“The Black Widower” Written by Kurt Sutter, directed by Paris Barclay. 90 minute premier.
In the wake of Tara’s death, Jax makes vengeance a club priority. The new season begins about 2 weeks since the end of season 6. Jax, suspected in the death of Tara and Eli Roosevelt, is back in prison and making use of his time to get in good with a white supremacist (Marilyn Manson) – a move for future leverage in the gun distribution turf wars, as he has handed the Irish guns to August Marks, a business wanted by both the Mayans, and the Chinese, who are banding together. Says Jax, “Hey, you can keep hatin’ as much as you want. But when we get to Stockton port, you should let your crew know when push comes to shove, if they need a friend it will help to reach out to the darkest hand in the yard.”
Wendy (Jax’s ex-wife) is now checked out of rehab and, getting a ride back to her apartment from friend former Sheriff Unser, finds Juice now living in her apartment. In hiding and in fear for his life for betraying Jax (sort of), he has also saved Gemma from two murder charges, so she has placed him in Wendy’s apartment as a temporary Safe House. She doesn’t know what Juice did to Jax, but she knows he helped her, who in turn was trying to hold the family together and keep the two boys safe.
Kurt Sutter, knowing what notes to hit to keep the viewer engaged, changes color from dark serious to dark humorous as both (white) SONS and (black) GRIM BASTARDS jointly do an inquisition on who was behind the killing of the latter’s club members. Meanwhile Nero meets with Alvarez and the Mayans at their clubhouse in Stockton to discuss what can be done to keep ALL the factions – brown & yellow, and black & white, whole, then meet with Jax to see where he’s at. Alvarez reminds Nero the Mayans are concerned about Nero’s loyalty because of his connection to the SONS.
As there is nothing to connect Jax to Tara’s murder, he is cut loose. Once back at the ice cream parlor / clubhouse, Jax calls a meeting to say he’s had an epiphany – that “following the path JT took, to get out of the outlaw shit hasn’t worked,” and he wants all to join him in his new direction for the club. What that actually is, we’ll have to wait and see in future episodes.
Meeting with Jax, Nero gives his condolences about Tara, and assures him brown and yellow had nothing to do with her death. He also proposes a meeting with all the factions to clear the air and come up with a plan that everybody can live with (literally!), which Jax insists take place at once – an SOA homecoming at their “Entertainment facility” (read: porn house warehouse.) Girls, drinks, families, kids…safe for everyone; nothing going down but Jack and beer. It is agreed, everyone playing nice. And at the warehouse, Gemma and Nero also reconcile and make peace. The dust has settled all around. That means the other shoe is about to drop.
By the end of the episode, that shoe drops hard, when Jax’s vengeance is meted out.
The season opener is notable for two reasons. The first is that it is directed by executive producer /director Paris Barclay, who outdoes himself with tracking shots, camera set-ups, as well as the above mentioned montage sequences. We’re clearly able to read the emotions of the characters, as well as take part in the wild ride of the action scenes. The second is none other than series star Charlie Hunnam himself. Every year we’ve noticed Charlie becoming more polished in this role he has gotten to know so well. This year he knocks it out of the park. When you’re talented and skilled enough to carry a story with your acting sans dialog, you’re in stellar territory. Someone give this guy an Emmy nomination.
Again, we catch up with the talent of Sons of Anarchy at the San Diego Comic-Con International, and begin by asking Kurt Sutter his take take on the series ending.
Kurt: I was very cognizant coming into this season that it wasn’t the “final” season; it was the “next” season. And that hopefully we follow the story organically and then when it ends the mythology will feel complete. I feel if I’m able to do that, creatively, if that’s the mythology, that’s the story I wanted to tell, that I’ve done my job, and my relationship with the audience is that I’m a story teller – so, look, it’s inevitable I’m not going to be able to please everybody – some people will be happy, some people won’t, some people will be angry. But to me the beauty of the show is that there’s a full spectrum of reactions from everyone, and I’m engaged as much with people who hate what’s on the screen as people who love it. It means I’m striking chords with different people.
The prequel has been talked about for over a year, so what’s the latest with “The First 9”?
Kurt: It’s discussions at this point. The network is very interested in doing this. I’m going to focus on this next show [14th century drama Bastard Executioner] for the next couple of years. I think the plan is to let the mythology sit for a couple of years. FX is doing these mini-series, and I’ve always envisioned it as more of a one-off than a “series.” It was for me telling the origin – and I just got a little nervous about the mythologies sort of bumping into each other, based on what we already know. I’m interested in doing a mini-series whether it’s 9, 10, 12 – but my sense is that it will come.
