'Mayans MC': Kurt Sutter on the Finale's Deadly 'Sons of Anarchy' Twist

The man behind both motorcycle dramas speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about that shocking "Happy ending."
Prashant Gupta/FX

[This story contains spoilers for the season finale of FX's Mayans MC, "Cuervo/Tz'ikb'uul."]

Few people expected a happy ending for the first season of Mayans MC, and fewer people expected a Happy ending. The unlikely scenario occurred, however, when the freshman year of Kurt Sutter and Elgin James' FX biker drama concluded with its biggest Sons of Anarchy crossover yet, one that promises an even bigger collision when Mayans returns for its previously announced second season next year.

The finale, "Cuervo/Tz'ikb'uul," written by Sutter and directed by James, pulls the curtain back on one of the season's central mysteries: the murder of the Reyes family matriarch, whose death is the driving force behind her widowed husband, Felipe (Edward James Olmos), and two surviving sons, Angel (Clayton Cardenas) and Ezekiel (JD Pardo). Murdered several years before the main events of Mayans MC, EZ's mother's death led the Mayans protagonist on a quest for vengeance to find and punish her killer — a quest that landed him in jail for nearly a decade, when he accidentally shot a police officer in pursuit of the real killer.

Ever since then, EZ has wondered who killed his mother. Now, he wonders no more, as the finale puts him face to face with the triggerman: Happy Lowman, the Sons of Anarchy character played by David Labrava, featured on all seven seasons of Sutter's original FX biker drama.

A real-life Hells Angel who served as a technical adviser throughout Sons' run, Labrava made his debut as Happy in the Sons of Anarchy pilot, appeared in four additional episodes of season one, and was featured in every single subsequent season. He was a recurring player from seasons three through six, and was promoted to series regular for Sons' final season. In the context of the show's universe, Happy's journey saw the lethal enforcer ride from Washington to working as a roving nomad to finally settling down with SAMCRO by the end of the series; by that point, Happy was even promoted to sergeant-at-arms. 

In short: Happy is a big deal within the Sons of Anarchy universe, as is the man who plays him. Watch Happy in violent action in this clip from Sons of Anarchy below, and be warned: graphic content ahead.

Hundreds of questions emerge in light of Happy's role in murdering EZ's mother, with the big one being … well, why? No matter the specifics surrounding Happy's role in the death of the Reyes family matriarch, there's no question that it brings Mayans MC and Sons of Anarchy closer than ever — and that's saying something, considering Mayans reintroduced one of the great Sons of Anarchy antagonists, Ray McKinnon's Lincoln Potter, a few episodes earlier.

Where will the story go next in light of the finale's big reveal? For his part, speaking candidly with The Hollywood Reporter, Sutter reveals the surprising answer: He does not yet know. The writer at the helm of the Sons of Anarchy and Mayans universe opens up about his organic storytelling process in the interview ahead, detailing exactly when and how he arrived at the unexpected return of Happy, tempering expectations for a full-on Mayans and Sons crossover (don't expect season two to take place in the sleepy streets of Charming, California, the original Sons of Anarchy setting), the story behind bringing Lincoln Potter back into the show's universe, and where things stand heading into the already renewed season two.

How did you arrive at the "Happy ending," as it were?

It was one of those kismet things in the way I like to write. I usually do a pretty significant pass of each script. I end up finding the episode within my draft, or at least the mythology energy of it all. [Happy's return] was not planned. What I realized throughout the season was I didn't want the [EZ] flashbacks to fall into the same traps that Jax (Charlie Hunnam) reading from John Teller's manuscript fell into. It was powerful and served the character, but I didn't have a big arc for that device, so to speak. When it stopped serving the character and the narrative, I sort of let it go. As we were using the flashbacks to help tell EZ's story, I was able with that insight [from Sons] to start thinking about a bigger framework for the device of the flashback, so it's not just a narrative and expository cheat. I realized that each season, what I would like to do is have a story revealed piece by piece by piece within the framework of the flashbacks, so that by the end of the season, the memory we put together serves or in some way intersects thematically or narratively with the bigger arcs of the actual story. 

