He Was The First To Go
by Molly Lambert
Well, they had to start somewhere I guess. I imagine this season of the Sopranos will fare better critically once it’s part of a boxed set. Seeing a character you’ve followed for eight seasons die is substantially different from watching people in a film die. No matter how well developed the characters are, you’ve only spent two hours with them.
This is why in a movie like The Departed, or alternately a show with really two-dimensional characters like 24, you can get away with more shock deaths. As in horror movies, you don’t necessarily have to set it up all that well and it can be very effective.
Now with The Sopranos, when you David Chase start getting ready to kill off characters, gearing up for the end of Hamlet style bloodbath we’re all anticipating, you know you really have to earn those deaths. Regarding recent allegations that Tony is acting out of character, I’d wager that between his near-death from the shooting and the fact that he’s gotten away with a lifetime of murder, Tony may be losing his shit slightly.
Why would he lose it now, rather than earlier? Isn’t the whole series just the drawn out documentation of this shit being lost? Well, it’s the last fucking season, for one. And as loveable as the characters are, it’s time to drive the point home that they are murdering assholes. So why not start with Chris, who is in some ways the most innocent because of his relative youth and being a weak lying drug addict.
Faced with the guilt, Tony turns to nihilism where Chris chose drugs. Tony seems to think Chris is weak i.e. “a pussy” for not being able to kick drugs and having so much regret about Adriana. Melfi would probably guess that Tony just did what he always does, which is aggressiveness as a form of denial. I’m not going to say it’s specifically male behavior to channel one’s emotions into frustrated rage instead of just having a monthly good cry to cleanse the pores.
But certainly this show is about masculinity and the damage that it does to everything when unchecked. More than ever, Tony and Paulie and Silvio resemble scarred and grizzled prehistoric animals, bears and lizards and sharks. Chris’s “weakness,” the quality that made him one of the most sympathetic characters on the show, is also present in A.J. who watches but (thank Christ) doesn’t get involved when his friends beat up an adorable jean-jacketed Somalian.
This whole closing arc feels great to me, I imagine I will end with this show more satisfied than you will ever be from Lost, with its shock deaths and all-powerful haunted houses, which by the way was also the way “Twin Peaks” copped out. “The Sopranos” has always been Shakespearean, but they’ve been moving elegantly towards this wintry end for a while now. Carmela’s trip to Europe with Rosalie Aprile was one of my favorite non-plot-advancing but extremely meditative episodes.
Not to mention they’re dumping the asbestos in the pond, where the ducks live, meaning Tony is now responsible for the ducks not coming back to his pool, therefore responsible for global warming! They also totally faked me out with that first Newhart-type waking up in bed with Carm scene. If Chris hadn’t still been dead, my TV would have been.
Nice moment in the funeral when they showed the Asian dude who killed a potential New York successor across the table from Silvio. That explains why they wanted Silvio there, to make it look like New Jersey wasn’t involved.
I also enjoyed the drugginess of this episode, referencing Scorsese’s The Departed use of Van Morrison covering Pink Floyd. I love this because it calls back Chris’s love of Scorsese (“Kundun! I liked it!”), the fact that the whole show is in some ways a great cover of Scorsese films and just because it references like eight things at once in historical pop culture, which gets me crazy wet.
I thought the peyote in Vegas thing was well done, down to Tony fucking Chris’s stoner lady-friend in an act of sublimated desire for Julianna Marguiles. Tony isolating himself completely to me says that he’s headed straight for Macbethville, as has been his trajectory over the course of the show. Age kills machismo, and denial only works for so long. Ask Phillip Roth!
Molly Lambert is this recording‘s senior contributor. She lives in Echo Park, California.