The Telefile
Kurt Sutter Tongue Wags About <i>Sons of Anarchy</i> Season 5

It was a big year for the Charming chapter of the Sons of Anarchy, with some big deaths, shocking plot twists and a literally loose tongue. The show's fifth season also enjoyed big ratings as well, becoming the number one series in its timeslot (Tuesdays at 10:00 PM) on both cable and network. Sons creator Kurt Sutter got on the horn for a conference call with reporters to discuss how Season 5 unfolded, what may be in store for the Holy Trinity of Jax, Clay and Gemma and why Otto bit off his tongue anyway

On how he plots out all the twists and turns of a typical season
What I tend to do is come in with a blueprint at the beginning of the season and I sit down with my writers and sort of lay out what I want to do for the season. It's a loose blueprint and the more I do this and the more confident I get with the show in terms of the stories that we tell, I've really been able to keep them a little looser each season. My grip gets looser as the mythology progresses. That was the case this season; I had these ideas and we started writing toward those ideas, but if something happens organically in the process of telling the story -- if something else comes along and we want to play it out, then I have the room to do that and to go in a different direction. If I see something that's popping on screen in terms of a relationship or a conflict that's really suddenly taking on a much more compelling quality than I thought it was going to be, then I'll throw some energy and some story at that. You have to be careful at a certain point -- usually in the back four or five episodes, because then your leeway really starts to diminish. Not that you have to start writing to tie everything up in each story, but I do have the reality of, okay -- this is how much time I have left this season to tell these stories.

On how Opie's death impacted the season
That's always a challenge, doing something larger in the beginning and I really wanted to do that with Opie. I didn't want to drag it out; I really wanted it to be shocking and come as a complete surprise and kind of knock the wind out of not only the audience, but the club as well. What it gave me was a life-altering circumstance for my hero that really allowed me to accelerate his journey. I wanted to get to the place where we had to force Jax's hand and see what kind of a leader he was going to become. I feel like the death of Opie -- that deep tragedy -- really allowed me then to sort of accelerate the emotionality of that journey, so we could organically push Jax to the edge to see what kind of a man and what kind of a leader he was going to become. In that way, it really probably opened up my story possibilities rather than hindered them.

On Jax's personal journey this year
I wanted to get to a place where Jax realizes that he's better at being an outlaw than he is at being a husband and a father. There is an allure that comes with power and prestige that perhaps he wasn't aware of or maybe he was aware of, but didn't necessarily have to make a decision one way or the other earlier. He got to the end and as much as he says he wanted to leave, perhaps he really wasn't ready to leave. The intent was to have him have this very successful, although bloody and tumultuous and tragic, 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 special ops soldier. All that stuff went flawlessly and was incredibly smart. And while all that was going on, his family was essentially falling apart. He couldn't keep any promises to Tara -- everything was a false promise. At the end of it, he does one thing incredibly well and the other incredibly bad. I'm not saying that's where we are ultimately going to be with the character, but in this moment at the end of Season 5, I think there is a sense of "I'm completely successful on the one hand, and yet I've completely failed at this other thing. Maybe I'm just supposed to be doing the thing that I'm good at." That's really where I wanted to have him land at the end there.

On what may be in store for Clay
I really want to give the sense that there's a death knell for Clay at the end of the season -- that he's really 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, in other words, that Jax was successful in his death by proxy. How that will play out exactly, I'm not sure yet -- whether or not Clay will make it through Season 6, I'm not sure. There's definitely more story to tell in terms of the mythology. What I don't want to do is get into another situation where it's another almost-death of Clay. That, I think, is very unsatisfying. I'm not quite sure where Clay's end date will be, but I do think that ultimately it has to be near. But there is some more story to tell.

On Gemma's role in the club
Gemma is definitely an anomaly in that there are very few, if any, women in the outlaw culture that perhaps have the kind of weight that she has. In my mind and in this mythology, she was kind of there from the beginning, influencing two major presidents of that organization. Not that she's privy to the details of the club, but she's sort of privy to the direction of the leaders. I think if she maintains that relationship with Jax, being the matriarchal influence will grant her a greater access to him than in the past. That's always sort of been her role. She's not sitting at that table making decisions about what they do in the day-to-day, but her whole goal is that it's club and family first and making sure her men stay strong and stay focused and keep the priorities straight. When they're dropping the ball, when they're being weak, she's the one who's going to pull them up and slap the shit out of them and say go handle this. That's what she does.

