Monday, April 16, 2007

Terribly Beautiful

The Sopranos is clawing inexorably toward its last shot, and the finality of the series permeates nearly every scene. Last night's episode was one of its finest ever, seamlessly meshing the dry wit, outrageous jollies, dark danger, and grim mortality that've marked it since the beginning.

And in many ways, it was almost a return to the beginning. Johnny Sack got his trip ticket punched last night, not by a bullet in the brain, but succumbing to cancer. It was highly reminiscent of the first season, when Jackie Aprile was on his death bed and the question of who his replacement would be loomed large. But back in that first season, Tony Soprano lusted for the job of boss. Now? No one wants the fucking job. And the few who do don't have a chance.

Just like the first season, the tension between Tony and Christophah has reached a fever pitch. But this time it's not so much business as personal. Before, Chrissy pushed Tony's buttons when he'd screw off on the job. Now, Chris has his shit together, but it's his personal opinion of Tony that's like a dagger in the heart.

The Sopranos always been about family -- both of them. And Christopher most represents that duality to Tony. He's his business protege, but he's also blood.

The deliberateness of the writing in this episode (by Terence Winter) was astounding and bold. They dared to recall the landmark christening scene of the original Godfather! Certainly, it's not the first time the show has been so bold as to do so. Remember back in season one when Tony got shot out on the street and his bottle of orange juice shattered? It was a heavy scene, but that was a sly and coy homage worked into it. Whereas there was nothing coy about how this scene played out as Tony hugged Chris at the altar: Tony's eyes crinkled with a heartbroken yet steely smile and Chris's expression was ultimately unfathomable because it held entirely too many conflicting emotions.

It was terribly beautiful scene, because it's already haunting even though we don't know with certainty how things will end.

The show is feeling its own shocks of mortality by having all the characters feel them. Tony is way beyond mid-life crisis mode with his moody ruminations on a successor and his own legacy. But Tony was always prone to bouts of dark introspection. But as the Feds circle closer and the bodies pile up and the illnesses intensify with age, everyone else around him is marinating in grudges and fermenting in their own failures, everyone echoing the same question: For what?

Though their business dealings were more often than not rife with tension, Tony and Johnny Sack has a friendship and respect for each other, much as Tony had with Jackie Aprile. But even after his death, Aprile's son ended up dead. But as he faces death, Johnny Sack takes no comfort in his legacy in the things that made him noble and a laughing stock: his love of his family.

Meanwhile Tony questions what his years of loving Chris have gotten him, and across the bridge in New York, Phil Leotardo questions why he trashed family in favor of manning up and doing twenty years inside for his business family. And yet, forebodingly, he still can't let go of his brother's murder at the hands of Tony's cousin.

The existential angst is palpable and nearly unbearable, with the once gung-ho Carmine Lupertazzi, Jr. turning into a reluctant dragon and summing it up simply for Tony: It's about happiness.

And that happiness comes for viewers in the most bizarre and nastily delightful turns. Rosalee Aprile turning around and giving a knowing nod to Carmela during the premier of Christopher's film as they see Tony's screen alter-ego cheating it up. The indignities hurled upon writer Tim Daly throughout the film's process. (or are those touches only funny to other writers?) I still can't figure out what makes it funny when Chris beats up on Daly. I like Tim Daly, and his character certainly doesn't deserve the shit he eats. And yet, somehow, the writers figured out that there's just something indescribably funny about seeing him get a black eye. And then there was Phil Leotardo's rant about how the madigans at Ellis Island changed their family name from one honoring one of the greatest Italians ever into a name for ballet costumes.

There has always been a terrible beauty about the Soprano family. Over the years, Meadow's crises of conscience and bouts of infernal anger have melted away and returned her back to what she always was -- daddy's little girl. She's now one of her father's most fierce defenders, taking her place right alongside Carmela. Carmela, who directed her anger over Tony's infidelities onto Christopher, blaming him for creating that sort of portrayal of her husband. Blaming Christopher for Adriana's disappearance -- aloud. How long can the willful ignorance continue for her, or, more accurately, how long can she tolerate to sublimate what she already knows? Because it is already there, deep in her subconscious.

And like the often uneducated but never stupid Tony says to Melfi, "I've been coming here too long. I know too much about the subconscious."

I'm not sure a finale has ever been more eagerly anticipated by fans. We want to know. We have to know what happens. Even though deep down, we already know. This final act, it will be beautiful. But since it's all ultimately about happiness, it will also be terrible.


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, Susan. You're right. Its going to be a beautiful but terrible ending.

And did you notice the way Dr. Melfi said, "He hurt you," to Tony, referring to Christopher? I think that look on her face summed it up for many fans of the show: you feel sorry for Tony, but know you shouldn't. And we keep tuning in every week, just like Dr. Melfi decides to keep seeing Tony week after week, in hopes of resolving these conflicting emotions. Which is the strength of the show---on some level, it makes us all complicit.

My two cents.

J. Scales

Myfanwy Collins said...

Spot on, Susan, as always. I'm loving and savoring this final season.

Any thoughts on why AJ's girlfriend is hating him so much? Do you think the whole thing will end with the two of them getting married? I'm also wondering who is next in line to betray Tony?

Ellen said...

Susan, your insights are so searing and so true it makes me giddy. I love having smart friends.

I like Myf's question about A.J.'s girlfriend. What I can't help wondering is WHO is going to explode with rage over her attitude. A.J.? Tony? Carmela? Meadow?

SusanD said...

Thanks, JS ;)

That's a good question, Myf. Meadow and AJ have been so secondary lately -- like they're just there for scenery and detail. So I wasn't sure if that was just throwaway shit meant to make us giggle over the typicalness of it or not. The real question would be who WOULDN'T be pissy to AJ? but I suspect she's getting miffed that she's not with Tony and getting the big rewards.

Ellen -- I'd love to see Meadow go off on her! We all know Carm can do it. But it'd be Meadow stepping into the matriarchy if she did it.