Sunday, April 08, 2007

"You know, the Parker Brothers took time to think this all up. I think we should respect that.": The Sopranos

I realize that most Sopranos fans, at this point, get angry when each episode doesn't contain the deaths of major characters or lots of violence or whatever, but I'm into the show because of episodes like "Sopranos Home Movies," the episode that aired to kick off the show's second half of its sixth season (phew!). A quiet, pensive hour, the episode seemed full of portent, setting up a back half of the season that would bring closure to the whole epic tale.

The Sopranos occasionally stumbles when it does these more thoughtful hours, but this was not one of those times. It seemed set up specifically to remind us both that Tony is an almost primitive monster, almost always choosing the easy thing over the right thing, and that he's slowly losing his grip over things, even being beaten in a brawl by the overweight Bobby Bacala. Of course, he got back at Bobby by forcing Bobby to kill a man for the first time ever, and the scene where Bobby did so (arrestingly shot in the reflection on a washer door and underscored by the sound of shoes thumping in a dryer) was a highlight of the episode, showing just how deeply unconscionable Bobby found the action (though, of course, he still went through with it, so he obviously didn't think it was that bad -- someone choosing the easy way over the right way once again).

The whole episode centered around a getaway for Tony, Carmela, Janice and Bobby, and it didn't feel like a typical Sopranos episode. It was even more leisurely paced than usual and director Tim Van Patten used dissolves well to suggest the lazy passage of time experienced on any summer vacation. I particularly liked the long shots of the lake, characters staring out at it (the last shot with Bobby cradling his daughter and looking out at the placid surface of the water was well composed). The shots suggested the idea of taking stock, of seeing what has gone before and trying to find a new way to forge forward. Of course, this being a David Chase production, nothing will ever change.

The episode opened with the police closing in on Tony after a kid was caught with a gun that Tony disposed of several years ago (and this plot point felt a bit forced, though it could be leading to that gun being what takes Tony down -- it would be fitting if it were something that mundane). Carmela's fear that this might be it for the lifestyle they lead seemed a nice meta-commentary on the viewers' apprehensions on how the show will end (there's really no way the show can end without Tony dead or in jail, but we almost all seem to be paradoxically hoping there might be more for him). And I wouldn't be surprised if this was a piece in the puzzle of bringing Tony down.

The episode also delved into something that we rarely see overtly discussed on the show -- Tony's aging and how he fears it impacts his masculinity. He tries to assure Carmela that he only lost to Bobby because of a slip on a rug, seemingly afraid that Carm only loved him in the first place because he could handle himself in a street fight. One of the things that makes Tony such an arresting character to watch is that he doesn't deal with the mundanity of everyday life in the way the rest of us do -- he often turns to violence and immediate gratification. Now, there's a seaminess to this on the part of the audience -- are we getting a sort of contact high from this? Living vicariously? But this episode suggests (as the series has before) that this sort of attitude is an outgrowth of immature and unchecked masculinity. Tony thinks the world's out to get him and he has to batten down the hatches.

All in all, an auspicious start to the final nine. Or did you wish there was more deathing?


Edward Copeland said...

I also thought it was a very good episode. The slow-building tension. fueled by alcohol, was superb. One thing I wonder about: Since growing up in the Soprano household so warped Janice and Tony, how did their little sister Barbara seem to escape relatively unscathed (not that we see enough of her to know for sure)?

Wax Banks said...

Edward -

I always forget about Barbara, but that's a good question. I don't think the writers have quite the love of callbacks and internal allusions that fans do, but I love the Soprano-family history stuff, and would be happy to see more of her.

Todd -

I loved this episode, and was fond of the formal gambit of turning it into a one-act play about a bad trip to a lake house (reminded me of the college-visitation episode from Season One, which I think I remember Chase saying was the hour he was most proud of from the early years of the show). I've got my whacking-the-mobsters fetish like everyone else but what brings me back is the closely-observed family stuff, like Janice's awkward scenes with Carmela or everyone's simultaneous decision to ignore Blanca's faux pas ('He's out already?'). I appreciate the scenes of violence because they put me close to a fully-imagined Other Person (and because Tony's outbursts so effectively dramatize old age, something - you're right, Todd - that's rare and was dealt with more explicitly on this ep than ever before), but I'm addicted to the family stuff, in which I see my own family.

This is the place to give props to Steven R. Schirripa, whose performance as Bobby has never been better. His appearance when Tony arrived just warmed my heart: how often is genuine peace and happiness represented on this show? Schirripa plays the transition from deference to defensiveness ably; he had the hardest work during the Monopoly scene, his reaction shots covering a lot of ground and the tone of his dialogue mixed, and absolutely brought it off. I guess I've been lulled into thinking less of him because of the character he's playing, but I'm happy to see how much is going on with Bacala.