Kurt was a little more fluid to the audience at Comic-Con, saying it was still unclear whether it would go as a series or mini-series. A story set in the early 70’s at the end of the Vietnam War would be much like those taking place in the early 50’s, when returning vets turned to motorcycling to keep that adrenaline rush. The difference – one group received as heroes, the other hated as “baby killers.” Because the 70’s were such a tumultuous time, there’s a lot to draw from.
Kurt: Yeah, but for me it’s not about drawing from the period, it’s the characters – so I want to tell that story so that people who have invested in this mythology will have a connection to it, and feel they got a glimpse into the past – because we don’t do flashbacks in the show.
So what is Kurt hoping the audience takes away from the final part of the show?
Kurt: My sense is the ending… I don’t know that everyone will be happy, but I’d like to think that everyone will be satisfied. And maybe pissed off. [Laughs] What I’d like people to walk away from with it is that they’re glad they invested 7 seasons in the show. That ultimately it was worth it to them and it will be a piece of television history.
Q: The episodes have been getting longer and longer. Because this is the last season are they giving you room even more?
Kurt: Not more but they continue to do that. As relationships got deeper, as connective tissue of the stories became more complicated – at some point they came back and said don’t worry about that. And I abused it. [Laughs] So the episodes will be long – I don’t go into it saying this will be a long episode; I write the script the same way, they’re all the same page count, the production schedule is the same, it’s just that at the end of the day there is a lot more story that ends on the screen.
Oh, and the SOA game? Kurt says still on.
Adds Theo Rossie “I have a new bike now, Tara ran over the old one. She really hit the bike.”
So has it hit them that this is the final season?
Theo: It hasn’t hit us yet. We’re workin’ – doing our thing, going to work every day – I think when it airs, and then when it stops airing, and we stop shooting, that we’ll be kind of feeling …”Oh, we’re not going back in May” like we always do. I don’t think it’s hit any of us at all.
Kim: He [Theo] is literally in a lot of shit. I know – me personally – we just go to work with our heads down – the fans are losing their shit. They are so sad, and so excited to see the final season… but as Theo said, when we’re done, it’s going to be reflective, sad, and unbelievable.
Kim has been a guest star in the TV series Crossing Lines between working on SOA. Will he be returning? “Not sure. Hasn’t been picked up for a 3rd season yet.” How about movies?
That’s the one back east? (Theo has wanted to do one at Staten Island and create some much needed jobs over there.)
Theo: Yeah. The business is very different… we started this in ’08. If you think what was going down in the TV landscape in ’08 – it was a very different thing. When we came on I could tell you every cable show on television. Now, it would be impossible. I don’t even know when I see…I never even heard of that. And I’m pretty in tune with what’s going on, I watch a lot of stuff. But there’s so many different… there’s Direct TV, and Netflix, and Amazon, and there’s so many different shows… so this is an entirely different landscape to come out of.
Kim: And also we can’t really talk about [the show ending] because it’s “about” to happen – it’s not until November. There’s a lot of stuff going on – I think for all of us, it’s a very exciting time. I’ll be very sad when this is over, but it’s a very exciting time to be Theo Rossi and Kim Coates.
Theo: It’ll never be this. We checked this last night, The Shield was one of my favorite shows, and we talked about it because he [Kurt] was in it. He, Benito, Kenny, Walt, they all told us when you’re in it, you just never think it’s going to end. And I remember people saying it to us and I’m thinking – huh – we’re on season two, we’re on season three, it ain’t going anywhere. And it’s ending. And the truth is, it’ll never be this. Because what we’ve become – throughout this – yes, we have a movie career, I’ve starred on every TV show possible before this, but what we’ve become through this, and what Hollywood has become through this – is amazing. And this show is a cultural phenomenon. You can never match it.
Q: Why do you think that is?
Theo: Because we touched an audience no one has ever touched.
Kim: I think people didn’t know what it was going to be. “Bikers. Clubs. Oh my God. The violence.” It’s touched every single…from the military, to grandmothers, to kids in college, boyfriends, girlfriends, boyfriends, girlfriends – it’s touched everyone.
Theo: The truth is there are no other characters on television [like these]. There isn’t. You can’t find them. Now people have tried to make those because of [this show]. If you took some paper, and you said you’re going to love this character – people’d go in not going to love this character. He’s a psychopath, he’s killing this, he’s burning that, he’s shooting this, he’s doing that – but you love him. Because he’s funny, he’s got heart, there’s something that draws you to him. And I think what Kurt did with these characters – on paper you wouldn’t even think this show is what it is. But you are drawn to it. Like I am.
