Monday, May 14, 2007

The Sopranos: Say Goodnight, Christopher

Episode 83: "Kennedy & Heidi"

Spoiler alert: Christopher dies in this one, and it wasn't a pretty sight

"My friend, the guy I came in with, how is he?"

"You're friend is dead."

As one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the series unfolded, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness. Not for the passing of one of the greatest shows in television history, not for the demise of one of the series' most beloved characters, but for the way the family we've all grown to know & love despite its flaws is literally tearing apart from the inside out.

Most of us could have dealt with Chrissy being taken out by one of Phil Leotardo's henchmen, or collapsing from a drug overdose once and for all, but for the loathsome-yet-lovable Christopher Moltisanti to die from the insane combination of a rollover car accident and the pudgy hand of Tony Soprano was one of the most difficult, and disrespectful things to witness in 83 episodes of this gut-punching drama.

No offense to Mr. Chase, but the Easy-Bake solution to have Christopher near death after the wreck and Tony just evil enough to finish the job can only be classified as a world-class cop out. It was just too neat- Tony accomplished what he wanted to accomplish without having to feel all the guilt of a straight-out execution; after all, Chrissy was just a "snivelling drug addict" who was near death anyway, right?

As the Church Lady used to say, "How Conven-ient!"

But the demise of Christopher did unlock some serious insight into the twisted mind of the New Jersey boss, one that hadn't been explored this deeply since the early days of his sessions with Melfi following his freewheeling, murderous ways.

The show begins with a scene of a dump truck driver unloading some material on a New York City dock. The dock foreman screams at the driver to stop dumping, and tells him that he can no longer unload the content on his property; the content happens to be asbestos-filled tiles & other products.

We quickly learn how the thread is connected when Tony & Chrissy meet with Phil and his captain; Phil, now the new boss of New York, claims he never knew the materials Tony was having dumped was asbestos. "What did you think it was?" Tony asks Phil, smirking. "Fucking Tampax, how the fuck should I know?" he snaps back, and then tells Tony he wants a 25% cut to continue dumping the illegal waste product. Tony tells him it'll be a cold day in hell before he'll pay that kind of juice and he and Chrissy leave, abruptly ending the meeting.

On the ride home Christopher speeds his Lincoln XLT through the winding desolate roads of Jersey, and he and T. have a discussion of what they should do about Phil's demand.

"Let him have's too short," Chris tells his boss, who agrees yet still thinks he would been seen as giving in to Phil's first demand as boss, thus setting a dangerous precedent.

"Whatever happened to "stop and the smell the roses?" Chris asks, and Tony ponders that thought as the truck swerves on the road. As Chris cranks up the infamous addict anthem "Comfortably Numb" by Roger Waters & Van Morrison from "The Departed" soundtrack, the two silently contemplate their lives and where the future may take them.

Re-watching the episode today didn't make what I knew was coming next any easier to view; in fact, it may have been more difficult to see the second time. Fidgety and obviously strung-out, Chris attempts to concentrate on the road and mess with the radio, and he veers into the path of an oncoming car, then swerves just in time to avoid a head-on collision. Instead, his truck clips the other car, then goes into a full-blown Hollywood action pic rollover down an embankment, flipping at least a dozen times before settling upright about 50 feet below.

The impact of the crash has left Chris with severe internal injuries, while Tony, who was wearing a seat belt, was just heavily banged-up. As Chris gasps for breath while spitting blood, he tells Tony, "you gotta help me...I'll never pass the drug test", confirming Tony's fears that the weakest link in any chain is an addicted one. When he sees that a tree branch pierced the baby seat in the back, Tony puts the two facts together and does what he feels needs to be done in order to preserve his future: he places his hand over Christopher's nose and squeezes the last breath out of one of his closest family members.

The rest of the ep deals with Tony's reaction to what he's done. Incredibly, instead of a profound sense of guilt or anguish, he appears incredibly relieved and even somewhat happy over what he did. It's as if Chase decided to dispense with all the "Tony's going soft" rumors and remind everyone what kind of guy this unforgettable character he created really is: a ruthless, brutal, unfeeling killer, someone who would sacrifice almost anyone else's life in order to keep the good times and fast lifestyle his family is so accustomed to living for as long as he possibly can.

In one of the most chilling scenes ever in the series, Tony is sitting in Melfi's office and confides in her some of his deepest, darkest secrets:

"I haven't been able to tell anyone this, but I'm fucking relieved. He was a tremendous drag on my emotions, on my thoughts about the future. Every day when I wake up I think 'is today the day one of my "best friends" dimes me out to the FBI?' And a weak, snivelling drug addict is the worst kind of bet. The biggest blunder of my career is now gone, and I don't have to be confronted by that fact anymore."
Wow. But wait, there's more:

"Let me tell ya something," Tony goes on. "I murdered friends before, even relatives-my cousin Tony, my best friend, Puss, but this..."

Even as Tony snaps awake and we realize the session is just a dream, the revelation of Tony's true thoughts provided one of the most raw, compelling, and unflinchingly nasty portrayals of a contemporary American villain ever. Kudos to Chase for that.

When Tony is forced to sit through not one but two wakes (Paulie's mother/aunt passed away suddenly, also), and after spotting former flame Julianna Skiff at Chris' wake, Tony decides he needs to get away from it all. He arranges a trip to Vegas and tries to wash away his feelings with gambling, drinks by the pool, and fancy dinners, and also by hooking up with one of Christopher's goomahs, the sexy & smart stripper Sonya. After banging her, Sonya opens Tony's eyes to the world of drugs and escapism, first by getting him high after sex with some killer green, then by granting his wish of trying the peyote Christopher told him the two did together.

Let me say, watching Tony high & tripping was also one of the more memorable occurrences I've ever seen on the show. After initially puking, Tony & Sonya hit the casino, where he is mesmerized by all the lights, and he goes on an unexpected winning streak at the roulette wheel. Suddenly, Tony smiles and mumbles "he's dead," then falls to the casino floor in a fit of laughter.
The final scene shows Tony & Sonya in the Nevada desert taking in the spectacular sunset and enjoying the feeling of not having a care in the world. Grinning from ear to ear, Tony raises his arms in the air and screams, "I get it!", and as the words echo around the canyon, we are left to ponder what it all really means.

In the thread involving AJ and his college buddies, he was forced to participate in a racially-motivated beating of a Somali student, and he is having trouble dealing with it at his therapist's office.

"Everything is so fucked up; why can't we all just get along?" he asks as his eyes well with tears.

Exactly what I was thinking, young man.

Unfortunately, we're all past that point now.

By the way, many are questioning the origin of the title of the episode. I found the answer, on my second viewing, to be the names of the two girls who were driving the car that clipped Chris' truck. Make of that what you will, too.

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