'Sons of Anarchy' postmortem: The 'Mad King' scene that made even the director cry

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Image Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t watched this week’s episode of Sons of Anarchy, “The Mad King,” stop reading now. We spoke with director Gwyneth Horder-Payton about the key moments. (Read our full recap here.)

If you’re still traumatized by Gemma’s conjugal visit with Clay, you’re not alone. Though Gemma (Katey Sagal) had paid the guards for time alone with Clay (Ron Perlman), who wanted her to pass along the Irish’s plans for him to Jax (Charlie Hunnam), two guards forced her to have sex with Clay so they could watch. “The whole situation was creepy enough,” says Horder-Payton, who needed the actors playing the guards to keep their performances simple so the ick factor wouldn’t mask the emotional impact of the scene — an overwhelming sadness. “In the end, it’s just so sad because of the intimacy they once had, and that they’re now having it again, in a way, but only because they’re so sorry that this has to happen. There’s a certain empathy and respect for each other in that moment, even though the relationship is over,” she says. “It was difficult. I cried a lot while I was directing. It was awful.”

Gemma’s reaction was another balancing act: “We went back and forth about what she should put out during this, and really, it was that she’s gonna do it because she had to, and so they wouldn’t beat Clay up, and then she was gonna put herself back together, as she always does, and walk out the door feeling humiliated. But it’s gonna pass, because she’s been through so much already. She’s good at that,” Horder-Payton says. One of the guards warned Gemma that if she tells anyone what happened, Clay will die. The only person she’s confided in is Nero (Jimmy Smits), who’d later sensed something was wrong and sweetly kissed her hand. “He looked at her with such a look of love, a completely selfish love with no agenda — and that’s what made her want to be completely honest with this guy.”

The other huge scene, of course, was the racist Irish Kings blowing up SAMCRO’s clubhouse after Jax suggested August Marks (Billy Brown) be their new distributor. “It’s funny, I’m not a big explosion person, even though I seem to get them in my scripts all the time — all the time,” says the director of 11 SOA episodes, laughing. (She’s also helmed hours of The Shield, Justified, and The Walking Dead, among other dramas.) “I’m a woman, I don’t really care. But this one actually did bring a tear to my eye because of what the clubhouse meant to all these people. It really affected me in ways that surprised me. You know when you sort of hiccup [to fight back tears]? It was caught in my throat. Emotionally, I think it was very successful.” A big part of that, in our eyes, was the way Chibs (Tommy Flanagan) waited inside to make sure Jax and Abel got out safely. “There’s the scene in the kitchen [where Chibs asks Jax if he trusts him or any of the guys] and the other scene right before this where Chibs walks into the clubhouse and Jax, the king, is sitting there lonely at the top taking on too much responsiblity, and Chibs reminds him that they’re all there for him,” Horder-Payton says. “It’s meaningful that he’s the one to be protective and to be the one to stay behind.” (And this photo Theo Rossi snapped on the set for EW, which looks to be from the night they shot this scene, is even more special.)

Other notes:

• Kim Coates (Tig) recently told us that creator Kurt Sutter now has to write notes in the scripts for the actors — like, “He’s speaking the truth” or “This is the truth” — because of all the deception. “That’s true,” Horder-Payton confirms. “In that scene between Gemma and Wendy, I had to be reminded of who was playing who.”

• We’ve said it before: SOA does arguably the best montages on TV. “It’s the time we take that is unlike any other show,” Horder-Payton says. She used this episode’s lengthy opening montage to build tension as the club staked out various locations for the Irish. And as always, the music selection was spot-on. Horder-Payton picked the track, alt-J’s “Tessellate.” “It was music that my daughter played for me, and I said, ‘Ohmygod, that’s for the Sons,” she says. “And she said, ‘Exactly, Ma. That’s why I’m playing it for you.’ And she was right.” Her favorite part of the montage is the looks between the guys. “Especially between Tig and Juicey. It’s a little homoerotic,” she says, laughing again. “It’s like The Shield. It’s one of the gayest shows on TV, and they’ll admit it. They love each other so much.”


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