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TV Critics Tour: Can 'Sons of Anarchy' be redeemed?

From left, “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter,

From left, “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter, director Paris Barclay and actor Charlie Hunnam speak on stage during the show's panel at the The FX 2014 Summer TCA at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Monday, July 21, 2014, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Credit: AP

BEVERLY HILLS — As longtime fans know, "Sons of Anarchy" is one of TV's smarter series. It's an endlessly inventive plot pretzel that showcases writing, acting and direction at a very high level and has done so more or less consistently for six seasons.

But "SOA" also has a deeply twisted soul. It doesn't celebrate violence, but it doesn't condemn violence either. Last season ended with the deaths of Tara (Maggy Siff) and Eli (Rockmond Dunbar), both fine characters and carefully drawn ones as well. They just didn't die, however, but were eviscerated, gutted, demolished — as if someone took a pen knife to a painting and furiously hacked away until nothing was left but tattered shreds.

Not to be too depressing in this post, but "SOA" is about to wrap the seventh and final season, and will end this run as one of the most successful series in cable TV history, and easily FX's champion.

But as the end (13 episodes) draws near, I can't escape the impression that "SOA" has been a long con: Smart when it wants to be, then brutally violent when it wants to be, just to bring in some knuckle-draggers out there out who want their blood and guts want their blood and guts often. (FX does this with other series, including "Fargo," but not even remotely on this level of insanity.)

"SOA" has never been nominated for a best Emmy drama and that's possibly the reason why.  (The obvious reason is that 19,000 Academy voters didn't bother to watch their DVDs because they know what they're gonna see, so why bother.)

Anyway, I hold out hope — hope that "SOA" will figure out in this last season just what all this mayhem has meant and why we should have cared about all this in the first place. At today's TCA panel on "SOA" I asked Sutter about the conclusion of the sixth season — which was, honestly, one of the more horrifying scenes I've ever witnessed on TV and I've almost witnessed far too many.

Here's what he had to say: "This show, as Paris [Barclay, co executive producer] said, is a pulp novel each week. And it’s not so much about how do I outdo myself. It’s really about within the circumstances of a scene between two characters, what is the most interesting way for things to happen. And I can say this fairly confidently, that I don’t think anything we’ve ever done, no matter how obscure or outrageous, has been inorganic, has been unbelievable, as a result of the heightened circumstances and the players involved. And the reason why it was a fork [yeah, Tara was dispatched by a barbecue utensil] because it was there. Do you know? And so I joke about it mainly because people are coming up to my wife [Sutter is married to Katey Sagal, who wielded said fork] now asking them to autograph forks. So the absurdity has crossed the line for me to a certain extent. But it’s not that my goal is to disturb people, but I also want that reaction to when beloved characters go away. I want people to be upset. Like when “Opie” [Ryan Hurst] was killed, people ----- hated me. And the good thing is they didn’t stop watching, but they were upset. They lost a friend. And to me, that means that you’re writing characters that are relatable. You’re writing characters that are believable. And you’re writing characters that people want to show up to each week, which means, quite frankly, that I’m doing my job. So I’m a disturbing guy."

Meanwhile, Sutter said he still hasn't quite figured out how he's going to wrap this long, dusty and bloody ride: "I came in with how I wanted the season to end [but] things change." For the better, let's hope.

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