Be it clashing with Gemma, attacking Wendy (or that madame Colette!) or finally coming to blows with Jax, Tara is most definitely put through her paces — and she doesn’t come out the other end better for it.
Here, Tara’s portrayer Maggie Siff details her character’s descent into desperation and possible defeat, but offers up some hope for those believing that she and Jax still stand a fighting chance. The actress also touches on what we’re calling “The Skyler White Effect” — aka the ‘visceral’ reaction some fans have had this season to her character.
TVLINE | “Hands” aside, this episode showcased some of your most moving work to date on this show. Was this a strenuous hour for you?
It was a strenuous one. I so often on this show come in and out; I’ll have one or two intense scenes in an episode. But this one was set up to be exhausting for the character because everywhere she turns she’s knocked down, so it was a rare shooting experience for me. I was there all the time with one difficult scene after another, and all with psychological consequences. And shooting things out of order was more complicated, but I enjoyed it.
TVLINE | I posed this same question to Kurt Sutter last week, but I’m curious how you’d respond… Some fans are demonizing Tara for her actions this season, and almost holding her to a different standard than Gemma and Jax. Would you agree with that? And to what do you attribute that?
Yes, I think she is held to a different standard. The role that the character plays in the show and as she’s been written by Kurt is that she is a stand-by-your-man kind of gal, so her taking her fate into her own hands and doing what she has to do to protect herself and her children violates that principle. People have a really strong reaction to that because the man she’s supposed to be standing by is Jax. You’ve seen that a lot culturally; actually, you know, the whole conversation that was happening about Skyler on Breaking Bad and how many Skyler haters there were. So, this lives in the same world as that. We have this anti-hero who does terrible, terrible things week-in and week-out, and yet there’s this carte blanche for him, and why that is I’m not really sure. I don’t want to make a big political statement about it, but I think there are gender politics involved.
TVLINE | That was actually my next question: Did you read Anna Gunn’s New York Times op-ed about having “a character issue”?
I did read it. I think Gemma avoids that whole thing because she’s kind of like a man, in a way. [Laughs] The way that she’s written, she defies all gender stereotypes, where Tara does not. It’s fundamentally a romantic story, and so it taps into a lot of our expectations about what women and men should be and how women should be alongside their men. In that sense, it does reverberate a little bit with the Skyler/Walter White conversation because, again, that’s a more conventional relationship and a marriage and everything else.
In our show there is a fantasy of this male — I don’t know what Jax is. He’s some kind of male superhero/anti-hero, and anything that works at cross-purposes with that is despised. It’s not about what actually makes sense or what actually is fair; it’s a very emotional, visceral reaction people are having based on their own adolescent fantasies. [Laughs] Tara’s behavior is no different than Gemma’s is most of the time, in terms of how manipulative she’s being. Betraying Jax is really hard, but it’s actually really hard for her. She has better intentions than just about anybody else in terms of what her ultimate goal is, which is about protecting her kids and wanting them to really avoid this terrible and terribly violent, dangerous life that all of these other people are swallowed whole by.
TVLINE | One of the episode’s most powerful moments came opposite Wendy, when Tara declares, “Everything I did is right.” Is she genuine in her resolve to stand by the choices she’s made?
Standing firm with Wendy and standing firm within herself are two different things. When she says, ‘Everything I did is right,’ I think she’s talking about her intent to protect her children and to do whatever she felt that she had to do. The plan has backfired and she wishes she could go back and recalibrate, but fundamentally she believes that desperate times call for desperate measures.
TVLINE | This week’s showdown between Tara and Gemma was just as intense as the physical fight two weeks ago, only in quieter fashion. What was going through her head when Gemma threatened her? Does she believe there’s some truth there?
She thinks it’s possible that what Gemma is saying is true. One of the things I like about the episode is that… she doesn’t really see Jax or make contact with him the entire episode; she doesn’t entirely know where she stands with him so there’s this quivering uncertainty. In a way, her fate is in his hands and now in the hands of the club, so there’s the X factor of Jax, the X factor of Gemma — who’s very dangerous in Tara’s mind — and then there’s the X factor of the club. She feels like she’s in danger, but she doesn’t know from which corner it’s going to come and until she really has a chance to assess where things stand between her and Jax, she really doesn’t know.
In that scene with Gemma, I remember playing a lot with the tension of the gun in Tara’s bag, the feeling that these two women could draw on each other at any moment and it being this stand-off quality… But she needed to sit with it and try to make a more rational decision.
TVLINE | Talk about Tara’s “What happened to me?” revelation. It was haunting to see her brandishing a gun while blaming Jax for what’s become of her.
One of the reasons I liked the presence of that scene in the middle of this episode is because Jax and Tara have been holding each other at bay all season long; she hasn’t wanted to know what he’s doing. She hasn’t wanted to get close to the reality that he might be being unfaithful because all of that means that she gets into really personal territory, that heartspace, and they’ve both been avoiding that vulnerable and emotional place. This just rips off the band-aid, so in the middle of all of this you see this purely visceral, possessive reaction to seeing your person with somebody else. And the fact that that is still alive and potent reveals something about the truth of where they actually sit with each other. They’re exposed to each other for the first time all season.
Again, Tara doesn’t know what Jax is filled with. She’s just raced into this room and hit him and in addition to feeling all of this jealous rage, she’s like a scared animal. The question of ‘what has happened here?’ is a question to herself, it’s a question to him, it’s a question to the cosmos. In a way, that moment was very hard because it can go in a million different directions, and the thing that made the most sense is that in that moment, when she’s feeling everything fall apart and all these different parts of herself flying off in different directions, is that she just recognizes the absurdity of where she’s ended up: ‘How has this come to pass? How am I both terrified of you and jealous that you’re with some other woman? I’m stripped of everything that’s every been meaningful to me, scared for my life, scared for my kids, wielding a gun…’ It’s so the bottom and so many things at once that all of the sudden there’s this existential realization that lands on her.
TVLINE | Is there any semblance of hope remaining for Jax and Tara? Their relationship for so long was the one truly stable thing on the show, and now…
There’s hope in the sense that they love each other. They’ve been deeply avoiding each other, but in a way I found that scene in particular hopeful. Her jealous rage with him and his confusion and hopelessness in the face of what’s happening reveals that there’s a space with each other that’s not dead; they’re still vulnerable to each other. In a way I think that was the first hope I had for them all season… I’ll say that. [Laughs]
TVLINE | What were you trying to convey in the final scene, with that devastating, “No one can help me…”?
It’s the only way forward. The episode sets up very nicely that Tara is out of friends, out of allies, out of options; she’s scared and desperate and she’s still convinced that she’s going to jail and convinced that she’s going away and the people left inside of this disaster zone are her children. There’s one small light at the end of that tunnel and it’s the thing she never thought she would do, but the thing she feels she has to do. If she has regret for what she did, it’s that there’s no coming back from it. If you cross the line within the code of that world, in her mind there’s no hope for forgiveness, there’s no hope for redemption, there’s no going back. So, she’s already crossed over and she just can’t see any way out.
The other thing I would say is that it’s deeply painful for her to do this. I don’t think she’s doing it out of spite or vengeance at all. In working on it and in playing the arc of the whole season, it really is just for her children. She feels pretty fundamentally betrayed by everybody, and I think that includes Jax. His fundamental promise to her all along was that she and their kids would be safe and protected, and I don’t think she thinks that he’s capable of keeping that promise.
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