So "Sons of Anarchy" season two has come to an end, and I have both a review of the finale and this transcript of the interview I did with "Sons" creator Kurt Sutter about all the things that happened in the finale (and the season before it), what the hold-up is with the third season renewal, and more. There are some mild spoilers for what Kurt plans to do in that third season, so read on at your own peril if you want to stay totally pristine, but know that this was stuff I felt comfortable including.
So I watched the finale, and the first thing I thought was, "This is a man who does not have concerns about coming back next season."
Wow. What does that mean?
It just means you leave a lot of things hanging out there.
In terms of?
Gemma's a fugitive, Abel has been abducted, Half-Sack is dead… I guess Half-Sack being dead isn't something hanging out there, but there is a whole lot to be resolved.
Right, right. Let me just start, because I know people are going to be pissed off about the Half-Sack thing. I will tell you that I've been having conversations with Johnny Lewis all season, and Johnny wasn't happy on the show. Creatively, he really wanted out of his contract. We had ongoing conversations, and we decided we'd find some noble way for him to go. It wasn't my intent to try to be sensational and kill off a main character. People are going to have their reaction, but I don't want an actor that's not happy. It's not good for the actor, and it's not good for the show. I love Johnny. I'd work with him again in a heartbeat.
But in terms of some of the other stuff - this was clearly written with confidence that you would have another season to deal with it.
It would suck if the show ended right now. I had this idea, and I didn't know when it would happen, but I did know I wanted to play out this notion of Abel being taken and what that would do to Charlie and the club. Ideally, and I think it came across, is the idea that it's so outside the parameters of the outlaw handbook that it was clearly like, "What the f--k?" That's something that doesn't happen within their world. You don't f--k with family. The fact that that rule was broken; the impact isn't, "Ohmigod, I'm going to kill this guy." It's, "What just happened?" That really is my hope for next season: to take them into a world that is outside their own, where they don't have control, where they are subject to other people's laws and beliefs and perameters. Where they aren't quite the big fish in the small pond.
How much confidence at this point do you have that the renewal is going to be finalized?
I've had conversations with (FX president John) Landgraf, and of course the show's going to be picked up. What happens in season three, dude, is my contract is a two-year contract, historically actors get a bump between season two and three. FX, really the burden of that lands on them. They are the co-producers of that show. They really had to get all their financial ducks in a row. Once you announce the actual pick up, it sets the ball rolling. My thought was that we would hopefully find out before the finale. Obviously, that clock is ticking. But I've been assured there will be a season three. My deal is pretty much done, but it's a matter of finalizing all the other deals. And then they'll make the announcement.
One of the things I used to talk with Shawn Ryan about on "The Shield" was that you guys would come up with some kind of trap the strike team would find itself in, and then spend three or four days figuring out how they'd get out of it before you began writing anything. Do you know how the kidnapping and everything else will resolve themselves now, or is that something you're going to solve during the hiatus?
I do. It's not by any plan of mine, but what happens is about halfway through the season, I have a good sense of where I'm going to go in the following season. By episode six or seven, I had a good sense of what the big story arcs will be for season three. I do know how it will be resolved, the big story arcs. I'll go in in the beginning of the season, and we'll start hanging the meat on those bones.
Well, I don't want to know too much about what's coming, and I'm sure you don't want to say much, but is it safe to assume we might see the club go to Belfast?
I think it's okay to tease this, because I think it'll be cool. I'm actually working with (the studio) now on how best to - clearly we're not a show that can up and move everybody to Belfast. Does that mean having a second unit work out there to match some shots? But the plan is to take the charter to Ireland.
Do you have Titus Welliver locked up yet (to keep playing Jimmy O)?
I don't have Titus locked up. For all those secondary characters, we're really at the mercy of people's schedules. Sometimes, that'll happen, and you'll be forced to write around characters. That happened in the first season. We had an actor that was playing the Irish contact, and we lost him to "Brotherhood," so we had to kill him off, and bring in another character. I love Titus. I think he had a really good time working on the show, and I think we can juggle it and make it work.
Okay, going back over some leftover business from this season: do the charges from the raid on the church go away because Zobelle fled the country? Or are they still in trouble because the cops caught them red-handed with guns?
