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Like last year, FX’s Sons of Anarchy presentation closed out the final day of Comic-Con International, and like last year, Hall H was only about half full. But the 3,000 people in attendance were there because they wanted to be there and not because they were waiting for the next panel to start. These people were part of the SAMCRO army, which makes Sons of Anarchy creator Kurt Sutter their general.
The panel opened with a preview of the first few minutes of Season 5, allowing the audience to catch up with Jax as he is writes in his diary while his mother Gemma is elsewhere with her new lover, played by Jimmy Smits (this few seconds of the trailer was blacked out). We also get quick glimpse of Clay’s new status quo (complete with oxygen mask) while Jax’s lover Tara is seen taking a bath … with a gun nearby to illustrate her new mindset. Sometime later, we see Filthy Phil (Christopher Douglas Reed) driving a truck full of weapons with a SAMCRO escort when they are attacked by a group of men.
Sutter then arrived on stage with his wife and series co-star Katey Sagal, as well as cast members Charlie Hunnam, Maggie Siff, Kim Coates, Ryan Hurst, Tommy Flanagan, Mark Boone Junior, Dayton Callie, Theo Rossi and Clay himself, Ron Perlman. The series creator immediately addressed the blacked-out portion of the trailer, saying, “That was my wife getting fucked from behind by Jimmy Smits. So I’d all show up for the premiere.”
The new season will continue to address the power struggle between Gemma (Sagal) and Tara (Siff). “The interesting thing about Gemma and Tara this season is it’s really the push and pull of a mother-daughter relationship,” Sutter said. “There’s a daughter who’s really trying to exercise her control and become her own person within this family structure, and it’s the mother that is threatened by that and it pulls back and forth. It’s not a linear arc for them this year as far as that struggle. It really changes from episode to episode.”
Sagal added that she thinks Gemma “loves Tara very much but feels threatened that she might be taking over Gemma’s position.”
Hunnam was asked about the season finale, during which his character Jax took control of the club from Clay. “The moment where I sat down at the end and assumed the position was the most fun,” he said. “There was kind of a tangible excitement among the guys.”
“Don’t get used to that chair,” Perlman said.
“It feels pretty comfortable,” Hunnam smiled.
Perlman said Clay “only knows one way: how to be on top. He takes orders from no one. He lets no one else set the agenda. So we see at the beginning of Season 5 that every single thing he has ever worked for has been taken from him … except his life. So he’s wife-less, he’s president-less, he’s lost the respect of his crew, his family. So he starts off with nothing. But he has to be wondering ‘Why the fuck would you leave me alive? You’ve got to know I’m coming back.’”
Perlman said he finds it exciting that he gets to play the same person under a completely different set of circumstances. “It’s so much fun,” he admitted. “Where we’re going this season I’m not really sure, but it’s going to be full of tension and wonderment.”
Siff was asked to talk about the relationship between Tara and Jax and what draws her to him. “One of the nice things about the story is playing a love story that is as old as it is, older than a high-school relationship,” she said. “I feel that there is something about that that in end trumps everything else. She can’t walk away from it. Plus, it’s also where she comes from. She’s such an orphaned character and in a way this is the only family that she has and has ever known. There is an attachment to Jax, and also to Gemma I think, that is family.”
She also was surprised to find that “Tara’s slide into darkness has been relatively easy.”
Coates addressed his story arc from last season. “Why does Tig always kill the wrong girl? It’s very unfortunate, Kurt,” he said, glancing toward Sutter. “I really enjoyed the driving scene. That actually was me in that car. I think this season Tig really is off the leash. He definitely is. His loyalty to Clay is really questionable. He ripped the sergeant-at-arms patch off my coat. He’s a real wild card this year, and the way Kurt has set up Tig this year is really intense. It’s been a great ride so far.”
Flanagan discussed Chibs’ role as the new sergeant-at-arms and whether he was on “Team Clay.” “Team Clay? Is there such a thing?” he asked. “Chibs has always been Team Clay. Backstory: Clay saved me back in Ireland. Jax was just a young kid when I came into the club. But Clay has done so much shit that it’s hard to stay loyal to him. So now I’m on Jax’s side.”
Hurst was asked whether Opie is hard on the outside but just a big softie on the inside. “I think it’s a little of both,” he said. “I think especially by the end of last season you start to see a lot of Piney showing through. I think underneath it all is the desire to have a normal family, but he struggles a lot against that. He’s a softie at heart, but the hardness can show up, too. I think Opie is a bit like Job — all these awful things keep fucking happening to him. “
“He wants a normal family so he marries a porn star,” Boone joked.
