The creator of the gritty FX series opens up about the seventh season premiere, the show’s attitude toward violence, that school shooting controversy, and closing out with a bang. [WARNING: Spoilers]
Sons of Anarchy, FX’s uncompromising hit series about a band of outlaw motorcyclists, is finally coming to a close. The lengthy seventh season premiere episode of creator Kurt Sutter’s macho opera, titled “The Black Widower,” premiered Tuesday night, and was all about rage bubbling to the surface, culminating in a brutal act of revenge.
Sutter’s series, which boasts arguably the highest body count on television, is set in the fictional California town of Charming (think Hollister), and centers on the Teller-Morrow clan, seen through the eyes of Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), the conflicted, Hamlet-esque leader of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club. Last season began with a controversial school shooting stemming from one of SAMCRO’s gun deals gone awry, and ended with a pardoned Tara being killed by Jax’s conniving mother, Gemma (Katey Sagal), in the kitchen with a flat iron and carving fork.
“The Black Widower” is set 10 days after the events of the Season 6 finale, and sees a grief-stricken, hate-filled Jax vowing to wreak vengeance on those he feels are responsible for his wife’s heinous death. Gemma, as is her wont, informs Jax—at a porn party, no less—that she saw one of the members of Lin’s Chinese gang outside of Tara’s house the night of her murder, which will force Jax to break SAMCRO’s hard-fought alliance by viciously torturing and killing the poor bastard. This regrettable action will, of course, ignite a racial gang war, leaving a heap of bodies in its wake.Now, there have been many shocking scenes on Sons of Anarchy—Opie’s prison death, basically every scene featuring poor Otto, the school shooting, Gemma’s neo-Nazi rape—but few have been quite as disturbing as Jax’s torture of the Lin fall guy, because now we see our hero being consumed by the depths of madness.The Daily Beast spoke to Kurt Sutter, the outspoken creator of Sons of Anarchy, about that racy school shooting, the torture sequence, and his upcoming FX drama The Bastard Executioner.
I heard you’re anti-gun (and a vegan). Does your anti-gun stance have anything to do with the controversial school shooting sequence last season?
I had that story in mind for a couple years and obviously there was a tragedy that happened before, and then after. I didn’t want it to be controversial for controversy’s sake. I really felt like it was more about being responsible—that some of the guns that these guys sell could get into the hands of innocents. And we never really played out the idea of the ramifications of all these arms they sell. So, it was just a sort of way to obviously motivate our hero towards a certain end, but also I just felt it was the right time to tell that story. It was really just the idea of that shooting that you saw, you know, you never saw fucking bullets and kids, it was just the idea and the place of it. You saw the ramifications of that shooting impact our hero and the other characters throughout the season. So it wasn’t just a normalized, gratuitous act of violence. It was really about what these guys do for a living and changing the hero’s point of view.
“I think you’re seeing Jax’s capacity for vengeance like you’ve never seen before.”
To me, Gemma is the most complex character. She changes alliances like handbags. Will she unravel at some point?
Gemma is the definition of carnal adaptation. She is able to become emotionally what she needs to become under each circumstance. I think a lot of it is maternal instinct. She directly justifies her behavior to a great deal by suggesting that everything she does is for the good of the family. Every lie she tells, every act of violence—she finds the justification for. She has the capacity to compartmentalize it. And yeah, I think eventually even people who have that skill-set can begin to crack, and I think you’ll see some of that with Gemma this season. But I also think that, more so than any character on the show, she’d blessed with the incredible ability to brush herself off and tell herself that everything is going to be okay. And you know, with every lie you tell, there’s this risk of the trickle effect of creating another lie, and creating another lie, and I think it will impact her. She’s wired a little bit differently than you or I. Her capacity to maintain is pretty stalwart.
Ron Perlman has such an amazing presence. Obviously Clay had to go, but were you tempted to keep him around for the final season?
I just felt that Clay had sort of run his course. I also feel that coming into this last season, I didn’t want Jax encumbered by any other historical impact other than his real father. I wanted Clay to go before the final season.
If Jax is capable of killing his stepfather Clay, is he capable if killing his own mother?
