SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen Sons of Anarchy‘s season 4 finale, stop reading now. Creator Kurt Sutter talks us through the intense final hour and teases what’s to come.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I think most fans will want to know when you thought of the twist that Romeo and Luis work with the CIA and need SAMCRO to keep working with the cartel and the Irish, who will only get in business with the cartel if Clay is involved.
KURT SUTTER: From the beginning. I sort of go in with those big arcs knowing what I want to do and how I’m gonna do it. Then really, it’s about breaking the episodes down and hanging the meat on the bones and creating the story to get there organically. I thought people would pick up on it. If you go back and look at all those scenes with Romeo and Luis and the guys, it all fits. It all makes sense. Even from the second episode when they suddenly just showed up outside of that reservation saying, “Hey, yeah, we got word on the pipeline that you guys were here.” Clearly they found out these guys were in trouble and they needed them around, so they sort of showed up and shut down the Russians. So all those clues were there all along, and it’s exactly what happened with Pablo Escobar. It’s what the CIA does. It goes in and empowers one cartel. We give one set of bad guys the money and guns to ultimately have some hold of the political reins in a territory. The history was there, and I was afraid that somebody was gonna pick up on it earlier on, and they didn’t. I think it was a fun reveal for everyone.
Was that one of the advantages of casting Danny Trejo as Romeo? I don’t think anyone would think of him as being government issue. You knew the twist when you cast him?
Yeah. [Laughs] It’s interesting. I had an interview with Danny, but I think Danny wasn’t really familiar with the show. In my initial interview with him, I told him all about this. I told him that he is who he is, he worked for the Mexican military, but instead of being recruited by a cartel, he was recruited by the CIA. I told him all that. But I think he was so overwhelmed when he came in that he completely forgot about it, which ultimately, I think, was a good thing. [Laughs] He came into me at the end and goes, “Oh man, I can’t believe that I’m working with the CIA.” I’m like, “Danny, I told you that already.” He’s so funny. I sorta knew that we were gonna do it from the jump. You have to be careful with things like that. It’s really hard to do later in the game after you’ve written other episodes because then it feels like a forced fix. I wanted to be sure that people could go back and look at all those scenes and storylines and realize that it all makes sense and falls in place.
As I told Ron Perlman when he and I spoke about the finale, we did a poll asking readers how the season would end for Clay, and only 19 percent thought he’d still be alive. That must be satisfying.
That most people thought he’d be dead? Yeah. You get into the throes of this, and I sorta forget the impact that it has on the fan base. Not that it doesn’t make sense, but I was somewhat surprised how Clay ultimately has become the most hated character on TV. I can’t obviously hate any of my characters, and in my mind, it’s all coming from a desperate place for Clay. Even though his actions are nefarious and awful, I can’t help but know what’s going on with the guy underneath, so I always feel like there’s a reason for all his actions. But yeah, people felt very strongly about him going away. [Laughs]
Ron mentioned that even his mother told him Clay had gone too far with his fight with Gemma. [Sutter laughs] Ron said he actually had a talk with you earlier during the filming of the season about how Clay was able to do the things he was doing.
I think Ron’s character, more so than anybody, has that capacity to qualify and compartmentalize and think that it’s for the ultimate good. It’s definitely that soldier, that killer mentality. The interesting thing for me is that we’ve seen Clay and Gemma be violent together before. We know that it is definitely a physical, tumultuous relationship. We’ve seen them throw s— at each other and scream at each other. And I’m sure Clay has raised a hand to her before and she to him. But I think this is clearly the first time where there was that uncontrollable rage that caused as much damage as it did for the reasons that it did. To me, that’s what took it from being part of a life potentially, to Clay ultimately moving beyond anything that this character has ever done before. There’s a moment, it’s very subtle and I didn’t try to make a meal out of it, when Clay and Gemma are looking at each other, and she shuts the door and he walks back in and he’s crying. He’s a guy who just doesn’t possess enough self-awareness or the emotional tools or skills to repair it at this point, even if he wanted to. That to me is the sad part. He’s sort of crossed this line and has no idea how to get back.
