As far as brutal, emotionally eviscerating onscreen deaths go, Tara’s meat-fork murder at the hands of Gemma in Tuesday’s Sons of Anarchy finale will be tough to top. But as difficult as it was to watch, imagine how grueling it must’ve been for their respective portrayers, Maggie Siff and Katey Sagal, to execute.
Actually, no need to imagine — read on as both actresses recall what it was like to shoot — and watch! — the grisly sequence. Sons boss Kurt Sutter also reveals when he knew Tara had to die and what’s ahead for Jax and the rest of the Sons in the FX hit’s seventh and final season.
It seemed as though this could have been the end of the series, emotionally…
KURT SUTTER | Obviously, it’s a major shift in the mythology. I knew, ultimately, where I wanted to take Jax in [the] final season… I wanted to remove his ‘True North,’ because I feel like there needs to be this major psychic and emotional shift that has to happen. What direction it will push him in we will see next season. But what happens to a guy like that now that he’s lost both of the people he loves the most, who were able to be his moral compass, with Opie and now Tara. It really is Jax completely untethered and on his own in the final season.
Kurt, when did you decide that this was the right time for Tara to go? And Maggie, when did you find out?
SUTTER | I knew fairly early on that Tara would die before the final season — probably as early as Season 2. I didn’t quite now exactly how it was going to happen in terms of story, but in terms of a mythology mile-mark, [I knew] that’s when it would happen.
MAGGIE SIFF | We had a conversation about it in the beginning of the season and Kurt told me, so I had some time to wrap my mind around it…
Can you talk about shooting that kitchen scene? And what was it like watching it back?
SIFF: Watching it was really hard. Shooting it was really hard. Because the character ends, my experience of shooting it was really about feeling everything around me, which was Katey and Charlie — and that was really painfully hard. The sense of loss is really [about] the people you leave behind — and I was so aware of their loss. But it wasn’t about me, it was about them. It was very surreal. And at the same time, digesting that this character I’ve been with so long is going away. Watching it put into story and into the context of the entire series and everything we’ve all been through together, that was hard.
KATEY SAGAL | [Choked up] It was really hard… I was nervous abut it the whole time. I think I was just in denial and that [Kurt would] actually change his mind.[Laughs] The biggest struggle for me was to remain truly with Gemma.. The truth of it is that she’s not aware of the things going on behind the scenes. I think that’s maybe why it was so hard [for me] to watch, becasue it was so clear. But in the moment for Gemma, all [she] knew was that [Tara] had ratted. She had betrayed my son, she had betrayed my club, she was taking my grandchildren away — all the things that were Gemma’s center. In that moment, there’s a blind rage that goes on. It’s not premeditated act — she didn’t even know she was going to see her… As Kurt’s reminded me all these years, she’s not Katey. This is a violent world; these are violent people… This s–t goes on. First of all, I love Maggie. We’ve been the little female island in this testosterone world. It’s so interesting because as an actor, it was kind of awesome to do things you haven’t done — I’ve never killed anyone violently in anything before. It was really hard to watch. Charlie was so devastatingly beautiful at the end, and everybody. Theo [Rossi]! And Tommy crying at the end… Everybody. It’s a great bunch of people and they’re all doing great work.
What went into planning that death scene? Why did Tara die in that way?
SUTTER | I knew I wanted it to be simple and pedestrian and of Gemma’s world, not of the club’s world. I didn’t want it to be a gun or a knife. There’s almost something more horrific in terms of us seeing Gemma in that opening montage washing dishes and you have no idea that something as simple as dirty dish water and a carving fork would be used as implements of death… Gemma is just reacting, as Katey said. Gemma is wired to react — not unlike her son — and then clean up the pieces later… I made the decision to cut after that scene… There was a moment where Katey looks back at that fork, so you don’t see her face and it’s almost a moment of, ‘Oh, where did that come from?’ And then coming back to that scene and it’s like she just lived through a bombing and is completely in shock. Katey and I had discussions about it and the emotionalality that was going on with Katey leading up to those scenes defined where that scene went… Initially, I didn’t have Eli giving her the info about Tara, but then I realized that would be a missed opportunity… It all dovetailed into each other….
Where will next season pick up?
SUTTER | I don’t want to lose the weight of what’s happened [in the finale]. There may be a little bit of time [passed] like we had this season, which will be a few weeks… But there won’t be a vast amount of time.
Will Jimmy Smits be back as Nero?
SUTTER | Yeah, we made a deal with Jimmy. I love him and feel that he brings such gravitas to the show… I want to be able to play that out.
