Saturday, May 19, 2007

Weekend Update

A New Blog Order

Well, as you might have noticed, The Invisibles blog series has concluded. I think it was successful, I learned a lot about the series, and had a lot of fun reading it through again. I was looking up some Invisibles stuff on Google and kept finding my own posts, so hopefully it will stand as a long term resource for people reading through the series. I'm going to make an index page for easy linking. Along with the end of The Invisibles, we're approaching the end of another long term project, the Babylon 5 blog series. I've got two more on Crusade and then one on Legend of the Rangers, then that's over. And, for the first time since November, I'll have no long term blog project. What this means is I can write up more films and general stuff, get back to the way things were before 2007. I know I have some people who haven't read The Invisibles or watched B5, and all I can say is keep the RSS feed, we'll be getting some more stuff of general interest coming up.

Concerts

Part of that will be a lot more concerts. I'll be back in New York starting next week, and have a bunch of shows lined up for the next couple of weeks. I can get into a bunch of shows free due to my Blog Critics writing, so I'll be able to go to even more than I normally would. Here's my upcoming agenda...

5/31 - !!! @ Studio B
6/1 - Cansei de Ser Sexy @ Irving Plaza
6/5 - The Pipettes @ Highline Ballroom
7/1 - The Polyphonic Spree @ Warsaw
7/4 - The New Pornographers @ Battery Park
7/20 - DJ Tiesto @ Hammerstein
8/9 - Daft Punk @ Coney Island

And I'm sure there'll be a bunch more in there as stuff comes up.

Series Enders

Two series that I've blogged about here in the past have come to an end, Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, both have fallen from my esteem this season. Veronica never actually had that much of my esteem, I watched the first two seasons on DVD, where they flowed smoothly and had enough momentum to bring me to the conclusion. But, this year I lost track of things and stopped watching around midseason. I have no particular desire to see the rest, and am not sad to see the show cancelled. Honestly, you can't say they didn't give a chance. Any show that makes it to three seasons and doesn't catch on can probably go. And, this isn't a case like Arrested Development where it got awful time slot shuffling. They put it after the highest rated show on the network and it still didn't make it.

As for Gilmore Girls, I've seen through episode 16 of the season, and will likely finish it soon. But, it just doesn't feel like the same show without the Palladinos, and as such, the show I knew ended last season. I'm one of the few people who loved season six of the show, and I'd have loved to see where the Palladinos planned to take things. Oh well, at least the show had a good run. When I do finish it up, I'll write up the last couple and give some reflections on the series as a whole.

The Invisibles: Our Sentence is Up.

May 2002: I am seventeen, a junior in high school, I buy the first Invisibles trade, Say You Want a Revolution. I read it, and buy the next one soon after. In chemistry class, I look up reviews of the series from when it was released. ‘Best Man Fall’ hooks me, this series is something special.

November 2002: I finish the series, six issues in one night. I will spend the next six months processing what I read, spreading the series around and figuring it out.

May 17, 2003: I am with my friends Brian, Jon and Jordan. We have just seen The Matrix: Reloaded, and stay up late talking about the film and how it relates to The Invisibles. I have just finished high school, just read From Hell, I am full of ideas.

November 2003: We meet again, first time I’ve seen them since going off to school. We meditate, trance. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing something genuinely magical and profound. We talk about the series and life until 5 AM. This marks the end of the series’ possession of my consciousness. I still love it, and it impacts on me, but not in the way it did for a year after finishing it.

May 17, 2007: I finish reading the series for the third time. Those final pages still have a mystery about them, I am once again awed by what Grant has done with the series.

May 19, 2007: It’s my birthday. I am twenty-two years old. In ten days, I will graduate from college. I am writing the final post in my sixty post long analysis of The Invisibles. It goes like this…

Understanding The Invisibles requires a different approach than most texts, one that I don’t think most people are prepared for. I certainly wasn’t ready for what it would do to me, the way it would dominate my thoughts. I thought of fiction as entertainment, it can inspire you, but I never thought it could change you. This one did, but it also taught me that a lot of fiction is about what you put into it. The deeper you dig, the more layers you reveal. The first time through, I had to dig deep just to understand the series, to fit all the pieces together.

The second time I read the whole series, it didn’t make as big an impact. Part of it was that I had mythologized it in my mind, built it up as the greatest thing ever, and no book could live up to that, even the greatest thing ever. That’s why I chose to blog each issue this time through, so that I would reinterrogate the series, examine the pieces that baffled me the first time, and look at it close, like a first time reader. It’s been a lot of fun to do, and I think it’s helped me get a better understanding of the series, and its relation to who I am at this moment in time.

To wrap things up, I’ll take a quick jaunt through ‘And We’re All Policemen,” the short story that follows King Mob into the supercontext. This isn’t my favorite piece of The Invisibles, it’s basically an extended Gideon Stargrave fantasy, but one that lacks the condensed cool of the ‘Entropy in the UK’ stuff.

