[The May 13 episode of The Sopranos birthed a discussion between Jeff and Me that last all week and went off on some unexpected tangents. Anyway, here it is with the unrelated stuff about babies and Entourage edited out. Our conversation about last night's mind-blower should be up tomorrow-ish.]
Jeff Barnosky: I don’t know if it’s been said but I think subconsciously I’ve been thinking of Leave it to Beaver every time I see the name Cleaver. After all, it’s a show about family and that was one of the first and most famous shows about the American family. While the Cleavers weren’t exactly what the myth made them out to be–the kids screwed up, the dad got pissy, mom had a mischievous look in her eye and the parents clearly did it, probably Mah Jong style–they’ve come to be synonymous with the nuclear family. It’s also one of the first cases of television permeating the culture and actually directing the way people lived their lives. People thought their family should be like Cleavers. Every time that Tony saw something with Cleaver on it, I couldn’t help but think that he was realizing how much different he was then Ward Cleaver, that Chris was no Wally, Carmela’s no June and AJ’s no Beaver. While this is pretty facile, it seems to fit in with Chase’s commentary on how popular culture permeates.
Why was he in Las Vegas? It’s like he wants to escape into the movie world, flee to Nevada like the Corleones.
Did you ever read Romeo and Juliet? After Romeo dies, his father comes in and says his mother died of grief over his banishment. I’ve never understood why the death was sort of tacked on. That’s happening in almost every episode, somebody important dies and then a nothing character goes. I find it troublesome.
Matt Tobey: I think you’re spot-on with the Leave it to Beaver reference. The Cleavers are the quintessential perfect 1950s American family. Even now, people constantly talk about that show and that family as if that was ever anything remotely resembling reality. It’s the same thing with The Sopranos. The characters live to uphold facades, both with family and with the Mafia
I think even though Paulie’s aunt-mom’s character wasn’t all that significant, her death played a significant role in the episode. It served a purpose, and I think all the deaths this season have. I’d still like to know more about what happened with Hesh’s girlfriend, but I doubt they’ll come back to that.
Now, the whole Vegas thing is what really has me thinking about last night’s episode. Let’s remember back to when Tony was in the coma. He had a different life and was in Vegas on business, where he lost his wallet and identity. The Buddhist monks thought he was someone named Kevin Finnerty. We already talked about that sequence having to do with a struggle for enlightenment. So now he’s shed himself of Christopher, someone who’s become a potential liability and also someone who holds Tony up to an unattainable romanticized standard. Tony’s free of that now, and he goes to Vegas, takes peyote, goes out to the desert and “gets it.” What does he get though? Has Tony finally reached a state of enlightenment? Or was he just fucked up on buttons? I feel like I need to go back and rewatch the coma episodes.
I wasn’t positive that he was in Las Vegas for those first episodes. I swear the whole Las Vegas segment last night was just another dream. The whole thing seemed somnambulant, even before they took the buttons. The edits were weird too, with little if depiction of how they got from place to place, one of the hallmarks of a dream.
I’m not sure he’s reached enlightnment as much as temporary freedom. He’s acting like a real gangster should, not some tortured father figure who kills people.
A big part of me feels that Chase wants to explore these deeper questions about life and is stuck with this sadistic murderer. His yearnings to be free exclude the yearning not to be a sick fuck, just to forget about how much of sick fuck he is. The inherent paradox of the show, still best displayed in the episode from the first season where the gansters were soccer moms, is that he wants to be a sick fuck on one level and a good dad/husband/friend on another level. It’s a funny bit, but the deeper it gets the less possible it seems.
What I think we are starting to see is that Tony is capable of not giving a damn about who he kills, even Christopha, who was as much of a son to him as AJ. So, evil overwhelms. It cannot be compartmentalized, or brushed off. I’d sleep with the light on if I was any of the characters.
He’s really starting to remind me of DeNiro in Goodfellas. Push him just a little and nobody is safe, not even Hendry.
Matt: You know, you’re right. I looked back at the official episode guide and they never said for certain that the convention was in Vegas. It sure had that same feeling though. Tony alone, detached from anything we’ve come to be familiar with. And yeah, it definitely felt like a dream. Two things strike me as a I think about it again:
1. When he looked up at the bathroom light it was reminiscent of him looking up at the light on the helicopter and then briefly woke up to reveal it was a light over an OR table. And then there was the light in the desert that was so profound for some reason.
2. There were two scenes of him driving in Vegas and both were shot just like the opening credits sequence. The first driving scene was especially reminiscent of the credits, with him going through a tunnel. But the really jarring thing about it for me was the music. It was like a bizarro-world version of the opening credits, with Tony making the drive through a bright and shiny Vegas, rather than a drab New Jersey, all set to music that was antithetical to the dark and gritty theme song.
I’m not sure how I feel about your theory that Tony is evil by nature. The fact that he mentioned the car-seat repeatedly seemed to me to be him trying to convince himself that he actually did a merciful thing, even though he was truly killing Chris for selfish reasons. The guilt and humanity are there, right along with the evil. It’s essentially the paradox that you described only on a more existential level, and it’s the same as the two Tonys concept that we’ve discussed. So I guess I’m not sure how you can think Chase feels stuck with the character. Maybe the point is, even if we haven’t killed dozens in cold blood, we’ve all done irredeemable things, but it’s just easier to illustrate that side of human-nature using a gangster.
Remember when Sonya said Chris talked about a lot of sad things, but Tony’s actually sad? He’s sad because he’s aware of the paradox, if only mostly subconsciously. That paradox lives in pretty much everyone on the show, but over the past six seasons Tony’s become more and more self-aware, aware of the two Tonys. He senses the paradox, whereas most everyone else is blissfully ignorant. The interesting thing last night was AJ coming to the same realizations about good and evil, only more consciously, overtly, and at a much younger age.
Jeff:I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about Tony being in hell, but I don’t know. If that’s hell, bring it on.
I’ve actually been thinking alot about Tony’s nature–evil or not–and I think I’m really intrigued by the nature of narrative art and what it says about psychology and character. Here I’m going to give the most obvious example in all of literature and movies, which is Humbert Humbert. How do we handle the three-dimensional character who is objectively an evil-doer? He’s fascinating, but Nabokov expertly dances around psychological examination. I think Chase is doing that here. Chase and Nabokov know that they are examining the indefensible, so they don’t defend it. They challenge the reader/viewer to deal with it. Evil is human and sometimes charming.
I keep feeling that Tony knows his end. He knows that it won’t end well for him and he’s stripping away the pretense. Michael Coreleone did this at the beginning, to take power. Tony’s doing it at the end, though probably not to save himself. He’s trying to reveal his true self.
He’s been faking love for everyone–Chris, Carm, AJ, Meadow–and now he’s just saying fuck it. KillÂ ’em.
I’m not convinced aboutÂ AJ. Tony knows about good and evil. He just chooses evil.Â Or compartmentalizes it.
Matt: Tony’s in hell, eh? I could definitely see it. Have you ever read The Third Policeman? After about the first half, I found it to be kind of a chore to read, but the concept is interesting enough. Without giving too much away, it’s about a murdering thief forced to spend eternity in a surreality looking for his lost loot. It’s also said to be a huge influence on Lost, but if we’re to believe Tony has left the mortal coil, I could see some connections to The Sopranos too. The last episode reminded me of Slaughterhouse Five at points too. I kept feeling like maybe Tony has come unstuck from time.
What I really wonder is if the more existential elements of the show will be explained outright or if they’ll only be eluded to, and we’ll be left with a resolution that only pertains to the real world. It could get silly and heavy-handed if they try to lay it all out, so I might prefer they keep it below the surface.