Sunday, June 10, 2007

"He's gotta solve some murders of some virtual prostitutes.": The Sopranos

(Do I need to give you a spoiler warning? I guess I don't. But here one is, at any rate. Been fun watching this show with you people, and here's hoping you stick around for our coverage of other shows. I swear we're fun! --ed.)

I'm guessing that around 10:02 EDT, the Internet exploded. That or millions of people called their cable operators. But, yes, that's really how it was meant to end. Mid-scene, mid-sentence, mid-lyric, silent credits. I realize that most of the Internet seems to be completely angered by the ending (which definitely SEEMS like a cop-out at first), but I liked how perverse it was, how much it toyed with expectations and how it, ever so briefly, put us in the mindset of Tony and the rest of the Sopranos gang.

The constantly mounting tension, where every single action taken by any character or any extra (right down to Meadow trying to park and failing over and over again) seemed to usher in some sort of final end, gave us just a momentary glimpse into the life of a man who had seen one of his loyal men flip and whacked a rival mob boss (the death of Phil was blackly comic and finally, finally put those little babies in danger after a season's worth of what seemed like faux-foreshadowing). We know that someone's going to get Tony (his lawyer almost admits as much). We just don't know how. For that scene in the restaurant, we got to see what it was like to be Tony now. To know that it's always coming.

And, hey, that's not just knowing what it's like to be Tony NOW. That's what it's ALWAYS been like to be Tony, at least since the end of season one. A person who has risen as far as he has and stepped on as many people as he has on the way to get there always has to watch his back. He knows it all will end at some point, and he's always got to keep an eye open, even during what would be an otherwise mundane family dinner.

(Internet theory that I like but can't quite endorse: Tony's actually dead. He just never realizes it because "you don't hear it when it happens." That's a clever way to close the series, and a fun way to speculate, but if Tony had been dead, I think David Chase would have been a little more definitive about that ending if it had come. Maybe we'll be informed otherwise, and I'll salute all of you who called it, but for now, I'll stick with the moment trying to put us in the mind of someone who sees the worst waiting for him at every turn -- and with good reason.)

The rest of the episode was a quiet end for the show -- the only major act of violence coming from Phil's murder, which was maybe the most gruesome death in the series' history. Most of the major plotlines of the season were wrapped up (from the war with New York to A.J.'s moral and political awakening), and this was done fairly quietly. Bobby and Sil were mourned, and the episode was filled with howling, wintry winds. It was, definitively, the end.

The A.J. story dominated most of the episode, so I figure that that should be the subject of at least a paragraph. For a while, it seemed like David Chase might invest A.J. with a sense of hope -- with the idea that the youth of America might not be terribly effective at it, but they COULD effect change if they wanted to. Instead, Chase is just as cynical about kids today as he is about their parents. Someone like Meadow or A.J. can SAY they want to change the world (whether through medicine or warfare), but when push comes to shove, they'll take the easy way out just as readily as their parents, the baby boomers, did. A.J. says he wants to make a difference, but after his SUV blows up (which is a catalyst for him in all sorts of ways), he lets his parents talk him into taking a job on what sounds like an awful movie set. The lure of comfortability is just as seductive for the kids as it is the parents.

There wasn't a lot else going on in this episode, which seemed more ruminative, more interested in everything that has come before. How long has it been since there was a scene set in front of Satriale's? In this episode, we got one, featuring just Tony and Paulie, as if reminding us of everyone that has been removed from the story this season, either by these men themselves or people they associated with. That little table looked pretty empty with just those two guys sitting there.

(Side note on the cat: I've seen a lot of people on TWOP and other boards saying that the cat was supposed to be Adrianna, but I think that's kind of a stretch. The cat is a reminder of Tony's murder of Chris earlier in the season. It stares at the photo all the time, and Paulie reminds us of the old wives' tale about cats stealing the breath of babies. Between Tony's interest in "little babies" and his surrogate parental relationship with Christopher, the cat, which Tony seemed to regard as something of a good luck charm, reminded us of the way he had stolen the breath of his own baby.)

So that's the run of The Sopranos, a great, sometimes maddening, usually rewarding series. When the series launched, there was a lot of talk about how it was the pinnacle of the American drama, but it's already been surpassed (or at least met) by the series The Wire and Deadwood. Still, it's impossible to overstate just how important The Sopranos has been to the rise of the television drama (and even the comedy) as an art form. Tony and the gang made it safe for creators and showrunners to scope out more cinematic terrain. If not all of them have risen to David Chase's level, well, we can still thank him for opening up the wild country.

No comments: