Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Sopranos - 'The Blue Comet' (6x20)

“The Blue Comet” is an interesting episode because it’s simultaneously exactly what you’d expect and totally unexpected. After Tony was shot I concluded that the show was not likely to go out with a bang, more likely we’d see Tony fade away, life go on. After the slow fade of last season’s finale, and even through the first couple of episodes of this season, I was still feeling that way, but starting with “Walk Like a Man,” everything changed and since that episode, we’ve been on a march to this point, with everything falling apart, to the point that this episode leaves Tony alone in a safehouse, all his close friends dead, separated from his family. It’s an apocalyptic episode and another masterpiece from Chase and his team.

The show has teased a New York/New Jersey war for a long time, from Tony’s betrayal of Johnny Sack in “Whitecaps” to the near war in last season’s “Kaisha,” and after the buildup last week, I was hoping that he wouldn’t stop things before they started again. This entire season has had a feeling of dread, and this episode took it to almost unbearable levels. The opening scene, with Silvio murdering Burt Gervasi set up that this was going to be a big episode, though I was a bit unclear who he was murdering.

Being near the end of a series makes every threat a bit more real. Last season, you’d never have thought that Phil really might take out the top guys in Tony’s crew, now, it’s a real possibility, and as Bobby walked into that train store, he was already dead, it was just about waiting for it to happen. Things were so bad after Silvio died that I legitimately thought Tony might go.

On a thematic level, the episode integrates a lot of things that have been going on under the surface for a while. Phil says that he needs to take out Tony Soprano’s “glorified crew” because they don’t really believe in the mythology of the mafia. It is the ritual that makes them more than gangsters, the ritual is the reason Phil spent time in prison, and if that’s meaningless, then so is his time in prison. That’s also why Tony isn’t a “real” gangster, Phil mentions his lack of jail time here and shut Tony down with it last episode with his already classic speech about compromising.

The entire show has been about Tony’s inability to live up to his father and cinema’s image of what a mobster should be. Now, Phil cracks on his team, marveling at the fact that Bobby is one of the top three guys. After the death of Sil and Bobby, Paulie is Tony’s only ally, and he’s constantly shown himself to be selfish, oblivious to the needs of others. Tony is left with basically no one, sitting alone in a room, holding a machine gun.

It’s almost surreal to have these murders actually happening. While I think Chase needed to pay off all this buildup, I do think it’s a bit of a resignation to go down this road. I had come to terms with the fact that the show wasn’t going to have a big ending, and it’s a surprise to see this happen. I would have liked to see Chase screw with people one final time and throw out a big dream sequence or something like that at the close, but this payoff is certainly better than something like “Kaisha.”

The dissolution of Tony’s crew fits with one of the central themes of the series, the decline of the mafia. Even if Tony survives and either kills Phil or negotiates a peace settlement, he’s got no one left. All his successors are dead. It’s just a bunch of random thugs left, no one to carry the legacy. Can Tony run things like this, how will it work? The only person I could see stepping up to follow him would be Meadow, but I don’t think protocol would allow that.

On a familial level, we see Tony pushing away from him. He’s too much of a target, and now the only way to protect his family is to leave them. It felt final when they left the house, like they’ll never be back there. I do like the implications of him abandoning his suburban mansion to go back to an old neighborhood style house.

This episode also sees AJ fail another test. I’m perhaps most curious to see how his story resolves. He seems completely incapable of dealing with the world, will this latest outburst from Tony get him back on track or push him completely away? His arc this season has been phenomenal, here we see Tony finally treating AJ like his parents treated him, harsh, stripping him of his autonomy. He clearly blames Carmela for what happened to him and he’s trying to reverse some of that now.

This comes up in the fantastic Melfi scene, where she finishes his sentences as he goes through a rote list of complaints. She’s so cold there, I was fearing for her. Tony respects her too much to hurt her, but he is hurt by her abandonment of him at such a low point. It is questionable of her to dump him so suddenly, but that study clearly pointed out what was always apparent, that her work was helping him be a better criminal. Does someone like Tony deserve to be helped? Wouldn’t ‘progress’ only make him worse? Melfi never seemed to think that she could save him, and she must have known that much of what she said led to violence. I always thought she was complicit in that, maybe she didn’t realize how much she was until Elliot told her.

I’m guessing that’s the last time we’ll see Melfi, barring some kind of closing montage with all the characters, and it’s a great way to go out. She realizes that her work isn’t going anywhere, and that by treating him, she is in some ways complicit in what he’s doing. She tried to help him, but he wound up saying the same things and not facing up to the basic morality of his life. Unable to do that, she has a right to let him go.

The scene with Janice and Bobby’s kids was heartbreaking because Janice wasn’t reacting how we’d expect her to. It was just quiet sadness, driving home that for all the over the top cool of his murder, what’s left is three kids who will be raised by someone who will resent them and hurt them. Bobby’s kids in particular will be scarred by these next few years. We’ve already seen Janice turning into her mother in “Soprano Home Movies,” this will only make things worse.

While that scene really got to me, the deaths themselves were curiously lacking in emotion. I think it’s because we were so aware of the impending death, it was almost a relief when it happened. Particularly in Bobby’s scene, the minute he walked into train shop, I knew he was gone, and it was excruciating sitting there, wondering when it would come. Christopher’s death was like that as well, he was on such a downward spiral, the death felt like an inevitability, not a surprise. There were moments of sadness surrounding all the deaths, but never in the traditional sappy way most TV shows do it.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about this episode is that it feels like a second to last episode. There’s a lot still up in the air, but this was the 84th piece of an 85 piece story. Ever since “Walk Like a Man,” the show has been as good as anything to ever air on TV or in the movies. It’s incredibly tense and perfectly focused on what matters. It’s hard to believe, but AJ has become one of the best characters on the show and Tony remains intensely fascinating. I really can’t wait to see what Chase does with the final chapter.


manynote said...

Just a couple of nits/points of information:

1. Sil didn't die, but the last we heard from the doctors was that he would probably never regain consciousness.

2. FWIW, I heard somewhere (wish I could remember where--I think some review discussing Melfi's professional ethics) that Melfi is supposed to appear in the final episode.

Patrick said...

I'm assuming Sil will die next episode, but it is possible he'd linger on in a coma, a fitting metaphor for what's happened to the mafia. I'd be curious to see what Melfi will do next week, I figured she was done with Tony, but if he does die or get arrested, a scene with her reaction would be interesting.

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