The entire universe we see here is generated in the moments between King Mob’s embrace of Robin and his submersion into the collective reality of the supercontext. This is what he paints onto his blank canvas for the farewell to his own individuality. In ‘Arcadia,’ King Mob claimed that their goal is to make it so that everyone gets the world they want. This is what that’s all about, everyone passes to the same supercontext, but they do it in a way that’s pleasing to them.

For King Mob, that fantasy is a hyperpop sci-fi world of beautiful women who can do anything he wants, media saturated in a liberated hypersexuality, total freedom to be pop and fun. Here, the authority figures are pompous and absurd, weird stuff happens and no one particularly cares. That’s just the way things are. And, as the world ends, giant models stalk the city and the world adores him, flashbulbs bringing about an apocalypse that ushers him into the supercontext, but not before one more moment with Robin.

It’s got some fun moments, but ultimately is a bit too media saturated to be enjoyable. You spend so much time reading these captions that you never get to settle into reality. Of course, that could be a reflection of what King Mob wants, and in that respect, more power to him. If King Mob’s fantasy ends in these flashbulbs, it’s likely that what we see at the end of 3.1 is actually Jack’s entry into the supercontext, just blank, snow falling and a return to Barbelith. He doesn’t have the same shallow desires as everyone else, he just wants to return home.

That’s where all the characters end, wherever you want them to, at least until the possible Invisibles followup book Grant’s mentioned a couple of time. I’d love to see all the characters one more time, in something along the line of Sandman’s Endless Nights. That book was ultimately not that satisfying, primarily because we didn’t know the Endless that well, so it was just a bunch of short stories. Those kind of reunion projects work best with developed characters, and there’s countless people in The Invisibles I’d love to see again. I’d love to see more of Jack and Fanny making their cell, I’d love to see more with Edith, particularly between the 20s and her old age, I’d love to see some Division X, some stuff with Mason and Robin in 2009. There’s a lot of stuff there that he could fill in, and from a meta level, it’d be interesting to consider the impact of the series on the world as a whole.

I think the great difficulty with applying the series to reality is the intrusion of 9/11 into our culture. That brought about this period of conservatism and us/them logic that we’re still struggling to overcome. Look at Bush, nearly everything he says is Archon rhetoric. Doesn’t he know that there is no war, those terrorists, they’re us, and the only way to beat them is to love them and make it so they’re not our enemies anymore. Look at the other perspective and try to change things, not erase them.

Much of Morrison’s post Invisibles work is concerned with exploring the post 9/11 world. The day glo optimism of this series and Flex Mentallo is replaced by the overwhelming confusion and trauma of The Filth. But, after the tremulous odyssey through The Filth, we find out that what we have to do is take the shit and spread it on our flowers. All that cultural pain can help us grow, that’s the message that’s always been in The Invisibles. And, even if we don’t make it there by 2012, we still are moving closer to the oneness of the supercontext.

Morrison’s two major works post Invisibles are New X-Men and Seven Soldiers. New X-Men is basically The Invisibles set in the Marvel universe, with the cutting edge people guiding society into a new, better world. Jean Grey is the Marvel version of Robin, and like Robin, she merges into a larger ultradimensional entity, the Phoenix force. New X-Men shows us another group that isn’t about war, it’s about rescuing the enemy, and everything concludes with a vast attack against old world order, clearing the slate for something new.

Seven Soldiers is a work that’s dazzling in its scope and ambition. It takes a lot of the meta exploration of The Invisibles, and filters it through various aspects of the DCU. The Invisibles was critical because it set up a framework to view Morrison’s work through. The concepts of The Invisibles help us understand everything that comes after, and in general, his post Invisibles work is more ambitious and challenging than what came before. Animal Man, while great, is fairly simple in its fiction/reality dichotomy. His world is written by Morrison, and Morrison saves him in the end. In Zatanna, she breaks through to this element of reality, but it’s only one piece of a much larger canvas. Seven Soldiers is brilliant, and features some of Grant’s best writing. It continues to refine his themes, clarifying the nature of the third path between two extremes, and keeping with the parent/child issues of The Invisibles. Every generation can choose its own way.

It’s amazing to think about just how much work Grant has done. Someone like Joss Whedon did three TV series, a huge body of work, but Grant has done seven significant ongoing series, and countless other minis. He’s putting out three new books a month, and rarely repeats himself. David Lynch makes one movie every five years, and uses the same themes and settings again and again. Morrison uses similar stuff, but filters it through so many different worldviews and genres. Seven Soldiers alone has more ideas than other writers have in their entire career. The sheer amount of new Grant work we have kind of spoils the audience, and it’s good to step back and appreciate the scope and ambition of his career as a whole.

