Monday, May 14, 2007

The Sopranos - 'Kennedy and Heidi' (6x18)


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 na├»ve 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.


Anonymous said...

Hmm...I thought that Tony said "I did it!" at the end... perhaps I misheard it...

Patrick said...

From the HBO summary: "One of Stefano's trucks pulls up to a marsh and dumps a load of asbestos. Meanwhile, Tony and Sonya have driven out to park overlooking a stunning desert canyon. Standing at the edge of the world Tony shouts out: "I get it!"

Though, when I watched the episode again last night, it sounded more like "I did it," so it may be deliberately ambiguous. Either way, it was a phenomnal episode, really layered and just as strong on the second viewing as it was on the first.

Joe said...

Heidi and Kennedy

Tony is descending into heaven/hell or in a Coma

After the car accident, Chris was dead, but did Tony REALLY walk away from the accident with nothing but a few bruises on the face? After the vehicle flips 7 maybe 8 times maybe 1500 feet from the road, Tony really isn’t in critical condition? many people question Tony’s motive for killing Chris. Tony suspects something of Chris (drug use) as he stares at him in the car, blasting Pink Floyd’s comfortably numb “I cannot put my finger on it now./The child is grown, the dream is gone./I have become comfortably numb.” (The same song Tony is singing as he walks down the steps of his house in ‘Chasing it’. Chris admits he can’t pass a drug test as Tony gets up and sees his opportunity to dispose of Chris, the man who was apparently a tremendous drag on Tony’s emotions ... on his thoughts about the future, a weak, fucking sniveling, lying drug addict, the “biggest blunder” of Tony’s career. Tony goes so far to say that every morning Tony would wake up thinking, "Is today the day one of my best friends is gonna dime me to the FBI?" Tony’s grown colder than ever and reveals the paranoid, selfish monster he has become by making sure Christopher dies. Tony has plenty of time to call Carmella after the accident but doesn’t. By the time they reached the wreck, and Tony is in the hospital it must have been well over an hour he doesn’t inform Carm. Then the hospital calls the house for Tony (symbolic?). Later on at the wake Tony won’t go up to pray over his nephew, and twice says he’ll go up later, which, to our knowledge, he never does. At the wake Tony says to Carm. "I'll go up later, save my seat for someone else". I don’t think he’s talking about the wake. At little Anthony’s psychiatrist session the doctor asks how he’s handling it, not specifically mentioning what or whom. Just before Tony’s trip or journey to what we and Tony believe is Vegas, he is watching the family speak about how sad death is, from up above on his balcony, again I believe very symbolic. Tony makes a call to his Vegas connect asking for a suite, for him, coming solo, which Alan responds: “We’ll see what we can do about that.” When ever Tony goes away, there is packing and preparation for it before hand, which he’s packing or Carmella does some for him, or some good bye’s this isn’t done. Tony doesn’t say good bye to his Carmella, AJ, medow or anyone for that matter. He doesn’t inform Sil or any of the others he’s going to be away either about his journey to, what I believe is his after life, not Vegas. First it is extremely uncharacteristic of Tony to leave alone, he isn’t one to go by himself, but with that aside, does anybody notice what he is wearing on the plane? He’s wearing a considerable eloquent suit. Tony doesn’t travel dressed like that, he normally looks like a bum, with Hawaiian shirt and wife beaters on. I can’t come up with a good reason why he would leave the area at this time. He isn’t grieving over Chris and just lost the money Chris would be bringing in. What we are to believe is that he is upset with everyone because they are grieving which makes him feel like a hypocrite. Does Tony REALLY skip Chris’s funeral? Nucci’s as well? Doesn’t seem logical to me. Going out to Vegas, which he mention him self he rarely does, is not just dumb, but unsafe. If Phil, the only one happier than Tony that Chris is dead, was aware of Tony being away, especially alone, he would have done something major back home or had Tony killed out in Vegas. Tony simply would be making a mistake if he actually was in Vegas. Tony does occasional gambling but not before this season has he made big bets every week. Personally, I don’t believe that he has the pull to be sent out there on a private jet, shrimp cocktail, red wine etc. Symbolically there was no one else shown on the plane, not pilot, no waitress, not stewardess. Tony then looks out at the world from above. Tony then eats dinner there completely alone, and doesn’t say a word to anyone in Vegas until he finds Sonya. Once there, Tony indulges in all of Chris’s pleasures of drugs, and even one of his women. When Tony goes to see Sonya, to inform of Chris’s death, she asks how long he’ll be staying, which Tony replies with he isn’t sure we’ll see how it plays out (something along those lines. This response is eerily similar to that of when he is in the coma at the beginning of the season and is asked the same question. Also during the Cosa Messa trip Tony is near hell with all the brush fires. While taking the Peyote, he is surrounded by candles (fire). After taking peyote with the beautiful stripper, Sonya, he suddenly is vomiting (much like he would be in a coma) and then stares at the bathroom light (hospital light anyone? Maybe symbol of heaven?). The two make their way down to the casino, stoned, where Tony is fixated on an image of a smiling devil, (Hell?). When entering the casino the only readable slot machine reads "pompei" city of Italy that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius volcano, than begins gambling. Tony is winning every bet he makes, and winning big. Again looking back at “Chasing It”, Tony who is every upset with Carlo for not running the construction job as profitably as Vito was, cuts him off while talking about a twilight zone episode with a thug named valentine. Apparently referring to episode 28 of the twilight zone, “A Nice Place to Visit”. It is about a thug named Rocky Valentine who is shot and killed. He later awakes in an afterlife that he assumes is heaven, where he is granted every wish. He has every woman, everyone thinks he’s wonderful and every bet placed is a winner. Valentine becomes very bored of this and asks to be sent to the “other place” (referring to hell) only to be told “This is the other place.” Tony very similarly is winning every bet and has a beautiful girl with him. Lastly the Sun over the canyon must have significance as well. It shimmers just before Tony “Gets it”. Possibly heaven, possibly a light from a doctor over the coma-ridden boss.

• After Tony suffocate Christopher with his own blood, and the cold blooded killer look in his eyes, he looks down at his hands and sees that he has Chris’s blood on his hands. Which is an idiom to be responsible for someone’s death.
• Tony is extremely jealous of Chris, always desiring his women and apparently some of his drug use. No surprise after not being able to fully have Adriana or Juliana he makes another attempt with Sonya

Patrick said...

I don't think Chase would have Tony be in a coma, that's not the kind of trick he likes to pull, and it would have people furious. But, I think he's definitely caught between heaven and hell, and there's clear callbacks to both the Finnerty dream and the Twilight Zone episode you mentioned. I've got to hunt that one down.

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