LIke most cinephiles in the Western world, I was and am a huge Sopranos fan. I spent over eight years, or six seasons to be precise half in love with Tony Soprano and Christopher Moltisanti – my biggest issue was who to choose – the charismatic, sociopathic Boss or his sexy, violent, drug-addicted protege. I rarely flinched from the lifestyle depicted or implied - and if someone had asked me at that time I would have argued that Tony, Chrissy, Paulie and Sylvio were not much more than a gang of ‘likely lads’ – the truly violent (remember Ritchie Aprile? Ralphie?) always seemed to get what was owing & I although some of the things ‘the guys’ get up to was certainly disturbing, I was never too disturbed.
Starting last week however I re-watched all six seasons straight through over about 9 days. It was a very different experience to viewing the seasons as they were released and I found myself truly horrified at the actions and attitudes of The Family Soprano. And it is the core family group which is repellant, Tony and Carmela’s ruthlessness regarding their children and their property is utterly chilling. Carmela’s visit to neighbour Jeannie’s sister to ‘ask’ her to write a support letter for Meadow’s application to Brown left me gaping – she is as self-deluded and dangerous as any of the wise guys, perhaps more so than most. When Carmela has an affair after she and Tony separate, her lover is driven to conclude that she is ‘a user’, something Carmela rejects outright although its sting is evident by her response both then and later in the series when she discusses it. Carmela is more ruthless, driven more by petty insecurity (her religious beliefs) and jealousy/pride than Tony is ever shown to be. Watching her broker a deal with Tony to buy her a property to allow him to move back into the marital home and bed is nothing short of breathtaking.
If Tony is driven by anger, fear, insecurity, spite and greed (and I would argue that he is) then we need to remember that Carmela has all of these motivations as well – in spades. But to me, Carmela is worse because she hides behind a pseudo piety that she trots out in order to justify what she is doing, she also lacks Tony’s self-awareness (or rather she sublimates it into religion) – Tony is all too aware that he is a monster and up until Season 6 part 2, he at least tries to understand this about himself – via Dr Melfi. But Carmela places all blame on Tony while simultaneously outstretching her fake nails for more goods and more money. She is a classic passive-agressive manipulator, giving Tony the silent treatment until he submits to her will (I hadn’t realised how often she does this until I viewed the seasons all together). Carmela’s outrage is always easily appeased – remember when she found out about Tony’s gooomah Irina? Carmela’s response was to steal 40k from the bird feeder.
Apart from some revelations about Carmela, the moral corruption of Meadow and A.J also stands out when viewing like this – Meadow of S6 is a far cry from the young college student who prided herself on civil liberty and justice. When Meadow argues that Jackie Aprile Jr was ‘murdered by drug dealers’, I can’t help but wonder where the girl who told Carmela that she wasn’t buying that story went to. Likewise A.J, who finally began to grow up in S6 and found that he couldn’t stand the endless violence in the world is easily bought off with a new car and a cushy film job. The Soprano siblings end up as willing participants rather than victims – given every opportunity to lead different lives to their parents, they both ultimately choose the same path as their parents – accept the privileges afforded by their father’s lifestyle without worrying too much about who had to pay for them or how.
Season 6 sees Tony kill his once adored nephew Christopher. Tony and Chris’s relationship has been deteriorating for some time at this point – the death of Adriana leaves Chris gutted and as he struggles with sobriety, Tony not only doesn’t support him, he mocks and belittles him for being weak. Tony spends the first 4 seasons stating that he is grooming Chris to be his number two but when Chris is vulnerable and gasping for air after their car accident, Tony has no qualms about murdering him in cold blood. Not only that but we are shown through a dream that he is relieved rather than upset and he openly states that a change in his own gambling luck is due to Chris dying. So for all of Tony’s self-reflection and introspection at the hands of Melfi, it becomes obvious that Tony will never grow or change and that much of his previous insight was superficial only. The Sopranos are damaged goods.
There are some arguments about the season 6 finale – some people say that it ended the way it did to show that ‘Soprano life goes on’ but I am inclined to think that Tony dies – as he should. If you watch the scene carefully, you can see that we are given Tony’s perspective in the diner, every person who enters is shown by a shot of Tony looking up followed by a cut from his point of view (POV) to the person entering, followed buy a reaction shot of Tony. The family arrive one by one – Carmela, followed by A.J (note the man with the jacket who follows A.J inside and seats himself at the counter). The scene is shown from Tony’s POV at all times unless we are shown a reaction shot. Given that Tony just had his NY rival shot and killed in front of his wife and grandchildren, it makes sense that his family would be present to see his death. The final seconds in the scene change angles to show us the man in the jacket going to the bathroom, this is significant as it puts the man behind Tony upon his exit and makes Tony vulnerable. When Meadow is finally seen approaching, we hear the bell of the door and true to form, see Tony look up (reaction shot) but instead of seeing Meadow, we cut to black, we are in Tony’s shoes here, still in his POV and the only conclusion is that Tony has been shot – The Sopranos is about Tony Soprano and it can only end when he does. We aren’t shown the reactions of Carmela, Meadow or A.J because Tony doesn’t see them.
First time around I found the ending frustrating, Tony was an anti-hero in the best sense of the word – charming, dangerous and charismatic. Watching his moral decline in compressed time has changes my mind – Tony had to die, and Carmela has to pay – I only hope that the fate of the wives before her like Ginny Sacks lands squarely at her feet.