SPOILER ALERT: This recap contains storyline and character spoilers.
When Clay Morrow was killed with two episodes still left to air in Season 6, it was a pretty safe bet that something even more shocking, and more heartbreaking, was going to happen in the “Sons of Anarchy” season finale. Still, could anyone have predicted this: motorcycle mama Gemma — high, drunk, and working off a big dose of misinformation — stabbing her daughter-in-law Tara to death in the head, using a carving fork, while also pushing Tara’s head into a sinkful of dishwater in her kitchen?
Good-guy Charming cop Eli became another victim when Juice burst into the kitchen and shot the sheriff so he could clean up the scene and get Gemma out of the house. That left Jax, who’d agreed to turn himself into district attorney Patterson as the source of the gun from the season premiere school shooting, to walk into the Teller home and find his dead wife.
Patterson, who arrived at the house to pick up Jax in the deal that would clear the club and Tara (and leave Tara free to raise Abel and Thomas while Jax served time), walked in as Jax sat on the floor, sobbing while he cradled Tara’s body in his arms.
“It is a tragic device that is right out of Shakespeare, ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ and that idea of misinformation,” “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter tells Yahoo TV. “That love deserved that kind of heart‑wrenching and tragic ending. I feel like we've rung all the bells that we wanted to, so I'm feeling like we've done our job.”
Sutter — whose series is most often compared to another Shakespearean drama, “Hamlet” — says he knew the end would come for Tara, and Tara and Jax, several seasons ago. But he also feels the weight of how devastating it is for viewers, for the characters, and for the series.
“I've lived with the notion of doing this, really, for three or four seasons now,” he says. “I think my grieving period happened a long time ago, so it's interesting, seeing people's reaction to it. You realize how truly upsetting and devastating it is, which is, I don't say this to be flippant or cavalier, but it really means that I've done my job. I always saw that death as being, not to lean on the whole Shakespearean component of the show, but I always felt like I wanted that death to be just straight-up tragedy. It would feel incredibly tragic.”
Watch the trailer for the "Sons of Anarchy" season finale right here:
Sutter also broke down the rest of Season 6 for us, including when he knew Clay would have to die, how he told his stars they would be written out of the series, how vindicated he feels that viewers now see just how impactful the controversial school shooting proved to be, and what may be ahead for Jax, Gemma, Juice, Nero, Tyne Patterson, and the rest of the Charming gang.
Oh, and, yes, as of now, he still thinks the series will end with Season 7.
Tara’s murder by Gemma comes so closely on the heels of Clay’s murder by Jax. How difficult was it to let go of two such rich characters so closely together?
I didn't necessarily know when that was going to happen with Clay. [When his] relationship with Jax went south a couple of seasons ago, I think people were clamoring for his death. That, to me, felt too easy story‑wise, and that guys like Clay are smarter than that. They tend to be a little bit more like cockroaches; they're survivors. They manage to live between the cracks, and you can't kill guys like Clay that easily or that obviously.
Then this season, there was really an opportunity to do that, and I knew that, going into the last season, I wanted Jax to still be at the head of the table. I wanted him to be clear of a lot of those other dynamics, those other relationships. I wanted him to feel like, going towards the end of this season, that he was getting all his ducks in a row, and Clay was definitely a duck that needed to get rowed.
We had this organic opportunity to do this, and yes, it was sort of surprising that it happened. But to me, it all made sense in terms of why it happened, why Bobby signed off on it now, and it's also … as a storyteller, part of my job is to say, "How can I surprise an audience? How can I organically, staying true to characters, staying true to the world, staying true to the mythology, how can I continue to engage and excite you as an audience?" I felt like here's an opportunity to do this.
That all sort of happened organically, and yet we were still running towards the finish line with what I wanted to do with Tara. It wasn't so much about the weight of those two happening so closely. It's just sort of how everything evolved as a result of what we were doing.
When did Maggie Siff and Ron Perlman find out their characters were going to be killed off?
When I knew this was going to happen this season. Before we start production, I bring in those actors, and I have those very uncomfortable conversations with them that this is what will be happening this season, so they're prepared, and we go through that grieving process early on before we actually shoot it. Initially, it becomes a little bit more clinical, and then obviously you let the actors do what they do, and it becomes very real and very emotional. The plan wasn't necessarily to do them as closely as they were in terms of, "Let's do it that way." It was sort of how those two stories unfolded.
What was the significance of the particular way Gemma killed Tara? Was it something as simple as, she always felt inferior to Tara intellectually, or that Tara felt superior intellectually?