It doesn't go away. Again, there's a lot of stuff, and I'm not saying this is a good thing or an excuse, but there are a lot of details that tend to fall away in scripts, and then in actual cuts. In fact, next season all that stuff will come back and have a big impact on them. They get away with stuff in Charming because they get away with stuff in Charming. But all this stuff, the federal charges for having assault weapons, all that stuff is there. We have the same sort of loose timeframe that we had on "The Shield." Sometimes, it's a day, and sometimes it's a week, but the truth is, there's not a whole lot of time that has passed.
And are we to take it that Georgie was the one who killed Luann before he skipped town for Thailand?
I think that'll also come back. Right now, there's a couple of pitches on the table that may change that. Right now, that's really where it stands. I don't know about you, but I thought Tom Arnold did a really good job, and I'd like to see him back if we can.
Yeah, he was good. It's just that there was some ambiguity about whether Georgie did it, or possibly Zobelle, or one of the club's other enemies.
I think right now the perception is that it is Georgie. For me, story-wise, that's fine. But it may actually change.
Did the club stand down from the fortress mentality of "The Culling" once Zobelle and Weston were arrested? I was wondering why Tara and Gemma were out and about like that, even with Half-Sack as bodyguard, and why Tara wound up back at Jax's house when Cameron found her.
I think so. For me, the blowout that happened at the end of (episode) 12 was really all about knowing that Weston wasn't going to hold true, he was going to bring his power base to the timberlands, and that (SAMCRO would) be able to, at the very least, injure them enough and take them out enough to cut off Zobelle's muscle. Which they were able to do. So, to me, Weston and Zobelle being in jail allows them to stand down from (the fortress). But they're still not going to let Gemma and Tara go out alone. Even though it's Gemma, who could probably snap Half-Sack in half, they won't let them go out without some kind of escort. There's definitely an awareness about that.
Initially, I had written that scene (where) there was ongoing discussion about the baby, and I just felt like, even leaving the clubhouse, there was something about Gemma not letting that baby out of her sight. That was an ongoing discussion, but I just felt, and then how it segued into the event with Polly. I just love the notion of the baby essentially being in the car while that conversation happens.
Knowing the kind of man Jax is, and the kind of dad he is, I can't imagine he's going to be able to think about anything else in this world so long as his son is missing. Does that mean that all the tension within the club goes away while they're searching for Abel?
I say this a lot, and it's sort of my mantra on the show: none of that stuff happens in a vacuum. I do believe that Jax and Clay are ultimately able to put aside their immediate differences, in the same way Opie's able to put aside his feelings, but the wounds are there. The scar tissue is not very tight. That's the kind of stuff that will not go away, and will always impact their relationship for the rest of the series. We're going to really see Opie struggle with that next year. How does he do that? How does he show up and cover Tig's back knowing what he knows? That stuff will always continue to play out. It's hard sometimes, to have that nuance play out in every scene.
Well, I remember when you set up this storyline last season with Donna getting killed, I thought to myself that when the episode came where Opie found out, there was no way that he, Clay and Tig would all leave that episode alive. Yet you came up with a solution that made sense.
I liked the notion - to me, it really spun on Piney - that Piney had the same fear that you did. Ultimately, he was going to take that on himself so it didn't have to fall on his son. Within that, it gave me an out for Opie. Then it's about Opie saying, "I want to put a bullet in your head, but I'm not going to do that, because you're going to give my old man a pass for trying to put one in yours." It just felt like a way out. But Piney still has no love for Clay, and Opie is willing to go to the mat now to protect Gemma and to protect the club. If I'm Tig, I'm not trusting this guy.
What did you have in mind with the scene in "The Culling" where Tara slaps around Margaret?
The conversations that I've been having with Maggie (Siff) all along - because it's so not who Maggie is, she's really a sweet, fragile soul - has been, it's not so much about Tara finding the ability to change and to accept (the violence), it's really about her continuing to suppress what she already has inside her. And for me, that's always been underneath Tara. We saw some of that with Kohn. I felt that she's had these strong influences all year with Jax, and what we saw happen to Gemma, and if we didn't see some of that break open, and some of that spill out from her former life, that would almost be a disservice to who she had been.
