Warning: This recap for the "Straw" episode of "Sons of Anarchy" contains storyline and character spoilers as well as a detailed description of a violent scene.
Less than a year has passed since the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut, and "Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter is aware that the storyline of the sixth-season premiere tonight — in which a tween-aged boy takes a KG-9 into a school full of children and opens fire — is shocking and disturbing.
"I've wanted to do [this] story for about three years, and I knew, obviously, that it would be somewhat controversial," Sutter told reporters at a Television Critics Association panel in Los Angeles this summer. "But I feel like, you know, as much as I wouldn't do something because it was controversial, I'm also not going to [not] do something because it's controversial.
"I feel like it's an organic story to our world, in terms of, it's what these guys do. I feel like that will continue to play out, and that is the truth. There's a lot of blood and guts in my show, and it is a signature of the show, but I feel like I'm not lying to myself when I say that nothing is done gratuitously, that the events that happen in the premiere are really the catalyst for the third act of this morality play we're doing."
The school shooting occurs toward the end of the episode, titled "Straw," with the sweet-faced boy arriving at his school, rolling up his uniform sleeve to reveal a series of scars, and laying down his notebook, which is filled with drawings of beheadings and other violent imagery, as well as phrases like "God hates bullies."
He removes a KG-9 from his backpack, walks calmly into his school, and starts shooting. The screen shows a set of classroom windows lit up by gunfire as children scream, an adult yells out, and blood splatters onto the glass.
Shortly thereafter, Leonard Cohen's haunting "Come Healing" begins playing as ambulances and police arrive, and children are ushered out of the building.
"There's not really a statement that I'm trying to make within the story," Sutter said of the shooting. "I guess, if you look at the story as a whole and organically, the causes of what happened are many — meaning, you're dealing with a child that clearly has some sort of mental illness. You're dealing with some sort of neglected family life. You're dealing with the substructure of, not that I'm trying to make a big religious statement, but the potential violence that is done, you know, always, sort of in the name of God.
"You're looking at illegal handguns. You're looking at the lack of potential law enforcement to shut that down. So you're looking at the responsibility of a great deal of people that led to that, which, if I have a point of view about any of that, that is my point of view. My point of view is that there is no singular responsible party for anything that has happened as a result of those shootings."
The face of the blond-haired boy, unnamed in the premiere, opens the episode as he's drawing in a notebook while SAMCRO leader Jax (Charlie Hunnam) reads a letter to his sons via voice-over. Later, Jax and the boy (who looks like a younger version of Jax) meet up, sort of, when the boy sits alone outside a café and locks eyes with Jax when he gets on his motorcycle.
We also know he has some connection to Primo (guest star Dave Navarro), cousin of Jimmy Smits's Nero, as the school uniform-attired boy kisses a sleeping woman goodbye and leaves his house while Primo is entering it.
The implication of the premiere, then, is that the gun that the boy uses to shoot his classmates probably came courtesy of Primo, i.e. Nero, i.e. Jax and the Sons; and the fallout from the shooting — or the blowback, to use "SoA" terminology — is likely to bring the school tragedy right to the SAMCRO clubhouse door.
"Again, not that I'm trying to make that statement with this story, but I think organically, all those elements are within the structure of that story," Sutter said. "And, again, this is a story that is not being done to be sensational... It sets everything in motion for this season, [which] will ultimately lead to the end that then will bring us into the final season and what I see as the ultimate comeuppance of everything in terms of the series."
And what did viewers think about this shocking turn of events that kicked off the penultimate season of "SoA"? Not surprisingly, the reactions were mixed:
Yahoo TV commentor Ashly wrote:
"After reading some of the comments on here and also on other sites about how the school shooting on tonight's episode was uncalled for and disrespectful, I can't help but wonder why people didn't react the same way when 'Degrassi' and 'One Tree Hill' had school shootings on their shows after Columbine. The reality is that this is the world we live in whether we like it or not, and bad things like this happen. It's part of a storyline. Kurt Sutter has never been one to sugarcoat anything in 'SOA.' He said before the season even aired that there would be something controversial in the episode. Considering what has happened in some of the past seasons it could have been far worse in my opinion. As a parent I personally didn't care for it, but as an adult viewer I can't say that I was offended by it. It's just part of the story."
