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‘Sons of Anarchy’ director goes out with a bang in season’s best episode

Tuesday’s gut-wrenching, two-hour-long penultimate episode of “Sons of Anarchy” felt more like more a series finale. (If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading. Spoilers ahead.)

“Red Rose” marked the bloody end for three characters who’ve been a part of Kurt Sutter’s FX biker drama — in one case, a huge part — since season one.

RELATED: Katey Sagal nears end of the road on ‘Sons of Anarchy’

It was also the last episode to be directed by Chicago Heights native Paris Barclay, a prolific TV producer and Emmy winning director who cemented his reputation as one of the best in the business after delivering what was easily the top episode of “SOA’s” seventh and final season so far. (We still have one more left at 9 p.m. Tuesday, but pound-for-pound, I can’t see it eclipsing the emotional drama of “Red Rose.”)

“What I’ve tried to bring is some stability, I’ve tried to make it easier for Kurt to do his job,” Barclay told TV critics this summer at their annual press tour in Beverly Hills, California.

<b><i>Paris Barclay</i></b>
Paris Barclay

The Harvard University-educated director-producer has been with the show since the get go in 2008, but he stepped up his involvement starting with season four. The first black president of the Directors Guild of America toggles between directing “SOA” and Fox’s musical dramedy “Glee” — a shifting of gears that must induce an epic case of mental whiplash. (“I’m not like a biker dude. I’m really more of a “Glee” dude,” he confessed.)

“It’s a really hard job to make a pulp novel every week,” Barclay added about “SOA.” “If you noticed in this season and last season, it’s gotten so everyone’s lying to everybody and it’s so complicated. I have to … remind everybody who they’re telling the truth to and what they did and what’s going on. It’s really become this sort of internecine thing.”

After a season filled with a lot of wheel-spinning, the rubber hit the road Tuesday in an episode that ratcheted up the tension for nearly two hours before culminating with what’s sure to rank as one of the most memorable, well acted scenes this year on TV: Jax (Charlie Hunnam) shooting his mother (Katey Sagal) in the back of the head in a garden full of white roses, splattering them red with her blood. The chilling, inevitable moment managed to be tender, too. Who would have thought matricide could be so … sweet? And speaking of sweet, I’ll never look at cherry pie the same way again.

<b><i>Dayton Callie as Wayne Unser (left) and Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller in Tuesday’s “SOA.” | Photo courtesy FX</i></b>
Dayton Callie as Wayne Unser (left) and Charlie Hunnam as Jax Teller in Tuesday’s “SOA.” | Photo courtesy FX

Barclay talked about the powerful episode on the post-show chatfest “Anarchy Afterword.” (While I’ll miss “SOA,” I won’t miss this awkwardly produced mess.) Here’s what he had to say.

On the rose garden scene:

“What I loved about Katey’s performance is she took that to a new level of calm. It could have been so easily impassioned, over the top, pushing, using manipulation the way Gemma does. She was calmer, the tears in her eyes were full and they were real. She wasn’t seeing Charlie at the time when we were filming. He only saw the back of her head. She could not see his face. She was just sensing where he was. It was one of those times where I was really privileged to say these actors are no longer acting. They’re just being the people they’ve been for seven years at the end of the story.”

On the decision to have Jax and Gemma not face each other when Jax pulled the trigger:

“That’s the way it was always scripted and I saw no reason to change it. It’s not a duel. It’s about love. To her and to him, they were struggling to figure out a way to have this final expression of love, which was death. She had to release him to do that. If they were facing each other, I can’t even imagine that same scene happening that way.”

<b><i>Katey Sagal deserves an Emmy nod for her portrayal of fearsome matriarch Gemma Teller. | Photo courtesy FX</i></b>
Katey Sagal deserves an Emmy nod for her portrayal of fearsome matriarch Gemma Teller. | Photo courtesy FX

On Juice’s (Theo Rossi) cherry pie:

“One thing that I loved… was the pie at the end. That was his favorite thing as a kid and that was the last taste that he wanted to have in his mouth. When he takes the little piece of pie in the end and he looks up straight in the eyes of [Marilyn] Manson and says, ‘I’m ready,’ it was just all there without it being said. The resignation made it just a little bit more of a heroic death for a rat like him.”

On Marilyn Manson’s comedic chops:

“I love Manson when he says, ‘You realize you’ve lost the element of surprise?’ He has a way of pitching a joke without overdoing it that just made me laugh every single time.”

On letting Ed Sheeran’s bluesy cover of Foy Vance’s “Make It Rain” song do all of the talking — or the vast majority of it — in the final montage:

“I didn’t hear it until we were done with the episode and in the editing room. I thought we didn’t really need anything else [i.e. dialogue]. There’s a little bit of story but it’s the picture telling the story and just that voice. If you remember when we started episode one of the season we brought all that rain to Charming and everyone said this is the first time it ever rained. It kind of becomes a metaphor for the season. This is the time the clouds are breaking. This is the time the sky is crying. I had to go buy his album after that. I didn’t actually own anything from him before.” (The song is now available on iTunes.)

On the most difficult scene to film:

“The hardest scene to shoot was the love scene with Wendy (Drea de Matteo). Part of it she doesn’t do a lot of love scenes, so, finding things that make her comfortable. But also having the kind of love scene we like. Secondly, Charlie had already tweeted out or told Entertainment Weekly or something that he was going to show his a– again so we were guaranteed to show his a–. We had to find a combination of show Charlie’s a– but make her comfortable. But also there’s some hunger there. That ended up being the scene that was really about — after everything that’s happened in that day, after everything that happened in those two weeks, just a hunger for the woman who’s tender and has been next to you and been taking care of your kids. And when you’re that kind of person and you work on that kind of primal instinct, there has to be a performance aspect to it too. It’s not just about the lighting and the clothes. So, getting the performance, getting the body positions, showing the a–, making her comfortable. It’s a complicated calculus.”