[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Tuesday's penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy. Read at your own risk.]
The penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy was a heartbreaking bloodbath.
Before the episode was over, three series regulars joined the show's already high body count. Not only did Juice (Theo Rossi) choose his own death over a life of being other people's jailhouse killer, but Jax (Charlie Hunnam) finally had a bloody showdown with his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal).
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Although the previous episode appeared to end with Gemma on the run, she was actually just checking items off her bucket list. Once Gemma realized Jax knew the truth about her involvement in the murder of Jax's wife Tara, Gemma headed to Oregon to see her ailing father (Hal Holbrook) one final time. When Nero (Jimmy Smits) learned that Jax knew Gemma's location, he sent Unser (Dayton Callie) to bring Gemma back home before Jax could find her.
But even though Unser made it to Gemma first, he wasn't quite fast enough. When Unser was unable to convince Gemma to come back to Charming to face the murder charges — and unwilling to leave Jax alone with Gemma — Jax shot Unser in the chest. Mother and son had one final moment together looking through family photos before Gemma led Jax into the garden, where he painted the white roses red with her blood by shooting her in the back of the head.
TVGuide.com chatted with Sagal about saying goodbye to her character and why death was the fate Gemma preferred. Plus: See why Sagal says letting Jax shoot Gemma was her final act of love. (For more, read Rossi's thoughts on Juice's big choice and Callie's take on Unser's final friendly gesture.)
Although Gemma's death had a certain inevitability about it, she still survived a long time. Did you ever think she might get away with this or did you know going into this season she wouldn't survive?
Katey Sagal: I knew about Episode 4 that that's where it was headed, and then as the season unfolded more and more I was pretty grateful that that's where it was headed. I think that what exploded from her telling that lie [about Tara's murder] was not what she had intended, and it just didn't seem to be getting any better.
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Right, it almost seems like Gemma had given up. She wasn't actually running away as much as she was checking things off her to-do list before dying.
Sagal: Yeah, that was the intention. Kurt [Sutter] explained to me and Charlie that basically once Jax knows and Nero finds out and tells her to go away, she knows that the end is nigh. She doesn't know exactly what's going to go down but she knows Jax will be hunting her down and looking for her. So, she's kind of relieved. She's relieved that the secret is out. I think she couldn't live with it any longer. I think it was important for her to see her grandson before she left — to give him that ring meant something to her. I don't think she ever meant to turn her back on the club, so she hopes it will continue. And she wanted to see her father. I always felt that was the way of being reminded that she's done something good.
And even though he doesn't recognize her, he does remember his fond memories of Gemma as a child. What does that mean for her?
Sagal: That was priceless for her. That was kind of what she was hoping for. The fact that he remembers a girl that liked to play in the flowers — that was a pleasant memory for her.
I don't think Gemma would ever say she was a bad person, but does hearing her father remember her that way confirm in her mind that there was a good, innocent person inside her once?
Sagal: Absolutely. I don't think she ever thought of herself as an evil person either, but I think that she's done a lot of bad things in her life and she knows that. She's not stupid. She carried some guilt with the John Teller of it all for all those years, but she's very good at compartmentalizing and just not looking at it. But I think this all became so big for her she couldn't not look at it.
Nero has a great line with Unser when he says he's not trying to save Gemma, but he's trying to save Jax. How do you think Gemma feels about what Jax killing his own mother will do to him in the future?
Sagal: She believes that Jax has wanted to avenge Tara's death, and that's what the whole thing has been about. I believe in her mind she thinks that the act of killing her will give him that satisfaction. I think that ultimately she thinks he'll feel better if he does. Because she loved him and I think that she thinks that this is the ultimate act of love.
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But she has to know how much this life has ruined Jax and John Teller before him. And yet you said she still wants Abel to join the club. Does any part of her think her family would be better off ending this cycle of violence?
Sagal: No. She's all about the club. I don't think she judges the ways and means of the club. Maybe she thinks that things have gone a little too far, we need to kind of tone it down a little bit, but I don't think she would want the club to disband or think of it as a bad thing. I think she wants her grandsons to continue into that outlaw lifestyle. She's proud of it, she likes it. Wendy or Tara both [thought] "Maybe there's a better way to do this." But I don't think Gemma's that person.
Do you think how hard she loved her family was ultimately her fatal flaw?
Sagal: That's interesting. I never thought of it as that. Yeah, maybe that was her fatal flaw. She would go to any lengths. Ultimately the act of killing Tara, which was not premeditated whatsoever, was in the name of retribution for what she had imagined she'd done wrong to her son. So, yeah her fatal flaw may be that.
On a happier note, you got to shoot a scene with Michael Chiklis! How was that?
Sagal: Kurt has used every actor that was on The Shield and Chiklis was the last holdout. I know Kurt was thrilled that Michael said he would come do it. It was just kind of a full circle moment. We love Michael, so that was great.
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When I was on set in July, you said for Gemma she'd rather die than lose her family. So, are you ultimately satisfied with where her journey ends?
Sagal: Absolutely. I feel like, as an actor, it's a great way to let go of a character. To have the character die, she's not hanging around with me, I'm not thinking "What's she going to do next?" I really do think this was the merciful way to go with her. I think that to have her live a life without all that she knows would've been, ultimately, way more torturous for her.
How tough was it actually shooting that final scene in the garden?
Sagal: It was very emotional. We would go in the house right before we walked out [into the garden] and both of us would break down crying. [We] had to hold on to each other, and then we'd go shoot the scene. We did that several times. We've all been in this happy place of denial that this wasn't really ending, while we've been doing the work this season. But now, there was no denial that this was ending. It was very emotional.
I'm sure in one way or another, the ghost of Gemma will hang over the series finale. What can you say about the ultimate ending of the show?
Sagal: I think it's really satisfying. It's beautiful. I was there on the last day, and I think it's beautiful.
The Sons of Anarchy series finale airs Tuesday at 10/9c on FX. Stay tuned for more interviews with other dearly departed cast members. What did you think of this episode?