I had a sense of that idea about three or four episodes into the season, but I had no intention of it ever intersecting with Sons. As the narrative drove us to the stuff we did with Potter and Miguel Galindo's (Danny Pino) plan to operate in two worlds — the world [Potter] would see and control, and the actual world of his business with his rebels — I thought, well, there's an opportunity to connect to the Sons, with the Galindo piece, in terms of buying guns from them. At that point, we suggested that relationship hadn't continued, and they were buying their guns some place else. That dovetailed into it.

I started thinking about the payoff with EZ chasing the "one-armed man" who killed his mom. I wanted it to pay off and find out who that guy was, and plug that guy into the bigger mythology. I didn't know if it was going to be a cartel guy. Was it going to be a cop? Would it have something to do with EZ's dad? In the shaping of the season, I realized, "What if we intersect with the mythology that's already there?" We did the historical mythology homework to realize at the time [EZ's mom died], Happy was a Nomad. We established him as a button guy and a killer-for-hire. That piece of it worked, in terms of it not impacting the Sons mythology. He wasn't a member of the charter at that time. He was free and clear. Then the trick was, How do we allow EZ to have that reveal? It can't be someone he's seen before. We established that it's not how they buy their guns. In a previous episode, we saw they bought guns from the San Bernardino charter [of the Sons of Anarchy], so there was no direct conflict with Charming or with Redwood. We could criss-cross the mythologies in a way I was good with, because it doesn't impact the Sons mythology at all. 

I've said from the jump that there would be intersections with not necessarily secondary characters in importance, but characters who existed at least part of the time on the fringe — meaning, other charters, and people like Chucky (Michael Ornstein). We get away with that when Happy and Quinn (Rusty Coones) show up, because they were people who came to the club later on, and already existed in the fringe before the people we came to know that represent the Sons mythology. So, this ticked off all the boxes for me, in terms of protecting the other mythology. It became this very cool kismet kind of way to intersect things. Now I just have to figure out where the fuck to go with it. (Laughs.)

And that's the big question: Now that the mythologies of Mayans and Sons have intersected in this big way, one would think those universes are going to ride alongside each other into season two. Is that a fair assumption, that season two will focus heavily on the Sons of Anarchy?

I don't think so. I think it's going to continue the way it is: They now become part of the external conflict. The focus will still be on EZ, who is now committing to this life, and at least being in a place of acceptance: "This is who I am now, let me see how it goes. I'm exhausted trying to figure out who the fuck I am." We have a commitment from him to the club. We've established the tension between him and Angel. That's still the thrust. Now, we have this cool external conflict for EZ [with Happy] thinking, "OK, now what the fuck do I do?" Here's a guy [in Happy] who is now integral to the success of this club, and yet, "I know who he is and what he did." What does he do with that? Who does he take that to? How does that play out? There's a lot of room to go in different ways. 

I don't want to misrepresent the idea that next season we're going back to Charming. We're really clear when we come back in flashbacks and in the narrative to remind fans when [Happy killed EZ's mom] eight years ago, Happy was a Nomad. He was freelance. He had no ties to Charming. I don't want to misrepresent the direction of the series. But is it a cool way to intersect mythologies without fucking with what we did in Sons? I think we're managing to do that. I love when shit happens organically like that, when it's authentic. It allows me to continue doing what I love as a storyteller, which is making people's heads explode. 

Happy always brought a unique flavor to Sons of Anarchy, but as far as I can recall, he was rarely at the forefront of his own story. No matter what happens next, you have to imagine that Happy is on the edge of a very significant story. Is that an exciting prospect for you, writing this kind of material for David Labrava, who has been involved in your universe from the start, in a way you weren't able to on Sons?

Yeah, and you know, there's always so much limited screen time for what ended up being such a powerful and authentic ensemble. Every episode, we had Jax's journey, which was so potent and drove the show. And then we had the other characters. I love who Bobby (Mark Boone Junior) became, and his relationships, or Tig (Kim Coates) and his relationships. We would see some of that stuff. We got to see Bobby's relationship with his ex-wife and his daughter. We got to see Tig and what happened with his daughters. We got to see Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) and what happened with his family when he went to Ireland. There were times when I got to organically reveal layers of other characters, and it was so much fun to do that, because I had such great actors. But the thrust of the show was Jax, Gemma (Katey Sagal), Clay (Ron Perlman) and Tara (Maggie Sif). That was the driving force. Anytime I could do that, I would.

