”The Sopranos”: This means war
It feels like ages ago, doesn’t it, since Carmela Soprano, startled from her sleep by an early-morning knock at the door, asked her husband, ”Is this it?” Carm meant the end of the Soprano lifestyle, as she has come to enjoy it, and well might she worry, since it’s clear, in these final hours, that the woman who used to consult her priest about sin and salvation has decided to stop worrying and learn to love her Mob-wife swag. Well, now we know what it looks like: Every moment in this bloody, bullet-riddled penultimate episode is about regular, familiar old ways that have now gone terribly, irreversibly awry. And it begins with the opening scene, in which the wrong man picks up the wrong newspaper in front of the wrong house.
Worse, the guy is garroted by Silvio in a messy killing that displays none of the businesslike efficiency Tony demonstrated back in the first season when he offed a traitorous former colleague while his high-school-age daughter toured a college campus. And after that, the failures only get thicker, the lies only more pathetic. The symbol-laden, amniotic swimming pool is drained, because, to hear Tony tell it, the thing ”costs a fortune to heat.” The psychotherapy with Dr. Melfi is over, kaput, terminated not by the patient but by the shrink herself, although later, in Tony’s spin on the humiliation, he explains that he ”quit.” (Melfi, too, embraces defeat, goaded by her pompous, preening, name-dropping mentor, Dr. Elliot Kupferberg. The dinner party, bringing back the chatter of snobbish, striving professionals who have pruned their ethnic roots, is a great touch.)
Attempting a preemptive strike on the now maniacally vengeful Phil Leotardo, who has given orders to ”decapitate” Tony’s organization, the killers imported for the job blow away the wrong silver-haired gentleman, and his daughter, too. (Ordering the hit on Tony and his management team, Phil barks, ”Make it happen!” Naturally, I think of that other commanding, silver-haired gentleman, Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, and his directive, ”Make it work!”) Then Tony orders his people to lie low, but Bobby doesn’t get the message, and at his beloved model-train emporium, he’s gunned down in a spray of bullets that, with no subtlety of metaphoric imagery, abruptly derails the shop’s still-spinning model-train display. The ambush that leaves Silvio in a near-death coma is a similarly untidy procedural cock-up.
In the last hours of this epic drama, every detail glitters with bitter meaning: Phil’s version of a Bada Bing — the place for backroom strategy meetings — is a crappy beauty salon specializing in bikini waxes. Meeting up with Agent Harris at Satriale’s, a stressed-out Tony chucks cardiac and intestinal prudence and orders an artery-clogging, stomach-souring gabbagol and provolone sandwich with vinegar peppers. When a hollow-eyed AJ, home from psychiatric lockdown following his suicide attempt and languishing at his parents’ McMansion, plops himself in front of the TV, it’s a PBS documentary about war in the Middle East that captures his wan interest. Anthony Jr. looks like a smaller, weepier, wimpier version of his father, slumped on a couch watching battle footage.
Why did Dr. Melfi dump her famous longtime patient now, the one whom smarmy Elliot archly refers to as ”Leadbelly”? I don’t really know, or perhaps, more to the point, I don’t buy this dramatic turn, which feels particularly arbitrary. (Surely it’s not because Tony selfishly ripped a steak recipe out of a copy of Departures magazine in her waiting room.) Indeed, I don’t trust the psychiatric logic of either the termination or the way it was handled, even though the episode was cowritten by the psychoanalytically attuned David Chase, along with Matthew Weiner. (Series regular Alan Taylor directed.)
What I do trust are two scenes that, the electric shock of Bobby and Silvio’s shootings aside, sum up for me everything this gut-twisting drama is doing so brilliantly at the end of its towering run. The first is the intimate dinner shared by Tony and Carmela at Artie and Charmaine’s reliably square restaurant. (Ciao, Buccos!) It’s here that Tony tells Carm that he has ”quit” therapy (a lie), and she comments that aside from the time right when he had been shot by Junior, she didn’t think he was getting much out of the treatment (a lie). Then Charmaine asks about Meadow and is assured by Meadow’s mother that both parents are happy with their daughter’s decision not to become a doctor (a lie). ”Constitutional law” will be her field, Carmela declares (a lie). They’re thrilled that the boss’s daughter is dating Patrick Parisi, son of an underling (a lie) — ”Cupid’s dart lands!” trills Carm. Their son, AJ, is doing well, they announce (a huge lie). At this point, Mrs. Soprano couldn’t distinguish between spin and truth if her life depended on it. And now that her life does depend on it — and depends on fleeing her big, fancy, crime-financed house fast, maybe forever — she can’t comprehend that this really is it.
Then, of course, there’s the final scene — Tony’s own flight into the night, flanked by idiot Paulie and backup guys we barely know. Am I hallucinating, or is that Uncle Junior’s empty house? All Tony’s power has been reduced to the automatic weapon he pulls out of a garbage bag in a darkened bedroom, where he goes to the mattresses. (Help me out here: Was that the gun Bobby gave him as a birthday gift?) And all family has been reduced to over-the-hill, out-of-shape guys breathing — for now — in the dinky rooms downstairs.
How should this end, my friends? How can it?