Monday, May 22, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Cold Stones' (6x11)

I loved the beginning of this season, everything through the first six episodes had a really clear direction and pushed things in unexpected ways. However, in these past few episodes, everything seems to be moving back toward the traditional status quo for the series. I couldn't help but feel that this episode was a bit of a let down, sticking with subdued gloom of the past couple of episodes when the narrative seems to be demanding some kind of major event, or at least a deeper exploration of what's happening to the characters.

One of my favorite arcs of this season was Vito's journey. In Live Free or Die and Johnny Cakes, we saw a guy breaking away from the world he came from, overcoming restrictive traditional values to embrace a new kind of life. It was unlike anything we'd seen on the show before and watching this guy struggle with his new world was riveting. Last week, it was tough to watch Vito fail at his newly chosen life, but thematically, the idea that no one can escape from the Jersey mob world makes a lot of sense.

So, the major issue I have here is the rather perfunctory nature of Vito's demise. After sketching out this wonderfully nuanced guy, we don't get any glimpse into his emotions upon his return. His attempts to reassimilate are there, but other than the phone call to Jim, there's no sense that he's emotionally conflicted. The way I interpreted it, he basically knew someone was going to kill him when he returned, so the journey home was essentially a suicide. But, is that how he felt, or did he legimitately think that he could get back in with Tony? I think we needed to know more about how he felt.

Chase always subverts audience expectations, and it frequently pays off wonderfully, witness Janice killing Richie in season two. The whole season was building to a moment when Tony's new outlook is put to a test when he has to choose whether to authorize a hit on Vito. There's a lot of drama there, and it seemed to be a major sticking point for Tony. However, this episode completely undermines that by having him decide to just go ahead with the hit, and then absolving him of his guilt by having Phil kill Vito for him.

That move doesn't make much plot sense to me. I feel like Tony needed to make the conscious decision to take out Vito, if the point of Phil killing Vito was to instigate conflict between Jersey and New York, it would have been more narratively beneficial to have Tony not authorize a hit on Vito, delay that call, then have Phil act. At this point, Jersey/New York conflicts have been teased for so long, Chase either has to decide to go ahead with some kind of all out war or back down from things. You can only raise the stakes so many times before these events become meaningless.

That said, I did love the ritualistic nature of the Vito murder. Phil's emergence from the closet, like a judging spirit, was fantastic. Phil seems to have been goaded into the murder by his wife, who's going on about how Vito's gay lifestyle is a sin, disregarding the fact that everything she has comes from illegal and morally wrong activity. The idea that these people can judge Vito for what he does, in light of their own transgressions, is absurd. The scene with Vito's wife, and the subsequent one with his kids, makes it clear that Phil was acting out of his own self interest, his attempt to get rid of this "shame" ends up hurting the very people he was supposedly helping.

As the "Back in Black" scene makes clear, Tony seems to have fully returned to his old self. The most interesting element of this season for me was seeing Tony's changed persona, but that seems to have been fully whittled down by living his daily life. He's given up on attempting to be morally right, once again he's only thinking of himself. The problem I have is that the show doesn't seem to address his reversion. It's present in his action, but considering the major emphasis placed on Tony not wanting Vito killed, it's odd that his decision here would be so nonchalant. The one scene where he really got called on his behavior was when he was with Melfi, but he basically ignored what she said.

What's interesting about how the Vito arc played out is the way that the events of the story basically exonerate Tony from the responsibility of standing up for Vito. When Vito returns to Jersey, he makes himself an open target, so Tony really has no reason not to kill him, and we as viewers recognize this. I think it would have been much more interesting to confront Vito in New Hampshire, in this other world where the killing of Vito would have been an aggressive act, rather than a reactive one. That would keep the theme that you can't get out, but play it out in a different way than we'd seen before. The way Vito dies now is too similar to Ralphie or Tony Blundetto, where a guy gets out of control and is put down.

Elsewhere, we've got Carmela's trip to France. I get the sense that the producers wanted to go to France, and the episode was based around this. There's not that much that specifically relies on the Paris setting here, it was certainly pretty, but I don't know if it was the best use of screentime. That said I love Carmela's dream, there's a lot of potential in having Carmela finally have to face the reality of what Tony's business is. Earlier this season, Carmela seemed to have come to terms with Tony did for a living, but her continued investigation into the Adrianna matter, as well as asking about Jackie Jr. would indicate that there's more doubts than she's voiced. The strongest scene in the Paris section is when she asks Rosalie about Jackie's disappearance, and Rosalie just won't discuss it.

I'm not sure about Meadow going to California. That seems to conflict with the way her arc was going this season, though I do love how she claims there's no problems with Finn, even though just last episode we saw her breaking into tears.

And AJ continues to be a problem. This was the strongest part of the episode for me. The way Tony sees it, AJ's failure is a direct reflection of his own inadequecies. He is now feeling guilty for not being tougher on him, it's like Tony's failure to discipline AJ has created the situation they're in now. There was a great line a few episodes ago where Tony says "Carmela's a good mother. She did her best," and I think that sums things up, he feels like listening to Carmela's judgment and not exercising his own has caused the problems that AJ is now experiencing.

The Melfi scene was one of the best in a long time, and got to the core of a lot of Tony's issues, particularly the closing stuff about Carmela being the mother that Tony wishes he had. The scene in the garage was wonderfully tense and for a bit there, I was really thinking that Tony was going to hit AJ. Instead he takes out his rage on AJ's material possession, the car. Sending AJ into construction has the potential to put him on the path towards mob life, and without a doubt, it'll toughen AJ, which is probably Tony's motivation in getting him the job. If AJ fails at this job, we could end things with Tony physically attacking AJ.

I'm really curious to see what happens in the season finale. Things have been stuck in this oppressive rut for a while. I think it's given us some great stories, but I need just a little bit more before the break, something that causes a major emotional impact on these characters.

Related Posts
The Sopranos: 'Moe and Joe' (6x10) (5/15/2006)
The Sopranos: 'The Ride' (6x09) (5/9/2006)
The Sopranos: 'Johnny Cakes' (6x08) (5/2/2006)

1 comment: said...

To my mind everyone may read it.