On Otto's now-infamous tongue incident
My pitch on the first day in the writer's room was that I wanted to find a way for Otto to bite his tongue off so I don't have to learn any more lines. Everyone just laughed at me and I didn't know if we'd actually get a chance to do it. But then we got to the finale and there was an opportunity for us to organically play it out. I thought that with a guy as damaged as Otto, what better way of saying "I'm not talking" then literally removing the organ that articulates speech? He's such a damaged soul, psychologically and emotionally at this point, and I think it was really symbolic. It was him telling the club and the authorities that you're not going to get a word out of me. As Donal's character says, "Way to commit."

On which guest stars will be back next year
I can definitely tell you that Donal Logue will be back. We definitely have him locked up for seven or eight episodes next season and most likely it will be more than that. That character, I believe, will be a big character next season and probably the most dangerous threat that the club has ever had just in terms of a law enforcement guy with kind of law enforcement weight and yet because he's retired, does not have perhaps the legal handcuffs or morality hurdles that maybe some of our other law enforcement members have had. Jimmy Smits, I would love to bring back. I think he adds such a gravitas to the show and I love bringing in that new sort of culture to the show. I also love the relationship that is going on between him and Gemma. We left it sort of 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 that storyline and yet I was careful not to pin any major story arc to his character just in case that couldn't happen. And I'd love to bring back Drea de Matteo. She's got a pilot and it'll remain to be seen whether or not that gets picked up. I definitely think there is more story to be told with that character and I think Drea had a lot of fun to sort of have some bones and some meat to chew on again with that character like she did early on.

On whether he still plans to end the series after Season 7
Season 7 was always my goal because I know how this cable model works. I know that at the end of seven seasons, the above-the-line costs usually outweigh the value of the show. And I thought, well, can I tell this story in seven seasons? Do I have enough story? I've always had that number in my head and I thought, yes, I can do that. I had the loose constructs of those seven seasons in my head and I still have those. We're still heading in that direction and working towards that. But if I get halfway through Season 6 and I have a sense of, "Wow, I don't know if I'm going to be able to do this" then I think I can probably have a conversation with [FX President] John Landgraf. I don't know what the solution would be. Perhaps the solution would be to extend the amount of episodes in the last two seasons, or is there enough story for us to then do a Season 8? And would that actually 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. I don't want to pad and fluff and drag out what really should be happening in seven seasons for the sake of just doing another season. Even though I'm sure 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 6, I'll have a pretty good sense of whether or not I can tie it all up in seven. I have a little downtime [to figure it out]. I sold two other projects to FX and I'm co-writing a project and writing a pilot over the hiatus. 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 6.

On his other TV obsessions
I'm a huge Boardwalk Empire fan, always have been from the beginning. I'm not a zombie-genre fan, but I'm a big fan of my buddy Glen Mazzara, so I'm about four episodes behind on The Walking Dead. I've been desperately trying to get into Game of Thrones, but I've been having a very difficult time. It's just not my wheel house. What else? My wife has me now watching Revenge. It's her favorite show and she's pulled me into some of that and that's kind of soapy and delicious. What else do I watch? This is really goofy, but I watch a lot of HGTV; House Hunters International is my favorite show. I like to watch shows with guys that have real skills and put things together that actually serve a purpose. I've also been watching Last Resort. I almost think that show was too ambitious for network television; it's the kind of show that maybe would have done better if they kind of dirtied it up a little bit more and did it on cable where they could spend the time telling the stories and cultivating an audience. It's a great cast and it's a great premise. I just think it was too ambitious, and almost too smart for network TV. I don't mean that the way it sounds because it's not that I think network TV isn't smart -- I watch network TV. Maybe I'm just saying that because Shawn [Ryan] is a buddy of mine. I just wish the show had a chance to find its seat.

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