SAGAL: I just want to know if [he and Gemma] break up… [Laughs]
What’s the plan for Peter Weller?
SUTTER | Even if I wanted Peter to go away, Peter wouldn’t go away. [Laughs] Peter will be back. A lot of that stuff is happening in Stockton. And I’d love to bring back Kim [Dickens]’ character as well.
What lies ahead for Juice now that he’s on the outs with Jax and has aided and abetted Gemma?
SUTTER | I’m not quite sure exactly where that’s headed. Knowing that he’s betrayed Jax is not necessarily a place that you want to be in in the outlaw community… I don’t think it was a calculated move on Juice’s part [to save Gemma]; in the moment he did what was expected of him… But now the great thing is that we get this rich dynamic between the two of them. They were tied with the whole Clay of it all and now they’re deeply tied with this secret… Now we have really something fun to play with.
How does Gemma come back from this?
SAGAL | I truly have no idea. I don’t know. I’ve asked him questions: Is that a secret she holds? She’s a good secret-keeper. Is that something she self-destructs behind? And Kurt will figure that out for sure.
Patterson made it clear that she’d take Jax down if this plan doesn’t pan out — will CCH Pounder be back next season to make good on that?
SUTTER | I’d love to bring CC back and we’re in the process of trying to bring her back… That relationship between [Jax and Patterson] was way more potent than anything I could have imagined with Donal [Logue]’s character. She’s got that really strong maternal energy, but it’s a little bit masculine. We got to see [that dynamic] play out in that scene [at the ice cream shop]. I’d love to bring her back and play with what does she do now? Procedurally, what would happen is they would bring Jax in and place him in custody and question him extensively. We’ll see what that all looks like [next year]. I just knew that I didn’t want to end the season on a police beat.
Maggie, talk about the power of that Jax/Tara scene in the park.
SIFF | I feel like that was the most important scene in the episode. I knew it was the only moment for Jax and Tara to really penetrate each other, in a sense. It was very tricky because coming to the point where I actually believed it was possible that Jax could kill [her] was a long, hard and scary place to get to… I also really felt like she had to believe her time was up. It was about saying all the things she had to say to him and reckoning with herself… It was a lot to carry and I don’t know how I feel about it. [Laughs] It was a hard day at work. But whenever I work with Charlie I just feel like we find our way together and I just hoped for the best.
Kurt, when did you decide that Eli had to go?
SUTTER | When he became a series regular on The Mentalist. [Laughs] That’s only half true. I love Rockmond [Dunbar], he’s a great guy and actor. We had talked about a couple different ways to not necessarily write him out but creating an opportunity to bring someone else in in case he wasn’t available next season. It was in writing that scene that I realized there was an [opportunity] for Juice to cross that line, to have him protect Gemma. It all happened organically…
Maggie, do you think the fact that Jax was about to forigve Tara and understand where she was coming from will help your cause with the Tara haters?
SIFF | I don’t know. I can’t really speak to the Tara haters. [Laughs] The Tara haters love Jax and Jax loves Tara, so therein lies the confusion for me. The people out there who want Tara to die, I find that confusing on a number of levels… If you root for Jax then you sort of root for Tara and Jax because they love each other and she’s a big part of his happiness…. So, I don’t know. I think the Tara haters are kind of irrational. [Laughs] It was important for me that Jax and Tara had love in the end. I really didn’t want the series to end for me with this continued alienation into distrust [and] into hate and into death between Jax and Tara; that felt wrong to me after everything they’ve been through together and fighting for all these years. There’s this romantic center to these people and the Jax-Tara love story is a real piece of that. That’s what makes this series work in a way; these people love each other passionately… You really feel that and I felt that was true to the Jax-Tara story.
The “Team Gemma” response online always seems to be overwhelming. Do you think that might shift now, Katey?
SAGAL | I haven’t paid a lot of attention… I know that’s there; I’m not worried about it. [Laughs] I have had a few moments where I knew everyone would hate Gemma now… But, ultimately, in that moment she’s not really thinking anything except her base instinct, which is that she’s a violent woman and that is the way she’s lived her life for many many years. And I think she has enormous remorse when she realizes the truth of the matter.
SUTTER | I think Team Sadness will win. [Laughs]
Any closing remarks?
SUTTER | Working with these two women — obviously Katey being my wife — I had never intended for the female characters to jump out and become as strong as they have been. It was this organic arc that happened because I had these two actresses who can turn a 5 or 6 on the page into an 8 or 9 or 10 on the screen… I want to thank Maggie. I’ve been a fan of hers since I saw her on Mad Men; she’s a tremendous actress. And I want to thank her for making me a better writer these last six seasons.