''What a Wonderful World''
Every great montage begins with a great song turned on its head. ”What a Wonderful World” was actually co-written by Bob Thiele, the father of Sons of Anarchy‘s music supervisor Bob Thiele Jr. ”I just thought if there was ever a place where we could use that song, a wedding would probably be it,” creator Kurt Sutter laughs. ”There was a part of me that was a little nervous about besmirching Bob Thiele Sr.’s memory with having a montage kill sequence while his song played. But Bob Thiele Jr. was thrilled and took the challenge and completely made it work.” The Kills’ Alison Mosshart recorded the song specifically for the show from her studio outside Dublin.
After reading the script for the final montage — which begins with Opie [(Ryan Hurst)] and his porn-star bride Lyla [(Winter Ave Zoli)] dancing at their wedding — exec producer Paris Barclay, who directed the episode, thought of the show’s history with the W.B. Yeats poem ”The Second Coming” (they’ve named episodes after segments of it). It begins with the line ”Turning and turning in the widening gyre,” which gave Barclay the idea to encircle things like the happy couple with the camera movement and to think of the action as unfolding like a dance. ”Even if it’s something as sweet as dancing in a circle that turns into killing Russians brutally in slow motion, it could all seem like part of the same poem,” Barclay says.
Otto, played by Sutter, had been in lockdown because he was a danger to himself. A guard snuck him a razor blade, which he used to slit his wrists earlier in the episode. In the infirmary, he was slipped a scalpel that he could use on the Russian who’d stabbed Jax in retaliation for the Sons’ handling of the Irish situation. The blood on Otto’s legs was a nice touch: ”That’s continuity. He’d slit his wrists. There’s not a lot of care and concern that goes into those prisoners when they do that kind of s—,” Sutter says, ”so it’s not like anybody would’ve had a chance to clean him up.”
That’s what we said, repeatedly, watching Otto force the scalpel into the Russian’s ear for 15 seconds. ”In the director’s cut, it was longer and even a little bit more brutal,” Barclay says. ”I think Kurt pulled it back a touch from what I had originally done.” Says Sutter, ”We set this up with Otto, the irony of laying out some of that brutality against not just a sweet song, but ultimately what is an iconic sweet, loving occasion.”
And it's still going...
”The truth is, I don’t get much screen time, so when I can milk it, I do,” Sutter laughs. We won’t see Otto again until episode 4. ”After he’s out of the infirmary, he’s in the hole. He’s in a 3 x 3 cell with no light,” he says. ”There’s way more Otto than I would like in this season. I’m in probably five or six episodes.”
The firing squad takes aim
”On the page, it just said, ‘They turn the guns on the Russians.’ The fact that that thing ended up looking like ballet is all on Paris,” Sutter says. Barclay shares credit with the actors: ”When we were rehearsing it, they said, ‘How do we do this in a way that we’re not immediately shooting each other, and it looks like we know what we’re doing but it’s fast enough that the Russians don’t pick up on it?’ And so it became that they raise their guns up and quickly turn them down in real time. Then by shooting it in slow motion, it just made it kind of elegant.”
The undercover agent gets his close-up
”We choreographed that he was just about to figure out, Omigod, they’re gonna shoot us, so that we could really get a beat on his face. You needed to know that that was the guy who was the federal agent,” Barclay says.
The bullets and fabric fly
Sutter had written in the script that the shooting would happen in a fabric warehouse, which production designer Tony Medina built in a practical space. ”First of all, it’s just the reality of how they were hiding guns and transporting guns — in an industry that the Russians tend to control,” Sutter says. ”But I also had a sense of, we’ve killed people in a lot of places, so you try to look for an interesting arena,” he laughs. Says Barclay, ”There’s all sorts of stuff flying in the air that I wasn’t expecting when we actually did all the charges. We used three cameras there to grab as much as we could. We were shooting on a street that’s the main drag in Montrose, [Calif.] the town that stands in for Charming. People know that there’s a shooting going on, but you don’t want to make as much noise as automatic weapons make. I think we ended up doing it just three or four times, then we moved on.”
Happy gets the last shot
”Happy [(David Labrava)] is probably the closest to a killing machine we have in the cast. He wanted to have a separate kill, so he gets that pop-off of that last Russian with his Happy-like joy, just as a button on the scene. That just came out of the rehearsal, and we just happened to have a stuntman there who was willing to take the last hit,” Barclay says. And for the record, Barclay notes, ”It’s not my responsibility that the lyric ‘They’re really saying, I love you’ falls right when the Russians are being destroyed. That just happened in editing as Kurt tightened it up a little bit because the episode was long. But it is my favorite musical-visual moment of the whole thing.”
