Monday, May 07, 2007

"Last time, you started crying and had to leave the Starbucks.": The Sopranos

As it heads toward its climax, The Sopranos appears ever more to be about exactly what it's always been about -- the creation and destruction of American families, both in the business and sociological senses. Even as Tony's work life is crumbling to pieces all around him, he's making moves to strengthen his biological family. He may not always go about this in the most effective way possible, but he's trying.

"Walk Like a Man" contained plenty of consideration of masculinity in American culture (right down to Tony stopping A.J. to watch a John Wayne movie on TV). Christopher commits the murder that may prove to be his undoing largely because he feels a lack of respect from both Paulie and Tony (Paulie, in particular, gave Christopher a hard time through the episode, though it must be noted that Chris gave back as good as he got). He mentions, obliquely, the murder of Adriana (looking more and more like the pivotal turning point that will bring the whole Soprano family down) and then all but confesses all of the murders he's been privy to to J.T. Dolan. Initially, it would seem that this would bring down the family, as J.T. would go to the authorities or something, but, instead, Chris shot him in the head for being the final person who didn't respect him enough.

The American masculine ideal (best expressed, it would seem, through John Wayne) has always been an undercurrent of The Sopranos. As early as the first season, it was implied that a strong gangster (and, by implication, a strong man) wouldn't go to therapy or perform oral sex on his significant other. And in the first half of season six, Vito pushed the code of masculinity too far, daring to be homosexual and getting killed for his efforts (after trying to run away -- don't know if you've noticed, but the failure of people to change is another constant undercurrent of the show). And tonight we saw AJ coping with his breakup with his fiancee poorly and being upbraided by Tony, who urged him (in so many words) to take it like a man, to go out and find someone to use as a rebound girl and get drunk and so on. After finding out from Meadow that AJ might be suicidal, though, Tony sent AJ to therapy (which proved more effective than the therapy he once sent Meadow to), giving in to the modern world of sharing feelings and talking it out.

Christopher, obviously, dealt with the slights to his masculinity much more poorly. It's always seemed that David Chase and the Sopranos writers side more with Tony and Dr. Melfi in the most effective way to deal with problems, but tonight's episode seemed to definitively take their side, as Tony came home to his loving family, AJ in tow, and sat down to enjoy their company, sharing the details of their respective days and laughing about what happened on Meadow's mystery date. Christopher, meanwhile, came home to the dark house he shares with his wife and child and entered, drunk and alone, unable to share just how guilt-ridden he feels (as J.T. told him, "You're in the Mafia," as if that would explain a lifetime of sins).

Tony seems to have been saying goodbye to a variety of counterparts in every episode so far this season, and tonight, he seemed ready to stop going to therapy with Dr. Melfi (as she suggested he do last week). I don't actually believe that this is the end of Lorraine Bracco on the show (I couldn't imagine a series finale without her), but these next few steps, Tony will likely have to take alone, as Dr. Melfi seems unwilling to be complicit in Tony's life any longer, especially as it seems his therapy is completely at a stalemate.

Random note: Tony talked to the feds about the Muslim guys that he saw. He didn't have anything concrete, but it seems the latest attempt by him to stumble toward doing what he believes is the right thing. But how far does this go? I've jokingly said several times that I think the show ends with Tony as the state's witness (like Goodfellas, a mob movie Chase and Co. seem to obviously want to emulate), but could they really go that far? I still say no, but the seeds are certainly being planted.

With the murder of J.T. and Christopher's anger at both Paulie and Tony over slights as diverse as Paulie driving his car on Christopher's lawn and Tony ordering the murder of Adriana, it seems we've truly entered the home stretch of the series. Have your predictions for what happens in the final four episodes altered at all? Or are you still confident in what you've got predicted?

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