“Sons of Anarchy” rides into its final season this fall on FX, and for some of us the ending can't come soon enough. But for others, it won't be so easy to say goodbye to those loveable SAMCRO nutcases and mother from hell, Gemma Teller.
Maybe it's because the TCA 2014 summer press tour has just about reached its end, but the “Sons” panel was oddly subdued, without the sort of live wire insanity we've come to expect from creator Kurt Sutter. He did share his take on last season's extra long episodes (expect more of those in the final season), the extreme nature of the show's graphic violence and why he cast Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson in guest roles, while stars Charlie Hunnam and Katey Sagal teased a bit about what to expect in the final season. And yes, the continued lack of Emmy love for SAMCRO came up yet again.
The highlights, such as they are, follow…
Sutter hasn't written the finale just yet
The big question comes first: Has Sutter already written the ending? “Considering I'm a week and a half behind on episode seven, it could all change,” he jokes, while acknowledging he has an idea of how he wants the series to end. “I always had a sense of where I wanted it to go. I come at each season with a blueprint of what I want to do with the big arcs and mile markers. I've learned that over seven seasons now the looser I grip that idea, the better the seasons are. This season really isn't any different.
“I came in with how I wanted the season to end, which will be the end of the series, and we're heading in that direction. But things change with different story ideas. It's always been heading in the same direction, but the way I'm getting there continuously changes.”
Jax and Gemma: 'Better than ever'
As the only remaining lead players on the show, Jax (Hunnam) and Gemma (Sagal) will have to carry the bulk of the final season on their own. And the tension is sure to stem from Gemma doing anything she can to prevent Jax from discovering she murdered Tara in last season's finale.
“It's been about ten days since Tara's death when you pick us back up,” Hunnam reports. “Jax is in a very schizophrenic state. He's obviously very very sad and vulnerable and kind of broken but there's a huge amount of vengeance and anger in his heart. The way all of that is processing, at least in the very beginning, is to have a bit of a numbing effect. He knows what he wants to do, he knows that's where all his energy is going to go, but he can't get away from the fact that the love of his life has been taken from him.”
“Every season I'm challenged somewhat differently which is one of the reasons it's such an interesting part to play,” Sagal adds. “Definitely [Gemma] is somewhat duplicitous — it's not even somewhat. What's going through her brain and coming out of her mouth are two different things. She's made decisions based on her basic instinct which is to survive and keep her family together.”
“I know nothing [about what Gemma did], so for me the relationship [between Jax and Gemma] is similar if not better than ever,” Hunnam says. “One of the things I decided in terms of understanding where Jax was — This final betrayal and tragedy in his life had completely demolished any potential of him trusting anyone outside of his immediate circle. I had been trying to instill a little of that sense. Unless you're my mom, my children or one of the Sons of Anarchy, you better watch out.”
Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson / You're all fakes / Run to your mansions
Among the guest stars joining the show in the final season are rock stars Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson. Sutter explains how that happened: “I tend to do this every season, I like to do some casting that's a little bit outside the box, from Stephen King to David Hasselhoff. We try to do stuff that's fun. Manson, I became friends with through some music buddies. He's a huge fan of the show. That was him just wearing me down. We found a great role for him and he's great.
“Courtney I don't know as well. I got to meet her a couple times and I was a huge Nirvana fan. We had this role of a school teacher and I thought, 'Who better than Courtney Love?' It sort of fits into our parameters of 'Sons of Anarchy' casting.”
About those extra long episodes…
Basically, Sutter loves them, so screw you if you don't. But here's what he said: “It was never my intention to do that. I think what ended up happening is, as the seasons became more complicated and as each scene of our little movie became an integral connective beat to another scene, it became more and more difficult to find things to cut. As relationships became more complicated, scenes became longer because there's a lot more going on between characters.
“Over the course of three or four seasons I was getting directors cuts that were 15 or 20 minutes longer. I got to the point where I went to the network and said, 'I need help, what do I cut here?' They had internal discussions with their advertising departments and they started to allow us to have these longer episodes. It proved to be successful for them I think, and we weren't losing any viewership because we were pushing into a later hour.
“[The benefit is] I no longer have the struggle going into the creative process of, 'As I watch this, or as I write this, what am I going to have to cut?' At a script level I can really write the episodes I want to write. At an editorial level I'm cutting only the things that make it a better episode. Now I'm able to turn out episodes that are really the best cut to deliver that story.”
Putting the graphic in graphic violence
“I don't have that filter,” Sutter says to no one's surprise when he's asked if there's ever a concern about going too far with the show's violence. “I sort of rely on [FX chief] John Landgraf for that filter. Here's the way I feel about that: This show is a pulp novel each week. It's not so much about, 'How do I outdo myself?' It's really about, 'Within the circumstances of a scene between two characters what is the most interesting way for things to happen?'
“I can say this fairly confidently, I don't think anything we've ever done, no matter how obscure or outrageous, has been inorganic or unbelievable. The reason why it was a fork [that Gemma used to kill Tara] is because it was there. I joke about it mainly because people are coming up to my wife now asking her to autograph forks, so the absurdity has crossed the line for me to a certain extent.
“It's not that my goal is to disturb people, but I also want that reaction when beloved characters go away. When Opie was killed, people fucking hated me. The good thing is they didn't stop watching, but they were upset, they lost a friend. To me that means you're writing characters that are relatable, believable and that people want to show up for each week, which means quite frankly that I'm doing my job. I'm a disturbing guy.”
If Jax went legit, he'd probably quit
Hunnam says he never thought much about it, but was happy Jax never completely made it to the good side. “I don't think there would've been much drama had he gone legit. I'm pretty glad we didn't go in that direction, it would've been a boring show.”
Sutter adds that Jax's struggles intentionally “echoed what John Teller had tried to do and clearly wasn't successful at.”
Who needs an Emmy, anyway?
Sutter initially demurred on the Emmy snub question, explaining he's spoken (and written) at length on the subject in the past, so producer and director Paris Barclay spoke up instead. “If you don't get into 'Sons of Anarchy,' you can't get into it. The package of 'Sons of Anarchy' is not the kind of thing that appeals to most Emmy voters, I really don't think they watch the show. Once you watch the show you get sucked into it.”
“Lest we not forget it doesn't matter at all,” Hunnam interjects. “I feel there's this perception that we're kind of upset about this. I can speak for myself completely honestly, I really don't give a shit. I make this for the people who watch the show, I care about the work I do. If people don't appreciate it — you can't win 'em all. Who cares?”
That's the point when Sutter, who actually earned an Emmy nomination this year in the original song category, finally speaks up to admit: “I want an Emmy.”