Ron admitted he was reading scripts and wondering if Clay would make it to season 5. Did you have a conversation with him in which you assured him Clay would stick around?
Yeah, we actually had that conversation earlier on, before this season happened, because I knew where we were going with the character this season, and I wanted to assure him that although all signs were pointing towards a brutal comeuppance that my intention was to have Clay around for at least a couple more seasons. I honestly feel like it would have been such a waste for Jax to get that information about Clay and then to kill him in the same episode. It’s such an amazing reveal [that Clay had Jax's father killed] and reveals so much mythology, and to just sort of play it out for three or four scenes and then put it to bed by having him avenge it and therefore really ending the story — I just felt like there’s so much more to play out with them both having the knowledge of what Clay’s done, and being forced to live with it, and having to work with each other and try to have this day-to-day dynamic. What does that look like? I keep bringing up what we did in The Shield in the last two seasons when we had Vic find out what Shane did to Lem so we could play out an entire season and a half with the two of them having that knowledge and that hatred and that betrayal. When you have those big emotions, and yet you’re thrown into the mix and you have to show up and work with each other day in and day out, what does that look like? To me, that was just such fertile ground for story on The Shield, and there was an opportunity to do it here with Clay and Jax, so I never really intended to have Clay killed. I just had to create the right story that it all fell into place and happened organically.
Ron said in his mind, this may be the lowest we’ve seen Clay, wishing he was dead, but he’s still a fighter. Are we going to see him rise up in season 5?
Realistically, I don’t think we can bring him back to the same threat that we had him at this season. He’s pretty much at his low point. What does that look like for Clay? Does he do things differently? Is there a moment of contrition and remorse? I’m not quite sure yet. But I definitely know that there’s only one direction for him to go, and that’s up. I’m just not quite sure what that will look like. At some point, I’m sure it’ll be a complication and/or threat to Jax again. But I think it will be fun, for at least a portion of the season, to see that guy sittin’ in Piney’s chair. I definitely want to play some of that out.
Let’s talk about the last shot with Jax and Tara at the table mirroring that picture of John and Gemma. As a viewer, you’re thinking Gemma got what she wanted — Jax at the table, in John’s chair — but you also remember John got killed. Did you always know that would be the final shot?
I did know. The trick was trying to find an organic way to get that photo in. I was gonna do it earlier in the season, but then I thought people would just forget about it if I did it earlier. So I found an opportunity in the last two episodes. To me, the interesting thing is that at the end of the day, we’re telling this story about this hardcore motorcycle club, but I’m realizing more and more for me, I’m really telling it through the eyes of the women. That [shot] to me is a little bit of an indication of that, that it is Jax’s journey and it is about his ascension or dissension from the club, but interestingly enough, we’re really able to tell the most compelling parts of that story through the eyes of the women. And then, yeah, I think for the fans, there’s the idea that there’s a new King and Queen, and how does Gemma handle that? Is Tara potentially ready for the reins and all the things that the role of matriarch demands from her? I think she’s much further along — we’ve definitely knocked her off the fence this season — but she’s not ready to be Gemma yet. She has a lot more ground to cover.
What can you tease about how Gemma will handle it?
When Gemma sees Clay is still alive there at the end, that’s a dangerous loose end. Tara has the information. Anybody that’s read those letters — the three that Gemma conveniently removed and then burned — still has that information about her potential connection to what happened to John. I played with the idea of hearing what was in those letters this season, but I just like the idea of having people not hear them firsthand. It just felt like we’re getting through the perspective of the characters and the emotionality what’s in them, rather than spoonfeed the actual words on the page. Gemma got rid of the physical evidence, so there’s no direct information, and perhaps Jax wouldn’t believe Clay. But at this point, I think he would definitely believe Tara. To me, it’s almost like Tara is the bigger threat. It’s an interesting dynamic. I think one of the reasons why Tara feels so empowered there at the end with Gemma is that she knows she has the most potent leverage on Gemma that anybody can have, which is I have the power to ultimately destroy your relationship with the thing you love most. I think it’s why she feels like she can move with a certain amount of impunity to the head of that table.
