Opie’s death: Called play or last minute rewrite?
I’d never accuse Kurt Sutter of doing something he didn’t want to do, and I’d never for a second believe that he’d be the kind of showrunner who listened to or cared about the dribble that television critics write in regards to his show. He’s not the kind of man who would let that criticism steer the direction of his show.
But at some point you have to wonder if Opie’s (Ryan Hurst) gruesome murder in last night’s ‘Laying Pipe’ was the result of the criticisms that came about last season when, after 14 episodes that seemingly all pointed to an end for reigning president Clay (Ron Perlman), Sutter was unable to pull the trigger.
I myself am guilty of voicing complaints about Sutter’s last minute Hail Mary pass that saved Clay, put a pin in the RICO case and forced Jax to stay in Charming. It definitely seemed very contrived to say the least. And at some point you have to wonder why it is, that while all of their comrades in rival clubs are dropping dead (most notably, Laroy, who was dispatched off screen prior to the start of the season by Damon Pope), why do the Sons of Anarchy continue to escape by the skin of their teeth?
Sure, you could chalk it up to the members of SAMCRO being smarter than your average bikers, but their scheming and their backdoor deals can only take them so far.
Some shows can get away with the constant triumphs of their protagonists, but after awhile, if your guys are constantly outsmarting everyone and escaping one dangerous situation after the next, you have to ask yourself, for what level of believability are you aiming?
A show like ‘Doctor Who,’ for example, ends almost every single episode with the Doctor outsmarting his foes at the last second and rushing off to the next adventure. But in case you haven’t noticed, ‘Doctor Who’ isn’t exactly the poster child for real life (unless, of course, there really is a TARDIS and a Doctor, and in which case, don’t you want an American companion? I am available to leave at a moment’s notice!).
‘Doctor Who,’ when it originally premiered in the 60s, was a children’s program. Sure, New Who is aimed more towards boys and girls who’ve at least hit puberty (those Weeping Angels, however, should not be seen by anyone, young or old), but the concepts are still the same: mad man with a box and his companion fly off to remarkable places in time and space and always end up in some sort of trouble from which they escape at the last minute. And they don’t even have guns!
But aside from a few tearjerker moments, like when Rose was trapped in the alternate universe at the end of season two, or when Donna lost all memory of the Doctor and their time spent together after she almost single-handedly saved the day, the show generally lets the good guys win. If anyone dies on the show, it’s usually the Doctor himself, and in case you haven’t noticed by the eleven different men who’ve been the Doctor over the last 50 years, he’s not exactly that easy to really get rid of.
Compare that to shows like the WB’s ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ which also asked you to suspend reality week in and week out, but whose casualty list grew larger by the year (RIP Buffy (x2), Jenny, Joyce, Tara, Anya, Xander’s Left Eye, Spike), you have to wonder how shows can get away with keeping their core cast alive just because they’re the core cast.
‘Sons of Anarchy’ isn’t a fantasy show or a Saturday morning children’s program. It’s a gritty crime show on a cable network – the same network that brought us shows like ‘The Shield’ (for which Sutter was a writer) and ‘Damages,’ where the gruesome reality is that good people do bad things, but ultimately someone has to pay the consequences.
So even though I rationalized Opie’s death last night in my recap, pointing out that his story seemed destined to end this way since Tig murdered Donna at the end of the first season, I also feel the need to consider for a second that maybe Sutter wanted to stick it to all of us who accused him of being unable to do what needed to be done.
Killing off a core cast member, and especially one who has the screen presence that Ryan Hurst has, is ballsy – even for ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ Many critics piled on the accolades for Hurst, who won a Satellite Award last year for his work, claiming that despite his character’s terse nature, he was still one of the most compelling and talented actors on the show. Hurst commanded your attention nearly every time he was on screen, and it will be hard to watch the show knowing we’ve seen the last of that beard.
A couple of critics have also pointed out that they’ve been more moved and more invested in Opie’s journey on the show, rather than Jax’s. But they rightfully acknowledge that ‘SOA’ isn’t Opie’s story, it’s the story of Jax Teller and how he went from confusion and hatred for the Club to being its reluctant president.
But even after that, I still stand by my earlier statement that Sutter isn’t the type of man who lets the public dictate what happens on his show. He doesn’t have time for television critics and he doesn’t give a shit what we all write about his show. I have no doubt that Opie’s death wasn’t handled lightly in the writer’s room and that it really was probably being planned for several seasons.
A death scene like Opie’s isn’t something that happens because a critic is tired of being told he couldn’t pull the trigger when the show and the story seemed to necessitate he do so. No, if that were the case, Opie’s death would have been less gruesome, less personal, less bloody. Sutter knew what he was doing this whole time, knew that there was only a certain amount of time that Clay and Opie could continue to exist in the same world, and he knew that he needed something to setup the final arc of the show. Opie’s death is the spark that finally pushes Jax to assert his role as president. He needed a situation that would cause Jax to act and not look back – and having to watch his best friend take his last breath is definitely the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Note: Photo courtesy of FX.