Monday, March 20, 2006

On "The Sopranos" ...

Judging by the level of invective from folks on HBO's chat forum for "The Sopranos," you would think that in last night's episode, "Sopranos" creator David Chase relieved himself on a big plate of canole.

I respectfully disagree with such unkind assessments. In my humble estimation, last night's episode was another extraordinary work for what is consistently the best show in television.

In "The Sopranos," dream sequences do not exist just for David Lynchian excursions into the weird. From the git-go, the show has embraced psychology and psychoanalysis as fundamental to its exploration of character. When therapy sessions are a focal point of a program, as they have been with "The Sopranos," you know you are in a landscape decidedly different from boob-tube norms.

The dreams of a comatose Tony Soprano are pivotal to his final reckoning with his God, his family and himself. While the implications of the dream are for better people than me to debate, it seems fairly evident that Tony sees himself as an imposter. The search for self-identity has permeated "The Sopranos" since its inception. It is only appropriate that, as Tony, the self-professed "sad clown," barrels toward either death or inalterable brain damage, the quest for self takes center stage.

Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum weighs in:

"The twilight between life and death made vivid in David Chase's exquisite script became an absorbing, poignant meditation on the path some parallel Tony Soprano might have taken.

"What if he were an honest and faithful salesman, missing his wife and kids while on the road? And what if that Dream Tony had his identity snatched out from under him in a businessman's bar, his life upended in a mix-up of wallets and briefcases? Would Dream Tony accept the identity of ''Kevin Finnerty' — a name with echoes of the infinite beyond — or would he fight to recover ownership of his real self? 'My whole life is in that case,' he says. 'I'm 46 years old. Who am I? Where am I going?'


"Oh, and here's some rich irony: While Dream Tony loves his wife too much to be able to cheat on her with a willing stranger, this Kevin Finnerty guy appears to be a business cheat, someone crooked enough to make serene monks mad."

The Newark Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall has a more intriguing take on the episode: What if the alternate Tony Soprano, a no-accent salesman stuck in Costa Mesa, California, is in an actual Purgatory?

"Then he steals the identity (sin) of Kevin Finnerty -- a heating salesman who lives in one of the hottest states of the union (Arizona) -- checks into another hotel, and falls down a red staircase, at which point he learns he has Alzheimer's (eternal damnation). And while Carmela's busy in the real world telling him he's not going to Hell, Tony's in Purgatory debating whether to tell his wife this is exactly the fate he has in store.

"It may be hair-splitting to call this something other than a dream, but Tony's misadventures in Costa Mesa were much more linear and coherent than his regular dreams have ever been. There were important details scribbled in the margins (the bartender joking, 'Around here, it's dead,' or the 'Are sin, disease and death real?' commercial on the TV), but there was an actual story here instead of Tony bouncing from one surreal tableau to another.

"Still, Chase followed last week's watercooler cliffhanger with an 11-minute opening sequence set in a world that's not our own, with a Tony who wasn't quite right (it's startling to hear James Gandolfini's natural speaking voice), and only one split-second nod to the shooting (the brief flash of the doctor shining a light in Tony's eye mixed in with the chopper spotlight)."

Along the way, the episode presented a raft of terrific moments. Best of all was Edie Falco. She demonstrated some fearsome acting chops in the scene where Carmela breaks down as Tom Petty's song "American Girl" opens a floodgate of memories from better days. It is an astonishing moment in a TV series that has had plenty of astonishing moments.

Overall, I have considerable enthusiasm for this season -- in case you couldn't tell. Finally, I defer to the Star-Ledger's Alan Sepinwall, who encapsulates what is so fascinating, and ballsy, about how this season has kicked off:

"For years, most of Sopranos' fandom has been divided into two intersecting sets: those who watch for the whacking and crude humor, and those who watch for the psychiatry and art-house storytelling. By putting the shooting right next to Tony's afterlife business trip, Chase is pushing his chips to the center of the table and telling the audience they had better go all in -- murder and therapy, flatulence jokes and metaphysics -- if they intend to stay at the table for this final season."


At 9:22 AM, Blogger Dr. Pants said...

My favorite moment was the TV screen in the businessmen's bar that showed Costa Masa in flames.

C'mon -- he's totally in hell.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous turtleboi said...

What I want to know is, The Sopranos (as well as many other original shows) is letterboxed, so why can't HBO letterbox the feature films they run? This has been one of the great mysteries of cable television.

At 10:14 AM, Blogger Louis said...

I've really enjoyed this season of The Sopranos so far, and I thought Sunday's episode was fantastic.

Sepinwall's view of the divide between Sopranos fan types is right on. Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one who likes both whacking and the art-house storytelling.

Good blog, by the way. Cheers!

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Mean Reviews said...

Thanks for linking to our brand new blog.

Personally, I think the dream sequences in The Sopranos are the most 'realistic' I've ever seen on TV. I look forward to seeing more. Reminds me of Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End Of The World.

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been watching the dream sequence for symbols/clues and have noticed a couple of things: 1) he is staying in room 728, which adds up to #8, the symbol for infinity 2) "Costa Mesa" could be a vague reference to "Cosa Nostra," 3) dream Carmela sounds strangely like Annabella Sciorra. . .

At 10:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, anonymous there is 0 for 3.

At 4:45 AM, Blogger Sonia said...

Excellent post about this great show!!!
The sopranos is one of my favorites and I saw its every episodes. If you wanna watch this then go ahead and get it now. The Sopranos Download with all episodes from here only in a single click...

At 7:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend recommend me this show and I have seen few episodes and that was really very interesting. And The Sopranos is a good show to watch.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Sopranos is the best show of television. It has great storyline which is different and unique. I like this show very much.

At 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the wife of kevin finnerty, her voice is not carmella, it is charmaine, ati buco's wife, it is an episode about what could have been

At 2:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No way. That was Gloria Trillo on the phone.


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