In the sixth-season opener of “Sons of Anarchy,” which aired Tuesday (Sept. 10) creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter — who’s married to series star Katey Sagal and also plays imprisoned biker Otto Delaney — drew on his own childhood to inform a horrific event that will reverberate throughout the season.
(If you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading now.)
The Northern California motorcycle club at the center of the show has its fingers in a number of illegal enterprises — including pornography and drugs — but gun-running has long been its main business. It stands to reason that when one peddles illegal weapons, that one of those weapons will eventually surface at the center of something terrible.
Last night, a troubled boy took one of those guns and opened fire inside his Catholic school.
But, when one looks at the sad history of mass school shootings in the United States, Catholic schools are remarkably absent. And in aftermath of the heartbreaking murders of elementary-school students in Dec. 2012, in Newtown, Conn., the local St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church led by its pastor, Monsignor Robert Weiss, became one of the places where residents gathered to support each other and commemorate those lost.
Asked about his choice of a Catholic school for the shooting rather than a public school — as was the case in the Newtown crime and others like it — Sutter tells Zap2it, “What I didn’t want to do is make a statement about our public schools and how safe are public schools are.”
Although the setting doesn’t relate to the actual history of school shootings, it does relate to Sutter’s own history.
“I went to parochial schools,” he says. “I grew up and went to all Catholic schools. That’s my experience, so why not put my experience in there? I just mean in terms of how I was raised and the schools I went to.
“I felt like, that was my experience, so I’m going to put that in there. So it was a little bit different. I didn’t feel like we were making a statement about the education system. Obviously, I’m making a statement about the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, blah, blah, blah, but I feel like, yes, there’s definitely some religious symbolism that I got to play with in there, that I felt, thematically … it has a bigger thematic impact than it did a political impact, which I think was good.”
Sutter also wants, in future episodes, to not blame one group or another alone for the terrible phenomenon of mass school shootings.
“I didn’t want this kid just to be arbitrary and just have this weapon,” he says. “So, I am of the belief that these school shootings that have happened, the responsibility does not land on one party. That’s my belief.”
In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, questions were raised about the connection of TV violence to real-world violence, and “Sons of Anarchy” is certainly a violent show.
Says Sutter, “I said, ‘Look, if research comes back — tangible, empirical data comes back — that says my show incites violence in young people, then I have to take the responsibility seriously. I have to take a look at that.’
“So far, that hasn’t been the case. And I said that when all this violence went down. So, I knew that, ultimately, whatever I did in this world, the story was going to be judged by those things. So, I felt, at the very least, I had to create this story organically, that I did express what I believed to be true. What I believe is it takes a village to heal, and it takes a village to destroy.”
As for FX, Sutter says, “I didn’t even get a flinch from the network when I told them I wanted to do this story. They trusted me enough. There was a lot of heat, but I think they trust me enough to know that we’re going to handle it responsibly. And I think we do.”