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The Sopranos


kenmorefield
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It doesn't seem possible to me that there is no thread for The Sopranos, but darned if I could find one. If I missed it (tried internal search and Google), please direct me.

 

I rewatched S1 last week, and had some interesting discussion with Andrew over on FB. I mentioned there, and I wanted to repeat here, that I saw a very interesting documentary at TIFF called The Dark Matter of Love, which I liked in its own right but also became an interesting lens through which to watch The Sopranos

 

The question of whether or not love, or more specifically attachment, can be learned finally gave me a lens through which to look at Tony's development (and/or lack of it) and something other than a thumb's up/down judgment on whether or not people can change and whether or not they are responsible if they can't. (Is sociopathy biological or learned...if the latter can any behavior that is learned be unlearned.)

 

 

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  • 2 months later...

Spoilers

 

Since the last post I've made it all the way through the series for a second time. (I'm half way through season six, the last season, on a reviewing.)

There are a few spots, but I can't really shake the feeling that the series hasn't held up in retrospect as well as I hoped. 

 

I continue to be much more down on Tony than I was in a first viewing, and I continue to think this has to do with the differences between knowing how he ends and hoping as it is happening for the first time. Perhaps that is a mark of good writing, that on a second viewing I would be more aware of things I didn't notice the first time. But they are almost all negatives. Perhaps I really was emotionally seduced, as Elliot always feared Jennifer Melfi would be. 

 

Also, I'm aware of the fact that while on a first viewing I thought the end ambiguous, this time through,

I find myself relating to the episodes as though Tony dies at the finale. I wonder how much this has to do with the proximity to Gandolfini's death. In one sense, "Tony" really is dead.

 

The other thing that stands out to me about Season Six is that I had never consciously realized that Matthew Weiner wrote as much as he did for this show. About a season and a half ago, I gave up on Mad Men, despite how much some of my friends esteem it. I had never really linked Don and Tony, but I feel they are both of a piece...people who feel they are trapped within systems that they sense are damning them but which they lack the will power or courage to escape. They think they may be smart enough to find a way to have the benefits of privilege, even undeserved, without paying the price. And the writers hold out glimmers of hope for redemption or epiphanies I feel sympathy, sure, and in that sense I am still able to watch the shows as a tragedy rather than a horror (look how debased we are) or comedy (look how absurd everything is).

Also, this time through, I find myself more bothered by the collateral damage, the violence wreaked upon those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time--the waiter who gets shot because he has a seizure after Christopher throws a rock at him when he complains about a sixteen dollar tip for a $1200 meal; the man who whose care a drunken Vito rear ends while fleeing his gay lover. I don't expect the characters themselves to spare a thought, but the show rarely spares a thought for them, and I feel like it too often uses violence towards the innocent bystander the way a comedian uses the "F" word...as a rote gesture towards being disturbing rathater than actually being so. Towards the end of one season, Tony gets into it with a lawyer who doesn't want to return the deposit on a house when Tony and Carmella break up. There is an idea there, floated throughout, that the one thing the mob has to do is limit this sort of random violence since it is what will cause the public to turn on them rather than romanticize them. But as the show progresses, that theme is never really picked up.

 

That said, I think the show is depressingly accurate about the power of habit, whether it be in the form of addiction or simply learned behavior. In a spiritual sense, I've always sort of felt like it was exploring the possibility of redemption without repentance, and its no surprise that this isn't possible...or that on some level, we (even the Christian 'we') wish it were. 

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Spoilers

I continue to be much more down on Tony than I was in a first viewing, and I continue to think this has to do with the differences between knowing how he ends and hoping as it is happening for the first time. Perhaps that is a mark of good writing, that on a second viewing I would be more aware of things I didn't notice the first time. But they are almost all negatives. Perhaps I really was emotionally seduced, as Elliot always feared Jennifer Melfi would be.

That's interesting because it only took a couple seasons for me to grow convinced that Tony was not really going to change. It becomes clear fairly early that the church and the priest, at least in this case, were never going to offer him any serious options. In fact, the show plays as if Tony is at least a moral grade above the particular priest in the show. It also becomes clear, in spite of Carmela, Dr. Melfi and other characters' hints or preferences, that they have nothing to offer him in order to convince him to change. Tony is an anti-hero of a character, but I've learned to love him. He occasionally goes in some dark places and makes a few inexcusable decisions, but that doesn't make me invested in his character any less.

The other thing that stands out to me about Season Six is that I had never consciously realized that Matthew Weiner wrote as much as he did for this show. About a season and a half ago, I gave up on Mad Men, despite how much some of my friends esteem it. I had never really linked Don and Tony, but I feel they are both of a piece...people who feel they are trapped within systems that they sense are damning them but which they lack the will power or courage to escape. They think they may be smart enough to find a way to have the benefits of privilege, even undeserved, without paying the price. And the writers hold out glimmers of hope for redemption or epiphanies I feel sympathy, sure, and in that sense I am still able to watch the shows as a tragedy rather than a horror (look how debased we are) or comedy (look how absurd everything is).

Even better, while there are some strong similarities between Tony and Don, Weiner has already had Don change (at least in the last season) in ways that Tony never did. At this point, as far as we know, Weiner has had the opportunity to write Don's character so that [a] he reverts again into the same downward cycle of character flaws that he's struggled with from the beginning, or he actually readjusts his life with a different sense of what it means to be honest and to consider how his actions affect others besides himself.