Kim: Both men and women watch this show in droves. It’s something you can actually watch with your girlfriend. It’s a family drama.
Q: Did you sense that when you started?
Kim: No. No. No.
Theo: I don’t think anybody could have predicted that.
Kim: Not even Kurt. No way.
Theo: There were no shows like this on television. There was nothing… there was The Sopranos, and there was The Shield, but they were so different from what we are. There was very clear good guys, bad guys, this, that, you know. You find yourself rooting for people you never would have thought you’d root for. You know, I said this about Tara – a real testament to the fans – people wanted Tara dead. It’s odd because all she wanted to do was to protect her family and children. But in some way put our heroes and her family in “danger”…
Kim: Made it breaking up… pull Charlie from the Club.
Fans: No, no, no.
Theo: It was so crazy, because I look at Tara and she was an innocent, and I was in the middle of that, and it was so sad for me. But that just shows you what we created, what Kurt created, with these characters.
Q: Are cable shows therefore more like independent films?
Kim: Theo said it well about independent films. Television, especially cable – have meaningful moments. They’re like really, truly character driven – if we’re talking about the Big Screen – movies. And if they’re well written, and well acted, and you get a little bit of luck, and you get a couple of good reviews, you can ride something that people want to watch in their homes, week and week and week, binge watch, and I think we’re in that golden cable era right now, where you can be as dark as you want, as real as you want, as fantasy as you want, but it’s based on characters. That’s what movies in the 70’s were about.
Theo: And that’s where independent films are. Independent films started as a way to go against what studio films were doing. They [studios] were saying your main character has to go on a journey – you’re Jimmy Stewart has to go on a journey, he has to come out a better person than he was before. Which is what a main hero does. But what independent films started doing was saying we want to go the other way. We want to show these guys are living outside the grid – they’re doing this…
Kim: It doesn’t have to end Happy Ever After.
Theo: Right. We’re going to tell a story that’s different. And people would say “We’re not going to fund that.” So okay, we’re going to do it independently.
And how is Gemma dealing with what happened at the end of season 6?
Katey: It takes place 2 weeks after the fact. In true Gemma fashion she made the choice of what would be best for the family. And that’s pretty much how she compartmentalizes what’s going on. She’s not in jail when we start. Her motives are always about the family. She killed Tara not in a premeditated fashion, and she really did believe she’d been betrayed in the ultimate way – Clay in jail, Club trash, Nero dumped her, so it was sort of the result of the perfect storm. And I believe she didn’t know what was going on and that sort of came up out of the fog. And she then put the next part in motion, which would be what’s best for the little boys. So that’s where we start, and you’ll see where that leads.
As the show ends, how does she feel about saying good-bye?
Katey: Mostly I feel grateful that I’ve been able to play this character for 7 years because I don’t know they come around… I know they don’t come around very often. Somebody that’s written with such complexity, so interestingly, and so scary to play, so I feel bitter-sweet about it. I also feel that it’s the end of the journey, and that’s okay. You know we’re all sort of a bit in denial around there. We’re kind of “La La La” – everybody’s getting along great, and appreciating the moment. Because it is – we’re almost done. Amazing.
Katey’s other show, FUTURAMA, has been cancelled, so I asked if it might come back as a direct to DVD, as it did when it was cancelled by FOX.
Katey: I saw Matt last night, he was talking about the SIMPSONS – crossover…
Q: Has that happened?
Katey: Yeah, yeah; we shot that – we voiced it – he’s always so positive about that. He didn’t say anything about FUTURAMA- but I think FUTURAMA will live again. That’s what I think. At this point I had to give Katey a short compliment on her voice-over work as Leela on the show, having just seen the final episodes. The nuances she gives the character are Emmy quality, whereas someone else could just as well sleepwalk through the dialog of a cartoon character. Indeed, the show has been nominated for an Emmy.
So does Katey plan to next take a break, or have other plans?
Katey: I’m talking to people – I don’t really want to take a “break” – so much as to hear what’s next. There’s a movie I’m really excited about, starting in November. I’m going to work on that.
In this show, what has she learned about herself as an actress?
Katey: I’ve learned so much. Because I’ve been so scared of so many things I’ve had to do. In a good way – that’s a good thing as an actor.
