"Sons of Anarchy" airs its season-six finale on FX tonight, bringing to a culmination a season in which (SPOILER ALERT!) MC President Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) has to deal with the betrayal of his wife, the loss of his kids, the wrath of the Irish and uncertainty about the future of his club.
Series creator Kurt Sutter joins Take Two to reflect on how far the show has come, the importance it's had in his life and the real outlaws that he deals with all of the time in an effort to keep the show as accurate as possible. He also hints at a possible "Sons" prequel.
Before the success of "Sons of Anarchy," Sutter wrote on another critically acclaimed show, "The Shield." It was a cop drama that helped shape the TV landscape and change the game for FX, and was one of the first dark cable dramas that appeared in what some critics have called the "golden age of television."
On his first gig as a TV writer for "The Shield":
"I came onto that show really with no experience as a TV writer and was just very lucky. Sean Ryan, who created that show, it was sort of his first show-running gig. It was the network's first drama. It was really one of the first dramas that was in that tone that was on basic cable. I always say that it was every disturbing f--ed up pitch I had featured in the feature world, where studio executives just wanted to call security on me, I was able to use on 'The Shield.'"
On how he researched the outlaw lifestyle:
"The interesting thing about that outlaw lifestyle is that it's very much under the radar. It's not a very easy world to gain access to. One of my fellow executive producers who came to me with the initial idea for this, John Linson, had a lot of friends in the life, and I got to spend time with them and see where they hold their meetings, see the kind of bikes they ride, understand what their lifestyle really was. They all had day jobs — mechanics and tattoo artists and house painters — and they all had the thing to survive, and there is a component of it where you see the simplicity of how they live, and how they are just guys trying to pay mortgages and send their kids to school and maintain their family and all the things that, I think, perhaps people didn't necessarily associate with a motorcycle club before that."
On the feedback he's received from people in motorcycle clubs:
"The response was pretty positive. Most of the guys I knew in the world dug the show. They totally got that it was sort of over-the-top. They refer to it as a soap opera, but it was their soap opera. They took ownership of it, and it will be interesting where that point of view goes as the show gets darker and our hero starts to question more about the living within the confines of that world, and it's interesting to watch the perception of it change a little bit, not just with the general viewing audience, but with the outlaw club."
On the graphic violence depicted in the show:
"I don't really have a stance on it. I don't mean to sound irresponsible like I don't care or I don't pay attention because of course I do, but ultimately I'm a storyteller. And these are the kind of stories I like to tell. I always refer to the violence in my show as being pulp, and there's an absurd quality to our violence on our show that I think I consciously do, I think sometimes to the sugaring of some critics and stuff. But it's important for me to keep that level of absurdity within the show to give people a little bit of distance between what's real and what's not real. We had the school shooting that happened in the premiere of this episode, and I try to get in front of that a little bit and let people know that it wasn't me being sensational. That I really wanted to tell that story for the last couple of years, that it would almost be irresponsible for me not to suggest that these guys that deal guns for a living, that ultimately those guns couldn't end up in the hands of an innocent and create that kind of circumstance."
On killing off a key character:
"Some people are easier to get rid of than other people, but it's hard, because we are a big dysfunctional family here, and everyone has gotten really close. Creatively, what we did with Opie was the right choice. Ryan Hurst played that character with such pathos and such depth. We felt the depth of his pain and his despair, and I just felt like there were not a lot of place we could go with him after that, after we damaged him so badly. We did such horrible things to his family, and I just didn't see how he could sit across the table from Clay and any of those guys again."
On what happened on the set the day they killed off Opie:
"It was deep. I wasn't there on the set, but I know that Ryan requested that the guys sort of all be on the other side of that glass when he died. He was very close to Charlie and all those guys. It was really emotional. And then there's a thing, actually on YouTube, where we see them shave off the beard, his beard, to sort of put the memory to rest. Then we do a dinner. You get the dead character dinner, where we rent the room, and it is essentially a wake of sorts."
On why audiences love these outlaws:
"I think the key is really being able to write characters that are damaged enough and vulnerable enough where you at least can get a sense of their struggle or their sense or remorse. With Jax, it's always been about his struggle in terms of wanting to be a good guy and wanting to do the right thing by his club and by his family. And he is really driven by that credo and, yes, he does a lot of nefarious things to expedite that agenda, but that is really his agenda, and I think that's what people tie into."
On what's next for him:
"I try to keep my foot in the feature world, so I'll probably continue to work on some feature projects, but I love TV. We have been having discussions about a potential prequel to the show, which right now are just discussions, but there's some excitement about taking a look at the origins of the club and the First Nine, and we probably wouldn't necessarily dovetail that right after the end of the show. We would probably let the mythology sit and breathe for a minute or two before we did that."