Thursday, April 26, 2007


The Sopranos: The past is prologue

By Edward Copeland
Now that we are one-third of the way through the final batch of Sopranos episodes (and since I don't have anything else ready to post for today), I thought I'd do a little analysis of what we've seen so far and what it might mean for where the show is headed. Needless to say, after this, there will be spoilers galore, so if you haven't seen the new episodes, read no further (Josh R, I'm looking in your general direction).

While I still don't buy the idea that this batch of episodes is just a continuation of Season 6, it is becoming clearer how the first part of last year's episodes set up for these, at the least the three that I've seen so far. Tony's shooting made him reassess his life, even if he's fallen back into old habits. As one of the malaprop-afflicted Bada Bing crew might say, "a leopard can't change his stripes." As a result, nearly every character so far is getting moments of looking back at where they came from and wondering where they are going. Even though Tony might say that "Remember when is the lowest form of conversation," we know that he doesn't mean it, because Tony always has been about the past. Hell, that's what sent him to Melfi in the first place. So far, past deeds have been coming back in each episode to bite him as he marks his 47th birthday and his inevitable physical decline, hastened by Junior's shooting last year. Dropped guns, past tension with Christopher, the body of the very first guy he whacked (who his father made him whack no less) — they've all resurfaced as Carmela keeps asking why they haven't overcome these problems at this point in their lives (and she keeps raising the specter of the "missing" Adriana as well).

Despite Tony's insistence last year that every day is a gift, he still has a vindictive streak (and James Gandolfini is as great as ever). In the season's tense premiere, "Sopranos Home Movies," Tony takes out his anger at Bobby for beating the shit out of him for insulting Janice by making Bobby perform a hit, the first ever for the mostly sweet-natured Bacala, whom you suspect might have wished that Tony killed him instead. It did give Steven Schirippa his strongest episode ever. Tony also has showed annoyance with Paulie's nature when forced to take a road trip with him, though the episode's attempts to imply that Tony might consider whacking Paulie (Tony Sirico) never flew because you knew he wouldn't do it, despite all the allusions to Big Pussy's final exit. It did paint a portrait of Paulie though as an even sadder man than has been shown before. Paulie is trying to perpetuate his image as a lean, young tough guy, when nothing is further from the truth. Paulie is getting old. He says he's beat cancer, but he's still alone and knows that will be how he ends up. It's a shame that come awards time Sirico has never received the notice he so rightly deserved.

One person who didn't beat cancer, sadly, is Johnny Sack and Vincent Curatola got a great final episode as the deposed New York crime boss, literally rotting in prison, wondering how he will be remembered and worrying over the fate of his wife and family once he's gone. One thing The Sopranos always has excelled at though is keeping the humor coming, to prevent the proceedings from becoming too maudlin. When Johnny expresses pessimism about his outlook, his wife Ginny says, "You know it's that kind of attitude that probably brought this on in the first place" to which Johnny replies, "You gonna start with that again? What about all these 6-year-olds with leukemia? What's that from? All their negative thinking?"

"Stage 5" also featured a great cameo by actor-director Sydney Pollack as one of Johnny's fellow prisoners, an oncologist in his pre-convict life. When Johnny asks the doctor what he's in for, he admits to murdering his wife because she was cheating on him, but then extends the story into the drollest of punchlines by saying, "I killed her aunt too, I didn't know she was there... And the mailman. At that point, I had to fully commit." Watching the final hours of Sack's life were oddly touching. One side effect though is that I'm starting to be puzzled by the increased prevalence of stories concerning the New York family. I'm hoping they are heading somewhere with all this screen time of the final nine hours being spent on characters we barely know, but I have to wonder. We want to know what's going to happen to the characters we've followed since Season 1 on the Jersey side of things, not characters who are introduced for one or two episodes. However, questions about how they've spent their life predominate on the other side of the river as well. Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) wonders if there really were a point to being a good soldier and keeping his mouth shut while he was in prison for 20 years as he still laments his lost brother. When Tony reaches out to Carmine Jr. (Ray Abruzzo) to try to take hold of the New York family, Carmine wants no part of it, content to pursue moviemaking with Christopher and a more secure family life.

Thankfully, we have been given at least one more great episode for Dominic Chianese as Uncle Junior, who has fallen too frequently on the sidelines in recent seasons. Stuck in a psychiatric hospital, Junior looked better than we'd seen him in awhile, with a bit more of his faculties and trying to relive past glories by staging poker games using buttons for chips. He also provided the season's biggest laugh so far as he writes to Dick Cheney for help, since Cheney knows what it's like to pay a price for accidental gunplay. The ending of his episode though definitely is bittersweet, as it appears that given a choice between freedom and overmedication, Junior may opt for the medicine if it means he won't piss himself.

The final stretch of The Sopranos seems to be heading, if not for a definitive ending such as death or incarceration, then one that truly contemplates whether anyone can escape their past or truly change their ways. With a canvas full of so many rich characters as created by David Chase, I imagine the answer will be different in each character's case.

Labels: , , , , ,

My take is that the season (both parts) is about killing Tony for us, the viewer. The first five seasons, no matter what Tony did, I still liked him. I don't think I'd have kept watching otherwise. There was always something that seemed redeemable about him, some excuse you could make for him. It's the way he was raised, or he's just being a soldier, or he's trying to improve--a narcissist, yes, but not a sociopath.

That's always been a trap for ganster shows (and rape scenes as well)--glamorizing them, glorifying the gangster, making them exciting, even admirable, rather than repulsive.

This season, Part I, was about Tony having a big realization about what's important in life and how, what he has done up until then, has prevented him from (to use Dr. Melfi lingo) being able to experience joy. He understands . . . and then it slips away. He wasn't just mugging and killing and sadistically dominating because those things were the station he was born into and he's just doing his duty. No. He also gets not joy but at least genuine pleasure from his mob life. E.g., the scene where he and Chris stumble upon an easy heist of wine, take it, and escape giggling, exhilarated, bonded.

In Part II, Tony's sadism is there, unadorned, no excuses--just plain ugly. And he doesn't seem more powerful than anyone else. It's not just getting beaten by Bobby. He also seems like just any other guy who's on his treadmill and whom karma WILL GET. So even the sucky admiration we have for the powerful, no matter how perverted they are, is taken. It's getting to be that the best we can feel for Tony is pity.

They're not just going to kill Tony, IMO. They're making sure we don't mourn, that we feel he deserved his end. To me, that's what this extended season has been about. Tony's not a hero, and he's not bigger than life, and the pursuit of pleasure rather than joy has a tawdry ending.
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader