With only two more seasons left, following this current one, to tell the show’s story, things are getting very, very real on the hit FX drama series Sons of Anarchy. Never one to shy away from going there when the story calls for it, show creator Kurt Sutter did just that, in the game-changing episode “Laying Pipe,” opening up emotional ramifications for the rest of the season.
During this recent interview to discuss the events of that episode, executive producer Kurt Sutter talked about when he knew the character’s fate and how the actor found out, the motivations for the character’s actions, the mood on set while shooting that scene, how it will affect Jax’s (Charlie Hunnam) leadership and the emotional relationships of the club going forward, what’s to come for Juice (Theo Rossi), whether audiences will ever soften to Damon Pope (Harold Perrineau), whether a confrontation between Jax and Clay (Ron Perlman) is inevitable, and why seven seasons is the right amount of time to tell this story. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are spoilers.
KURT SUTTER: He was looped in. I didn’t just send him the script. I started thinking about it, in terms of that arc between Jax and Opie, really towards the end of Season 3. And then, it all came together with the death of Piney, last year. I got to the end of that season and realized that there was this circular dynamic that was happening with Jax and Opie that I felt was very difficult to get out of, in terms of where their arc was going. Ryan is an extraordinary actor. As we came into this season, knowing that this is really the first season I’ve had to think about the end game, and knowing where I want to take my hero and knowing how I want him to get there and the road that I want him to travel, I felt that Jax needed the emotional upheaval. One event that happens in a man’s life that can change the course of his destiny, and I think the death of his best friend was that event. I really wanted to do it at a point in the season that was organic, but I also wanted it to happen earlier rather than have it be the finale. And then, as far as bringing the actor in the loop, I did that before we even started writing. As we were breaking the stories, I brought Ryan in. It’s a difficult thing. He’s very plugged into the show and loves the character. Ryan is a super sensitive dude, and it was difficult for both of us to figure out how to do this. I think when he read the script, and reading the episodes that follow, he understood the nature of it and the importance of it, in the mythology of the show.
Going forward, where will things be going with the Tig and Clay relationship, and the Tig and Jax relationship?
SUTTER: I think both of those will continue to change. Obviously, there’s a new dynamic between Tig and Jax, in the Pope of it all. But, I think the betrayal that Tig felt, as we saw in the first couple of episodes, with Tig and Clay is real. I think Tig does feel betrayed. You’ll see this interesting shift that happens this season, paralleling a little bit of what happened in Season 2, when Opie started moving closer to Clay, as a result of his rift with Jax. That will start to happen this season, as well. You’ll see that Tig will be engaged with the new dynamic that he has with Jax, and is in his debt for what he did. He doesn’t know all of the details of the deal that Jax made with Pope. All he knows is that Jax basically got him a pardon. Tig is such a great, complicated character. He’s one of those characters where, on any given episode, I can spin him into some absurd comic relief or I can spin him into some gut-wrenching, emotional family dynamic. And I’m lucky to have an actor like Kim, who can put on any suit of clothes I ask him to wear, and pull it off.
SUTTER: Some of it is just the practicality of the model, and The Shield had a very similar production model, in terms of the cost of episodes. I understand the model with which I have to work with, and I know that for practical reasons, after seven seasons, the above-the-line costs and everything become greater than the actual revenue. So, from a very practical notion, I knew that this model basically has around seven seasons of a lifespan before you really have to start trying to reinvent it and change licensing fees, and all that stuff. My original idea, coming into it, was, “Okay, if that’s the model and this is my mythology, do I have seven seasons worth of story to tell?” I really approached it from that point of view, in terms of how to dole out the story and where to go. So, the initial idea of seven seasons wasn’t just a number I pulled out of the air. It was really based on the practicality of what we do. But then, as I’m moving forward with the mythology, having that in mind, I feel like now that has become this super structure for the show, and yes, I have this idea for seven seasons. Not to throw this out there as a potential tease, or anything like that, but I’m sure that, half-way through Season 6, if I went to FX and said, “I can’t end it in seven seasons. I have another eight episodes,” my sense is that the network is committed enough to the show and my vision that they would probably find a way to accommodate that, but I do feel like we’ve been working from that structure of it being seven seasons. As of today, I’m looking at my board with the finale all beat out and I can still see that happening in seven seasons.
