Monday, May 21, 2007

He's a sociopath, but he's OUR sociopath

The Second Coming

By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all around it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

My only question about The Sopranos last night is this: How do these guys pull this off? To have AJ reading such a potent passage, and then to have such a seemingly heavy hand with all the loaded symbolism sprinkled throughout. To have such paralyzingly depressing storylines and then make dark jokes throughout them. To depict such grotesque, brutal violence that so effectively creates a schism between the enlightened, reasoned mind and the emotional, primal psyche.

It's all just too good. Just way too good.

Carmela has been so calm and so reasonable for such a long time, but it was completely expected to see her revert to her coozelike tendencies to blame Tony as soon as AJ went off the rails. Honestly? I don't think I could've made a go of a marriage with that woman. But I love Tony throwing up his mother's defense for it all: "Poor you."

And how about that AJ, making the rope too long? Tony's reaction to it with Melfi was priceless. Her: It could be a cry for help. Him: He was crying for help! But that little talk about Iran and viewing the Al Jazeera website? Along with Agent Harris making an appearance this episode, is it all just a red herring amidst the asbestos piling up in the Meadowlands?

And Melfi! After her talk with her own therapist, who basically told her that she's not helping Tony, but merely enabling him, because he's a sociopath, she adopted her sideways "pissed-off" posture for her session with Tony even though she tempered her words. Frankly, I still think they need to fuck before this is all over.

Is Tony a sociopath? I know David Chase has said time and again that he is. His seeming lack of emotion over killing Christopher certainly points to some serious depravity. But I don't think he really fits a textbook sociopath, either. He tries to sublimate and repress his guilt, but he never gets it all the way shoved down, which is why he hates himself with such fiery intensity. Which is exactly why Carm's words to him, blaming him for AJ, sting him -- because deep down, he believes it is his fault.

If the first season was a modern Hamlet, with Tony's mom and uncle trying to off him, Tony's near-fatal flaw that season wasn't Hamlet's indecision, but his split in his moral code, and his indecision about which path to take. Half of Tony is a violent thug when it comes to business. And the other half wants to respect and love his family. It's a divide he's always tried to keep.

I mean, yeah, sure there was that nasty business when he tried to smother his mom after she took the shots at him. (Him yelling, "Back off George Clooney!" to the paramedic was the ultimate cherry on the sundae of that scene.) And he's finally cut Uncle Junior from his life. But he never did physically hurt the old son-of-a-bitch.

Business has bled into his personal life before, with Tony being forced to kill Meadow's ex-boyfriend, his own cousin, and also the murder of Christopher. And while he wanted to smash Carmela's face in when she admitted she was in love with Furio, that all ended with a fizzle when Furio packed up his ponytail and went back to Italy. So it's never really intersected with his immediate family before.

But last night, when Phil's man Coco verbally insulted and somewhat threatened Meadow, Tony's business persona and his personal one collided and unleashed a King Kongesque, alpha-male retribution upon Coco. For the first time in a long time, Tony lost his cool in the business world and lashed out, without thinking about the ramifications. He's done it before, like when he put his hands on Ralph Ciffaretto. But that was a member of his own crew. This is Phil's guy he just fucked up, and certainly, the cost will be greater.

He tries, oh lord, Tony tries. He tries to reach out to Phil on his "human" level, but gets totally rebuffed for it. And it's looking like Tony's going to have to make the same choice as he did in the first season: Finally, Tony Soprano may be forced to decide what kind of man he is. Last night, he said it to Melfi in a streak of self-pity: "I'm a good guy. Basically." (that's a paraphrase, I don't recall his exact quote.) But it was also laced with a touch of sarcasm.