I loved how in the midst of this out-of-control season, Jax remained rational when it came to supporting Tara’s decision to try to get the boys out of Charming.
To me, that’s part of his journey he had in prison, and it harkens back to his dad, and his dad ultimately trying to take steps to deter his kids from the path he was on. So I just felt like Jax ultimately knew that it might be difficult for him to unplug, but it was more important that his boys be led someplace else.
Will Wendy still be in the picture next season?
Yeah. We signed Drea de Matteo for six episodes, and she was in two this season. So she’ll be in at least four next season, and hopefully, if we can come up with a bigger story, I’d love to bring her back for even more than that.
What can you tease about Jax going into next season?
I don’t know anything as far as story yet. I know, for me, I always wanted to play out a season or two of Jax at the head of that table and really, the struggle of power. Like all our politicians, these men of ideals and desires and promises who take office and then are ultimately handcuffed and confined by the parameters of the office and are forced to compromise — suddenly your idealistic leader turns into the exact replica of his predecessor. We see that over and over again in our political system. So for me, it’s can Jax take over from Clay and not become Clay? Or, if he has the idealistic goals of his father, does he lock himself to the fate of his father? It will be interesting to see him try to be different from Clay, and yet, is it possible to be a different guy than Clay and be an effective leader of an outlaw organization? So that’ll be, in terms of thematics, the fun thing for Jax to play with in season 5.
Will the cartel continue to be a major story? Will we see Romeo again?
I’d love to bring back Danny, yeah. And the gentleman who played the lead Irish guy is just a phenomenal actor. I’d love to bring both those guys back, and Benito [Martinez]. Definitely that relationship will continue. I don’t know if we’re gonna play out a big cartel dynamic and threat, but to continue that story we set up, we definitely would need to keep them in the picture.
But the cartel won’t be the same source of turbulence next year.
No. I mean, obviously whenever you throw a cartel in the mix you always have the potential for something. [Laughs] As of now, I don’t necessarily see it being the same catalyst as it was this season, but I’m not certain yet.
Will we see how Jax convinces the guys to stick with the cartel deal, even though he can’t tell them about the CIA twist?
We may or may not. We may come in after it. The interesting thing is that cartel deal is already in play. So it’s not really that a new vote has to happen, it’s really about Clay coming back in the picture, and once Clay’s back in the picture, the Irish will come around. In terms of the club, even though Jax has talked to Bobby and Clay about getting them out, they’re the only ones who knew about Jax’s plan to try to pull them out of that deal.
Are we going to have any kind of a time jump when we come back?
There won’t be a big time jump like there was between seasons 3 and 4 with the jail time. I try to build in at least a few weeks or a month [Laughs] so if my actors have changed their look, there’s not miraculously someone with a different haircut. So I would say a month or so.
We heard of the badass gangster named Damon Pope, whose daughter was killed in Tig’s wrongful retaliation for Clay’s shooting. Do you have someone in mind to play him?
I don’t. I always start thinking big, and then I end up with some great unknown actor. [Laughs] And honestly, the reason why we haven’t really given it much thought is that I don’t quite now how big the role is going to be. I know the circumstance is big and it will impact our guys, and I wanted to leave something hanging over Jax’s head as he sat at the head of that table and the audience knowing that he’s got the gavel and he’s already got a s—storm brewing. So those circumstances will definitely be part of season 5, I just don’t know how big that role will be yet, and then we’ll decide who the best actor is.
Just so we hit all the major players, what can you tease about Bobby and Opie?
I never meant to imply that they wouldn’t be coming back. Bobby, realistically, wouldn’t have been released yet from the thing that happened with Otto. Other characters talk a little bit about how he’d be able to get rid of the charges if the deal continues. So we set up the potential for Bobby to free up later on. And then Opie, it was just too neat and convenient for Opie to come back already. I just feel like he’s a pretty deep, thoughtful dude, and it’s gonna take a minute for him to wrap his head around everything that’s happened. It just didn’t make sense for him to come back to the table that quickly. It will give me some story to play out with him next season in terms of him coming back around. But I don’t think he’s gone. I think he’s still not right with it all.
