Kurt Sutter on The Aftermath of ‘Sons of Anarchy’ Season 5

The creator of “Sons of Anarchy” shares his early thoughts on season six and the effects the season five finale will have on all the characters, including Big Otto.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

After Tuesday night’s season finale of “Sons of Anarchy,” Kurt Sutter gave a conference call with the media to discuss the aftermath of the dramatic conclusions and cliffhangers. We called in to ask questions and listen to his answer, including no less than three questions about his own character biting off his tongue. “Sons of Anarchy” will return in September on FX. Needless to say, spoiler warning if you have not caught up on season five yet.


Q: How important is it for you to focus on the little details when you’re creating a character?

Kurt Sutter: All that stuff is really important to me. In fact i’m really kind of tyrannical with the little details of this show in terms of costume and set design, transpo, the bikes. I’ve done a lot of research on the subculture and I have a really pretty solid working knowledge of how these guys live and I feel by rooting it in all those really rich, small details, what that then allows me to do is then tell much bigger, epic, dramatic stories.

I feel if I can root it in the reality of the subculture so all the grittiness of it, all the fine details of it are true and accurate, then it just gives me a lot more freedom than perhaps push the boundaries on the realities perhaps of the stories and their circumstances. That’s always been important to me from the beginning and we’re a well oiled machine now. We get it all done. Just choosing the crucifix was at least a dozen conversations, me looking at about 30 or 40 different crosses. All that stuff is really important.

Q: Did having a major death early in the season make it harder to build to a finale?

Kurt Sutter: It’s always a challenge doing something larger in the beginning. I really wanted to do that with Opie. I didn’t want to drag it out, have people not see it coming because of bad execution but see it coming because of the natural progression of the world. I really wanted it to be shocking, come as a complete surprise and knock the wind out of not only the audience but the club as well. What I was able to do, really with the death of Opie, not so much about worrying about having the rest of the season be a letdown, but really what it gave me was such a life-altering circumstance for my hero that it really allowed me to accelerate his journey.

I really wanted to get to the place where we had to force Jax’s hand to see what kind of a leader he would become. I feel like the death of Opie, that tragedy was such an unsettling event, really allowed me to accelerate the emotionality of that journey so we could organically push Jax to the edge on what kind of man, what kind of leader he was going to be come. In that way it probably opened up my story possibilities rather than hindered them.

Q: Will this season’s guest stars, particularly Donal Logue and Jimmy Smits come back?

Kurt Sutter: I can definitely tell you that Donal will be back. We’ve made a deal with Donal. We’ve made it for a total of 10 episodes so far. He was in 2-3 this year so i know we definitely have him locked up for seven or eight next season, and most likely it will be more than that. What we usually do is make a minimal deal with an actor and then we can do more.

That character I believe will be a big character next season, and probably the most dangerous threat that the club’s ever had, just in terms of a guy with law enforcement weight, law enforcement credentials or connections and yet because he’s retired, does not have the perhaps legal handcuffs or morality hurdles that maybe some of our other law enforcement members have had. With a guy like Donal who is just f***in’ really fun to work with and such a great actor, we have a lot of places we can go with him.

Jimmy Smits I would love to bring back. Jimmy adds such a gravitas to the show, his experience. I love bringing in that new culture into the show, his Latino past and that energy, mixing it into that world and that energy is really fascinating to me. I love the relationships that are going on between him and Gemma. I would love to bring Jimmy back. We left it open ended because I wasn’t sure on his availability. I feel like there’s enough emotional weight on the table for us to continue on that storyline, yet I was careful not to pin any major story arc to his character just in case that couldn’t happen. We’re in the process now of trying to figure out Jimmy’s availability and make that work.

Q: Does having Otto bite off his tongue write yourself out?

Kurt Sutter: It was my way of writing myself out of having to learn dialogue. So if Otto comes back it’ll just be grunts and me scribbling sh*t on paper.

Q: How do you find the balance with Gemma being despicable yet we relate to her and root for her and Nero?

Kurt Sutter: It’s always a fine balance with any of our three, really with any of our three major characters: Jxx, Gemma and Clay. That trilogy, they’re such strong familial characters that have won the hearts of the audience, yet they live in this very dangerous dark world all the time. Some of their decisions are really bad and reprehensible decisions. So it’s always difficult trying to find that balance. What I try to let be my guide is the story. I like to think that things happen organically and they’re not forced one way or the other in terms of trying to manipulate a reaction from the audience.

