Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Mayham' (6x03)

I'm not sure if it's just that the show had been gone for so long, these episodes are like finding a lake in a desert, but this season of The Sopranos seems to have taken everything to a new level of complexity and intrigue, going beyond anything that's come before. This show was already one of the best in TV history, but each episode of the new season is so deep and emotionally involving, I can't remember a TV show ever being this good on an episode to episode basis. It's like Six Feet Under post Nate's collapse level of good, only we've still got seventeen to go.

There's a lot in the episode, but I'm going to start with Christopher's stuff, because this is the first episode where we really get an insight into where he is post Adrianna's death. Christopher's screenwriting arc in season two was my favorite thing the show ever did, in particular the Jon Favreau episode, so I'm really excited to see Christopher get back into the Hollywood game, only this time he's doing it through his mob connections. Obviously, there's a lot of comedy in the intersection between the mob and Hollywood, and I love the discussion of Cleaver, but the real meat of the storyline is in a couple of small moments.

The line that had me stunned was when Christopher is talking about the project and says "And he gets fucking payback on everyone who fucked him over, including the cunt he was engaged to, she was getting porked by his boss the night the hero was killed." The line tells us a lot about Chris, it's clear that he hasn't gotten over Adrianna. He still feels like she betrayed him, by talking to the feds. The animosity with which he's talking about her makes it clear that he did love her, and as far as we know, he hasn't gotten involved with anyone else since her death.

The issue that arises is whether he actually believes that she was having a relationship with Tony, or is using it as a justification to emotionally distance himself from her. Regardless, it's clear that he still has a lot of issues with what happened in "Sentimental Education." And if he still feels this way, that would clearly have a deep impact on his relationship with Tony.

The film is a personal fantasy for Christopher, in which he would have the opportunity to get back at everyone who's wronged him, to take control of his life rather than just drift down the stream. The very act of making the film represents a move by Christopher to reclaim some of his autonomy. He is too smart to be content just being a soldier, he needs to have something more, and seeing the way things are going, having a way out of mob life would clearly be something he'd want.

The scene where Christopher asks the mentally incoherent Tony for funding for his film is painful because he's basically ask Tony to pay for his way out of mob life, he's jumping ship while Tony is at basically the low point of his life. It's notable that the scene is played in virtually the same way as the Tony in a coma scenes were. The characters are talking to Tony, but it's really all about using this speech as a way to work out their own personal agendas. Christopher is rambling on even though Tony is not responding at all, he's all about himself, choosing Tony's lowest point as the time at which to do exactly what he told him not to right in the first episode.

The episode's primary narrative arc is the dissolution of the crew without Tony. Silvio is given the opportunity to step up and definitively claim the role of leader, however he is unable to manage things well, his indecisiveness culminating in his physical breakdown. In this episode, we get to see just how skilled Tony is at managing things. It's his authority that keeps them from being so petty and selfish, without him, everybody worries only himself and everything breaks down. The best example of this was Bobby asking Silvio why he didn't call him back as he's being wheeled into the ambulance. Hilarious and perfectly encapsulating the theme of the episode.



Watching this just a few days after the opening of Battlestar Galactica's second season, the similarities were striking. Silvio and Tigh have virtually the same arcs, second in command pushed up to the leader role they didn't want and end up failing miserably while their first is in a coma. Even their Lady MacBeth like wives are similar. It's unfortunate that there was such a lead time on these episodes, because this episode was likely finished before the Battlestar episodes even aired. It's the second time that a similarity like that has happened this season, the first was the striking similarities between 'Join the Club' and Six Feet Under's 'Ecotone.'

It's clear that Vito's moving into the primary aggressor role within the crew. He's going to be the one causing problems for Tony. Vito's family connection to Phil Leotardo is going to complicate things even more, because Tony won't have New York's backing in a conflict, and now that he's debilitated, he's basically powerless should Vito decide to make a move.

There were two other notable scenes for Vito in the episode. One was his final encounter with Carmela, where he feigns a polite, "anything I can do to help" front, but as the elevator closes, he's clearly not happy about parting with the 100 K. With Tony seemingly unable to function as acting boss, their loyalty will be tested. Are they still going to kick up to a boss who's got no physical muscle to back his rule?

The other big scene was Vito's encounter with Finn. It's pretty clear that this is going to eventually lead to something, since it's being continually stressed. If things do come to war between Tony and Vito, is Meadow going to step up and out Vito. That would basically destroy his credibility as a mob leader.

Looking at Meadow's role in these past few episodes, it's clear that she is becoming increasingly drawn into the world of the family. This is what Carmela is worried about, and even though AJ's outburst last week was the more showy, obvious concern, Meadow's constant presence at her father's side will likely not lessen once he's out of the coma. She'll have to take a larger role in support of the family if Tony is disabled, and this would mean putting off a job or internship that would get her out of their world.

This all ties back to her outburst at the end of season three, when she says there is no mafia, echoing Tony's words to her in "College." The more time she spends in his world, the more likely she is to never leave it. I'm not sure how Finn will fit in to all this, but if he's not happy at dental school, he'd probably be perfectly happy to freeload off Meadow's family.