Knowing that, and doing that scene, I did know what would happen in the finale, which is that ultimately, the same violence she supported and ultimately participated in, comes back to bite her in the ass, and terrifies her. By the end of the finale, she's breaking down. I knew that I was going to go there, and I knew that I would see some of that bleed out, and I think that has a lot to do with the trauma that she feels afterwards. She knows that's a part of it. She patched the guy up who ultimately put a gun to her head.
Well, I like that even before Cameron shows up, there's that scene where Gemma's in the car giving this megalomaniacal speech about how God has put her on Earth to do this, and you can see Tara freaking out and thinking, "Wait, this is who I've been using as my guru?"
I think so. She starts to see it there. For me, I just love the notion, and not that I'm trying to make a huge statement about man and religion, but the idea that most people, when they go through this trauma and are suddenly feeling karmic guilt and questioning all they do, they're driven to a point of repentance. And Gemma, being exactly the megalomaniac she is, somehow manipulates it to her advantage, in that, "Oh, wait a minute. God gives me the license to do whatever the f--k I want to do." It's what the religious right does, and it's what the radical Muslims do. You interpret to substantiate your agenda. To me, the most upsetting thing in that scene is seeing how f--king calm Gemma is. That's what Maggie plays so beautifully: "Ohmigod, you are calm. You actually believe what's coming out of your mouth."
Why is Gemma willing to kill Polly when she couldn't pull the trigger on Weston? Is it just how much she's healed from the incident, or that she was afraid of AJ but isn't of Polly?
I think it's a little bit of both. Hearing Weston talk about his sons f--ked with Gemma at the time, but I also think Gemma has come much further in the crisis at this point. I think the scene with the priest was this pivotal moment for her. That's where the seed was planted: this is what God does, and it's all about being of service. I think she has that now in her favor. So it does give her the capacity, at the very least, to not be conflicted about pulling the trigger. If she had the awareness at the port-a-john, she would have put a bullet in the back of his head.
And instead Weston gets shot in a different toilet.
Heh. I hadn't thought of that.
So much of the bad things at the end of the episode are caused by Stahl. After all the screw-ups she's had investigating the Sons over the last two seasons, why is the ATF still leaving her in charge of the case, and giving her so much free rein?
I think she's been on point all season. She says early on that it's not about the Sons. I think she's backed off of that. She's really doing her job this season, which is to go after the guns. For the most part, the case is holding up, and she is gaining on it. Up until this point, she's sort of proven herself as being on point with what the case is in going after Jimmy O, and Jimmy O is a big fish. But I do think that the machinations that happen at the end here, really it's about her covering her tracks. Ultimately, the guys will try to take advantage of that next season. At the very least to try to help Gemma.
One of the cool things we were able to do on "The Shield" with the Kavanaugh character was, when you're that close to something and someone that you can't help but be influenced by it. Kavanaugh could not help but be influenced by the machinations of Vic, and ultimately, it impacted him and the decisions that he made. That's the same thing with Stahl. She's done some nefarious stuff within the boundaries of her job, in terms of how she threatens people, but she crosses the line here by essentially doing what we've seen the Sons do all along, which is to manipulate the truth and create a secret. That's the turning point for her.
And of course it's all perspective. On a different show, Stahl would be the hero. But on this show, we're horrified when she does something the Sons do, yet we like them when they do the same things.
I like to say that Vic Mackey was 60 (percent) good, 40 bad. The Sons are 40 good, 60 bad. I think it's important, and I was talking to my writers about this the other day: It's really important for me to never just paint people black and white. I do think Stahl has compassion for what happened to Gemma. I do think that when that happens, it does impact her. The same thing with Hale. We've seen that guy set up as the antagonist, who ultimately throws them a bone at the end by not sending the sheriffs. It'll be an interesting season next year. Unser will step down at the beginning of next season. It'll be interesting to see Hale navigate without the cooperation of the Sons. That's going to be fun to explore. Will he need to compromise the way Unser did to maintain civility in the town?
And having a guy like Hale, who's essentially good-hearted and means well, allows you to then write a character like Stahl or Kohn, so it's not just "Sons good, cops bad."
