Saturday, March 23, 2013

Scattered Thoughts on 'The Sopranos'

It's somewhat fitting that I finished "The Sopranos" the same week as the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War. When I picked up the show for the first time earlier this year, and realized it had started back in 1999 -- when I was but a sophomore in high school -- one of the things I was most curious about was how a show that straddled 9/11 would handle those events.

Until the final season, "The Sopranos" mostly ignored 9/11: the Twin Towers were removed from the opening credits sequence, characters made references here and there, and heightened security cut into the port business, but that was about it. Then came the final season (technically 6A and B), with three 9/11ish subplots: Two Arab friends of Chris had nebulous alliances; AJ became increasingly despondent about the war; and FBI Agent Dwight Harris, who once went after Tony, was pulled from organized crime to track terrorists.

I have no grand theory about why David Chase and Co. went that route when they did, but one scene from the finale that stands out in my mind may offer some light. (The show's been off the air since 2007, but I still feel obliged to say Spoiler Alert.) Harris, who came back from Pakistan with a never-ending stomach bug and looking altogether terrible, was watching TV coverage of the "war on terror" when a colleague popped his head in to say New York crime boss Phil had been popped. Harris, with unbridled glee, slams his hand on the table and says something like, "We can win this thing!"

Oh, Harris. Neither of those wars is winnable.

That sense of futility came pretty hard in the last season, especially as the bodies started to pile up. (I had to double-check which episode Phil was killed in, and Wikipedia said he was the 92nd person to die on the show ... for what it's worth.) One crime boss gets whacked, another is there to fill his shoes, and on and on it goes. As AJ was fond of saying during his bouts of depression (or adolescent blowharding, your pick): "What's the point?" I don't remember what America's mood was in 2006 and 2007, but I imagine it was somewhat close that.

Anyway, "The Sopranos" is not one big allegory for the Iraq War, and I have some other thoughts:
-- Tony died. Period. One friend said he hated the ending because it was too ambiguous; another hated the ending because its tone was too out of place for the show. I disagree with the first and agree with the second, but I didn't hate the ending. I was frustrated, sure, because the emotional wave I was riding went flat as soon as the scene went black. But as with all the other deaths on the show, Tony's was inevitable. And I feel somewhat comforted by my take that he seemed happy at the end.

-- Speaking of deaths being inevitable, I discovered that I kind of prefer Hollywood's happily ever afters. Adriana's death in particular hit me hard. Of course she's not going to get away, but dammit I really wanted her to. It just sucks.

-- Speaking of deaths being inevitable, Chris' felt anticlimactic.

-- Tony's scenes with Melfi were pretty much always spectacular, and their relationship was fun to watch after I'd had the experience of "In Treatment," a show that's just a series of therapy sessions. (Question: Was Melfi as a character pretty revolutionary for the time?) Perhaps because of that, I wanted their scenes to last longer than they actually did. And I'm disappointed with how they ended, with Melfi swiftly buying into her colleagues' theories on criminals using therapy just to feed their narcissism. Sure, that's a part of it, but I thought their time together was legit. A very unceremonious separation.

-- It's a testament to how well-drawn the characters were that I had such a complicated reaction to Carmela and Tony as a couple. First, there's the gumar situation. Then there's Tony's short fuse, and the more-often-than-not self-interest. My head tells me these are all reasons that Carmela should not be with him; certainly, I was pulling for her and Furio, and was glad she got to be so strong that she kicked Tony out. But I had a hard time when they were separated. Despite all the bull, there's love there. They belong together.

-- Was it violent for its time? It didn't seem so bad. Except for the time Tony went after the guy who went after Meadow. Yuk.

-- Janice is a terrible human being.

-- Ralphie and Richie = essentially the same person. Crazy and insubordinate.

-- Someone told me that people hated on the dream sequences. I loved them (well, except for the one about fish, which really dragged things down), and actually found them quite realistic, as far as my own dreams go.

-- The whole Vito storyline felt out of place, like someone at HBO decided there should be a gay character, and the writers did the best they could.

This is only a partial list, of course. There's so much to unpack. I have a feeling I'll revisit it often.

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