Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Sopranos

The Beloved Spouse and I recently finished a trip through all 86 episodes of The Sopranos. This is our third trip through most of them, the first since the series went off the air, and it's interesting to see how our perceptions have changed.

First, I remembered Seasons Five and Part One of Season Six as not being as good as the rest. I didn't see that at all this time. The stories were consistently tight, and the pacing was solid throughout each season. Yes, Tony's coma dreams after Uncle Junior shot him went on a bit long, but my memory of things dragging when Vito's homosexuality drove him out of Jersey didn't hold up. True, that wasn't their best sub-plot, but it wasn't dead weight, either.

The greatest accomplishment of David Chase and his writers has to be making us care for seven years about people who are, frankly, bad people. Not evil; that implies two dimensions. Everyone in the show had their virtues, but they didn't make up for being duplicitous, whining, conniving bastards the rest of the time. James Gandolfini is brilliant week in and week out, but Tony is, as he describes himself more than once, a malevolent prick. Yes, he loves his kids and animals, and does occasionally go out of his way to be nice. Not to get all Biblical, but were he to be weighed in the balance, he'd be found wanting.

Carmela is worse than a whore in her way. At least with a whore you know it's a cash transaction. AJ sets new standards for being a whiny little pussy. Meadow had her snotty bitch period as a teen, but in the end is probably the most likable character. She grows and matures while everyone else revels in their dysfunction. Of the hoods, Bobby Baccalieri is the most sympathetic. He's a violent criminal, too, but his loyalty--to his dead wife, his children, to Janice, and to Tony--is touching.

I've had almost four years to think about the famous last episode and its ending. Time to place it in context, use what I've learned about story in the interim to better appreciate it, so i was looking forward to it again. It's still a chickenshit cop-out. Chase didn't know what to do, so he did nothing. Granted, after seven years of being relentlessly non-judgmental about his characters, he didn't want to turn the ending into a morality play. Fine. He owed his audience better. Even Deadwood had a more satisfying ending, and David Milch didn't know that show was going to end when it did. (Though it was Milch's fault it did end, the selfish bastard.)

Now Tony and Paulie and Sil go back on the shelf until we've worked our way through Lonesome Dove, Generation Kill, Deadwood, and The Wire again. (Plus whatever else strikes our fancy in the interim. Justified? Terriers, even though it was canceled?) We'll be back to visit with The Sopranos in a couple of years. I'm sure we'll see different things again when we do. It's that good a show.


Mike Dennis said...

I didn't like the finale, either, Dana. But did you know (and I read this somewhere, so I can't verify it) that all the characters in the diner in that final scene were not just extras. They were people Tony had encountered over the years.

For instance, do you remember the episode (I forget the season) where he was attacked while getting into his SUV in broad daylight? Two black guys with guns, right? He kills one and gets away. The other one was in the diner in the final scene.

The article I read, and again, I can't remember where I saw it, gave the connection of each character in that diner and the season, episode, and the scene they were in.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This was really interesting to read. I think you earlier comment about Tony being not much more than a thug really hit the target. Why did we ever find him charming?

Dana King said...

Your comment intrigued me, and I was too lazy to search the web for the link, so i went to IMDB and checked the characters from the last episode. None of the possibilities (Man in Members Only Jacket, Truck Driver, Black Customer in Diner, et al) were played by any actor who had ever appeared in a previous Sopranos episode.

That doesn't mean Chase didn't intend what the article said, but, like the rest of the ending, no one but him was likely to figure out when he meant.

Dana King said...

That's the thing about how he was written, and how Gandolfini played him: Tony IS charming, in his way. He's a true alpha male, yet introspective enough to make you want to think he'll figure things out. Sometime he does, but his nature is to be a self-indulgent SOB, and that's how things will shake out sooner or later.

It's always the bad guys who are like this. Show a character flaw in the hero and a lot of people are turned off. Take Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen, or JR Ewing (the TV prototype of both) and show a human side, and people will root for him.

It's human nature, especially American nature. We want to think the worst of our betters to knock them down a peg, and we want to find some redeemable qualities in the worst.

Charlieopera said...

Excellent commentary, brother. EXCELLENT.