What would you like to say to fans of the show, about the death of Opie?
SUTTER: I think the fans understand why it was done. They know that I don’t do things arbitrarily and that I don’t do things just for shock value. I think there’s a sense of how deeply committed I am to this show, and to the fans as well. Obviously, I knew this would be a gut-wrenching episode that was difficult for people to wrap their brains around, but I do think that they understand why it happened and where it will go. I guess what I would say to them is that, yes, it’s incredibly sad, but the death of Opie will color the rest of the episodes, for the rest of the series. It’s not a death that will happen in vein. I hope people will still stay plugged in. Of course, there will be a sense of vengeance, and there will be something that drives our guys to retaliate, but it’s not even so much that as it is the emotional impact that his death will have on the rest of the series and the rest of the characters. That will always be there.
SUTTER: I knew that there was this organic way to get him to prison. I love what we did, at the end of Episode 2, in terms of Opie realizing he wasn’t going to let his best friend go in unprotected. Not to trick people, but there was a sense of Opie coming to his friend’s aid, and that perhaps this was the beginning of them reuniting and becoming brothers again. And it was. I felt like there was a very organic process in the episode, where we see these two guys really coming together. It was a bumpy road, but there was a sense of Jax being honest with Opie and telling him everything, and really bonding with him again, as a result of these circumstances. Obviously, Jax didn’t necessarily know where it was all going, but I knew that’s what we were going to do. As dramatic and as absurd that that dynamic was, it’s not uncommon. Shit like that goes down in prisons. Just last week, there were videotapes that came out of the Alabama prison of what guards were doing to inmates. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, in terms of the shit that goes down. And I wanted Opie to go out a warrior. I really wanted him to go out with nobility and a sense of feeling like, “I may not have a lot to live for, but at the very least, I’m going to go out doing something noble and protecting the people I still love.” I felt like we were able to do all that with that death.
Since there’s already been a major death, this early in the season, just how crazy will the finale get?
SUTTER: This is the season where Jax really figures out what kind of man he’s going to become, and we see the decisions that he makes and what kind of leader he’s going to be. I wanted to lay these circumstances out early in the season because that really allows that death to color Jax and all the choices that he makes. Obviously, I didn’t want to do it in the premiere. I don’t know if things will get more insane. Jax will be greatly influenced by the death of Opie, and that loss and emptiness will color him throughout the rest of the season.
SUTTER: Because of the choices that we’ve made storywise, and the choices that the actor has made over time, Ryan just brought a great pathos and sadness and depth to the character of Opie. When you start writing for these characters, you have a sense of who the characters are, and then the actors inform those choices and you start writing to the actor as the character. I just felt like we had done so much damage to Opie and his family, over the course of a few seasons. It’s why I couldn’t wrap my brain around bringing him back to the table, at the end of last season. That didn’t seem right. To me, there is a sense of him having this tremendous loss, and I do believe that some of it was definitely a sense of, “Here’s an opportunity for me to go out, doing the right thing. This is how I can be of best service to my club.” I always got a sense that Opie struggled with those kids, ever since he got out of prison. He never really felt connected to them, or his family. Obviously, the Lyla thing was somewhat abrupt and some kind of distraction, so perhaps this was his way of being of service to his club and to his family. His dad went out doing the right thing. You could argue against that and how it was a selfish thing to do, but I do believe that that had a lot to do with it. It was this personal choice of personal sacrifice. My intention, in that scene, was that Jax wasn’t going to let anybody force him to make that choice, even if it meant him making that choice himself. I felt that Opie saw that in Jax, and had to step in and make that choice.
Is Juice’s secret going to come to fruition this season, or is that something that will be dealt with further down the road?