Gemma, and I mean this in the most flattering way, but Gemma’s just a f***ing cockroach, man. She’s hard to kill. She was really adrift at the beginning of this season. She was f***ed up. She hit a bottom and she crawled her way back up and she made some really very defining decisions and I think at the end, my intent for her at the end of this season was for her to have her balls back. I think we got there at the end of the finale. Yeah, it’s hard to cheer that on, but yet at the very least, there’s that sense of f***, man. She always f***ing lands on her feet. And her justification I think is always, “I’m taking care of my family.” That’s what allows her, in her mind, to do the things she needs to do. It’s definitely a fine line.

Q: With the tongue incident, were you looking forward to having a memorable violent moment for yourself?

Kurt Sutter: My pitch on the first day of the writer’s room was I want to find a way for Otto to bite his tongue off so I don’t have to learn any lines. Everyone laughed at me and we got to the end, and it was my way of Otto, as Donal Logue’s character says, my way of committing. I didn’t know if we’d ever get a chance to do it. We joked about it but there was a way to organically do it. For a guy as f***ed up as Otto, literally saying I’m not talking, removing the organ of speech.


Q: Mentally where is Jax after Tara’s arrest going into next season?

Kurt Sutter: I really wanted to get to a place with Jax at the end of the season, and one of my desires at the beginning and as I said, the death of Opie allowed us to really accelerate Jax’s emotional journey in terms of where he was going to be at and decisions he was going to make, but I really wanted to get to a place where perhaps Jax realizes that he’s better at being an outlaw than he is at being a husband and a father.

That there’s an allure that comes with power and prestige that perhaps he wasn’t aware of, or maybe was aware of but didn’t have to make a decision one way or the other earlier. He got to the end and as much as he said he wanted to leave, perhaps he wasn’t really ready to leave. The intent was to have him have this very successful, although bloody and tumultuous and tragic or painful run as president of the club, but to ultimately have all that stuff come out almost flawlessly.

The execution of Pope, the way he maneuvered that, he pulled that off like a spec ops soldier. All that stuff went flawlessly and was incredibly smart. While all that stuff was going on on the outlaw side, all this stuff with his family was falling apart. He couldn’t keep any promises to Tara. Everything was a false promise. the bottom fell out so he does one incredibly well and one incredibly bad. The idea that maybe I’m supposed to be doing this and not be doing that. I’m not saying that’s where we’re ultimately going to be with the character, but in this moment at the end, I think there is a sense that I’m completely successful on the one hand and completely failed at the other thing.

Q: Could Drea De Matteo, will she come back, Wendy?

Kurt Sutter: I’d love to bring back Drea. I think Drea has a show. She got a pilot and that’ll remain to be seen whether that gets picked up. That’s always a tricky thing. Sometimes networks and shows are open to have the actor step out and do a few episodes. some aren’t. But I definitely think there’s more story to be told with that character. I love where we went with it this season. The timing felt right. It felt really organic. I think Drea had some bones with meat on them to chew on with that character. I definitely have more story I want to tell there. It’s really her availability which we’ll find out as we get to next season.

Q: How does Otto’s tongue in fact prevent him from testifying? He could still write things down.

Kurt Sutter: Yeah, look, I think he’s such a damaged soul psychologically and emotionally at this point, I think it was really symbolic. It was him telling the club, it was him telling the authorities that your’e not going to f***ing get a word out of me. I think that’s Donal’s response when he says, “Way to commit.” I think it was him basically saying, “I won’t be talking.” sending a message to the club. What better way to tell the club that you’re not [talking?]

Q: Did you ever think there’d be “Sons of Anarchy” shirts in Wal-Mart?

Kurt Sutter: We are exploding in terms of marketing.

Q: Are you still set on ending at season seven?

Kurt Sutter: My response to that is season seven was always my goal because I know how this cable model works. I know at seven seasons, above the line costs usually outweigh the value of the show so I thought, can I tell this story in seven seasons, do I have enough story? So I always had that number in my head and thought yes, I can do that. I have the loose constructs of those seven seasons in my head. I still have those and we’re still working towards that.

Look, if I get halfway through season six and I have a sense of wow, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this and tell all the stories I need to tell in 7 seasons, then I can have a conversation with John Landgraf and I don’t know what the solution would be. Maybe the solution would be to extend the amount of episodes in the last two episodes, or is there enough story for us to do a season eight and would that be viable? Could we afford to do that? It’s not like I would shut the door on seven.

Here’s what I definitely don’t want to do. I don’t want to extend the show for another season for the sake of doing an eighth season. What I don’t want to do is pad and fluff what should be seven seasons just for the sake of doing another season, even though the fans would love another season. I know I don’t want to do that. My sense is if I get halfway through the storytelling in season six, I’ll have a pretty good sense of whether or not I can tie it up in seven.


Q: Do you have a breather before you start writing again?