One day, Morrison will be recognized as the brilliant writer and philosopher that he is. In the same way that Philip K. Dick has been given a critical reevaluation, people will look at Morrison’s body of work and see the best writing ever done in the medium. Not only is he a great storyteller, he’s also exploring philosophy and magic in a totally groundbreaking way. After reading The Invisibles, it’s impossible to read something like Nausea because Sartre isn’t giving us the pop cool to help the philosophy go down. His stuff isn’t going to stand next to Morrison’s shiny imagery and cool, progressive concepts.

Ultimately, the thing I love about The Invisibles is its positive creative energy. So much of our world is doom and gloom, people constantly complaining about the work they have to do, that their job sucks, etc. I say I have to go edit my movie, and people are like oh, that sucks. No it doesn’t! I love editing my movie, and I try to love everything I do. Stop bitching about your life, if you don’t enjoy what you do, stop doing it. Our world has so much wonder in it, and The Invisibles helped me to appreciate that. There is no value in knee-jerk cynicism. We can create any world we like, so take responsibility for yourself and start inventing something great.

The world as a whole might go to shit, but you can change the world around you, and spread that change. It’s what Grant did with the book, he invented the world he wanted and found himself living in it. Was he deluding himself, was there real magic at work? It doesn’t matter, magic is just a way of seeing things, of giving your life meaning rather than viewing it as a disconnected series of meaningless events. Everything has meaning because we can imbue it with meaning, and it’s only the oppressive old social order that can deprive you of that. But, they have no sway over you. Our world is open for the taking, we can invent anything we want and live it if we just believe and act to that end. They can’t hold us, our sentence is up.

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Invisibles Vol. 3 #1: 'Glitterdammerung!'

‘Glitterdammerung!’ is an issue of superlatives, the best issue of the best comic series ever, written by the best writer ever and drawn by the best comics artist ever. After the substandard art of the jam issues, it’s shocking to be back to the coherent universe of Quitely’s beautiful pencils, creating an entire future society in the space of these 22 pages. He owns the characters in their final appearance.

The thing I love about Quitely’s art is the way he renders space. A lot of artists can make beautiful pictures, but few can create fully functional 3-D environments for the characters to move through. There’s so much depth and reality in what he draws, you can spend hours just marveling at the page construction. And, I love the aesthetic of his art, the slightly grimy pop style he brings to the people, they may not be as pretty as Jiminez’s cast of models, but they’ve got a lot of character, particularly evident on the wonderful title double page spread. ...

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Invisibles Vol. 3 #2: 'The Invisible Kingdom: Part 3: The Moment of the Blitz"

‘The Moment of the Blitz’ is an issue that is in theory the climax of the entire series, but doesn’t really feel like it. There’s not much tension, and the moment where Jack defeats the Archon is unfortunately botched due to the art, but from a philosophical point of view, this issue is full of great stuff. And ultimately, it just feels alive with an approaching future. It’s a great issue, and a suitable finale to the series proper....

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Holy Mountain

I’d been looking forward to seeing The Holy Mountain for a while now. Jodorowsky is a noted surrealist filmmaker, and gets a lot of comparisons to Lynch, add in the 60s counterculture aesthetic and this sounded like a film I would thoroughly enjoy. Unfortunately, the film is almost absurdly self indulgent, spending too much of its time on an obsessive challenging of the religious establishment, and not enough on the more interesting themes that occupy its second half. There’s a lot of really great stuff here, but the film as a whole only makes it to good.

The clear predecessor of Jodorowsky is Luis Bunuel. The Age D’Or, and Un Chien Andalou have much in common with the first half hour or so of this film, as Jodorowsky riffs on religious imagery with such classic sights as an army of plaster Jesuses and a transvestite Mary. Maybe it was a different time in 1973, or perhaps I’m just jaded, but this stuff doesn’t seem too shocking, and it doesn’t have that much substance. So, it’s ultimately a not particularly exciting opening to the film. Now, the first couple of minutes, where a monk shaves women’s’ hair off, that was striking, the plaster crucifix stuff, not so much.

I did enjoy the recreation of conquistadors with frogs, but ultimately this is just a bunch of images that have no particular connection to each other. Now, the images are amazing. Throughout the film, Jodorowsky’s creates this wonderful environments that are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, pop art words that you can get lost in. You could take any single frame of this movie and it would be a beautiful picture, a marvel of image and composition. But, unlike in the best films, these images don’t really gain anything from being placed in succession. Because there’s no emotional connection, or any sort of narrative build, most of the time it remains simply a series of beautiful images, and that’s not quite enough to be entertaining for 115 minutes.

