If you thought FX’s Sons of Anarchy came in hot this Tuesday night and let loose with a bevy of dark twists, series creator Kurt Sutter needs you to know this: “Things will only continue to spiral downward” for Jax, Clay and the rest of the SAMCRO crowd. For viewers, he does promise an imminent chance to “breathe” (though, he notes, the show will stop well short of serving up “a lot of laughter”).
In the wake of all that transpired during the episode aptly titled “Hands,” TVLine invited Sutter to discuss the storytelling avenues he steered his Sons onto, including why he let one character cheat death, if another major player is now beyond redemption (answer: not necessarily), and how this mayhem led to the next episode getting super-sized.
TVLINE | I wanted to first talk about the decision to not kill Tara, at least for now. Is your school of though that it will be harder for Jax to live with a destroyed wife than a dead one?
[Killing Tara] was never my intention. As the season progresses, you’ll see that it’s about creating parallels that relate back to Jax’s father, to Gemma, and we see that arc continue to play out. Tara truly loves Jax, but it’s always sort of on-again, off-again in terms of her being supportive of the club and not supporting the club. I knew that if she were to continue on this path that we really would have to knock her off the fence, and in Episode 10 I think both she and Gemma get knocked off the fence. As she says in that one scene with Jax, her skills as a doctor were her “way out,” and now that’s been taken away from her, so it was just really about creating this circumstance where we could do that. I know I didn’t want her to get kidnapped again, because we had done that. And that king-and-queen parallel that we have with JT and Gemma and Clay and Gemma was something I wanted to continue to play out, so I knew that I didn’t want to kill her or do that to Jax at this point. His conflict of club and [doing right by his family] will continue, and without Tara, you take some of the power of that away.
TVLINE | Tara’s not necessarily out of the woods yet, though.
Obviously Clay will remain a threat throughout the rest of the season – and there’s almost another third of the season to go.
TVLINE | Turning to Clay/Gemma: How do you script that brutal assault scene without thinking, “I’m hereby painting this guy into a corner”?
Well, I think that’s point. I’m a big believer in committing, and rather than sort of seeing Clay sort of go to the dark side, we needed to see him basically cross that line. The reality of it – and we have this discussion in the writers room – is this is not the first time Clay has hit Gemma, and it’s not the first time Gemma has hit Clay. We have seen the passion and the violence in their relationship in the past, but I do believe this is the first time it was not just a smack and a push and a shove and a scream, but it manifested into absolute rage where he close-fisted and brutally beat her. There are some opinions in terms of why Gemma gave Clay the chance that she gave him [at the end of last week's] Episode 9, and for me it’s because these two had this life together … and I really do believe that Gemma thought she could bring Clay back. She has been his guiding light for such a long time, at the end of [Episode] 9, when she looks him in the eye and says, “Promise me,” she really believes that she got through to him. Clay ultimately making that decision [to order the hit on Tara] is about his own fear and his own ability to trust, which is really his tragic flaw. Once he does that, Gemma feels like, “OK, he can’t be trusted and he is no longer an advocate of moving my family in the right direction.” But it took that act of brutality for her to really get to that place.
TVLINE | And the immediacy with which he betrayed that promise spoke volumes. There’s no bringing him back.
No, there isn’t, but you know what? Here you have these really strong, complex characters. And not to draw this parallel, but look at the things Tony Soprano had done over the years – the lies and the cheating that he did with Carmella. And yet there were times when he came back to that relationship where you really believed that at the end of the day he still loved her and maybe they had a chance. And I think that’s the case for Clay. Obviously he’s definitely gone to the dark side here and he’s done some horrendous things, and that’ll continue to play out, but as I watch these last three or four [upcoming] episodes, Clay has got a lot of demons and there’s a lot of reasons for the things that he does, and there are moments where I honestly believe people will have compassion for him — maybe not forgive him, but absolutely have compassion and understanding as to why he does the things he does. That’s what we do on this show, is show the extreme swings we in humanity all exhibit.
TVLINE | But as I watch him go to these increasingly dark places, I must wonder: Can there be a Sons of Anarchy without Clay?
I never think of it in terms of, “OK, who can I do this show with? And who can I do it without?” I really try to tell the stories organically. Take the death of Piney. To me, that’s an arc that’s been building since the first season, and it really made sense this season for it to go down, in terms of moving this show along and moving the body of the other characters forward. That death will be a mile-marker in the mythology of the show. I try to let the stories manifest, and then I get to the decision of, “If it makes sense for this character to go, what does that mean for the rest of the show?” A perfect example is Juice this season. We brought him to that point where he was swinging from that tree and we thought: “What if the branch doesn’t snap? What if he does kill himself?” I could have gone either way, but he’s a character that has a lot of vulnerabilities and brings a lot of compassion and lightness, for lack of a better word, to the show, so I made the decision creatively that I didn’t want that character to go away.
TVLINE | After “Hands,” will we have a moment for the color to get back in our knuckles, or are you going to keep on keeping on for this season’s final four episodes?
It was an intense episode, and obviously the manifestations of that will play out. It’s why I think Episode 11 [airing next Tuesday] ended up being 90 minutes. I organically had to have people respond and react. You’ll see the ramifications that it has on Jax, as he sees Gemma, and on the rest of the club. Things will continue to spiral downward, in terms of the relationships within the club. We’ve released some of the tension in terms of going after Tara — she is being guarded by the Prospects, so at least that threat is somewhat diminished — but the emotional impact continues. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of laughter in the next three or four episodes, but perhaps people will breathe a little bit.