Also, this time through, I find myself more bothered by the collateral damage, the violence wreaked upon those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time ...

The collateral damage is the most devastating part of the show. It's not just the occasional innocent bystander either. It happens to characters who (even if they arguably deserve it) you have spent seasons learning to care for. There are some pretty heavy moments of tragedy during the show, where beloved characters are faced with the consequences of their actions and of being close to Tony.

 

That said, I think the show is depressingly accurate about the power of habit, whether it be in the form of addiction or simply learned behavior. In a spiritual sense, I've always sort of felt like it was exploring the possibility of redemption without repentance, and its no surprise that this isn't possible...or that on some level, we (even the Christian 'we') wish it were.

There's still another dimension on which I'd be curious of your thoughts.

One of the most compelling points of the Sopranos story is how the majority of its characters, led by Tony, are living with a set of values that are much older than those of our modern culture. There is a philosophy that views life as living in a constant "state of war," that derives from Greece and Rome, and the Italian mafia families of history clearly borrowed from this worldview (if not always entirely accurately). Their allegiances and highest values are not those of most other people that they live around. They value family more. They value the authority of the government far less. They view (if sometimes too conveniently) themselves as soldiers who are committed to protected and defending what they view as their rights. Tony is clearly aware of how different this is from the culture he's in (and this awareness is often a cause of both some of his anxiety and many of his rants). But he views how "civilians" live with a certain amount of contempt, and he forces (sometimes even hypocritically) his family and his children into a value system that is often diametrically opposed to the one in which they live.

The history of immigration in the U.S. partly explains how this happened. In some of the bigger cities, living in certain immigrant neighborhoods was another later version of living in the wild west (as far as lawlessness was concerned). So some immigrants merely kept their way of living in spite of where they had moved to, and this ended in hierarchical system that, for all intents and purposes, served as their own form of government. One of the ideas that is constantly developed in different episodes is how many of the reasons for this have now ceased in modern times. So Tony is leading a way of life where many of the reasons for this way of life have ceased to exist. This doesn't excuse some terrible decisions. But it explains the place that he's in. But he's in a place and an age where he doesn't belong.

Ultimately, the show could have been much better. For instance, if the show had an intelligent priest who could really challenge Tony morally, then it could have done some interesting things with his character. Or if the show had another Italian-American who was capable of earning Tony's respect, who had thought through how to preserve the good in their old way of life while rejecting the bad, then that could have made for some compelling and substantive episodes. But such a character never enters the show. (And, honestly, such a character is sometimes quite hard to find even in real life.)

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  • 4 months later...

Did Tony die at the end of the Sopranos? David Chase finally answers the question

 

A couple years ago I did an essay on the series finale for The Matthews House Project. I googled it but can't find that site. Does anyone know if it is defunct? I think it was Zach Kincaid running it? Anyway, I was thinking of reprinting my essay on The Sopranos at 1More Film Blog, but I didn't want to do it if the site I wrote it for was still operational. In that essay I wrote:
 

I don’t know if Tony Soprano was shot in the back of the head or whether he lived to be shot in the back of the head another day. I do know that he can’t honestly say that he never saw it coming.  We all see it coming, and we all hope that if we defer and procrastinate long enough we can find a way to cheat death and, more futile still, to escape the consequences of the choices we make in life. There is a part of me, however conventionally moral I might be, that hopes Tony can discover (and pass on) the way to enjoy his life lived for self and not have to pay the ferry man. There is a part of me that clings to the hope that there is some other alternative to losing your life besides laying it down.  There isn’t.
 
That’s why even though the end of “The Sopranos” that we were given was painful, any other ending would have been tragic. There was too much hard truth here to end with a lie.

 

 

 

That doesn't give away Chase's answer, but suffice to say from the rest of the read that it sounds like I was exactly on Chase's wavelength.

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Chase responds, disavowing article. His claim that the remark was taken out of context suggests to me that he did say it, though. 

 

Through a publicist, Chase said in a statement:
 

A journalist for Vox misconstrued what David Chase said in their interview. To simply quote David as saying,” Tony Soprano is not dead,” is inaccurate. There is a much larger context for that statement and as such, it is not true.

 

 

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  • 7 months later...

Chase explains the ending again.

 

I thought the ending would be somewhat jarring, sure. But not to the extent it was, and not a subject of such discussion. I really had no idea about that. I never considered the black a shot. I just thought what we see is black. The ceiling I was going for at that point, the biggest feeling I was going for, honestly, was don't stop believing. It was very simple and much more on the nose than people think. That's what I wanted people to believe. That life ends and death comes, but don't stop believing. There are attachments we make in life, even though it's all going to come to an end, that are worth so much, and we're so lucky to have been able to experience them. Life is short. Either it ends here for Tony or some other time. But in spite of that, it's really worth it. So don't stop believing.

 

I've never seen the show, but I've watched the last scene and I've read Chase's explanations and--I honestly don't get what the fuss is about. I mean, yeah, that last shot is ambiguous, but it's hardly inscrutable.

Edited by NBooth
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I think it remains a cultural touchstone because it is the first time a show with such a massive, popular following failed to provide the closure these audiences had been trained to expect in the TV media environment. 

"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

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