[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Tuesday's penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy. Read at your own risk.]
On Sons of Anarchy, you can only escape death so many times.
Ever since Juice (Theo Rossi) tried to hang himself in Season 4 to protect the club from his betrayal, the character has seemingly been marked for death. After spending much of Season 7 in exile from the club, Juice seemed to have a shot to redeem himself when he volunteered to go to prison and kill rival gang leader Henry Lin (Ken Choi) for Jax (Charlie Hunnam). But after finally confessing the truth about Tara's murder to Jax in the previous episode, Juice was living on borrowed time.
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On Tuesday's episode, which featured a whole host of deaths, Juice was approached by some of Lin's thugs, who recruited Juice to kill Aryan Brotherhood leader Tully (Marilyn Manson). But rather than remain the slammer's go-to killer-for-hire, Juice instead handed over his weapon to Tully and asked him to take him out during a cafeteria riot.
TVGuide.com chatted with Rossi about Juice's tragic final days and why Juice's choice wasn't suicide. Plus: How might Jax still be able to honor Juice's memory?
Juice's days have been numbered for several seasons now. Did you ever think he might actually survive the series or did you know he would eventually die?
Theo Rossi: Since Season 4, we knew where this was headed and we've been dodging the reaper for a long time at this point. [Creator Kurt Sutter] and I have a pretty great relationship, and we know what's going down. Everything's pretty well planned. I've said since Season 4, when people started asking me, "Oh, my God, what's going to happen with Juice?" that I just want to see him go in peace. And I think he went out probably the most peaceful I've seen him since before he walked into Roosevelt's office and got told the information about his dad. This is the most peaceful I've ever seen him, so I was really satisfied.
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He did seem almost resigned to death in these last few episodes. Why do you think that is?
He was exhausted. He had given up everything he can give up. He had killed Lin like he was told. He had done all these things and it was never going to end. You could tell the story forever. It would just be him shanking people left and right in prison and getting farther and farther away from himself. I think that at that point, he just made the only choice that he's ever made for himself. He had such a loyalty to all the wrong people. Nobody has ever really had his interest at heart. He's been the pawn in this giant game. After seeing what Jax was going through the episode before, there's no room for any more chaos. There's no room for any more fighting. There's no room for any more things to go wrong. So, he just decides to make his own choice, and his choice is to leave. I thought that that was really powerful.
We obviously saw Gemma carrying a lot of guilt over Tara's death and the other deaths the lie she and Juice concocted caused. Did Juice carry any of that guilt as well?
Rossi: I don't think he carries much guilt. I think he feels really bad, but at the end of the day, Gemma is the matriarch of this family and he did what he thought was the right thing. This is our Hamlet's mother, and she's the one who needed protection. She's the one who needed her life saved. He felt in his heart that he was doing the right thing, what he thinks anyone else would do. He was protecting the queen in a way ... and she had convinced him that what he was doing was the right thing. I don't think there's any guilt because at this point, who's right and who's wrong? There's really not many innocents left. I think he just wants out of the madness. He wasn't made for that life, and I think it's really, really more telling now than ever.
Obviously, we first started worrying about Juice when he tried to hang himself a few seasons ago. Do you view this choice as an extension of that suicide attempt?
Rossi: Here's the difference. When he tried to take his own life in Season 4, he was doing it so no one in the club would be hurt. If the story ended with him and he was dead, the ATF could never prosecute the Sons. In this position, he's not really protecting anybody. ... He just needed to make a choice on his own. He needed to stand up and say, "I'm not going to do this anymore." He just had to just step out of the way.
Does Juice think this is what he deserves?
Theo Rossi: It was just pure exhaustion. Where does it end? He can keep being sodomized and being taken to these low places that no human should ever be. He's getting farther and farther away from who he ever was to a point where he just completely loses [it]. The only sense of humanity he had left in himself was to say, "This is never going to get better; this is only going to get worse. Since he's been in prison it's been the worst roller coaster ride anybody could ever be on. So, I think that he made the decision to get out.
Because Juice has been such a tragic character in recent years, do you find yourself trying to remember the happier times?
When we started off. Kurt called him a Lost Boy. He was just always trying to do the right thing and trying to impress Clay. Do I think he ever had happy moments? Sure. There were moments that he fit in. But I think ever since Season 4 — since trying to hide the secret of his dad because we all know club rules and how ridiculous the antiquated system they are in — he's always been off-kilter. For me, Juice's happier times are probably the day he got patched in. I remember Kurt saying recently that that's when he found Juice's voice. when he was in the hospital and he said, "You put the club first, the club is your family." Juice was a Lost Boy and he was the one to whom the club was everything.
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Speaking of those antiquated bylaws, Jax mentions changing one part of them in this episode. Might he by trying to find a way to honor Juice's commitment to the club?
Rossi: You're so smart. [Laughs] You've got to watch and see how it all plays out.
What was your last day of shooting like for you?
Everybody showed up. They were all there when I was laying there and they show the tattoo on my head. I had everybody around me. That's kind of just the way we are for each other. It was just one of those moments where we all were like, "Wow." We feel like we started this thing five minutes ago and now to see who is there and what's become of this story and where it's gone is pretty incredible.
How do you feel about how the series wraps up overall?
I keep using the word satisfied because I was. I was so unbelievably satisfied with the finale and I think everybody was. There's going to be a lot of talk after the finale. The last two episodes are almost like a two-part finale. Seven years of a show is almost an impossibility nowadays, but more impossible is seven years of a show that the fan base grows every single year. Usually, shows start taking a dip and then they kind of go out with a whisper. With ours, we're going out with this blast of like, "Here's the story and you're never going to stop talking about it."
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Do you mean that you think people will be debating the finale?
Rossi: I think the story is told exactly the way Kurt wants to tell it. Every word, from the first one uttered to the last one said, is exactly his story and it's such a rarity to have people tell their stories exactly the way they want to. Look at this episode you just watched. I mean, people could watch this and go, "I don't even understand how there could be a finale!" That's the great thing about it. At the end of the day it's Jax's story and the tragedy that surrounds it all.
Katey Sagal said she was glad Gemma died because it helped her walk away from the character and the show. Do you feel the same way about Juice?
One hundred percent. I've always prayed for peace with Juice, so you might have those moments of going, "What if he did kill Tull?" But then in my mind, I know it would never end. He'd always be somebody's puppet. There are soldiers and there's generals in this world, and Juice is not a general. Watching that ending, it does make it easier to walk away from the character. It doesn't make it easier to walk away from the experience, from the lightning in a bottle of having an incredible cast, an incredible team, an incredible family, an incredible group of friends, an incredible writer, an incredible network. That is a rarity. That's the hard part to walk away from, but the character? I think Juice has done all he needed to do.
The Sons of Anarchy series finale airs Tuesday at 10/9c on FX. Are you sad to see Juice go?