It's also notable that Meadow is the one to finally draw Tony out of his coma. I was at first a bit surprised by how much Meadow was concerned and active in caring for her father. Obviously she's going to care, but it's clear that she's not at all ready to lose Tony, becoming more childlike in her pleas for "daddy" to come back. Throughout the series, Meadow is at times antagonistic, most notably during the Noah era in season three, furious at Tony's prejudice towards him. However, when he dumped her, it may have validated his words in her mind. Following that she does take his advice and date an Italian. Even though she's feuded with Carmela in recent years, she's been on good terms with Tony, and their bond is clearly huge for her. The question now is how big a role she'll take to protect his position within the mob family.

If her and Finn cross the line and out Vito, she'd be putting herself in a very dangerous position. In their world, an insult like that would not go unretaliated against, and considering the crew's declining reverence for the Soprano family, it's not inconceivable that Vito or Phil Leotardo could take action against her or Finn. Leotardo is clearly still mad at Tony for what Tony B. did to his brother, and killing a family member of his would, in his mind, be appropriate retaliation.

Stepping back from analysis, Edie Falco continues to do some of the best acting of all time. She's got such a wide range of material, and she totally becomes the character. For Carmela, this episode is all about realizing the potential negatives that arise from the convergence of the family around Tony. The scene with Melfi is a critical followup to the scene where she goes to her own therapist and he calls her on her hypocritical behavior.

Back then, Carmela tried to feign naivete about Tony's world, claiming that she wasn't a part of his illegal activities, she just put food on his table. Here, she's got no qualms about admitting that she's always had full knowledge of what Tony did, and that might even have been what attracted her to him in the first place. She recognizes that she didn't get tricked into this world, she chose it. I don't think Tony himself has claimed full responsibility for the life he leads, and if the Kevin Finnerty scenes are any indication, if he was able to escape the life he leads, he would be in no hurry to get back.

The scene where Carmela yells at AJ was brutal and magnificently acted. For Carmela, it is true that AJ has caused her a lot of problems, and at this moment of emotional weakness, she lets that out. How this will impact on him in future episodes is not clear, but unlike last season, AJ does not have the option to move out. He's stuck at home, at least until he makes enough money for his own place.

And after all that, we've still got the man himself, Tony, who continues his journey through the Kevin Finnerty reality. What started out as a nightmare is increasingly becoming an appealing reality for Tony, though he's stuck with the nagging feeling that he's losing his mind. Last week, the Finnerty reality seemed to function mainly as a limbo between life and death, with Tony losing his identity and by extension, his earthly attachments. Everything is leading up to the complete break from material reality and the return to the Finnerty family reunion.

However, Tony is no longer content to just sit around in the bar, he's now out investigating the new world he finds himself in. This is likely a function of Tony being in the coma for so long, he's becoming more comfortable in this mental realm, be it dream or purgatory, and is able to find new facets within it. I love the stuff with Tony questioning whether he really is becoming Finnerty. In a purely mental realm, perception is reality, so if people believe that he is Kevin Finnerty, for all intents and purposes, he is Finnerty.

When he talks to his wife, he's still putting off a return home, he'd rather continue to live as Finnerty and explore what's going on with him. So, becoming Finnerty is leaving the life he lead behind, and moving on to a new existence, which is apparently death.

The Finnerty family reunion is where all this culminates. If he was to go to the family reunion and be accepted as Kevin, that would mean that he had completely assimilated into this new life. However, Tony's real life is increasingly intruding into the fantasy. I'm not positive, but I believe that one of the Buddhist monks was the doctor treating him, and most notably the hilarious scene with Paulie's ranting intruding into his hotel room.

When he reaches the family reunion, Tony finds Steve Buscemi, who is credited as "Man." Tony doesn't recognize him, which I suppose indicates his disconnection from his life as the real Tony Soprano. For the audience, Buscemi would indicate that to enter the family reunion is to die, and head off to the ultimate family reunion. The thing that still perplexes me about the Costa Mesa sequence is why the 'Tony Soprano' of this world isn't the same Tony from the real world. I'm guessing that was meant to be the first stage of disconnection, he first invents a new life as Tony Soprano, then leaves that too.

So, even though he doesn't recognize Buscemi, on some level, he knows that he should not give up the briefcase, his "entire life," to him. Passing by the door of the hotel we see someone who looks like Livia, and Tony begins to hear Meadow's voice floating down through the trees. Her voice is heard as Costa Mesa Tony's daughter's voice, but gradually it turns into Meadow's. The Finnerty identity is punctured, reality comes pouring in and the fantasy collapses. As he returns to the real world, Tony asks if he's dead, signalling the extent of his mental trauma. His fantasy world fear about Alzheimers has come true in the real world.

And as we head into the next chunk of episodes, Tony looks like he's not in such a good shape. I'm really interested to see how a man who prides himself on being so in control and not feeling sorry for himself deals with this mental and physical dehibilitation. By shooting him, Junior has turned Tony into himself.

All this, and it's just one episode. This show is intellectually challenging, emotionally wrenching and on top of that, the funniest thing on TV right now. So far, I would say this has been the best season yet.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on the coma/dream scene I thought the sam but I was wondering if he was going to heaven or hell as it looked a bit sinister but good review and well explained.

dormitorio de matrimonio said...

It's all erroneous the thing you are saying.

Anonymous said...

During one of Tony's POV shots into the Finnerty reunion wasn't the silhouette of a hanging briefly flashed.

Heaven? Hell? Or something in-between.