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postmortem

Sons of Anarchy’s Kurt Sutter on the Season-6 Finale and What’s Next for Jax and Gemma

[Spoilers ahead] For most of Sons of Anarchy's sixth season, all signs pointed to Tara meeting Mr. Mayhem. That's what happens when you betray Jax and cut a deal with the DA. So it's not a total surprise that she was killed in tonight's finale. But how she was killed (death by carving fork) and by whom (Gemma) were total shockers. Fact: When showrunner Kurt Sutter offs a main character, he goes big and bloody — and very Shakespearean. "I just fucking stole from Romeo and Juliet," he told us over the phone earlier tonight. The tragic twist being that Tara didn't actually rat on the club. Jax was turning himself in as a way to save her, their boys, and SAMCRO — but Gemma didn't know that because her dutiful messenger-boy, Unser, delivered bad information. (Why are you still alive, Unser?) We spoke to Sutter about the episode, why Tara had to go, and what's next for Gemma and Jax.

You showed a much softer side of Gemma this season: She opened up to Nero, prayed, took care of Wendy. Was that all part of a diversion plan? Because most of the focus was on whether or not Jax would kill Tara.
It wasn’t so much a diversion plan as it was, you know, you see Gemma sort of go through this rebirth a bit with Nero. She thinks, Maybe the way I maintained my last relationship — which was just a series of one dark secret after another — ultimately didn’t lead to anything that was good. She’s trying the truth for a change throughout this season to find out if it’s better. She’s not quite as guarded. She’s opening herself up to this guy. But I feel like Gemma has always been fierce in terms of those kids, and we saw that dynamic played out this season, too. Ultimately, where we got with Gemma and Tara wasn’t inorganic, like it just came out of nowhere. But it definitely flies in the face of Gemma not wanting to keep dark secrets anymore [laughs].

Was it always your plan for Gemma to kill Tara?
It was. I knew I wanted Tara to be killed at the end of the second-to-last season, so if we were doing seven seasons, I knew I wanted it to happen at the end of six. And then at some point, I think season three or four, I knew that ultimately if I could get to it in an organic way, that this was the way I wanted it to play out between the two of them.

Is that so you can set the series up for a final showdown between Jax and Gemma?
To a certain extent, yeah. I think that the mother-son bond has always been the catalyst in terms of the family dynamic on the show, and the love and the hate and the push and the pull of both of them. It just seemed right having those two standing at the end, figuring out not necessarily who wins but, you know, where does their relationship end up? So it will definitely, just by the fact that they’re the only two left in the family, it’ll be about the two of them.

How did Katey [Sagal] take the news that her character would be the one to kill Tara?
Katey was really devastated. Almost more than Maggie [Siff] was. First of all, Katey adores Maggie and it was just a very difficult day for both of them, physically and emotionally. And also because she was so — it’s such a heinous thing, and she was like, “Oh my god, everyone’s gonna hate me now.” [Laughs] I tried to explain to her, “You don’t know my fans. Trust me.” As anticipated, they all sort of turned on Tara early on in the season because of her threatening to rat and all that stuff. So, I think it was difficult for Katey, and I think it will continue to be difficult next season. The burden of that secret will be difficult, for the character and for the actress.

Can you talk about shooting the last scene? Charlie Hunnam’s face said so much — he went from shock to denial to just being devastated. How much of his reaction was scripted or talked through beforehand?
I think Charlie had some ideas that he wanted to try, and I let some of my actors discover it and then gently guide them and make suggestions and try to push a few buttons if I can. But Charlie’s instincts were sort of right on, with the shock and awe and disbelief, like please don’t be dead, please don’t be dead. I scripted that last moment where he’s holding her in his arms. That moment where he’s just trying to kiss her, like maybe she’s still alive. I knew I wanted that scene and that death to be epic and Shakespearean.

And Patterson's face, when she walks in, says a lot as well. She seems appalled and disgusted.
Couple things: I didn’t want it to end ultimately on a police beat, meaning I didn’t want it to be about people getting on a radio and calling it in and blah blah blah. So, to me, I felt like there was that moment of shock and awe on her part, and she was sort of taking it all in. And the procedural stuff began once we got out of the shot. But I don’t know if she feels like Jax is the one who killed Tara. I think she may think he’s the one who killed Eli [the sheriff]. But, regardless, I think Patterson feels a sense of betrayal: You made me a promise. I don’t know what your part in all this is, but I’m looking at two dead bodies, two innocent people are dead as a result of their interaction with you. So I do think there’s a sense of her feeling betrayed, and [CCH Pounder] just nailed it.

So she’ll be back next season.
Yes, yes, that’s my intention.

But Jax isn’t going to turn himself in now ... A deal wouldn’t be on the table anyway. So what can we expect her to do next?
I think procedurally they would definitely bring him in and at the very least begin the questioning process. So he would be taken into custody, being on the scene there, and then I’ll — I’m not quite sure how I’ll want it to go from there. Is there a charge leveraged against him? And how does he respond to that? I’m still sort of playing with all that. But, procedurally, he would be taken into custody.

Did Juice clean up the evidence to make up for betraying Jax? Seems like it’s not much of a favor.
I think Juice is doing exactly what is expected of him in that situation, meaning if a brother or an old lady, especially someone of Gemma’s stature within the club, was in trouble with law enforcement, it would be expected that he would put a bullet in the back of this guy’s head and then get rid of the evidence. So I feel like he’s sort of doing what’s expected of him; I don’t necessarily think there was a lot of forethought in terms of, like, “I’m gonna do this and help Gemma because it will get me X, Y, and Z.” I think he reacted in the moment, he did it, he helped her. And now I think what you have is this great, rich, complicated relationship between the two of them, because they’re tied in this secret. They were tied in the death of Clay and now they’re tied in the death of Tara. So whether they want to be or not, they’re being pulled together and bonded, and now we can do some really fun things with the two of them.

Cleanup would have been a lot easier if Gemma just drowned Tara in the sink. Why did she have to stab her?
I just loved the idea of the pedestrian nature of the kill. I knew I didn’t want it to be a gun. She’s just literally drowning her in household, pedestrian things. When Gemma’s washing the dishes in the opening montage, no one could anticipate that a tub of dirty dishwater would ultimately be an implement of death or that a carving fork would be used to split open a skull. So I just liked the idea of these simple, pedestrian, household things being ultimately the things that kill Tara. But I think at that point, for Gemma — you know, we’ve seen Gemma do some hard things, she’s a tough broad. But she’s not somebody that’s killed a lot of people, or anyone for that matter. I just think at that point she’s in shock and not really even aware of what’s happening.

And she ultimately goes to Unser for comfort. Is he ever going to die of cancer or what?
[Laughs] It’s not that I planned it this way, but the guy who should have died the first season is maybe gonna be the only guy left standing at the end of it all.

Photo: Prashant Gupta/FX