Adds Yahoo TV reader Michael:
"It could have been worse in that they could have actually shown the shooting instead of it being off-camera."
But Yahoo TV readers Pete and Rogerp had issues with the school shooting plot, with Pete writing:
"Thanks for the horrible reminder Sutter. Love the show, but just damn … There are lines you just don't cross. Standards that just aren't ignored. Sutter crossed a line with this one."
"Done with this show. Leave politics out of it."
The response to the premiere on Twitter was largely that of shock that the episode included the school shooting storyline so soon after the Newtown shootings, with @Momto3blessings writing:
I'm not sure about Sons of Anarchy. I understand the school shooting was part of the storyline but seems too soon. @SOA
— Jennifer (@Momto3blessings) September 11, 2013
Some were far angrier in their reactions. @ShannonTopper wrote:
Heaven forbid a parent who lost a child to a school shooting be a fan of soa and have to relive their pain and anguish #imdonewithsoa
— Shannon Topper (@ShannonTopper) September 11, 2013
But there were also those who trust where Sutter is heading with the storyline. @vnbarnhardt tweeted:
— Victoria Barnhardt (@vnbarnhardt) September 11, 2013
School shooting in #SOA episode was a pivotal moment! Provides insight into the direction of the show!
— Athia (@PicsByAthiaRene) September 11, 2013
And Ryan @RStew14 summed up the whole episode thusly:
Drowning men in piss, shooting up schools, taking drugs, and cheating on wives. You stay classy Sons of Anarchy.
— Ryan Stewart (@RStew14) September 11, 2013
Meanwhile, in the premiere of the online "SoA" aftershow, "Anarchy Afterward," Sutter discussed the school shooting controversy, and admitted that even some of his cast members were concerned about the sensitive plot.
Sutter said both Kim Coates, who plays Tig, and Flanagan, who plays Chibs, came up to him at the Season 6 premiere event and congratulated him for making the storyline work.
"You guys came up to me and you were pleased and amazed that we pulled off the school shooting. Because you were afraid," Sutter said to fellow "Afterward" guest Coates.
"I was upset," Coates admitted. "I was like, 'What? What are we doing?' Seriously. It was so poignant and so palpable … you could feel it. And then all of a sudden we were shooting it, and the little boy was amazing … and Sutter has huge nads to do that. And you know what? It was amazing. It was really amazing. And we all said that to you."
The "Anarchy Afterward" premiere is available to watch at FXNetworks.com, but warning: it's most definitely NSFW, as Sutter and guests Coates, Jimmy Smits, "SoA" celeb fan Margaret Cho, and host Chris Franjola talk (graphically) about Tara's new hairdo, why the SAMCRO guys don't have iPhones, why Tig and Happy are allowed to babysit Jax's children, and why Sutter — who also plays Otto on the show — likes to write scenes in which Otto is abused again and again.
Oh, and lest you think the school shooting was the only thing that drew reactions from the premiere, think again. More than one tweet addressed Jax's dalliance with his new partner in the escort biz. @TinaCooksFresh wrote:
— Tina Marie (@TinaCooksFresh) September 11, 2013
I'm so disappointed in Jax, I really thought he'd grown up #SonsOfAnarchy
— Kendall (@Kendii27) September 11, 2013
And one Charlie Hunnam fan hopes the premiere sold a certain group of book lovers on the "SoA" star's upcoming movie role. @Wmathews12 tweeted:
Watch tonight's episode of Sons of Anarchy and then try to tell me Charlie Hunnam won't make the perfect Christian Grey.
— Whittttt (@Wmathews12) September 11, 2013
"Sons of Anarchy" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.