For me, there are a couple of things. One is, I really wanted it to be of Gemma's world and Tara's world, rather than of the club world. I knew I didn't want it to be a gun, I didn't want it to be a knife, so something as simple and as pedestrian as a sink full of dirty dishwater and a carving fork just felt not only simple, but just much more brutal and horrible.
Hence the title, also: "A Mother's Work," that the idea that it was just … we see Gemma washing dishes there early on, and it's just what it is. It's a mother distracting herself with the household work. We don't realize at that point that what she's doing will ultimately be setting the stage for a horrific murder she's going to be committing at the end of the day, so I like the simplicity of that.
It was also a little bit of a wink at the drowning of Ophelia. But I don't necessarily … I think Gemma and Tara flip‑flopped in terms of what threatened them about each other. Sometimes, yes, I think Tara's education and erudition definitely was a threat to Gemma, but I think sometimes Gemma's ability to manipulate, and to foresee circumstances, and her street smarts, definitely threatened Tara. I think their different types of intelligence threatened each of them at different points in time.
Tara had even started to emulate Gemma at times, even dressing more like Gemma.
Yes, absolutely. We tried to be subtle about it, so it wasn't like Tara was walking out with blonde streaks in her hair, but you can't be plugged into that world and not ultimately, at the very least, be influenced by it or make some kind of conscious or even unconscious effort to integrate.
Just touching back on the title, it resonated so much throughout the whole episode, right down to Patterson's speech to Jax about choosing his family and being a man. It felt very motherly that she was giving him that advice, and “A Mother’s Work” just feels so perfect and haunting for the episode.
It was really wild. I've talked about this in some other interviews, that I lost [Donal Logue’s Lee Toric] earlier than I had anticipated, so I brought in [CCH Pounder], and suddenly a lot of the burden of that story landed on her. It's one of those things … I don't ever think those things are accidental.
It took an episode or two, I think, for CC to find her groove with the character, and then she just did, man. She just landed in the pocket with it. In [“John 8:32”], she has that first sit‑down conversation with Jax, and she has such great, not just maternal energy, but there's just something incredibly zen and compelling about the way CC engages other actors. I saw it in that scene with Charlie [Hunnam]. It just took on a completely different energy for me, and I thought, "Wow, that's a very interesting dynamic," and we were able to play that out. She was able to switch hats, as a good lawyer can, quite often, in terms of, "How do I engage and really reach this person the way they need to be reached?"
And she comes to Jax, and she's somewhat vulnerable, and she talks about herself, and I think she does manage to continue to influence him and impact him. I think one can argue that Jax had the presence of mind, going into this episode, with the honesty he had in that journal entry to his sons, and that he had with Patterson, I think all of those things pushed him to that place so that by the time he sat down with Tara in that park, and they went through their dance, I don't think it was necessarily a spur‑of‑the‑moment thing to say, "I'm going to take the hit."
I felt like it was coming to that place, and I think there was a sense of Jax knowing what he had to do even before he got to that park, so that you understood and it didn't feel like a reach. It didn't feel like it was coming out of nowhere when he said, "You know what? F--k it. I'm not going to let [Tara] take the hit for my continued mistakes."
A lot of what happened in the finale stemmed from Jax’s decision earlier in the season to have Juice kill Darvany, and then to lie to Nero about it. Nero finds out the truth from Juice, Jax feels betrayed by Juice, Nero breaks up with Gemma after finding out about Darvany, Gemma gets loaded and goes after Tara. Did we all kind of underestimate how big that was going to play out?
I knew that I wanted that to blow back on that relationship. I didn't know if it was going to happen this season or next season, and then we had this path with Juice we were playing out. As it does in the storytelling, you find these opportunities, and they just work. They just integrate, and you're like, "Oh, that's it." That's when we're able to reveal this secret in an organic and real way.
For me, it goes back to the premiere and the school shooting. I had talked about how the blowback from that would resonate, and really be the emotional and karmic thread that weaved through the entire season, and it is … that event is what triggered the whole Darvany component with Juice.
I feel like I've honored that promise in terms of that school shooting not being some sort of arbitrary, sensational premiere ploy to set things up or to get people to watch. I wanted to do it for a few seasons. I knew that the potency of that would really have to happen as we were winding down, because the ramifications of that were irreversible, the damage of that. We couldn't do that episode in Season 3 and suddenly have all these guys continue to sit down at the table and sell guns. That really would have to happen at the end, where we saw the outcome and perhaps the collective damage of those choices.