In terms of Jax and Gemma, that will all play out. As the season unfolds we’ll see if and when Jax gets the information about Gemma, and then it’s about what extremes he would go to in his reaction to that.
When Gemma fingers the member of Lin’s Chinese gang—nice touch on asking if he had a family first—for Tara’s murder, did she realize she was going to start a huge war?
No, I don’t think so. I think in her mind she just thinks it’s going to be this one-off kind of thing where they’ll just kill this one innocent guy who is in her mind expendable, and ultimately that will satisfy Jax’s rage and grief and then everything will move on and be the way it should. I don’t think she realized the depth of Jax’s grief, and she’s not privy to all the dynamics of what’s going on between the varying factions. She’s not privy to the inner workings of all those relationships. So it sets off this series of events that she didn’t have the awareness to understand where it’s all going.
The level of violence has escalated (even more than usual). The payback scene at the end of the new season was really hard to watch. Why did you feel you had to show that and not imply it?
I think you’re seeing Jax’s capacity for vengeance like you’ve never seen before. Even though he’s been talking about taking the club down a legitimate path, I think those are all lofty and high-minded ideas and really make sense in terms of what they’ve been through. But then there’s the argument that says that these guys are what they are, and you can’t be a part of this life and not partake in the violence and the crime, and ultimately if it wasn’t Tara’s death then perhaps it would have been another thing that drove them back to the violence. Can you really be in this life and not to some degree really be that guy? So for me, it was just about showing the level of depth and capacity for that kind of violence. You have to be wired for that to a certain degree to have that kind of vengeance go down.
Does SOA mirror current outlaw biker culture?
No, not necessarily. I think the details are fairly accurate in terms of the look and the rides and all that stuff, but obviously it’s a very heightened reality in terms of what these guys do and how they earn money. Most of the guys that I know within the club have 9-5 jobs. I think that in terms of the camaraderie, in terms of the loyalty, that’s very real and a part of these organizations, but I think the violence and the crime is very much a heightened reality.
But 1% Motorcycle Clubs have been running guns and drugs for a long time.
Look, I’m not saying that these guys are saints by any means. But I think with the exception of a few organizations, there are guys within the organization that make a living legitimately and then there are guys within the organization that don’t. It’s very different than if you’re in the Cosa Nostra, where there are certain steps in terms of being engaged in organized crime. I think the difference with motorcycle clubs is that once you patch in and you’ve earned your patch, you’re not necessarily bound to how you earn a living. And yes, if you have a club member that’s in trouble and needs help for whatever reason, there is an expectation of camaraderie and loyalty to the club to turn up and help that person. This is one of the things we try to do on the show. For a lot of these guys, a good percentage of their income comes from the garage and comes from legitimate means. The guys that I know can pick and choose how they want to earn a living.
There are a lot of guest appearances this season. Courtney Love as an elementary school teacher? That’s totally wrong.
There’s also Marilyn Manson as a neo-Nazi and Lea Michele as a truck-stop waitress. Is Sonny Barger’s Lenny “The Pimp” coming back?
Last year he couldn’t come because of scheduling. As of yet there’s nothing on the table. I know Sonny was busy doing his own movie for a while and so I’m not sure if we’re going to bring back his character or not.
And what about the amazing Walton Goggins as Venus Van Dam?
Yes, Venus is back. Right now she’s in one episode. Depending on scheduling she might end up being in two. We have to see if we can make it work.
The writing and acting on this show is phenomenal. Why don’t you have a cabinet full of Emmys?
I’m so bored with the Emmys talk shit. It is… what it is. I don’t quite understand it.
And what about your next project for FX, The Bastard Executioner? Is that based on Richard III?
No, it definitely has some Shakespearean themes, but I just love that period of the 1500s, that crazy, crusading Christianity being jammed down people’s throats. Yet most people outside that little circle still believe in witches and ghosts and goblins, and are very pagan-minded. So it’s just part of our history and I love that world. It’s the shit I love doing. But yeah, there’s not a particular Shakespearean play that I can tie into it now, but I’m sure when the pilot comes out I’ll be able to do that.