Juice reacts to his first kill
”You see how bad Juice [(Theo Rossi)] feels about it, which will reverberate throughout the season,” Barclay says. ”It’s the first time in the service of the club that we ever see Juice killing someone. That’s gonna have an impact on him. ”
Clay turns on Putlova's men
”We had to do this whole scene in two hours,” Barclay says. ”We were coming up on a 14-hour day, so we basically only had about one take for just about everyone. What you see is Clay’s [(Ron Perlman)] first take. What you see when Jax comes up to Putlova [(Keith Szarabajka)] is his first take. I was glad that we have actors that come to play.”
”Jax stabbed Putlova in virtually the same three places where he was shivved in jail. He was targeting very carefully where he was hit,” Barclay says. ”I felt a little bad for Putlova, because [actor Keith Szarabajka] wanted to be on the show forever and he expressed such. And we just said, ‘No, baby. You got to go.’ And so he did.” Laughs Sutter, ”The first half of the script, it looks like ‘Oh good, they’re all about the Russians.’ And then it all goes away.”
”In his one take, Charlie Hunnam ad-libbed that line ‘Just business”’ after he kills Putlova. He’d said it earlier in the episode, and he wanted to try it, and I said, ‘Well, we’ll look at it and see if it works,”’ Barclay says. But he did it so coldly and so offhand, I thought it was a great moment for him. He had that complete killer instinct with it, and then he spits and just walks out of the frame.” Says Sutter, ”The good thing with Charlie is that he’s smart enough to know that when he makes a decision like that, he needs to make it so it’s very easy for me to remove it in editing if I want to. He didn’t tie it to the action so I would be forced to use it. It was a separate beat. But it really ties into our additional content scenes [that show moments from the club’s 14-month jail stint]. We see Jax get stabbed by the Russian in that first additional scene, ”Pay Phone,” and the guy says something to him in Russian and it’s ‘It’s just business.”’
Gemma finds Maureen's note to Jax in Abel's room
The letters John Teller wrote to his mistress Maureen — which Tara [(Maggie Siff)] still hasn’t shown to Jax — are a big story arc that plays out throughout the season, Sutter says. Filming Gemma’s [Katey Sagal] discovery of the note among Abel’s coloring books wasn’t easy, Barclay adds. ”It’s hard to get kids to go to sleep when you want them to, especially if you have all this stuff on their bed. They want to play with it. It took us a minute to just bore the kid so much that he actually fell asleep,” he says. ”In the take, we all had to be very quiet, including the Steadicam man, and tiptoe through it and act just like we were really doing it in a child’s room. Katey was fantastic, because it’s hard to also pick up a coloring book, drop a specific piece of paper out of it, and then pick that piece of paper up into the camera. It only took us a couple takes. And then we just went in for a close-up.”
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
”If you look at Clay, Ron [Perlman] made an interesting choice in that it’s not a celebratory cigar,” Sutter says. ”It’s almost like he’s looking and seeing the weight of what they just did and what’s going to happen. There’s definitely some foreboding of what’s to come when you watch him smoke that cigar.” Clay wants to bank big money before the chronic arthritis in his hands ends his time with the club. This was just the beginning. ”What it does to Clay’s outlook on the club’s ability to become independent so that they’re not beholden to anybody is rather ruthless,” Perlman says. ”There’s an insanity to it almost in terms of its urgency.”
''It's good to be home''
After stabbing Putlova, Jax is back dancing with Tara — another juxtaposition that shows the brutality and love these men are capable of.
The agent payoff
Barclay wanted to make sure we saw the face of the fallen fed, even if the other Russians were wrapped up. ”You see through us a little bit,” he says. ”What I thought we’d do is by throwing [the bodies], some of them would become unraveled and some of them would not. And we were hoping that it would look organic, that when they threw the last guy to get out of there, he’s the one who just became more uncovered. Without that, I think you would have thought, Hmmm, that’s just a Russian body, and you wouldn’t have gotten the punch of the fact that they’ve gotten rid of this federal agent.”
In Sutter’s original script, the last scenes in the montage were in a slightly different order. ”Originally, we dumped the bodies, then we went back to Jax and Tara, and Jax said, ‘It’s good to be home,’ then you saw the guys smoking the cigars, then we went back to the Charming Heights sign,” Barclay says. ”Kurt moved it around a little bit and made it stronger by dumping the bodies, seeing Clay with a little bit of the weight of the world, then going to Jax and Tara dancing so ‘It’s great to be home’ lands right before the Charming Heights sign pan-up, which I think is a great way to set up the whole season.” With Clay battling Mayor Hale, who’s behind the Charming Heights development, the town of Charming is more of a character this season than ever before, Sutter says.