Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Live Free or Die' (6x06)

This episode marks the halfway point of the season and the themes are becoming clearer and clearer. The first episode focused primarily on the story of a guy who wants to retire from the mob, and gradually realizes that, for him, there's only one way out. That storyline was clearly meant to be an overture for the entire season, setting out the themes that we'd explore later on, and that main question seems to be, can you get out, or will they always pull you back in?

In this episode we see that idea explored through two seperate storylines, Vito's and Tony's. Vito got the idea that it was basically over for him back in Jersey and decided to make a run for it and try out life somwhere else. Vito is so constricted by the societal restrictions of his world that he literally has no other option. If he stayed, he'd be ridiculed and possibly killed. Now, obviously he made the wrong choice going out to the bar, in his line of work, being spotted at a place like that is a career killer and sooner or later, it was going to catch up with him. However, that doesn't undermine audience sympathy for the character. This episode marks the first time we've seen someone actually leave mob life behind. Christopher has contemplated it on a number of occasions, but Vito is the first to leave Jersey and possibly find a viable life somewhere else.

His flight had a weird quality. Clearly there was some playing with the idea that he was going to crash his car and die, the greasy chicken, cellphone and torrential rain all set us up for the inevitable skid into a pole. But, it's not inevitable and Vito makes it, only to be stranded in the rain. There's some interesting symbolism in Vito's car being destroyed, leaving him with virtually nothing. With the destruction of the car, any easy way to return home is taken away, he has no choice but to stay in this town.

The whole sequence seemed to call back to the Costa Mesa stuff from Tony's dream sequences. In both cases we get someone who's stranded in a strange place with no way out, separated from their usual identity. Vito's walk towards the hotel echoes the end of the Costa Mesa sequence, Tony was not able to go into the hotel and completely remove himself from his identity. However, Vito does enter the hotel, and as the episode progresses, he moves further and further away from who he was.

This town is something of a utopia for Vito. A gay couple isn't considered strange, and the lady at the hotel does him a favor with no expectation of anything in return. By the end of the episode, Vito is liberated enough to walk into the antiques store and no longer mask who he really is. He is a "natural" for the first time in his life.

So, things are looking up for Vito, but on the home front his departure is causing major problems. I liked the way that Tony and his crew found out, another example of the vast gossip circles these gangsters have. It was nice to see another Westchester mention, with this guy from Yonkers playing such a critical role in the episode. I also really like the way the whole thing starts out as something humorous, but as the episode progresses and the full consequence of Vito's sexuality becomes apparent, things turn very serious.

Tony himself is still struggling with reconciling his newfound joy at just being alive with his continually difficult day to day existence. It's something that's nicely expressed in the opening scene, where he is just trying to relax, but the ventilator keeps making noise. And as the episode goes on, he'll have a lot worse noise than the ventilator.

I'm loving the direction that Tony is going in this season. For the entire run of the show, we've had the sense that he's different than the other mobsters, more intellectual and introspective. The shooting put him in an entirely different world for a time, and that has heavily influenced the way he perceives his existence in the present. He no longer accepts the customs of the world, just because they've always been that way, he questions things and that makes it difficult for him to be a mob leader.

His scene with Melfi was one of the best Melfi scenes in the show's entire run, functioning as a forum for Tony to essentially debate himself. Tony is torn between the values that have been culturally instilled in him his whole life and what he actually wants to believe in, but feels he can't. The scene with Meadow is troubling to place because it shows Tony being very much old style Tony. This may be a tie in to Chris's claim back in episode two that Tony takes terrorism very seriously, so he's not willing to give Arabs the benefit of the doubt.

However, with Melfi he's clearly torn on the issue of homosexuality. He recognizes that it could damage his organization, and claims to be disgusted by it, but at the same time, he's inclined to just let people do what they want in their personal life, basically his own don't ask, don't tell policy. This is how it is with prison sex, and apparently how they treated previous gay mobsters, as he alludes to Sil during their final scene together. Melfi rightly points out that Tony is conflicted on the issue, he's by no means progressive, but next to his crew, who feel that it's a crime worthy of death, he's positively welcoming.