Tony wants to be a "good guy." And sometimes, he really is a very good guy. His initial reaction to AJ's attempted suicide is to throw down his sandwich in disgust and whine with annoyance, "What the fuck, AJ?" But when he finally "gets it," he dives in the pool. First pissed, he then cries and comforts his son. And really, is it shocking he'd react how he did to Meadow's insult? Meadow can pay lip service to AJ, telling him that he's the Italian son, which makes him more important. And there most certainly is a fundamental hierarchy of gender at play in this season with AJ's storyline. But Meadow? She's always been Tony's pride, joy, and love. Of course he'll annihilate at her behest.

And good Dr. Melfi? Her most pivotal experience with Tony was back in season 3, after she was raped. It's the only time she ever referred to Tony as a sociopath. She dreamt about a vicious rottweiler protecting her and knew he'd exact revenge for her. But she sucked it up and held it in and didn't tell him about the incident, refusing to unleash the monster to keep her own moral code in tact.

Tony can't articulate it anymore, whatever enlightenment he attained out in the desert, under the influence of mescaline. And when he got back to The Bing, didn't the place seem smaller, almost claustrophobic? And he almost, for a minute, tried to explain. Prescient Silvio sat reading How to Clean Up Almost Anything, while Paulie told about his acid experience, and Tony let it all go, realizing it was worthless. And by the end of this episode, he can't even completely keep his mind wrapped around it.

But he still knows there's something...more. So as the faceless voice of Phil shouts from above, calling him a cocksucker (been watching Deadwood reruns, Philly?), asserting his authority, Tony doesn't look pissed or even disgusted so much as doggedly resigned and bone-tired.

This Phil problem, it's really not going away. One way or another, this has to be dealt with. And really, there's only two ways to handle it. Tony can be a good guy, or he can go psycho on Phil's ass. So which path is Tony going to choose? Or, like Hamlet, will he wait too long and be unable to decide who he ultimately has to be and let things happen to him?


Ellen said...

Brilliantly insightful analysis, as always.

Are you taking bets on who's left standing at the end?


SusanD said...

What a great idea, Ellen! (there's nothing I love more than setting lines to pass the workday.) Lemme see if I can come up with a viable idea.

Anonymous said...

Great Sopranic insights, as ever, Susan. ;)

Personally, I think the mess that Sylvio will have to clean up in the end is the problem of Tony himself. Will Tony be able to hide from his crew that he is HAPPY about Chrissy's death? Or that he murdered him? I wonder how that revelation will go over with Syl, Paulie, Bobby, et al? That's what I see happening, after Tony knocks Chrissy's Cleaver picture off the wall while having a fit. His crew will get wise to what happened, and begin to think that if T would do that to Chrissy, how can any of them ever feel safe, and then some kind of deal will be made between Tony's crew and New York. Offer up Tony to them, and Phil will allow their Jersey thing to keep on going. Just my opinion, but that's where I'd put my money as a betting man.

And is Tony a sociopath? I think so. Even when Tony blames himself, say, for AJ's problems, he doesn't REALLY blame himself---he blames his genes! But genes and family traditions aside, everyone makes their own choices in life, and the proof is in his own family. Tony has one sister, Barbara, who deliberately stayed away from 'the Soprano family curse' for lack of a better way to put it. And that was her decision, not her genes. I don't think Tony ever fully owns up to anything. Its just like he's all for family and tradition UNTIL it becomes too inconvenient, a la Chrissy. Tony continually bs's himself, not because he feels guilty, but because he refuses guilt, period.

Like I said before, if Tony goes down, it will be nobody's damn fault but his own. Not that he will see it that way. But then, he never did.

My two cents.

But however it all ends, I'm still utterly gripped by the coming conclusion of this fantastic television show. And I'm sad at the gaping hole the absence of new Sopranos episodes will leave in my teevee viewing.

J. Scales

P.S. And what's up with that agent Harris? I've always gotten the impression that he secretly really digs Tony. During season four I thought he might be on the payroll!
Its just weird.

And I always

John said...

Your reviews of this show consistently rock.

SusanD said...

John -- thanks. I do love it.

Scales -- interesting take on the mess for Sil! And I'm leery of Agent Harris, too. I'm still not sure I believe that he's on terror detail now!