Monday, May 14, 2007

"It's the same principle as the solar system.": The Sopranos

(If you're planning to watch this episode at any point, you probably want to skip this recap. Major, major, episode-ruining spoilers ahoy. Seriously, this time.)

The more the second section of season six goes on, the more obvious the importance of the first section becomes -- yes, even the long, meandering second half. The reason we needed to be reminded that none of the characters could change was because their lack of ability to change would doom them all in the second section. Tony was given the opportunity to change his life, expressed most directly in the confines of his purgatorial vision, but he decided instead to fall back on his own ways. At the end of this episode (as Alan Sepinwall pointed out first, I should admit), he's stuck in a hell of his own making. The choice of Comfortably Numb to underscore the opening passages was apropos because all of these characters are simply unable to shake off their malaise, to do the right thing instead of what is easiest at the time.

Any of you who haven't seen this episode -- seriously -- bail now.

One of the things about The Sopranos (indeed, all HBO dramas) that many find unsettling is that it blatantly disregards the "rules" of TV structure. It's just as happy to put the "shocker" that would close the episode of any other serialized drama right up front -- indeed, in the first ten minutes -- then make the rest of the episode about Tony slowly realizing just how little grief he feels at the death of a nephew that he long thought of as sort of a surrogate son (indeed, a death carried out by his own hand). At the same time, A.J. tries valiantly to put the words of Wordsworth to work in his life but is ultimately more comfortable with the life of a thug (the dead look on Tony's face when he murdered Christopher frighteningly mirrored the dead look on A.J.'s face last week when he and his new friends tortured a boy). The season has also closely followed A.J.'s attempts to make a real name for himself outside of the Soprano family (culminating in his desire to own a small chain of pizza parlors), but the tendrils of his father's sins are reaching up to gather him in, and he's simply unable to escape them wholly.

But the episode's biggest shocker -- of course -- was Tony suffocating Chris after the car accident (involving the titular Kennedy and Heidi -- many are bashing this choice as an episode title, but I kind of like it, tying together, as it does, the idea that often those who make the biggest differences in our lives are people we never meet), but the story itself was about how Tony simply couldn't seem to feel anything over Chris' death. Perhaps it was because he was complicit in the murder, but it seems more likely that the relief he felt at ridding himself of a growing problem was really the cause of his borderline giddiness at what happened, exactly as he told Melfi in his dream therapy session that seemed to underline his growing uneasiness at being undone by his own words (or the words of someone else).

Unmoved by the grief of those around him (either for the death of Chris or the death of Paulie's aunt/mother Nucci), Tony went off to Vegas, meeting with one of Chris' girlfriends and a few old friends. Vegas has often been portrayed as something of a hellish landscape, but this episode really worked that imagery, almost to its breaking point. Tony had sex with the girlfriend, then took some drugs that seemed to slow down time itself (there's been a copious use of slow motion this season -- perhaps suggesting that things are slowing down for the characters themselves as they fall deeper and deeper into their ruts) as he watched a roulette wheel. Finally placing a bet, he seemed to shake off his earlier gambling slump, laughing as he said, "He's dead!" perhaps connecting Chris' death to the snapping of his unlucky streak.

But when thinking back over the episode, I keep coming back to two moments with Tony. The first was after he finished suffocating Chris and looked at the blood literally on his hands. He wiped it off on Chris' jacket almost callously, seemingly uninterested in the monstrous thing he had just done and much more interested in simply taking care of the business of getting on with his life (his next action was to dial 911). For Tony, murder isn't even a thing to get worked up about anymore. He just does it, quickly and cleanly.

The other scene was at the end, right after the asbestos that hung over the episode as a plot device was dumped into some wetlands where we could hear ducks quacking away (corrosive chemicals eating away at the image of the happy family Tony clung to in season one). Tony and the old girlfriend stare out at the rising sun, peeking over the top of the desert in a hellish fashion. Tony stared directly into it, yelling, finally, "I get it!" But what does he get, exactly? I'm guessing that he understands, finally, just how deep the deal he's made with the devil goes. And as long as his life is mostly comfortable, he's willing to revel in that as long as he can.

1 comment:

Martin said...

This was just an amazing episode on so many levels.

Someone pointed out an insight I didn't see before--the root cause of the rift between Tony and Chris was Chris' belief that Tony tried to sleep with Adrianna, exacerbated by Tony's attempts to sleep with Julianna. Now Tony has not only killed Christopher, but he's fulfilled those desires by banging the Vegas chick. He hasn't just killed him, he's quite literally "rubbed him out."

It's interesting to read the message boards and see people spew unending hate and vitriol for Tony. It could easily be argued that what Tony did was more merciful and pragmatic than Chrissy's actions in the previous episode--crippling Little Paulie in a fury and shooting J.T. in cold blood--but I think Tony's blank, soulless expression and his gleeful confession to the dream-Melfi outweigh any rationalization of his deeds.

Tony killed Chrissy because he wanted to, and because he knew he could get away with it. He's cut away the last bit of himself that cares about the world around him, and is reborn as the pure self-interested amoral sociopath he's been in danger of becoming since the very first episode. Killing Chris wasn't about honor, loyalty, family, revenge, or business-it was just to make Tony's life easier.