SERIOUS MAJOR SPOILERS
The show surged back last week, teasing major developments and imminent changes. Little did we know just how imminent those changes were, fifteen minutes into the episode, one of the series’ central characters is gone, killed by Tony. I always doubted whether Chase would go the route of having Tony kill Christopher, it seemed so obvious, so melodramatic, and that’s why I love the way it happened here. Rather than being a big thing, the cinematic death Christopher would have wanted, it’s so simple, the car crash does most of the work, and Tony just has to finish the job.
The whole scene in the car was a deliberate callback to “Irregular Around the Margins,” in which Tony and Adrianna drove to get some coke, and wound up in an SUV flipping car crash. After last episode, I was surprised to even see Tony and Chris together, meeting Phil. Chris seemed so disconnected from that world at the end of “Walk Like a Man,” and once they get in the car, you can see how removed he is. It’s no coincidence that he puts on The Departed soundtrack at full blast rather than spend time talking to Tony. Tony referenced “Comfortably Numb” last week, it’s the feeling he’s had since coming out of the coma. He’s seeking some kind of thrill to jar him out of the boring world he’s living in, just as Christopher is using drugs because it’s just too hard to go without them.
And then the car goes off the road, Christopher’s messed up, and Tony finds out he’s using drugs again. Tony has always felt that Christopher was weak, his addiction made him a poor choice for successor, and given the chance to get rid of him in a clean, untraceable way, he takes it. It’s a chilling scene, no glamour, no grandeur, just a cold hearted murder.
Some people have said that their was no buildup to Christopher’s murder, which is completely off. To go on a digression for a second, I have to agree with Chase that some of the fans of this show are absolutely stupid in the way they view things, with people unironically insisting that Adrianna isn’t dead, or that the Russian is going to play a critical part in the end of the show. It’s not happening, beyond the fact that it would be an awful cheat on any show, it’s not Chase’s style at all. His storytelling is always clearly telegraphed, nothing comes out of nowhere.
Christopher’s murder has been elegantly set up the entire season, with his slump back into addiction, which Tony perceives as a personal betrayal. Another betrayal is his dalliance with Julianna, which Tony is reminded of here. The issue for Christopher is that he could never do anything to satisfy Tony, if he’s doing well, maintaining his sobriety, Tony does everything he can to sabotage that. When Christopher makes his movie, Tony is unhappy with that too, but when Christopher slips into addiction, he’s even more angry. If he does too well, Tony is jealous, if he does badly, Tony is disgusted with him. I would argue that Christopher essentially killed himself by proxy last week when he walked out of the Bing and shot JD. He wound up killing the one person who could actually help him out of the mob life.
When Tony sees that Christopher is using, all his issues from previous seasons come to a fore and he does what’s in his best self interest. The genius of this episode is that the rest of it becomes about Tony trying to justify what he did without actually confessing. The babyseat and tree story is the most obvious example, implying that Christopher could have just as easily killed his daughter. And then there’s a lot of subconscious stuff, as he tries to alleviate his own conscience. One of the strongest scenes is when he asks Carmela if there was a bit of relief in her voice when she found out Christopher died, hoping for a subconscious affirmation that he did the right thing.
Over that whole scene, we once again had the specter of Adrianna. It seemed possible that Tony would reveal what happened to her, or a version in which Christopher killed her, as a way of taking away Carmela’s pity for him. I had assumed that Adrianna’s murder kept coming up because it was going to play a critical part in either Tony or Christopher’s downfall. Now that Chris is gone, will it come back?
There’s been a general motif of Tony’s increased conflict between his guilt and his own self interest. In a dream, he tells Melfi everything he’s done, then worries that he might have said it in his sleep. Christopher is just one of many, and eventually he’s going to crack and reveal his secrets. He wants to talk to Melfi, he even might want to talk to the feds, just because it’s too much to keep everything inside.
That issue is magnified in this episode by the grief of everyone around him. Their sincere feeling is a mockery of the hollow within him. He would argue that they are all putting on a show, reinforced by his reference to Kelli as “a movie star.” He points out the hypocrisy of Chris’s mother’s grief, the fact that her feelings now are marred by the fact that she wasn’t there for him before. At least Tony was there for Chris through his life, it was her failure that turned him into an addict and forced Tony to kill him.
