'Sons of Anarchy' Showrunner Kurt Sutter on the 'Heartbreaking' Finale (Q&A)
Sutter talks to THR about writing the scene he describes as "straight-up Shakespearean tragedy."
[Warning: Spoilers ahead from Tuesday's season-six finale, "A Mother's Work."]
Many fans know that Sons of Anarchy showrunner Kurt Sutter was inspired by Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. And while the outspoken showrunner tells THR he'll "cringe a little bit" when people bring up that comparison, there is no denying that Shakespearean tragedy struck Charming during season six's finale episode on FX.
Gemma (Katey Sagal), thinking that Tara (Maggie Siff) had ratted on Jax (Charlie Hunnam), went over to Tara's house and attacked her, slammed her head into a sink full of water and then stabbed her to death. It was bloody, it was shocking and it was messy.
At the end of the episode, Gemma found out that Tara had not ratted at all, and that Jax had volunteered to give himself up in order to protect his wife. But by then, of course, it was too late.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Sutter about the bloody finale, killing off major characters and what season seven will look like.
I wanted to start off by asking what exactly you meant when you tweeted this about the finale: "I think it will make you smile."
That's just me reminding people that they should never believe anything I say on Twitter. (Laughs.)
That's what I thought. So let's talk about Tara's death. When did you know that her death would wrap up season six?
I knew early on in the series. I won't say from the very beginning, but fairly early on, I knew I wanted Tara's death to end season six. I knew probably a season or so after that that it would ultimately be Gemma. So I've known for a few seasons. Obviously, I wasn't quite sure of the circumstances that would get us there, but I knew that that's what we were ultimately writing toward.
How did you come up with the way she would die?
I cringe a little bit sometimes when people reference all the Shakespearean overtones. But I do really feel like when I have the opportunity to keep the show in that wheelhouse I enjoy doing that. So for me, I knew I wanted Tara's death to really feel like straight-up Shakespearean tragedy. And the device of mistaken information, it's right from Romeo and Juliet. I knew I wanted it to be visceral and just f---ing heartbreaking. With that, I knew it had to feel organic. You needed to believe that Gemma was doing it for what she thought were the right reasons. And then also, one could thematically argue that Tara, once again, was misled by love. She had hardened herself all season, and had woken up and realized that this relationship could not be saved, that the love was doomed, that what she needed to do was be a strong mother. She needed to break the bonds and get the f--- out. Had she stuck to her guns, had she not let her heart deceive her, she would have given Jax up, she would have been in WitPro and she would have been in custody and none of that would have happened.
In Hamlet Ophelia drowned. Was Tara's dip in the sink water an intentional parallel?
A little bit. I also love the idea -- the episode is called "A Mother's Work" -- I just like the idea of it being something that is so innocent, and so pedestrian. That it wasn't a gun, it wasn't a knife. We see Gemma washing dishes in that first montage. It's just this sort of simple, pedestrian sink of water and she ends up killing her with a carving fork that's just this innocent serving tool. I just like the idea of the simple, pedestrian nature of that. And then obviously it's a brutal, brutal death and brutal to watch, but it's not necessarily tools of the world. It's tools of Gemma's world, it's tools of Tara's world that killed her. But yes, the idea of the drowning was sort of fun to wink at that as well.
You killed off both Clay (Ron Perlman) and Tara this season. Tell me about how that process works with the actor. How much heads-up do they get?
Maggie and Ron are leads in the show. For me, it's always been Jax, Gemma, Clay and Tara in terms of the hierarchy, and so I always try to give people as much heads-up as possible -- I gave Ron a heads-up right at the beginning of the season -- so that they can begin to wrap their heads around it emotionally in terms of character, but also so they can wrap their brains around it in terms of the separation because they've all been here a long time and we're a big dysfunctional family here. And also, quite honestly, so they can begin to think of it in terms of career. The worst thing you can do is f---ing have someone read it in the script.
What can you say about what this sets up for Jax for season seven?
I would say that this is the season coming up where Jax needs to decide. There is no more debate. I think it's the season where he's in or out. Obviously we lay track to not just the emotional impact of the death of Tara, but [we ask] will it lead to revenge, will he find out who did it, and I also like to lay track to things organically that happen in the world. I liked the idea of setting up the potential threat of the Mayans and Chinese. All that feels organic and real because those are relationships that are constantly flipping in that world. I've had experiences on this show. There were clubs that I had around in the first season and second season doing extra work, and I found out there were beefs between a couple of clubs and then I couldn't have those guys around set. I feel like that's an organic place to lead to. To the extent of what that looks like next season, I don't know.
Do you think there will be a passage of time, or will it pick up right away?
There might be a little bit of a passage of time, maybe similar to what we did this season, which I think was a few weeks. I don't think it'll be more than that. I don't want to lose the potency of everything that's happened.
I know you've spoken about a possible spinoff about the original founders of the club. What would you say needs to happen for that to happen for you?
I brought the concept of the first nine to them very early on, a couple seasons in. They were intrigued by the idea. Now that FX has expanded and they're looking at doing standalone seasons and miniseries, I think it's a probably a lot more viable than it was a few years ago. I love the idea of doing the origin story, even if it's a stand-alone 12-episode thing. I love the idea of doing a period piece. It definitely would have different energy, it would be a different kind of show, but I think the real fans would plug into it. We would probably want to rest the mythology for a season or two, meaning that I don't think we would end Sons and begin the prequel. I think we would let it breathe for a couple years.