Monday, April 30, 2007

HBO Sunday Night: The Sopranos

Episode 81: "Chasing It"

T's gambling addiction, hinted at last week, comes front & center this week

" I survived a gunshot wound, so when you think of it, big picture-wise, I'm up. Way up."-Tony to Carmela

While David Chase leads us down the trail of this short, sad swan song season, we have been introduced to a myriad of potential ways that Tony Soprano could meet his ultimate fate, assuming that means either incarceration or death.

  • Disgruntled captains?

Paulie, Bobby & Christopher- check.

  • Trigger-happy enemies?

Phil Leotardo- check.

  • Irate family members?

Uncle June, Janice, Carm- check.

  • Federal indictments?

Two-year old gun charge/ 25-year-old murder case- check

Heck I wouldn't even be surprised if that hot-tempered hot tomato Charmaine Bucco came back from television purgatory and sliced Tony's throat with a bread knife after serving him a plate of bigoli.

But the idea proposed out of left field last night left me wondering if I was watching the award-winning mob drama or an episode from season 2 of Lost. As Tony's sudden, crippling gambling addiction unfolded, I kept waiting for a rotund Mexican dude and the guy from Lord of the Rings to appear and start searching all of North Jersey for a Tony-sized hatch.

As the series winds down it's become crystal clear that Chase is living up to his surname; he's leaving us a bushel full of red herrings hinting at many possible scenarios involving the burly anti-hero, seemingly so that when the time comes everyone can say "I knew it was going to happen that way, 'cause remember when Tony and ..."

Wait a minute, 'remember when' was last week's theme, when it was proposed that Paulie could be the mole that sinks Tony's ass. The week before it was Uncle Junior, hopped up on meds and carrying a grudge against his nephew for the situation he is in. The week before that it was a disrespectful Christopher portraying the boss in an unfavorable light up on the big screen that provided grist for a possible T./Chrissy showdown. And in the first episode brother-in-law/under earner Bobby Baccala certainly proved to be an enemy of Tony after their WWE match at the lake house.

Now we can add degenerate gambling to the laundry list of culprits that could topple the great Soprano empire. The episode begins with Tony & the boys at a roulette table in A.C., and Tony losing a hefty chunk of change by going double or nothing on the #23 (a slight jab at that hideous Jim Carrey flick?) Tony tries to blow off the loss, but as the episode goes on and the bad bets pile up, it's obvious that Tony is suffering from an addiction just like that poor schlub J.T. (Tim Daly), who took a beating from Christopher & Paulie back in season 5 for a mere $57,000 debt.

Tony's debts are a lot greater than $57k, though; he still owes his old friend Hesh $200k that he borrowed as a bridge loan in the scene last week that briefly foreshadowed this "sudden" problem, and he's been hemorrhaging cash throughout the ep.

Will this be the great Tony Soprano's downfall? That he can't lay off the latest line?

Meanwhile, the other thread this week dealt with Vito Spatafore's rebellious son, Vito Jr. It seems that VJ isn't handling his homosexual father's sudden passing too well, dressing Goth and tipping over tombstones and stuff. Vito's widow Marie comes to Tony begging for assistance with her problem, in the form of $100 grand so she can move the family to Maine. But cash-strapped Tony's idea is to talk to the kid, and/or get Phil, who is "a cousin or uncle or some fucking thing", to handle the problem.

At Phil's coronation dinner, as he is attempting to schmooze guest star Nancy Sinatra, Tony approaches Phil about the matter. "What, a favor already" the always-smarmy Leotardo replies, and that line alone let's you know the long-simmering fire has been rekindled between the two. Phil is reluctant to get involved- "the turd doesn't fall far from the faggot's ass" is his rationalization- but he agrees to talk to the kid; too bad his idea of a heart-to-heart talk means telling the kid he looks like "a Puerto Rican whore." Classic.

The Hesh/Tony thing takes center stage, much like Paulie & T. did last week. Tony goes to Hesh's plush suburban home and talks about his problems, but Hesh wants the 200k. Tony agrees to pay $3000 a week in vig, but it all leads to resentment by both men, and a lot of name calling & stereotyping of Jews & Italians by both sides. Yawn.

Tony's quest for the big score hits a new low when he wants to use some of the money from the sale of Carmela's spec house to put down on a 'sure thing' NFL game. You're rich, use your own money she tells him, and he makes up a reason why he can't, but she's right, isn't she? Or are we supposed to believe that all these years of lavish spending all of a sudden came up to bite him in the ass?

Anyway, the confrontation escalates to a full-blown war when the game comes in but Tony didn't bet the house on it like he wanted to. "We could've turned your bullshit into a million dollars" he screams at Carm, who is horrified at the all-too-familiar Tony Soprano transformation from loving family man to terrifying, callous beast. He drops a few more unpleasantries on her as she hurls a statue at him and stomps off, and we're left to wonder how it all went wrong so quickly.

A little too quickly in this case.

The ep wraps up with Tony apologizing to Carm and admitting he has a gambling problem that he is trying to control, but he won't let her end up like Ginny Sacrimoni (poor & no where to live.) After little Vito took a shit in the school shower (a scene more disgusting than any murder ever depicted on the show), Tony agrees to pay for the move, but blows the cash on another bad bet. His next solution is to send the kid to a reform school in Idaho, and he vows he will "never, never forget that (Phil) didn't come through here" (cue foreshadowing music please)

In the end Hesh's girlfriend suddenly passes away in their bed, and he is visited by Tony offering his condolences and the $200 grand. I guess all it took was a death in the family to let bygones be bygones, and like every other episode this season, the problem that was introduced in the beginning is put to rest by the end.

It's almost like Chase is stewing a giant pot of gravy, and he's mixing in a bunch of spices & flavors, trying to get the taste just right. A little bit of professional envy, a touch of distrust of old friends, a dash of familial issues and a pinch of gambling losses ought to make it tasty enough, right? And he's letting the whole thing simmer & bubble until it almost boils over, then he turns down the gas and let's it cool off for a little while before putting the burner on high again.

But too many chefs spoil the gravy, and too many red herrings spoil the fun of the mystery.

On tap for next week is the AJ/Blanca situation (that was set up this week by a brief scene in which AJ proposed, she reluctantly accepted, then she dumped him at a Puerto Rican festival), and towards the end of the show we also saw the young Islamic man who came into the Bing for a few scenes last season, just to make sure we have the international terrorist angle covered as well.

The good news is there are only 5 episodes left, so all these lose threads should be tied up soon.

After all, those guys have to get off the island sometime, don't they?

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