Boone went on to talk about his character Bobby’s relationship with Jax in the upcoming season. “Bobby has always been sort of the more level-headed member of this idiot band,” he said. “I guess that is destined to continue. Bobby has known Jax since he was born. He is like an uncle. He’s always standing for what the club needs. That’s still his job.”
Rossi talked about his hanging scene from last season. “It was a really beautiful moment,” he recalled. “I know that sounds strange, but it was a beautiful moment of self-sacrifice for his family that he didn’t want to disappoint. I think when Clay gives him that ‘Men of Mayhem’ patch and calls him ‘son,’ it’s what he’s longed for his whole life, which a father and someone to love him. He knows at that moment that he can’t exist in this world because he’s going to hurt a lot of people. But being the idiot he has been his whole life, he can’t even do that right.”
Callie was asked why Uncer is so loyal to the Sons. “Basically they are his family,” he said. “They are really all he has. As much as he loves the town, he has all of these people he worked with all of these years.”
It was mentioned that Uncer seemed to have all the laughs and punchlines this year. “That’s because he was high all the time,” Hunnam replied.
“I get a lot of humor out of Uncer,” Sutter said. “And I think some of that is you learn over the course of a season who’s funny and who’s not, what works. And when it comes out of Dave’s mouth, it’s usually funny.”
The group was asked out who in the cast took the longest to get used to riding a motorcycle. Without hesitation, everyone pointed to Perlman. “What makes him so bad?” the moderator asked. “He just falls off,” Hunnam said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “He just tips over.”
“He tries,” Sagal offered.
“No, I don’t,” Perlman said. “I think it’s an inner-ear thing, I’m not sure.”
“And who takes the bike thing a little too seriously?” the moderated asked.
The consensus was Hunnam. “Charlie is pretty serious,” Sagal said. “He rides his bike all the time.”
“I rode my bike here!” Hunnam yelled, eliciting hoots from the audience.
When the floor was opened to audience questions, a man in a Grim Reaper costume asked about Opie’s character arc in the upcoming season.
“At the end of last season, as much as I wanted to put Opie at that table, it just didn’t feel true to the character,” Sutter replied. “We had damaged him and his family so much that it would have been too neat and too simple to just put him at that table. So we have to put him in the wind a bit. The club has to earn his respect back in a way. You’ll see that a bit at the end of the second episode of the new season where that starts to happen and then that will play out over the season.”
Rossi was asked about his role in the new season. “What Kurt does so well is give all of the characters secrets,” he answered. “So you have Juice, who has been this funny lapdog idiot, and then to give him that story at the end of last season – well, that just gave him some secrets that will play out this year. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits into this new world with Jax in charge. On the outside he will act as if everything is okay, but on the inside he is hiding things and feeling shame.”
“You couldn’t find a stronger fucking tree?” Boone asked, drawing laughs.
The next fan wondered whether there would be any multi-ethnic characters in the new season. “Doesn’t he watch the show?” Perlman asked Sutter.
“My show about white bikers probably has more color in the cast than most network shows,” Sutter said, adding that the guest cast this season will include Harold Perrineau (Lost) and Smits.
Sutter was asked whether he planned any flashbacks telling the story of John Teller and his death. “Flashbacks aren’t really a component of the show, so we don’t really do them,” he replied. “We try to tell mythology though our characters and their current situations. I have talked to the network though about doing some sort of prequel where we tell the story of the formation of the club. I would love to do a period piece.”
The final question came from a woman who became emotional telling the group how the show relates to her, as she grew up with a father who dealt drugs to bikers and a mother who was similar to Gemma. She wanted to know how they came up with the realness of the fictional world. “I think I should get a cut,” she said.
Sutter said part of it owes to doing research and talking to bikers, and part of it came from his own upbringing in an alcoholic household. “Rock on, drunk moms!” he said. He added that he gets a lot of similar comments about the realness of the show.
In conclusion, Sutter said this season will be the season of Jax at the head of the table and will ask the question “Can you run an outlaw biker organization and not become Clay? Or is that just part of the job description? And if you don’t become Clay, are you perceived as being weak? We will see by the end of the season what kind of leader he will become.”
The fifth season of Sons of Anarchy debuts Sept. 11 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.