Katey sings one background song for the show every year, and often is the high point for the emotional underpinnings of the season’s story arc. As of the time of these interviews no song had been picked or recorded, so I’m hoping they’ll call on her to perform for the final scene, for the final episode, for the final season – and just nail it!
We talk to Dayton Callie “Wayne Unser” and Drea de Matteo “Wendy Teller” and ask Dayton how he is doing as the series wraps up.
Dayton: I just keep turning the pages to see if I’m still alive. When I see someone else has died, I go “Glad it’s not me.” You know, we’ve all been friends for 7 years now.
Q: When you’ve read your scripts, what really shocked you the most?
Dayton: Yeah, you had to bring that up. What stands out to me…a lot stands out… but the episode where Stahl gets killed. The way that played out…I just remember that one. There was humor, but yet there was not, it was not funny and yet it was – there was a dark humor in there. It was kind of shocking. And Ally [Ally Walker as Stahl] was great. And even this last episode, the episode of last season – it was captured very well, for what it was.
Q: What has really had meaning for you this season?
Drea: The spoiler is – Unser and Wendy are having an affair [both laugh].
Q: That’ll be a spin-off series, right?
Drea: It’ll be another show – these two Jersey characters in the room.
Q: Do you have any projects lined up at the conclusion of the series?
Dayton: I haven’t got anything.
Drea: I have a web-series I’m working on right now called The Mother Ship. It’s a reality show. About my boring life. “The Muthah Ship.” I think the most shocking thing was when Otto bit his tongue off. I just started watching season 6. I’m not caught up at all. That was pretty insane.
I compliment Drea, who looks great, still in the “Wendy” look, and who gets lots of hoots and cheers walking out before the Comic-Con audience later in the day. “Oh, thank you.” Are any of those tattoos hers, or are they left over from the show?
Drea: This one (pointing to right forearm) is left over from the show, but starting to wear off.
Q: What’s the most fun you’ve had on this show in the last 6 ½ years?
Dayton: We laugh a lot. We do laugh a lot.
Drea: Now we get Katey in trouble. We do bad things. They should never have put us together. Now we’re turning Katey into a bad thing. We’ll do a spin-off show. We’ll do a sit-com.
Dayton: It’s a father – daughter thing. She’s got a “daddy-complex.”
I then ask Paris Barclay if he’d be involved with The First 9.
Q: Would he be involved with that?
Paris: I would be involved with that. That would be his next project on his radar, 14th century England – about as FAR from Sons as you can get, yet still have Shakespearian underpinnings for the storyline.
Q: Being set in the 14th century, would there be any period music to set the tone (as has worked so well in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, or Boorman’s Excalibur).
Paris: Highly unlikely in a Kurt Sutter show.
Q: Who is directing the final episode, you or Kurt?
Paris: Kurt Sutter will direct the final episode and I’m so glad. Because it’s going to be tough to get through. I have some general idea of what’s going to happen – it’s going to be challenging for cast and crew.
Q: Do you know the final scene of the final episode?
Paris: I do.
Q: Can you use the words you felt when you read the final scene?
Paris: Well it hasn’t been written yet, so it can always change. When I heard what we’re sort of barreling towards – I think the best feeling for me is the word “bereft.” It’s like when you’ve lost a loved one that you’ve cared about for some time – there’s bereavement.
Q: What makes for a more satisfying conclusion to a story – a happy ending, or a triumphant ending?
Paris: Well, it depends on the story. In the story of Sons of Anarchy – honestly, I think a happy ending is impossible. The theme is what Arthur Miller says is the theme for every drama, which is that the chickens come home to roost. And I think we’ve killed a lot of chickens in 7 seasons. And sooner or later, someone has to pay. I’m not saying everyone will be unhappy at the ending of Sons of Anarchy, but most people will. And I think fans will largely accept that it’s the appropriate conclusion to this mythology.
Q: What did you learn doing this series?
Paris: What I did learn, when you’re doing a show like this, make sure you have psychological testing for the cast before you hire them. With Charlie Hunnam we didn’t do that, and we didn’t need to, because he’s a genius. He’s not only a genius, but he’s made all our jobs a lot easier. You don’t know how hard he works. IF there’s 7 days an episode, he usually shoots 6 of ‘em. He’s as funny and light hearted as Jax is dark and moody. I think the show wouldn’t exist without investing in him.
Kickstands up – September 9, 10PM, FX
And thanks to the cast and crew of Sons of Anarchy for 7 years of great interviews, it’s been a pleasure to get to know you.