Kurt Sutter: I have a little downtime. I sold two other projects to FX so I’m co-writing a project over the hiatus. I’ll be doing that but that’s always fun for me to do because it’s my own time, my own schedule. Then I’ll jump back early February with the “Sons” writers for season six.

Q: What will Clay’s role be after going to prison?

Kurt Sutter: Well, I really wanted to, at the end of this season, when August tells that his guy, I want him dead before the hearing, I really want to get a sense that there’s a death knell for Clay. He’s essentially a dead man walking, or in that case a dead man riding between a bunch of black men. I really wanted to set up that Jax was successful in his death by proxy option he’s choosing for Clay.

How that will play out and whether Clay will make it through season six I’m not sure. There’s definitely some more story to tell in terms of the mythology. What I don’t want to do is get into a situation where it’s another almost death of Clay because that is very unsatisfying. I’m not sure where Clay’s end date will be, but I do think it ultimately has to be near. But there still is some more story to tell.

Q: Maybe he and Otto can end up together.

Kurt Sutter: They can just bite off each other’s body parts.

Q: With Bobby turning in his vice presidency badge, is the fracture of the group the thrust of the story moving forward?

Kurt Sutter: Yeah, I think that was part of the irony or the tragedy for me. We had this list for Jax at the beginning of the season, this checklist of what does Jax want. Jax wants to get out of the drug business, Jax wants to get out of the cartel business. Jax wants to get rid of Rico. Jax has to get revenge on Clay. He has all these things he methodically has to do and he brilliantly achieved all these goals this season. At the end of it, all those tasks were done, but the fallout came on all the personal sides. Both families were in shambles.

So now he has a club that has no more external pressures. There’s no more Rico case against them. There’s nobody holding a gun anymore. He’s got this relationship now with Eli so that there’s no pressure in town. He’s gotten out of the big gun and the drug business. These new businesses for them, the Diosa, they’re making money the thing with Charming heights, yet the club itself is in complete shambles. His inner circle is really reduced to two guys now. Bobby was sort of the last voice of reason and Bobby turning in that VP badge, it’s not that Bobby’s leaving the club but he’s saying, “I can’t do this job because you won’t let me do this job."

The club itself has got all these wonderful opportunities and is ready to flourish. Part of Jax’s job next season will really be about all right, now I’ve removed all the external things. Now how do I fix this from the inside?”

Q: Will Gemma hurt or corrupt Nero?

Kurt Sutter: I think Gemma, it’s like she says, she doesn’t need to be loved. She just needs to be wanted. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. I think Gemma needs everything. I think she’ll be a positive influence on him. Or at least a positive influence in his outlaw life. When she says to him, “I do messy,” she knows what to do with a guy who is faced with the conflict associated with an outlaw life. She doesn’t know what to do with a guy who wants to get out of the outlaw life.

But I think him being pulled back into the outlaw life gives her that level of comfort of yes, I know how to be that old lady. So I think if that’s where Nero is moving to, or really as Jax calls Nero out in the finale too, or maybe it was episode 12 he says, “You saw this coming” more or less. Yes, this has happened but there’s a part of you that knew it was going to happen, and Nero there’s no argument for that. So Nero could argue that not unlike Jax, Nero was a guy who said he wanted to get out, but perhaps wasn’t able to get out either. But I think she can be a positive influence on him.

I also think Nero is a different man than Clay was. I think Nero has a stronger sense of himself than perhaps Clay did and because maybe there’s some distance between he and Gemma with that that I don’t think Nero will be perhaps as corruptible as Clay, which could lead to potentially some interesting conflict down the line if Gemma does try to manipulate a guy who’s not as corruptible or easily influenced as Clay or J.T. was.

Q: Are there any specific relationships we’re looking forward to fleshing out

Kurt Sutter: I think there’s a lot to play out with what’ll happen with Bobby and Jax next year. I really think a major relationship will be between Chibs and Jax which has really become his Opie now, his main guy, his loyal dude. I think there’ll be a lot to play out there which is is Chibs capable of maintaining that level of loyalty as Jax goes on this darker journey? Will he then be burdened to be the guy that has the voice of reason and what does that mean for their relationship? I think the main relationships that’ll be played out are mainly with Jax, Chibs and also with Jax and Bobby.

Q: Will the homeless lady have more significance?

Kurt Sutter: The homeless lady is, not to be purposefully cryptic, she kind of is what she is and she does what she does. She’s a little bit of my Shakespearean ode to magic. She kind of shows up at these poignant moments in Jax’s storyline. It’s not like I have some big revelatory thing that will happen with the homeless woman that there’ll be some kind of big reveal in the series. If people are waiting for that, I don’t think that’s going to happen but she will continue to show up the way she does.