SUTTER: Not to spoil anything, but the circumstances that we’re laying track to now will ultimately lead us to Juice and his secret. I’m very aware of the level of violence and the big myths of our stories. One of the things that keeps them real is that they don’t happen in a vacuum. I don’t play out a huge scene or a huge arc, and then just let it exist and not tie it to the ground. As most of our storylines dovetail into something else, I think we’ll be able to see some of that play out with Juice, more towards the back half of the season.
SUTTER: Pope’s philosophy is really that street pimp mentality, which is that he leads with sheer utter brutality, and then, by contrast, everything else he does feels gentle and kind. It’s really that pimp mentality, which is, “I make you feel safe and loved, once you realize how brutal I can actually be,” and he starts to play that out on Jax. It starts to be a little bit about, “Let me put my arm around you, son, and you can become just like me, if you want to.” There’s a mentorship dynamic going on, but at the end of the day, it’s really a lot of ego. Pope just assumes that everybody wants to be like him. He has this community presence and became accepted by the community, and not just by the people living in it, but also politicians and community activists. His influence on the people in that town could not be overlooked, not unlike the way the mafia has done that, over the years. I wanted to see a guy who had risen above the street, but is still very connected to the street. Half-way through the season, there’s a few episodes where we really get into who Pope is and why he’s made the decisions that he’s made. But, at the end of the day, it really comes down to narcissism and that sense of feeling like what they do is okay because they consider themselves to be extraordinary human beings.
Since Season 1, Jax has been trying to distance himself, and even tried to get out of the club. Will Jax go deeper into the club now and bring everybody closer, or will he get a little sloppier now with all of the emotion surrounding things?
SUTTER: Without giving anything away, and not to be purposely vague, but I think it’s a little of both, quite honestly. Events like this tend to make you re-evaluate who your friends are. I think Jax’s commitment to the club will stay true, in terms of taking the reins and wanting to get them on the right path, as he promised to do, at the end of last season. But definitely, the death of Opie has a lot of emotional weight for him and will force him to make decisions and choices, based a little bit more on emotion than perhaps logic and reason. My intent is that we see a changed Jax this year. He’s a guy who’s very much being influenced by his early tenure as President.
SUTTER: It was pretty brutal. It was on location, so I wasn’t there for the actual filming of it. But, I do know that Ryan had requested that the guys be there for those final moments, so he could actually look over at the guys who he had been working with for the last five seasons. It was very emotional. A lot of what you saw going on in those scenes – and not to take anything away from their choices and their talent – was very real and very sad. These guys, for better or for worse, have really become incredibly bonded and incredibly close, as it should happen in a safe, creative environment. So, it was incredibly sad for all of them, and very emotional. There was a big post-mourning afterwards, as well, which speaks to the nature of the relationship that these guys all have with each other. We’re just one big, fucked-up, dysfunctional family, and I mean that in the most loving and good way.
Is a confrontation between Jax and Clay inevitable?
SUTTER: I think that all of these events will color all of Jax’s relationships, including the one he has with Clay. The interesting thing for me this season, in terms of the emotionality of all our characters – from Jax and Clay and Gemma and Tara – is that it isn’t linear this season. There’s so much going on with all these characters that there are no straight lines. No one begins in one place and has a steady climb or decline to the other place. They begin somewhere, and then something happens and it takes them down, and then something else happens and it takes them up, and then something else happens and it takes them down again. It’s very ebb and flow, and all the characters are all over the place, emotionally, but in a good way and not in a random way. As the stories were unfolding for us, it just happened organically that the emotionality and the relationships were really in a constant state of flux. And Jax and Clay are no different. Their relationship will ebb and flow, and come to a head, as will Clay’s own personal journey and his demons. Clay’s emotional path this season is not a straight line either. He will have awareness of things and make choices and make mistakes. I think we will see Jax and Clay go at it, but maybe not in the most predictable way.
Will there be any more major deaths this season?
SUTTER: I can’t tell you that! But, if it does happen, it won’t be arbitrary. If it happens again, it would probably not be quite as sudden.
Sons of Anarchy airs on Tuesday nights on FX.