Mob Experts on The Sopranos, Week 13
Hi y'all. I'm honored to be here in your august company, but you should know that when Slate first asked me to chat with you about the Sopranos season finale, I hesitated: Me and those mob-reporter guys? I love reading your dialogue each week after the show, but I have trouble distinguishing John Gotti from Jimmy Hoffa. I just knew I'd be like one of those young upstarts who pops up once every Sopranos season, running around lamely pretending to be a wiseguy until he gets in over his head in some ill-starred scheme and ends up in hiding, losing at chess to a 9-year-old girl before getting whacked on the way to the Stop-'n'-Shop.
But if I couldn't cram all of New Jersey underworld history in a weekend, I could at least know my TV cold. That's why I spent yesterday catching up on old Sopranos episodes until the minute last night's began. For that reason, I didn't catch any of the other Tonys, Jeff. But as Jerry Shargel points out, the recent TV event that last night's season closer put me in mind of was the loss of Smarty Jones in the Belmont on Saturday. Two weeks after the Sopranos episode that, for any loyal watcher, must qualify as the one of the most powerful ever, the season closer, like Philadelphia's favorite pony, disappointed us both by losing in the homestretch.
David Chase must have—and here I quote, I believe, Joey Pants back in Season 3—"balls the size of an Irish broad's ass" to think that this episode will hold us over until 2006. I mean, cliffhanger? Maybe a cliff on a 9 percent grade, with soft green grass growing all the way down the side. At the end of the last episode, we were promised a full-on gangland war with all but a money-back guarantee. Instead, not only is the New York mob effectively neutralized by the deus ex machina of the FBI, but all the rest of story lines are left so neatly wrapped up, we can spend the long (oh so very long) hiatus till the next season imagining the characters all snug in their beds, with visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads. Christopher? Already fully on top of the heroin habit that threatened to return last week after Adriana's death. Tony? Last seen being reassured by his lawyer, then coming home to his once-again-snuggly wife and a pair of dry socks. (And that bear tease was a cheap shot. This show has cried bear one too many times.) As for Tony Blundetto's death, it was a tender mercy killing by Sopranos standards—did he even get a good look at his cousin before going down? I mean, let's face it: We all knew Buscemi would die with the season.
Yes, Tony sowed some seeds of dissent among his crew—his prickliness at Silvio's tentative consigliere upbraiding, and the irrational fury he displayed at Paulie's obviously sincere love for the lawn-jockey painting, had me wondering whether the big season-ending whack might not happen in the back room of the Bada Bing. Not to be bloodthirsty. I'd have been happy with a mere sense of looming menace. But after last week's truly devastating episode, which I rank up there with the greats (Livia Soprano's wake, Big Pussy's exit, or the one where Paulie and Christopher got lost in the woods), this one felt—to quote Hesh in the dinner scene—like a "logical sacrifice bunt."
As for Jeff's question, I'm still hoping to find someone willing to do five years in a relationship with me, much less in the Big House. But it's a measure of the extent to which long-term Sopranos viewing creates its own separate ethical system that I found myself even making the calculation: Should Adriana have taken the hit for Christopher? Their love—violent, twisted, and rife with betrayal as it was—was one of the few sites of occasional genuine affection on a show that has been systematically peeling away layer after layer of basic human decency for five seasons. But I guess it all meant less to her than the chance to appear on a sitcom pilot with that Friends guy. Sounds to me like a way less secure bet than the Witness Protection Program.
P.S.: One more response to Shargel's note: The Tony-as-Bush allegory only works up to a point because Tony's smart and charismatic, a born leader. (Also, arguably, more morally conflicted than our president. How sad is that?) But I agree; you had to love the irony of the way Tony's opening up to Silvio echoed five years of conversations with his therapist, except that it was more honest.