Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Sopranos: 'Kaisha' (6x12)

The first half of this season was arguably the best the show's ever been. The intensity of the first six episodes was unmatched, from the shocking first episode ender to the innovative Kevin Finnerty stuff, up through Tony's rebirth with a new worldview and Vito's exile to New Hampshire. There was a sense of the show moving forward, interrogating its own world and building something new. However, in the second half of the season, things began to drift, first the Artie episode, which at the time was a disappointment, but is actually one of the strongest episodes in the season's second half.

Starting with The Ride, things drifted into a gloomy haze, where stuff happened, but there was no sense of forward momentum. There's certainly good moments in every episode of the season, but it was hard to shake the sense that nothing was moving anywhere. The show was so tight and focused last season, each episode an emotional journey, it was odd to see the drifting, sloppy storytelling we got with the past couple of episodes. I was wondering if this was all about lulling us into a calm before the season finale, it definitely wasn't.

This is an episode that's alright, there's some really strong moments, but at this point in the story, we needed a bit more. The chronology of the episode was part of the problem. For one thing, it felt odd to have a Christmas episode in the middle of the summer. However, there's also the fact that some very big storylines got compressed into one episode, where they might have worked better with some room to breath.

The episode tracks the diverging fates of Tony's two "sons," Christopher and A.J. As A.J. is finally getting things together, Christopher is falling apart. The choice to makes Kelli such a non-character creates an interesting audience reaction to the scenes with Julianna. Even though they're clearly destructive together, and Christopher is cheating on his pregnant wife, I was more behind Chris's relationship with Julianna than his marriage. It may be designed to mirror Christopher's own view of things, he got married on an impulse and doesn't really love Kelli, so we barely see her, just like he barely sees her. So, we are complicit in his infidelity.

I did like the scenes of their relationship together, particularly the dissolved together scene of them watching a movie and doing coke. That was visually striking, but the chronology mixing used to introduce the relationship was just odd. Chase has been using a bunch of odd narrative devices recently, the flashback to Chris telling Tony about Ade, Vito's voiceover, and those worked, but this just feels sloppy. The story would have had more impact if we had seen it in chronological order, and that would also have emphasized the irony of Christopher going to seek help ultimately leading to his falll into greater drug problems.

The really confounding thing about the episode, and the second chunk of the season as a whole, is Chase's utter disregard for the basic rules of narrative storytelling. He's always refused to play on the traditional TV rhythms, not giving viewers what they want, but here he's going beyond not playing with traditional TV conventions, he's abandoned any sense of dramatic storytelling, quelling most of the big emotional moments before they happen and playing the major events in a nonchalant way. Look at the death of Vito, one could argue that the emotional moment was when he leaves New Hampshire, and from that moment on, he's dead, but the actual murder was so anticlimactic it made the whole arc seem less important in retrospect.

I'm assuming this is deliberate, the first half of the season showed that Chase still could do tight drama as well as anyone, and this episode presents a bunch of opportunities to rev things up, but he always chooses to go with a more relaxed, resigned mode. I think it's getting a bit ridiculous at this point to keep teasing war with New York when it's inevitably defused before it starts. This same stuff has been going since season four, if you keep going back to the same situation without ever actually playing it out, it stops having any impact.

I'm guessing that Chase's motivation is to make the show itself mirror Tony's new mental state. When he first feels that way, he's excited with the new possibilities of the world, but as things go on, everyday's gift turns into a pair of socks, and so did the show. There's major stuff going on, but it's not played up in the way that previous seasons had.

This episode does confirm that Tony's had a lasting change. After some shakiness in the last couple of episodes, we see his new mental state on display when he chooses to give Christopher a pass about Julianna, and again tells Phil that "there's enough to go around." That scene was the best in the episode, Tony's very real emotion was powerful to watch, you got the sense that he was making a final reachout to Phil, to put the death of Billy behind them and really move on. And in the end, when A.J. brings Blanca home, he's the one who tells Carmela to accept her. This is huge growth from the experience with Noah and Meadow in season three.

So, as Tony becomes more accepting, Carmela is shown as callous and manipulative. In light of the episode's ending, it's pretty clear that she knows what happened to Adrianna, and was just using the threat of getting a private investigator as a way to put pressure on Tony. She can use it as an all purpose upper hand when dealing with Tony, for the first time, she has actual power in the relationship. She may not be Angie yet, but she's got something.

A.J. goes through the most growth here, and actually gets a nice, if slightly rushed, resolution to his season long arc. Tony's words have clearly made an impact on him because he's giving his all at the construction job. The key moment is when he doesn't use violence to get rid of the guys outside Blanca's apartment, but instead chooses to stick with what he knows works and bribe them with a bike. Now, this strategy might not be best for the long term, but it represents A.J. moving beyond being just Tony Soprano's kid. After being used by countless people to get to his father at the clubs, A.J. uses his own wiles, not his name, to win over Blanca.

Even if it's drifted a bit, the show can still be so tight, conveying volumes with one line. At the Christmas party, someone asks A.J. where he got the necklace and he says "The mall," a foreign concept for people who always have to know a guy. A.J. best asserts his independence when Tony says he's got a guy and A.J. says "I've got a job." Tony has been so successful that his son now seems to be on the path to the legitimate life that he could never acheive. Tony, for all his new worldview and goofy beret, still thinks in a box where he has to use force and bribes to get his way, he can't get it through hard work. It's the same for Carmela, who never thinks about actually making her house comply with the building code, it's got to be a shady deal to make things happen.

If Meadow really has left Jersey behind, it'd be fitting to end things with Tony and Carmela watching their kids move out of the mob world, feeling a touch bittersweet that their children succeeded where they could not. The message of the series is clearly once you're in, you never get out. That was established with Eugene in the premiere, with Vito's arc and now with Christopher's drug addiction. So, the fact that A.J. never got involved could be his salvation.

Because Chase is so maverick in creating the show, I hesitate to speculate on the final eight episodes. People are talking about this episode as the calm before the storm, but I just don't see it that way. I don't think there will be a storm, and if there is, I doubt it'll be played up in the way that people are expecting. I think things will finish out like this, with Christopher and the other mobsters getting gradually destroyed, with only the next generation potentially escaping. And, at the end, I'm guessing that Tony will be right where he is now, with a new outlook, but ultimately bored with his life, watching his kids leave him behind.

Now, it's possible that Chase really is lulling us into a false sense of security, but considering the way the show's been going, I doubt it. The Golden Age of the mob is gone, it's now just a gradual move towards extinction.

Ultimately, while I respect Chase for telling the story in such a bold, nontraditional way, there's a reason that certain tenets of drama exist, and to violate so many rules means you end up with a show that's ultimately rather flat. We need some kind of payoff or change to remain interested and, while the show's certainly still good, this second chunk of season six is the weakest the show's ever been. This episode was alright, but I just neeeded a little more.

Related Posts
The Sopranos: 'The Ride' (6x09) (5/9/2006)
The Sopranos: 'Moe and Joe' (6x10) (5/15/2006)
The Sopranos: 'Cold Stones' (6x11) (5/22/2006)


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Yeah you right, talking about the show, is very nice because it shows many true ways in that the mafia works in every country.

download youtube videos said...

The Sopranos is one of my favorite TV shows of all times. My opinion is that these days they don't make such a high-quality TV series no more.