Monday, May 15, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Moe and Joe' (6x10)

This episode felt like a throwback to the early season episodes that dealt explicitly with Tony's youth, I was almost expecting a flashback with young Tony and Janice. Thankfully we didn't get that, but in some respects, the episode felt a bit constrained by having to look backwards. Still, there was a lot of progress in the overall storylines, as everything continues to fall apart.

The development of Vito's storyline in the past few episodes has given us our first glimpse of someone who might find a way out of the mob world. Vito seemed to have wound up in the perfect town and met the perfect guy. However, he's still drawn irrevocably back to Jersey and the world of the mob. At first this is played with a blend of nostalgia and humor, Vito annoyed that the firefighters are going to sleep at midnight, and the dinner as an attempt to recapture the cooking he misses.

For the past few episodes, the threat seemed to come from outside, the issue was who would find Vito, and whether or not Tony would let them kill him. The twist is that it turns out even the perfect life isn't enough for Vito, he'd rather take his chances at home than live out an ordinary life, doing ordinary work. Coming from a culture where going to work means playing poker in the back of a pork store or sitting in folding chairs on a construction site, it's difficult for Vito to get used to the idea of actually doing work. The scene with the voiceover was a stylistic departure for the series, but I think it worked to show just how alien the concept of an actual day's labor is for these guys.

I didn't love the episode, and I think that's partially because it's so unrelentingly pessimistic. It's tough to watch these characters continually fail, and certainly Vito's arc is an example of that. This is a guy who had everything set up for him, he just needed to work, and he couldn't do that. It's similar to Long Term Parking, where Christopher sees a white trash 'ordinary' family, and chooses to kill Adrianna rather than go down that path. Vito chooses the same, he can be happy for a time in New Hampshire, but he's got to return to Jersey eventually, even if it means death.

I enjoyed the momentum of the "My Way'" car ride, and the starkly shot murder announced that Vito is definitely back. He must be aware that he can't just walk back in to their world, and I'm not too sure what he plans to do. I suppose he could claim that the rumors were all lies, and go back to living with his wife, swearing off the gay clubs, but I still think it would be hard for them to accept him. In the previous episodes, I would have been really angry if Vito ended up getting killed, but with this episode, he basically gives himself over to die. He passed on his chance for an escape, so there's really nothing else to do but end him.

This episode doesn't really evolve Janice, but the whole point of her character is that there's no evolution. Be she new age or mob wife, she's still the same self centered person. So, this is more about touching base with her, and reaffirming what we've already seen. Janice has basically become her mother, and that's what makes Tony scared of her. What this episode adds is the notion that even when he was a kid, she was treating him like Livia did. So, Tony's always been scared of her on some level.

The scene with Bobby Jr. is great because it lets Tony observe someone who's essentially a younger version of himself, it's even stronger than a flashback. Tony chooses not to talk to Janice about it, likely because she'd just ignore him and complain about it. Bobby is trying to advance to impress her, but ends up only getting himself hurt worse.

One thing I've been wondering is whether Bobby has gone to see Junior in prison. I'd imagine Tony wouldn't sanction it, but they were together for a long time, and I don't think he would be happy that Junior's been essentially abandoned. One of the toughest moments of this season is Junior's extreme happiness when he sees AJ, only to be quickly deflated when he finds out that his only visitor has come to kill him.

This episode effectively marks the end of Johnny Sack. By pleading guilty, he alienates himself from everyone else in the mob, it will likely be a chilly reception when he gets out of prison. But, he really had no choice, he made the deal that worked best for his family.

This plotline fits in wonderfully with the theme of erosion that the whole season has been about. All the characters are increasingly aware of their own constriction, and both Christopher and Vito's attempts to find a way out have failed miserably. The characters are going down the ship, they're not willing to work to find a new life, and that means just trying to grab the biggest piece possible as everything falls apart.

Carmela this season is becoming more and more aggressive in trying to claim a space for herself. She's desperately jealous of Angie, who's the woman she wants to be. She leans on Tony to try and get her work started, and blames him when her building fails. She's so stuck in their mindset that she never thinks to actually make a building that could pass inspection, rather she looks for the easy way around the rules. No one's willing to do actual work, and that's the big problem. The mob prays on actual businesspeople, best dramatized in the David Scatino arc back in season two, they siphon from the labor of others, and contribute nothing themselves.

With two episodes left in the season, I'm assuing we'll see some resolution of the Vito issue. I hesitate to predict anything plotwise since Chase always comes up with something unexpected. But, tonally it's pretty clear that we're looking at the continued gradual breakdown of the mob system. Paulie's got cancer, Christoper's losing his car, no one is doing well, and I'm guessing that the end of the series will be a fade out not a bang.

Related Posts
The Sopranos: 'The Ride' (6x09) (5/9/2006)
The Sopranos: 'Johnny Cakes' (6x08) (5/2/2006)
The Sopranos: 'Luxury Lounge' (6x07) (4/25/2006)

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