Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"It's not like him"

I’ve watched every episode of this final mini-season of “The Sopranos” with my stomach balled into a knot, as though I was waiting for something to explode. It seems as if catastrophe lurks around every corner, and as much as I’m enjoying the show, I’m nearly at the point where I just want to get it over with. David Chase, however, seems intent on prolonging our suffering.

The tension this week sprang from Tony’s sudden gambling addiction, a plot development that I found to be somewhat contrived. True, it’s not wholly out of character for Tony, who has a serious lack of impulse control and is deriving less and less joy out of the things that once gave him pleasure. Still, it felt less than organic, even if the groundwork was laid last week with Tony’s phone call to Hesh, asking for a $200,000 loan.

Hesh has long been Tony’s confidant, and he and Tony seem to have the warmest relationship of any two men on the show. So it was deeply unsettling to see that relationship disintegrate over Tony’s reluctance to pay back the loan. The anti-Semitic cracks that Tony hurls at Hesh were not only hypocritical—Tony hoards cash in his birdseed—but also, it seemed, a way for the show to slyly acknowledge that by portraying its only major Jewish character as a loan shark, it is trafficking in one of the most ugly anti-Semitic stereotypes. (Even if Hesh is one of the show’s more likable characters.)

Hesh talks with his son, Eli, about his Tony troubles and Eli--no doubt saying what the audience is thinking--suggests that Tony wouldn’t possibly hurt Hesh. The older man is not so sure, and he is near panic when Tony and Bobby show up at his door to invite him to a boat show. (Boats equal death in “The Sopranos.”) Hesh declines, and Tony obviously knows the effect his surprise visit has had when he tells Hesh that the next time, he’ll call first. Later, Tony pays back the money, at the most inappropriate time—when Hesh is grieving over the sudden death of his girlfriend. Tony’s insincere condolences make it seem as though he’s taken some secret pleasure over his friend’s pain.

As Tony and Bobby head to the boat show with Carlo, Tony laments the loss of his best earner, Vito, killed at Phil Leotardo’s hands because he was gay. This week’s only light moment comes when Carlo tries to compare Tony’s plight to a character from “The Twilight Zone.” Tony cuts him off. “You should stop watching so much Nick at Nite, and start sucking cock, because Vito brought in three times as much as you!”

Tony is feeling the loss of Vito for another reason. Vito’s teenage son, Vito Jr., is acting out—dressing Goth, knocking over gravestones and killing cats. His mother wants $100,000 so she can move the family to Maine. Tony acknowledges that it’s not the first time he’s had to be a surrogate father, and we know the results have not always been pleasant. (It was Vito, you’ll recall, who gunned down Jackie Jr.) Tony decides to pony up the money, but he ends up blowing it on a football bet, and so all he can afford is to send the poor kid to a bootcamp in Idaho.

With Vito dead, his family has become disposable, the exact fate that Carmela fears when she fiercely protects the earnings from her spec house from Tony’s gambling. Tony erupts, and the confrontation that ensued was reminiscent of the fight they had in the fourth season finale, and then as now, Tony accuses Carmela of hypocrisy for living off his money while turning up her nose at how he earns it. As they reconcile later, Carmela speaks to the sense of impending doom surrounding Tony when she says that he ignores that piano hanging from a rope his head.

Perhaps most ominous of all is Dr. Melfi’s warning to Tony that she may refuse to see him if he doesn’t start to follow certain "protocols." Maybe she is finally wising up to the fact that Tony is beyond redemption, and that rather than make him a better person, all she’s done is make him a better gangster. I’m not sure what it all means, but it seems that Chase and the series’ writers are determined to make us look forward to Tony’s future with the same dread that he does.

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Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Hi there JP:

I agree that this season is excruciatingly tense...without being overly violent. I love it. Though a lot of the mob story types think it's boring.

One of the big themes last week was prejuidices. Tony and Jews and Arabs. Hesh and his son-in-law about Italians. AJ's girlfriend dumping him because of his family (notice that she dumped him at a Latino pride parade). Almost everyone's bias against gays.

As for the gambling...i think it points out how the main characters are willing to risk even their loved ones' trust to win. Tony with Carmela's spec house money. Carmela willing to put her cousin at risk to sell a home built with substandard materials.

These shows are so rich with great writing that have so much depth and hold up to repeat viewings.

12:18 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Something else that was interesting about this episode was that it had a reference to each of the previous episodes from this season. Tony refers to Bobby, among others, as a "murderer." (That was an odd statement, a bit of a projection from the self-loathing Tony.) He makes a derogatory comment about "Cleaver." (And he notes its portrayal of Italian-Americans, a nod to your theme of prejudices and a self-referential comment on the show.) And he abruptly cuts off Paulie in the middle of one of his stories.

12:46 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

hey, i made a comment about the music on the shows this year being fantastic...for instance, during the monopoly scene, the soundtrack was brubeck's Take 5...woulda been good advice...

and in last week's show..during the first gambling scene...the song was howlin' wolf's Goin' Down Slow...which is how I think tony's was also the closing song.

4:15 PM


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