We did a little bit with Happy. We had a couple of episodes where we had him talking about wanting to be closer to his mom, because his mom wasn't well. That's why he wanted to plant roots in Charming. We got to see beyond his being this iconic representation of stoicism and fear. We got to see layers of him and see some humor and see some vulnerability. Now, we will be able to, at the very least, show some layers of his backstory in this piece. When I figure out what direction I want it to go in, I will lay track to perhaps what he was doing and why he was doing it and who he was working for and who hired him. In the reveal of that story, we will have the opportunity — whether through flashback or what we do in the present day — to at least reveal parts of his life we didn't know about.

There was another big Sons of Anarchy intersection that kicked off a few episodes ago: the return of Lincoln Potter. For my taste, short of bringing June Stahl back from the dead, you couldn't have picked a better Sons villain to show up in Mayans. How did his return come together?

That was my writers. That was Elgin and our writers who had the same experience with that character as you did. I know the thematic and emotional points of that mythology, but I forget fucking half the shit we did. (Laughs.) I know Ray's character was ultimately upended by the CIA, but I forgot the reason he was upended was because they couldn't stop the flow of guns to Galindo. That got me thinking, when they talked about bringing back Potter, and we don't mention this in season four, but what if Galindo's old man had a deal with the Justice Department? That became a fascinating way to talk about a character that we heard of — Miguel's father, Jose Galindo — and I think all we ever saw of him was a picture of him on a board in season four. We had never met the man. It was a great way to get to know that character through history as it relates to the current narrative. When my writers were like, "It makes sense to bring Potter back, because he went away because of Galindo," that's when my head exploded. 

Potter was such a unique and odd character, really operating on a different plane. I could see the guy who was upended by [Galindo] then taking his obsession and going, "What the fuck happened?" In the past six or so years, he threw himself into that, took a leave of absence, and ultimately, because of his obsessive nature, he became the Justice Department's guy on the inside and became the master of the thing that undermined him. Then you have an actor like Ray, who can make all of that stuff happen and bring it to life. 

This is not a world where people talk a lot; I'm constantly editing and bringing dialogue down because it's not a place where people share a lot. Occasionally on Sons there were characters [who could have large amounts of dialogue], like Venus (Walton Goggins), who talks a lot. But Potter was a character who loves to talk. That's a character who uses words like weapons. For a writer, it's so much fucking fun. I would have literally half-page monologues for him, knowing I had an actor who could make it work. As a writer, that's such a fun character to bounce off of. I think Ray had a blast. I know Ray, and love Ray, and I think he had so much fun putting that guy back on. 

Looking back on the first season, are there any characters or stories you wish you could have expanded upon that you hope to take another crack at in season two?

I've learned to hold onto what I think should have happened pretty loosely. I don't usually come out of a season feeling, "Oh, I wish we had this." There was one storyline we ultimately had to cut out, just because my episodes were running so long already. It was a backstory for Emily (Sarah Bolger). It was a scene where she goes to see her mom, when her husband is in the back hole at the border. She goes to her mom and we learn more about her family. It was an interesting reveal for her in terms of character. Ultimately, the episodes were so thick that I had to extract that story. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to do that next season, where we get a little more of Emily's story, and see the things that shaped her so you understand who she is and why she's with Miguel, and the choices that she's made.

Where are you in the process of figuring out season two? 

It's sort of the Sons schedule. I'll probably start back up with the writers at the end of January. We'll go back into production around the end of May. I like to have at least 16 to 18 weeks upfront with my writers to get a grip on things. We'll probably shoot for around the same time with the airing of season two. That's the schedule of it all, but as far as the ideas? There's a lot of viable jumping-off points.

You want to let it breathe for a bit?

Yeah. It's hard for my brain to shut down, so if there's a theme or an idea, I'll jot that down. I don't want to start unpacking things in my head. I just want to let it sit for a minute. Probably around the holidays or so, I'll start boarding some bigger-picture ideas. I like to come into each season with at least a loose sense of structure and where I want it to go. My writers help me get there.

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