The meeting with Finn was a really well done scene, showing us a wide variety of perspectives on the issue. Finn is very disturbed, as he makes clear in the final scene. Considering that Tony brought Finn in to "testify," he's clearly not actively looking out for Vito, but at the same time, he doesn't want to send out the death squad right away.

By the end of the episode it's apparent that Tony's going to have to make a choice. The scene with him and Silvio was brilliant. The lingering shot on Tony in the foreground, Sil in the background sets you up for some kind of conflict between the two of them, and you're just sitting there, waiting for someone to speak. Silvio makes it clear that to accept Vito back would undermine the order of their world. He addressed the kissing issue, which I discussed last week. Even more than upsetting their business world, admitting Vito back into the circle would destroy their "social club," and create a lot of internal angst. If Tony let Vito back in, it's a potentially suicidal move, but the question arises, is that what he would want, to get out of the mob world any way he could.

The essential problem for Tony right now is that his business is inherently immoral and will always create noise to distract him from his relaxation. We're left wondering if Tony is really committed to changing his life, or if, as he tells Melfi, the troubles of everyday life will eventually return him to the way he was.

Off in the subplots, we get some interesting stuff with Carmela and Meadow. When Carmela agreed to take Tony back, it was partially, if not mainly, motivated by the desire to use his money to start her own business ventures and eventually find some form of self reliance. In the first episode of the season we saw her jealousy of Angie, who has become totally self reliant, and in this episode has taken total control of her life and work. In the terms of their society, she's become a man, throwing the women a check rather than helping them with the silent auction, much as their husbands would. And she's running operations on the street through members of Tony's crew. She's acheiving her dreams as Carmela's are falling apart. The men in her life won't take her seriously, but without their help she can't get started. Hence, she's locked in the cycle of dependency she's been in for all her life.

Meadow, like Tony, is put in some compromised positions this episode. In arguments, the position you argue largely depend on those you're arguing with. So, talking to Tony, she's railing against the mistreatment of Afghanis who came to America, a classic liberal cause, yet under this, she's becoming more and more loyal to the family, something that's enhanced by Finn's increasing unease. So, like Tony, she finds herself sometimes arguing the conservative position, sometimes the liberal.

I'm guessing that things won't go too well with Finn. I think he's always been aware of the violence of the Soprano family, but what unnerves him is the fact that Meadow is becoming an apologist for the family. She's still never been exposed to the real horror of what they do, as Finn has been on a number of occasions. He's seen these people basically condemn Vito to death just for being gay, something that Meadow can't seem to process.

All she sees is the injustice done unto Johnny, something that apparently pales in comparison to the white collar criminals. This is a line of argument Tony himself has used quite a bit, in one episode he mentions that the Enron guys are worse criminals than he is. Meadow sees only the injustice, not the fact that Johnny Sack clearly is guilty of murder. I hesitate to make predictions, but I'm thinking that this law firm internship could go bad when the lawyers make fun of her for her family connections, something that would drive her even closer to the family. Could we see Meadow turning into a mob lawyer, aiding her father? I'm not sure it'll go that far, but clearly she's been moving closer and closer to the family, in both senses of the word.

One little thing I really liked about the episode was the subtle callbacks to last week. Watching it weeks apart, I allow for some gaps in action, so if the beatdown at the end of the last episode wasn't addressed, I would have assumed that it happened between episodes. However, when watching the show on DVD, those little callbacks to the previous episode work wonders to create the sense of a consistent world, smoothing the transition from episode to episode. And here it does give us some nice insight into the fact that Tony's ploy did work, because Christopher admits he was wrong about his plan for the Rusty hit.

So, another bold change of direction. Vito is give the chance for a better life, but will he be able to remain under the radar, away from Paulie and the others who are looking for vengeance. I loved Chase's little nod to certain elements of the fanbase, with Tony complaining about how some people can't wait to whack somebody, but I will say that between the open insolence this week and the Barone issue, Paulie's future does not look bright.

1 comment:

www.murcia-3d.com said...

The dude is totally right, and there is no suspicion.