Monday, April 16, 2007

HBO Sunday Night Review: The Sopranos

Season 6, PT II, Episode #79: "Stage 5"

Summary: I call this episode Fall Out Boy. Christopher's movie is ready to drop, but the similarities between life & art could have a devastating effect on his relationship with Tony.

I decided to split up my HBO Sunday Night Review into two separate parts, one for each show. The reasons behind this include the diversity between the programs-one is a cold, hard drama while the other is a fluffy, frat boy partyfest; the fact that some people do not watch both shows, so separating the reviews makes it easier to pick which show they want to read about; and last but not least it will cut down my post from "War & Peace"-esque to more palatable portions.

Last night's Sopranos episode, which can be classified as the 79th in series history, the 2nd of the second half of the last season, or the 8th-to-last episode ever, wove a complex tale similar to last week's episode, and taking them both together it appears that creator David Chase is weaving many threads into a large, all-encompassing blanket of finality.

The intersection of real life & celebrity was an underlying theme in this episode

While last week the Tony/Janice/Bobby dynamic was examined, this week was all about Tony's relationship with prodigal (almost) son Christopher. The ep begins with a scene from Chrissy's recently completed mob-slasher flick, "Cleaver." Highly-respected thespian Daniel Baldwin is playing the role of Sally Boy, a hotheaded mob boss who has betrayed and been betrayed by his right-hand man, whose actual right hand has been replaced by a meat cleaver. The bloody scene ends with Cleaver splitting Sally Boy's head open with his appendage, and the bitter seeds of betrayal are planted in everyone's minds.

From there we are put in a doctors office with a frighteningly gaunt & balding Johnny Sack. It appears that on top of his 15-year prison sentence he has also been sentenced to death by lung cancer, although "ironically" he quit smoking after 38 years upon his incarceration (like it wasn't gonna catch up to him!) The specialist he has been allowed to fly and consult with gives him the grim news that the chemo & meds have not been able to stop the cancer form spreading to his brain, and the prognosis he gives the former dapper don is grim: he's only got 3 months to live.

(side note: it is a tribute to the acting skills of Vincent Curatola that I did not give a shit that the guy had been given a death sentence. Usually witnessing a scene like that will evoke painful memories or feelings, but for Johnny Sack, I felt no remorse; kudos, Mr. Curatola!)

Back home Johnny encounters a hospital volunteer named Manny (a great cameo by famed director Sidney Pollack), a former oncologist serving time for murdering his wife, who disagrees with the expert's diagnosis and says he believes he might have a year or more. Either way it's now obvious that the New York family will need a new leader.

But where will that leadership come from? The underwhelming choices come from cranky & reluctant Phil Leotardo, young & inexperienced front runner Gerry Torciano, old-school asshole Doc Santoro, and passive lughead Carmine Lupertazzi, who is more interested in making movies with Chrissy than taking over the business.

Meanwhile Tony is dealing with his son's bitchy girlfriend and a troubling early morning visit from his FBI agent buddy; the Feds are looking for any information on terrorist activities Tony can give them, which Tony shrugs off by saying "I think there's a word for that." But Agent Harris drops an interesting clue before departing; upon asking for Tony's help, he says "it's the same pitch we gave Christopher Moltisanti, maybe he never mentioned it." Ah, cue that foreshadowing music please!

At the Cleaver screening everyone and their brothers are there, and this is where the episode took off. The scene on the screen features Sally Boy in a robe in the basement of his house, conducting a heated meeting which ends with him throwing a jar of nails against the wall. "That's you" Carm whispers to Tony, who grins an 'aw shucks, no way' smile then basks in the thought of being immortalized on the big screen. But when the boss beds the fiancee of his trusted protege, the parallels between the two men becomes less flattering.

And therein lies the crux of the problem; when Carm later tells Tony that everyone (well, Ro at least) thought that the similarity between the film and his alleged affair with Adriana was not coincidental, a light starts to dawn in Tony's head. As Tony protests that "it's just a movie", Carm shoots back with "it's a revenge fantasy, Tony, which ends with the boss' head being split open with a meat cleaver." Hmmmm.

Cut to Dr. Melfi's first appearance of the season, and Tony spilling his guts to her about his feelings for Christopher. "All I did for this fucking kid and he hates me so much; it's pretty obvious he wants to see me dead."

Is it possible that on some level you're reading too much into this?" she asks him.

"I've been coming here for years, I know too much about the subconscious now." Great. Line.

So the seeds are sewn for a revenge fantasy to play out within the family as well as the movie-within-the-show. As the episode concludes Johnny Sack passes away, his successor Gerry is gunned down in a Godfather tribute scene while dining with Sil, and with Christopher's new baby getting baptised; Tony, the apparent Godfather, hugs Chrissy in a forlorn embrace. I got chills realizing that might be the last time the two of them ever share a friendly moment together again, and for that I almost did shed a tear.

There's a line in the scene at the Cleaver after party when Tony tells Christopher how important it was that he made the movie, and it was almost as if David Chase were trying to speak to the audience directly:

"One hundred years from now when were dead & gone, people will be watching this fucking thing."

You're absolutely right, Mr. Chase.

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