"...what rough beast..."
W. B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming” perfectly captures the spirit of this season of “The Sopranos” and perhaps the entire series as well. The poem, from which last night’s episode took its title, speaks to a rising sense of dread and despair that foreshadows some heretofore unimagined horror. This sense has been imparted in every episode of this final mini-season.
The tension, however, seemed to be ratcheted down this week, as though the writers wanted to give us a breather to prepare for what is to come. Much of the episode dwelled on Tony’s home life, which with A.J.’s suicide attempt appears to be ready to implode. This near-tragedy, unsurprisingly, causes Tony and Carmela to trade recriminations, with Carmela blaming Tony and his gloomy forebears for their son’s depression. We know Tony blames himself, but he lamely suggests that Carmela’s coddling left A.J. unable to deal with life’s troubles. Tony, of course, wishes his own mother had treated him that way, and he invokes Livia’s spirit when he twice utters her famous “Poor you.”
We see that the wall Tony has erected between his family life and criminal life is starting to crumble. One of Phil Leotardo’s goons approaches Meadow in a bar and makes lewd comments. This incident becomes all the more ominous when we learn that the man she was with is the son of Patsy Parisi. We all remember how well things turned out the last time Meadow dated the son of one of her father’s associates.
We get a sense of just how stunted Meadow is as a result of growing up in the Soprano household during a conversation with her mother, during which she reveals her new boyfriend’s identity. She has once again changed her mind about going to medical school because “It is so hard.” Her mother, in a classic bit of Carmela hypocrisy, reminds Meadow that anything worthwhile is difficult, as though her daughter is unaware that neither she nor Tony has ever done an honest day’s work in their lives.
Tony beats Coco, the thug who accosted Meadow, within an inch of his life. This escalates his dispute with Phil over the asbestos dumping, and Little Carmine, who tries to broker a peace, warns Tony, “You are on the precipice.” But when they show up at Phil’s house, Phil refuses to see them, which made me wonder whether he hasn’t overplayed his hand. Tony has never responded well to being cornered.
Tony’s home life spills over into his work in other ways. He fears that A.J.’s problems reflect poorly on him in the eyes of his men, who fail to comfort Tony with their own tales of domestic woe. Paulie suggests that A.J. has been made ill by toxic chemicals, a statement loaded with irony and double meaning. Tony, supposedly a lover of nature, has been dumping asbestos all over the New Jersey countryside. At the beginning of the show we see an otherwise bucolic landscape spoiled by a load of asbestos-contaminated construction waste.
It is Tony who is toxic, poisoning the lives of those around him. As the show ends, we see him from behind, walking down a corridor in a mental hospital to visit A.J. He looks in silhouette like a lumbering beast, slouching toward the son he has so utterly failed.