim’s bottom right eyelid. Like it’s fighting not to fall because Chibs needs him to hold it together.
One single tear, and that again wasn’t [scripted]. It was just what they were doing living in the moment, and so sometimes we just have to film them.
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Were you on set when they filmed the Mayhem vote?
I was. When they did it, that scene was so long and had so much air and so much pain floating between the lines. Even as each character voted, it was incredibly painful. I think Kurt very shrewdly tightened it up and took a lot of the air out of it. It runs almost half as long as it actually ran when it was filming because the guys were just feeling it. We pulled back on it just a touch, just to keep it moving along. The show is, whatever it was, 77 minutes. It could have gone on solidly for three hours. (Laughs) We had a lot of ground to cover, so we had to tighten it up.
I’m not sure if you’ll remember, but I was wondering if Chibs having to start his line over because he was getting emotional was scripted or just Tommy: “All those, all those in favor…all those in favor of Jackson Teller meeting Mr. Mayhem…”
That was not in the script. That was just acting. (Laughs) He’s good. But, you know, he’s not a SAG Award nominee but it’s okay. (Laughs) I just thought I’d get that in there somewhere.
We did get one nomination.
I saw, for stunts.
Eric Norris and the stunt ensemble. That was nice.
I wanted to also talk about that scene between Jax and Nero, when Jax explains his plan. Just another crucial scene between Jimmy and Charlie.
You just get those guys in a room. That was one of the ones that I actually picked up [directing] when Kurt was hospitalized [for an appendectomy]. There was some concern—I was concerned about it because it’s a very delicate scene. But the guys just came to play. Kurt had it laid out how he wanted it shot, where he wanted the guys to be very specifically. I was there trying to channel him as much as humanly possible. “Simplicity” was all that I had to say: “Just keep the emotion as simple as possible and not try to layer anything into it.” Kurt just doesn’t like a lot of stuff on top of the words: He likes the words to be just as honest and true, and I think he used the word “direct” on Anarchy Afterword. I think that scene came together really, really well without being overly wrought and like a stiff piece of bread.
I loved that Jax was sitting in Gemma’s chair in her office. So that was very intentional.
Yes. And yeah, he’s also going through the files. He knows what she does and it doesn’t take him a long time to find stuff and put things together. He knows his mother. We were going to do a little something where there’s some remnants of her there. I’m not sure it made it to the final cut: I think it was her cigarettes or something that he was going to move out of the way. But originally, she had a pack of cigarettes that were sitting there and one of the first things he did was pick them up and move them out of the way.
Just a few more quick questions. [Ed. note: Sutter said on Anarchy Afterword that he wants fans to decide the true meaning of the Homeless Lady themselves, so we didn’t ask.] The boots Jax changed into were his fathers, yes?
They were. He gave up the sneaks. He threw them in the garbage at the beginning of the episode, and then he put on JT’s old motorcycle boots and they kinda felt good, and that’s what he wore throughout this last day.
When we saw Venus (Walton Goggins) comforting Tig, it seemed to me that she was dressed like an old lady. Was that intentional?
I did not hear if that was intentional. That may have been a Walton Goggins choice because he’s very shrewd, and a lot of times the fashions that Venus wears go through the Goggins filter because he wants to make sure they’re as flattering as possible, especially to his cleavage. (Laughs)
Some fans feel bad for Milo—Jax drove into him, and now he’ll have to live with that death. Was that ever discussed? Was it a little selfish?
(Laughs) Yeah. He ruins a guy he doesn’t know’s life. Pretty much. But I think his greater goal was to end his own and to create the family that he wanted to create in absentia.
If Wendy sells the garage will Chucky (Michael Ornstein) be okay? Can he do books at Red Woody or something?
Chucky will be okay. You saw him get more mature and express himself much better. He’s mellower. The ticks are sort of dying down. I think he’s found new meds, so I think Chucky will be all right. If there’s ever gonna be a spinoff, let’s do it with Chucky.
Do you know the reason for choosing that punkish version of “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” for that chase scene with Connor? That’s a song strongly associated with Elvis. Was it a Bobby reference?
I think that, too. But I think it’s another way of saying that Hamlet quote [that was the last image of the show: “Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love”]. It’s another way of saying love is an irresistible force that drives the choices that we make.
Kurt Sutter’s original series, starring Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman, and Katey Sagal.