Friday, December 29, 2006

The Sopranos RIP

(Caution, plot spoiler ahead-- The Soporanos Season #6).

Late in the only dull trip to Paris ever filmed, Carmela Soprano asks Rosalie Aprile about her dead husband and son. Forget about it, says Rosalie, it’s over.

Rosalie was telling us something the rest of us—at least the DVD watchers—are just finding out: The Sopranos is over. It outlasted Six Feet Under; it bid fair to outlast The Barney Extravaganza. It died, as so many Sopranos characters die, in a flash of violence: Vito Spatafore plugged Jackie Aprile in the back; so also Junior Soprano plugged his nephew Tony in the belly (Episode #66). Unlike Jackie, Tony reappeared, along with the rest of the gang, but transmogrified into a zombie for some sort of weird mismarketed video game. The series itself—The Sopranos we all knew and loved—is over, done, finito, kaput, bought the farm.

To be fair, The Sopranos, in going to sleep with fishes, did not, if you get my meaning, jump the shark: the directors seem to have been at pains to try to sidestep the kind of absurdity that makes so many good tragedies end in farce. But at a price: the price of not going crazy is to go slack, to kill time, to twiddle the thumbs, to play out the option. A dream sequence if perhaps forgivable, but not if it extends over two episodes. A gay plot actually has possibilities, although nobody seemed to know quite what to do with it. How anyone could make a trip to Paris actually boring is surely beyond most viewers’ ken, but there it is, ready to be recycled in film class as a horrible example (couldn’t we at least have had a bit of girl-on-Frenchie action with her Parisian date?).

This flaccid coda does have one curious byproduct, perhaps unintended. In seeing all the old characters replay all their old character-tics, it sinks in on us: these people really are like this; they are not going to change; there will be no eleventh-hour epiphany, the phone will not ring and the governor will not issue a reprieve. They are just a nasty, unpleasant, irredeemably worthless lot. This is a worthwhile insight, but not consolatory: the shock is gone; you just steel yourself for the next savage beating, and speculate on the odds that the victim will (or will not) survive.

There are bright spots: Vince Curatola as Johnny Sack, with all his seething intelligence, remains one of the most compelling pieces of characterization in the whole show, and it is a rotten shame to see him off to the big house. But this might be just that he came late to the party. Of the original crew, the only one that doesn’t seem to me to be just going through the motions is Michael Imperioli as Christopher Moltisanti: he has an unmatched knack for being convincingly dangerous and ugly, and yet at the same time retaining just a whiff of irony and self-criticism, so that for a moment you think he might be kidding—but it passes and you find yourself repelled all over again.

Too bad it happened this way, but it almost always does: every show is in competition with itself after the first few episodes, and the game gets tougher as the ante gets higher. About the only one of my own favorites that did not outlive itself is Sandbaggers, the unmatchable British spy thriller—but that may have something to do with the fact that the auteur disappeared in his small plane, never to be heard from again.

And I have to grant (to hope) that with a Seventh Season yet to come, there are possibilities of something better. I admit I am still curious to know what becomes of daughter Meadow, the Lisa Simpson of the Soprano family, the apple of papa’s eye and the one who looks like she just might grab her Ticket Out of this dead-end world—but my own guess is that she comes to an ugly end, perhaps at her father’s hand, surely before his eyes. That, and the more general question of who (if anybody) will be left standing when the King and the Queen and the Prince all die and Fortinbras returns from the wars—I admit it is enough to keep me suckered in until the end. But grumbling and full of nostalgia for the old days when the old days, when the series was really good.

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