One notable thing about the episode is the fact that Tony isn’t so much guilty about killing Chris as he is annoyed that everyone else cares so much. The characters on the show have always been intensely selfish, but I don’t know that it’s ever been taken to this extreme. Much of this season has been concerned with tearing down the mythology surrounding Tony and exposing him for the murderous thug that he is. Some people see this as a betrayal of the previous seasons, but I think it’s consistent with what’s always been there. Tony is no less interesting because we see him this way, if anything, it’s fascinating to watch the pull in this episode, as we’re subconsciously aligned with Tony because we know what he knows. I had some real sadness after Chris’s death, but as the episode went on, I became more interested in the way Tony was dealing with his lack of feeling.
Concurrent with this, we get an interesting parallel story with AJ, a story that reveals that, contrary to what we saw last week, AJ is not his father’s son, he still has a conscience, and a naïve wish that everyone could just get along. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him, or Meadow, fully interrogate their upbringing, in the way that Carmela had to interrogate her marriage in the early years of the show. The critical difference between what AJ saw last week and what happened this week was that this victim was an innocent, a guy who was just riding along and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He can’t support that, and it forces him to reassess his initial infatuation with the mob life. Notably, he seems to have more of an academic interest this time, the combination of Israel/Palestine and Wordsworth pointing him to a moment where he questions the world he’s been immersed in. Tony had to kill one ‘son’ because he got lost in the world of the mob, but things are looking better for AJ. Now, that could change quickly, but the contrast between AJ’s real moral trauma and concern for those beyond himself, and his father’s thorough self absorption was very telling.
Tony heads out to Vegas, escaping to the West Coast in a sequence that deliberately echoed his Kevin Finnerty dream that opened the season. Coming shortly after Chris questioning him about his stop and smell the roses attitude, it’s clear that Tony is hoping to return to the place he was right after the coma. The first person driving shots echo the opening titles, implying that Tony is moving into an alternate universe. There, no one knows him and he can sit alone, drinking at a bar. If the Kevin Finnerty story was purgatory, this seems to be hell, with everyone utterly disconnected from the world around them, Tony mechanically throwing chips down the roulette wheel.
He meets Sonya, a stripper Christopher used to have sex with. He likely chooses to meet her as a way of finding some closure about what happened. If he can engage with this part of Christopher’s life, talk to someone who knew him outside of a world where piety and respect for the dead are valued, maybe things will get better.
I love that they had Tony take peyote, once it came up, I was really hoping it would happen, and I love what happened when he did. The show has always had a strong philosophical and mystical component, Tony’s dreams guide him on a kind of subconscious level, and the sense I got here was that he was in touch with some deeper level of the universe. That’s what allowed him to do so well at roulette, he was working beyond his conscious mind, and in that transcendence, he was able to move beyond the surface concerns that have plagued him for the entire series. The stresses that drove him into therapy in the first place came from his business and his family, here he disconnects from all that, and is able to just get lost in the moment.
It’s even more liberating when he wanders out to this endless desert and sees the sun blink, echoing the Costa Mesa lighthouse. I feel like every peyote trip needs to end in the desert, but maybe that’s just Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and The Invisibles talking. Anyway, Tony yells out “I get it,” and seems to have a moment of revelation.
What is it that he gets? Does he remember the Kevin Finnerty episode, or is it something else? I can’t say for sure, we’ll have to wait until the next episodes to find out what he means, but the implication is that he has seen beyond the limits of his identity, and perhaps found a way out of this life. The fact that he constructed the Kevin Finnerty world in his mind implies that he has a strong desire to escape his life, and in this moment, maybe he sees a way. He spent the entire episode disgusted by the charade that is his world, it is in his break from society that he found a moment of happiness.
The flashing light always seemed to indicate the presence of death, and maybe Tony has come to terms with his own mortality. He refused to give up his identity and go to the ‘Finnerty family reunion,’ but now that fear may be gone. He treated Christopher’s death so lightly, after the agonizing surrounding Pussy and Tony B. If it’s that easy to kill, maybe it’s that easy to die.
I loved this episode, it’s shocking and thematically dense, everything a good Sopranos should be. I’d imagine the Peyote trip will have a lot more to look at once it becomes clear where Tony is going in the final three episodes, in the same way that Kevin Finnerty is only just now starting to become completely comprehensible.
I’d always imagined we’d end the series with Tony in a kind of purgatory, not particularly happy, but trapped in a prison of his own creation. Now, I’m not so sure, this ending has such an exuberance and freedom, I don’t think Tony’s back at “Everyday’s a gift,” I think he’s closer to “Fuck it all,” but in a good way. He’s seen the pettiness and falseness of those around him, can he go back to a world that’s all a pageant? It’s unclear, all I can say is that I hope this mystical component of things sticks around for the rest of the series, and we go out on a weird, wonderful note, like this episode did.
Monday, May 14, 2007
SERIOUS MAJOR SPOILERS