If you’re going to spend your Mother’s Day with Gemma Teller, Katey Sagal’s ass-kicking matriarch on FX’s Sons of Anarchy, then you'd better have a lot of booze and an affinity for hearing other women referred to as “gashes.” She is not a bonnet-wearing, tea-sipping mother of yore, but rather a hard-living warrior whose many destructive life choices were made not only in self-preservation, but for the safety and welfare of both her SAMCRO family and more importantly, her son Jax.
A lot of those life choices involved slamming some bitch’s face into the corner of a table, but we’re going to take a brief spoiler-heavy look back at five of the more drastic and life-changing decisions Gemma made over Sons of Anarchy's last six seasons. (Being Jax and Tara’s 24/7 babysitter should be on here, but it isn’t, since she often passed them off to Wayne Unser.) Each entry is a window into the purity of Gemma’s role as a mother, which is far beyond teaching and nurturing Jax, and more entrenched with changing the world around her son to save him from himself, mostly behind his back. Happy Mother’s Day, Gemma. You’ve earned it.
That Time She Allowed Wendy to OverdoseIt didn’t take long for Gemma to introduce audiences to her unique matronly ways. In the very first episode, she pays a fateful visit to Wendy, Jax’s estranged wife and mother of his first-born son, Abel. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky conversation inside the comfort of one’s home, but rather a heated tiff in a hospital room hours after Wendy gave birth to Abel. Not interested in hearing Wendy’s impassioned claims that she would clean up her life and earn her way to motherhood, Gemma threatens to kill her if she ever tries to assert her presence – or “cast a shadow,” as Gemma puts it – in their lives again.
It’s a frightening tactic in and of itself, but the kicker comes when Gemma passes Wendy a Bible that has a drug-filled needle stuffed in it, one that she filled while having the conversation. A needle that Wendy then uses on herself and overdoses. She lives, and eventually causes many more problems in seasons to come, but the impact was made, and we learned right away that Gemma is not a woman above trying to force suicide on someone else in order to keep them at bay.
That Time She Didn’t Tell Anyone She Was RapedIf Gemma starting the series off as an imposing antagonist started her down the path to antiheroinism, Season 2’s first episode seemingly turned her into a victim. She spent the final minutes of “Albification” being raped by A.J. Weston, second-in-command of Ethan Zobelle’s merry band of racist entrepreneurs. The rape was meant to send a message to Clay and SAMCRO to stop dealing with non-white clubs and gangs, but the real message that viewers got was “Gemma is no one’s victim.” Though the brutal act leaves mental scars that even Gemma can’t completely smooth over, she does the complete opposite of what she was told in a twist on how television often handles abuse stories.
Gemma hides the rape from almost everyone in her life, for a while, but not because she’s shamed or in fear of a similar incident happening in her future. What she is afraid of is having Jax find out, because such painful knowledge would destroy him, not to mention incite him to bring a body-dropping war to Charming. Plus, it served as a big middle finger to Zobelle and Weston for their archaic and monstrous scare tactics. Of course, everyone eventually found out and a most deserved vengeance was observed, but for a while, Gemma’s love was stronger than her tragedy.
That Time She Stood Up to ClaySeason 4 was a whirlwind of activity for SAMCRO, and one of the most unforgettable scenes of the year was the explosive, long-gestating fight scene between Gemma and Clay; a confrontation with an irreversible climax, with Clay repeatedly slamming his large-ringed fist into Gemma’s face. Clay’s behind-the-scenes heinousness had reached an apex once he tried having Tara killed to silence her. And when Gemma got wind of it, her motherly instincts kicked in; even if she doesn’t completely agree with Tara on everything, Gemma understands her son’s love for Tara supersedes personal animosity, especially when it best suits her.
So instead of siding with Clay, which she’s definitely done in the past, she confronts him. With a gun. What starts as a typical Sons of Anarchy yelling match turns into one of the series’ most harrowing scenes, as Clay’s rage overrides his ability to plan for a peaceful future. One has to assume that Gemma knew going into that battle that it would either end with a bullet-ridden Clay, or with her own semi-demise, yet she took the task on wholeheartedly. She knew the biggest bomb to drop was threatening to tell Jax, someone for whom Clay’s fear equaled his respect, and it all went downhill from there. But regardless of how she went into the situation, Gemma could later serve as the bruised catalyst that would finally alert SAMCRO to their leader’s villainous ways.
That Time She Stood Behind JaxFinally, another entry that doesn’t involve violence. What looks like a nice, troubled, family portrait is almost as layered and metaphor-laden an image as any Sons of Anarchy has delivered before. The season-ending ”J’ai Obtenu Cette,” trails off with Gemma standing behind Jax, a comforting hand on his shoulder as he holds his son. The pose mirrors Season 4’s final seconds, in which Tara stood behind Jax and Gemma stood behind John, each a different form of conscience on each man’s shoulder.
The ending comes after Tara announces to Jax that she is leaving him and taking the boys to Oregon, words that are immediately refuted by her arrest for allegedly helping Otto kill a nurse. Jax now finally understands how seriously his actions with the club have affected his family life, and he is broken from the inside out. And there is Gemma, always ready to become the most important woman in Jax’s life. Though she’s no doubt secretly reveling in the fact that Tara’s influence on him will finally fade, she is at least outwardly sympathetic for her son’s woes and is only an arm’s length away.
That Time She Totally Killed TaraFor all the shocks and twists that Sons of Anarchy has given its fans, arguably none have been more excessive and mindblowing than the Season 6 finale, “A Mother’s Work,” the very episode that inspired this list. This penultimate season was turmoil from the very beginning, and often focused on the growing tensions between Jax and Tara, and thus Tara and Gemma. (The “I faked you out by making you think you killed your own grandchild” trick was Tara’s most unforgivably rotten act in the character’s history.) Gemma rarely needs a reason to get violent under the guise of protection, but drunkenly thinking Tara had ratted SAMCRO’s wrongdoings to the police was the last straw.
Viewers certainly expected Gemma and Tara to have a bare-knuckle throwdown, but not such immediate, primal carnage. After conking Tara with an iron, Gemma proceeds to half-drown her in a sink full of dishwater before sealing the fatal deal with the business end of a carving fork. The bloody ordeal is a perfect summation for how Gemma identifies her son first through loyalty, and then through love. She allows him to stay with a woman that she always believed would be his undoing, and then she removes that woman from the equation as soon as the situation has gone too far, always reacting more than acting where Jax is concerned. It’s beside the point that she was fed the wrong information and was completely oblivious to Jax and Tara having peacefully figured out the entire situation with everyone’s best intentions in mind.
Because, when all is said and done, Gemma isn’t a perfect person who makes perfect decisions, and would never pretend to be so. But she is a mother whose limits for love and honor for her son know no bounds. And you can’t fault her for that.