My brother-in-law was out for Thanksgiving. He's in the FBI, and he loves the fact we're painting ATF as scumbags. The federal divisions are so f--king competitive. He's like, "Yeah, they're all scumbags. They're all tripping over themselves."
What's the book on tape you're listening to (as Big Otto) right before you shiv the guy who blinded you?
It's actually from an old periodical called The Dublin Review from the 1800s. Quite honestly, what I did is I didn't want to have to pay for anything, so I just Googled "Sons of Anarchy" and went to books that are in the public domain, and I found this great old book that had all these great articles about the hypocrisy of governments. And the sons of anarchy that he talks about are a reference to the rebellious republic. It's actually a fascinating article that was written almost 200 years ago. If you read it, you'd feel like it could have been written today.
I was surprised the homemade bullets from the Native American tribe didn't figure in more to the end of this season. Were you just laying pipe with that for future seasons?
I actually ended up loving that storyline a lot, and it's a really interesting world. I think we will definitely come back there next season.
There's that scene near the end where Unser is driving Gemma out of town, and he looks so happy to be with her, because he loves her, and he gets to be her hero and do things without Clay or the other Sons around. It's just him and Gemma having an adventure, and it's the best thing that's happened to him in a long time.
I think they've always had a bond, and whether it's brotherly or whatever it is, I think he's got a connection to her. As f--ked up of a situation as she's in, I just felt there was a sense that Gemma would have, that the rest of the family is falling apart without her knowledge, but for her, "My circumstances are f--ked up, but emotionally, I'm f--king back.' There was just something interesting about her feeling whole, while everyone else was crumbling.
In the first season, you had to spend a lot of time establishing the world and building the major characters like Jax and Clay and Gemma, and it feels like we got to know more of the supporting characters this time around. Was that a concentrated effort on your part, or did it just happen?
I think it was a concerted effort, from the standpoint I have writers who have favorite characters. I knew, ultimately, what the big arcs were going to be, but we tried to bring out a couple of people. The interesting thing is we didn't do a big Bobby storyline, but through the circumstances, we were able to shine a light on what his role (in the club) was. The stuff that happened with Tig was just the residual angst of what happened last year. There was a lot of the Opie and Jax and Opie and Clay dynamic, so even though Opie and Jax didn't have a lot of scenes together, we really saw the impact on that relationship. Without there being a huge arc for any particular character, we were able to distinguish dynamics and purpose and focus within the club. Hopefully, we'll continue to do that.
Yeah, you were able to take a guy like Chibs off the bench in these last few episodes and build him up into somebody really important and tragic.
To me, that all felt organic, knowing what I wanted to do with the IRA, and playing out that relationship. Hopefully, we'll see some of that play out next year with Chibs. That storyline was a lot of fun for me to write, and Tommy (Flanagan) just stepped up to the plate and did a great job. And Unser, too. I just love writing for Dayton (Callie). I think you mentioned it in one of your other blogs, that we'll eventually find out he's related to Charlie Utter. I was a huge fan of him on ("Deadwood"), and he's such a soulful guy, and it's been fun to play that out. There was a moment that happened in that episode, that wasn't scripted, Clay comes out of the clubhouse and gives Unser a big hug, and Unser's response to it was he was almost taken aback. I love the way Dayton played that. He didn't know that was a good thing or a bad thing,. I just know that whatever I throw at the guy, he can handle.
Finally, because I know people will ask: why doesn't Clay leave Tig or Happy or somebody like that behind at the convenience store to take care of business with Zobelle while the rest of the club goes off to help Jax?
I thought about that, and there's a couple things. One was, I wanted to make a statement: I do believe that guys like Zobelle f--king get away. And also, I felt like him saying, "They took my grandson," that ultimately, Clay doesn't have the foresight to say, "Hey, you stay behind." Again, there was that notion that this was completely out of the rule book. And they're in as much shock as they are rage. At that point, nobody is going to desert the club. It's not about that thing now; it's about this thing. We can always come back and take care fo this. It's about helping take care of family, and that ultimately, family is more important than revenge.
Alan Sepinwall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org