And Otto, still not executed.
No. I don’t think so. That can take a season or two to pull that together. I think I ultimately would like to see an execution. I think it would just be an interesting thing to watch. [Laughs]
Let’s talk Juice. Was Chibs telling the truth when Juice finally told him his father was black: It wouldn’t have mattered because his birth certificate says Juice is hispanic?
Yeah. That’s the sad irony of everything that happened. It’s what we do here: If people just told the truth from the beginning, they’d all be so much better off. But, they just don’t have the capacity to do that. But the truth is, Juice has still done some other bad things: shooting Miles and ratting on the club. That’s all there, and even though it’s buried somewhat at the end, Juice emotionally has to live with that, and there are still some people out there that are aware of it. That stuff can go away for a while, but it’s like what we did with Bobby and Luann this season. It’s still out there, it’s still something that impacts the character emotionally, and it’s still a story that we can pull on at any point.
I loved how you had Roosevelt [Rockmond Dunbar] apologize to Juice. It kept him a stand-up guy. Will he back next season?
I’d love to bring Rock back. We don’t have a deal with him, but I felt he’s such a great actor, and he’s a guy who brought a lot to the role that we had never perceived before and just helped me make that character very real — like a real cop who knows that there has to be compromises, but ultimately he’s not on the take, he’s not out to feed his own pocket. He knows these guys are human beings, and you have to find a way to work with them. That’s an interesting guy for the club to deal with. They’re not used to that. They’re used to guys who want them dead, like David Hale, or people who are in their camp, like Unser. It’s a new energy for them.
Talking about Unser: I didn’t want him to die because I love that character, but I can’t believe he made it through the season. Was there ever any thought in your head about offing him?
It’s interesting: Unser was one of those characters at the beginning of the season that we weren’t sure what we were going to do with him. Then I had the thought that everything was taken away from him. So he’s a guy with really nothing left to lose and really just waiting to die. I liked the idea that it was ultimately Clay who gave him purpose again, and then it was really through the betrayal of Clay that gave him an even greater purpose in terms of protecting Gemma. ‘Cause now he’s got something to live for. It’s why we see him at the head of Gemma’s table at the end of the episode. I do think that that relationship [Gemma and Unser] will continue, and I don’t think it will ever really become a romantic relationship, even though Gemma manipulated Unser at a certain point with that. But I just love the actor so much. I think Dayton [Callie] is such a soulful guy. That character was such a thin character on the page when I first put it down. He brought so much to that character that he ultimately became a series regular and is a great source of genuine humor and compassion, and anything I throw at the guy, he turns it into gold. So I don’t want him goin’ anywhere.
Is there any hope for Tig and Gemma now?
I don’t know. That’s an interesting thing. For me though, I love that at the end of the day, Tig does love Clay, and he’s really the one guy who’s left in his camp at the end of it. So, as of now, that doesn’t feel right. It feels like Tig is set on protecting Clay a little bit. So I see him more trying to help Clay next season rather than betray him.
And one happy note for Clay: We should assume the Charming Heights deal was voted down, right?
That was a great exit for Lincoln Potter, but will we see him again?
To me, if Potter came back, he would be like running some organic vegetable stand or something. [Laughs] He’s just such an eclectic, intellectual dude. I didn’t want to kill him off, and I love the actor. So if we could find some cool organic way, I just think it would be fun.
Last question: Ron mentioned that when you’re bold enough to go where you went dramatically in the fourth season of a continuing show, it comes with the requirement that you top it. Is that an idea you’re dealing with yourself now?
You know, I don’t think so. I can’t go handcuffed into a creative process thinking how I’m gonna do better. And I don’t necessarily think I have to top it, I just want it to be as good and different. What I don’t want to do is go in and try to do the same thing, ’cause I think that’s ultimately death. But we’ll continue to tell the stories. Tonally, it might be different next season because there’s different things going on, but hopefully people will plug-in and we can make it as compelling and different.