What about Nero? He’s in love with Gemma, he’s been a mentor and friend to Jax, and he knows where all the bodies are buried, in terms of SAMCRO business and Gemma and Jax’s personal life. As much as he’s been in their corner, now that he knows Jax betrayed him, he also has the potential to be a very powerful enemy. Was that always the plan for him?
I knew that I wanted to complicate that relationship. We played out this notion last season that Jax calls Nero on the fact that he could've gotten out of the life a while ago, but chose not to, and that, whether conscious or unconscious, Nero keeps putting these things in his life that ultimately become roadblocks to that escape. We continue to play that out this season.
Again, it just became one of these organic things in the process of writing, where we realized we have the opportunity to bring back Emilio [Rivera, who portrays Marcus Alvarez], who I love, and bring back that character, and again, flip‑flop those relationships.
In the MC world, in the outlaw world, it's a microcosm for everything that happens on a greater scale in terms of world politics, and all those relationships change from year to year based on money, based on alliances … perhaps there's a shift now in terms of relationships. There was this organic way to pull Nero into that story and complicate his relationship with the club, being a Latino banger and that he has, not necessarily a street relationship, but some kind of respect and relationship with [Alvarez], and that they go back a ways. I don't think that was a stretch.
So it wasn't so much that that was the master plan. It was one of those things where, when you're able to establish a character in a three‑dimensional way, and to have these really great relationships that are then, quite honestly, made to really come to life because I have great actors, and things resonate, and things pop, you start writing to that.
Even aside from the cliffhanger with Patterson finding Jax with the dead bodies, and Gemma, and the boys, and Juice, this situation with Nero leaves open a lot of possibilities for next season. Any thoughts on that yet?
I'm lucky that now I just have these great, very real, three‑dimensional characters; these very real, rich relationships that have a lot of stakes. You have a lot of great story circumstances now that there are secrets, there are alliances, there are betrayals. You have all these great tools then to go, "OK, where do I want to go with this story? What will be an interesting way to do this?" There became this great dynamic where we can go, "Well, what happens with a guy like Nero, who's really sort of a mentor to Jax? What happens if this guy suddenly is forced to jump in the other camp? What do we do with that?"
The truth is, I don't know where that's all going to play out next season. Did Nero go to that table because he wants to stop bloodshed? Did he go to that table because he knows bloodshed is inevitable? There's a lot of places we can go, and the dynamic that we play out next season with the war between black and white, and brown and yellow, it now, quite honestly, it can be as little or as much as I need it to be.
Circling back to Juice and the murder scene, Gemma made a point of telling him earlier in the episode that he’s not a sloppy guy, yet he didn’t totally clean up that scene. Was that intentional? Did he only focus on protecting Gemma, or was there a possibility that he knew Jax was going to walk in and find himself in a bad situation with Patterson and the dead bodies?
I don't think Juice has any necessarily … in that moment, I don't think it's about doing anything other than what a guy in that position would do. He's got this blood connection with Gemma as a result of the Clay thing. There's a connection there, and he knows that Gemma killed Tara because she thought it was the right thing to do, so killing that cop who could put away Gemma is something that would be expected of him no matter what went down. He did what a guy like him should have done in that circumstance.
What the cool thing for me now is that it's a very complicated and very rich dynamic. What happens now as a result of that? They have this secret. Juice knows that he's a marked man, that Jax knows about the betrayal. Helping Gemma, yes, maybe there a sense of, "OK, now I need an ally in that betrayal. You help me, I'll help you." But in the moment, I don't necessarily think there's a lot of calculating going on.
Does Patterson think Jax has killed Tara and Eli when she walks in and sees him on the floor with the bloody bodies?
I feel like the way Patterson looks at Jax at the end, I do feel that she feels that there's been a sense of betrayal. I don't think she knows, obviously, all the details. I don't necessarily think she believes that he's, whether he's killed Tara, but there are two dead bodies there, and one of them is the woman that he promised to not give up.
At the very least, they would take this guy into custody for questioning. I don't know where we'll begin with Jax next season, whether he'll be in jail or not be in jail. But I do think that, at the very least, this is not the promise that Jax made, so I do think there's a sense that he has, on some deep level, betrayed the trust that [Patterson] gave him.
Obviously, the season just ended, and it was so intense and epic, and moved so many storylines and characters forward. So right now, does it feel like you have more than one more season of story left to end the series the way you want to?
No. I think we can get to everything we need to get to. My plan is to end it in seven, and I think that's the right thing to do, so currently that's still the plan. I'll probably end up having another season of 90‑minute episodes, but no one's stopping me from doing that yet.
"Sons of Anarchy" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.