I think the best way to improve this film would be to trim the beginning and start things up once the Thief meets the Alchemist, and is given his quest for immortality. That would give the film a drive and direction that was otherwise lacking. I’m not saying that a narrative is needed, it’s just we need some kind of throughline to guide us through this weird world. People criticized Lynch’s Inland Empire for being a nonsensical mess, but even if the narrative sometimes doesn’t make sense, we always have Laura Dern’s performance to anchor us in an emotional reality. The closest we get to a strong central presence here is the Alchemist, whose cryptic philosophical nuggets provide a kind of guidance to the themes Jodorowsky is exploring.

The film starts to pick up when we reach the segment with the people who represent various planets. Yes, it’s a bit goofy to have lines like “My name is Kel and my planet is Venus,” but I enjoy the trip to various odd fantasy worlds that each of these characters incarnate. There’s a lot of 60s countercultural ideas here, but people who say this film is dated ignore the fact that his points are still valid, we just stopped seeing their validity. Particularly relevant to today is the section about how the government uses the media to indoctrinate younger generations to hate specific groups, in this case, Peruvians. Also interesting was the cosmetics manufacturer, who made entirely new faces for people to wear. I love these concepts, and this chunk of the film was a succession of interesting ideas.

From there, they coalesce into a band of travelers and set out for the mountain itself. I love the sequence in the room that looks like an eye from above, where everyone burns their money and a replica of themselves. Much of Jodorowsky’s thematic concern centers around the transience of identity. Because he looks like Jesus, the thief is turned into a plastic Jesus. By burning that plastic representation, is he destroying his identity?

From there, it’s off the mountain itself. This section of the film features more weirdness, as the Thief meets up with a prostitute and a monkey, then abandons the quest. I suppose Jodorowsky’s point here is that immortality is best found in connections with other people. The lonely trekking existence of the group is meaningless next to the potential relationship between two people.

The film ends in a gloriously meta moment, as Jodorowsky orders the camera back revealing the artifice, and then says “Real life awaits us.” Having spent a couple of months reading The Invisibles, my obvious connection is to Morrison’s work. When he says “real life awaits us,” he’s talking equally about the characters, the audience and the actors themselves. The film is finished and all the people involved can leave this fantasy behind and go back to their real lives, as can the audience. Within the world of the film, the characters’ story is at an end, but they will now be carried off in the minds of the audience, out into our reality. It’s a strong ending, and feels right at that moment.

Ultimately, the film’s second half works really well, and this could have been a true masterpiece if Jodorowsky had tightened up the beginning and connected it to the overall theme a little better. I’m not saying it should have been a traditional narrative, rather having some kind of focus would have given us a better context for understanding the opening pieces. And, I can’t get beyond thinking that they’re just lashing out at religious icons for no particular reason other than shock value.

But, once the film gets rolling, he gives us a series of images, moments and ideas that rank among the most dazzling I’ve seen in cinema. It’s a deeply flawed film, but I’d rather watch a movie like this than a perfectly executed Hollywood film that doesn’t try to do much. I always prefer a self indulgent mess like this to a competent, but uninspiring film. The closest analogue to this film that I can think of in recent times is Funky Forest, a Japanese film that features a similarly surreal mesh of scenes and ideas. Even though you’re not going to see a lot of movies like this, it’s great that they’re out there, and I really respect Jodorowsky for making a film that is such a single minded vision.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Invisibles Vol. 3 #3: 'The Invisible Kingdom: Part 2: Goodbye Rag'

We move closer towards the inevitable end with another strong issue, though one that suffers more from art related troubles than its predecessor. This issue is a classic act two, putting our heroes in jeopardy, at their lowest point before the great rebirth that will soon follow in issue 2. Of course, there’s never any doubt about whether they’ll win, by page 3, King Mob reveals that “I just saved the world.”...

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!

The Invisibles Vol. 3 #4: 'The Invisible Kingdom: Part 1: Planet Stepford'

We begin the troubled final arc with an issue that isn’t actually that troubled. I remember the first time I read the art jam issues I was furious, the inexplicable changes in style made no sense, and were particularly tough to take after the wonderful consistency of Jiminez and Weston in Volume II. Why were we subjected to this awful mashup of styles, mostly from artists who didn’t make much of an impact on the series in the first place? While I’ve come around a bit on the concept, mainly because I’ve just accepted it as what is, the art jam remains frustrating. I think a better approach would have been to give the three biggest artists from the series’ run, Jiminez, Weston and either Yeowell or Thompson one issue each, or split up the story threads between them. The jam works okay when there’s a logic behind the art changes, it only falls apart when things shift within a scene, the continuity suffers and the emotion of the story decreases. Even Grant claims that it was a failure, but I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time....

I've taken down my posts on The Invisibles because they're all coming out in book form. The book, Our Sentence is Up, features revised and expanded versions of each blog post, covering every issue of The Invisibles, plus an extensive interview with Morrison himself. Visit your local comic store and order a copy now!

Monday, May 14, 2007

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

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 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.