Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Sopranos: All in the Family

Episode 84: "The Second Coming"

"I can't shake it...I'm fucking depressed" --T. to Carm

Yeah, join the club Tony.

Sorry it has taken me so long to post about the show this week, but I have been realizing that as the series winds down it's getting harder and harder just to watch my former favorite drama, much less write about it.

Sadly, instead of swaggering to the finish line like a proud, grand champion, The Sopranos is staggering to the end like a punch-drunk has-been trying to scrape one more big bout together before going into syndication-fueled retirement.

The emotional-yet-cheesy death of my favorite character Christopher a couple weeks back was enough to leave a bad taste in my mouth regarding this swan song season, but this week's focus on inherited depression, the effects of drugs such as Lexapro on the minds of unstable young adults, and a look at what's to come between Tony and Phil felt like a giant mindfuck.

What is Chase trying to do now? Get us all thinking about Iraq, global warming, tainted meat and how prescription meds are becoming the downfall of our society? Look, Chase, if I want to see that kind of shit I'll watch C-SPAN or MSNBC, but all I want to see from you is colorful, creepy characters, guys getting whacked and/or jacked, and a storyline that doesn't make me want to see a shrink after the show is over.

This week we spent the better part of an hour watching Tony coming to grips with the fact that his son AJ is just as depressed and fucked up as he is. How does he know this? Because after reading the morbid epic poem "The Second Coming" by Yeats and popping anti-depressants like they're pez, AJ ties his leg to a cinder block, put a plastic bag over his head and jumps into the deep end of the swimming pool in a surefire cry for help.

It trurns out the rope was too short and AJ just flopped around there for a few minutes, but instead of being worried about what would happen to him, as AJ wallowed under that water all I kept thinking was "if this kid dies here, I'm not watching the final two shows." Luckily it seems Chase knew a lot of people might have that sentiment, as Tony conveniently comes home in the nick of time to save his sorry son.

With AJ checked into a psyche ward, Tony is left to deal with the "Soprano curse", as Carm refers to it, the specter of depression. All the Soprano men have had it, and Carm points out she is sick of Tony "playing the depression card until it's worn to shreds" and now he has passed it on to their son. An enraged Tony tells her it's a hereditary disease, and she responds with " at least we know he didn't get it from my side" of the family.

Ah it's nice to see how family crises make the bonds grow stronger.

As for the other "main plotline", the asbestos keeps piling up at random spots like roadsides and rivers while Tony tries to get Phil to come down on his demand of a 25% fee to unload the illegal materials. Pleading to Phil's human side (as if he has one), Tony makes a counteroffer and reminds Phil of the words the two shared about life and happiness when Phil was in the hospital last year.

"First off, it wasn't an offer, it's my position-25%. This is business," Phil coolly tells him, then cracks a joke about T. acting like Charles Schwab by talking about the future and investing in their families and so forth. Tony storms out and the lingering hatred in the air lets everyone know that a Tony & Phil showdown is on the menu for sure in the final two shows.

Just in case anyone had any doubt about that scenario, though, an interesting side thread this week provided more proof, and also the most chilling and entertaining parts of the ep.

Phil's two goons, the giant Coco and weaselly Butch, are enraged when a contractor tells them that Tony has pulled their jobs in retaliation to Phil's refusal to budge on the asbestos deal. After pummelling the poor guy into the dirt, Coco later happens to run in to Meadow at a restaurant in Little Italy, and he makes some drunken, leering remarks to little miss Soprano.

"You got a little cream on your mouth there, would you like me to add to it" he creepily remarks to a horrified Meadow, and he staggers out of the place laughing all the way. But Coco won't be able to laugh, or speak or eat, for a long while after that encounter.

That's because when Tony hears of the incident, he reacts calmly at first, but later flies into a rage fueled by the repressed anger over AJ's attempted suicide. Tracking Coco down at his restaurant, Tony pistol whips the behemoth into a bloody pulp, then breaks his jaw on the sink a-la Ed Norton in American History X; it was a disgusting sound & scene, yet one that hearkened back to the good old days of Sopranos yesteryear, when squabbles & insults were dealt with accordingly, not with medication and therapy.

In the end Tony and Little Carmine head to New York to meet with Phil at his home in order to broker some kind of peace arrangement, but a livid Phil calls it off as the two arrive at his door.

"Take that piece of shit and get off my stoop," Phil tells Carmine, referring to Tony, from his bedroom window. Pleading with his Uncle to hear them out, Phil replies "there's nothing left to discuss, Carmine," and with that the two walk away.

The final scene shows Tony bringing a pizza to his institutionalized son, and as the pair enjoy a forlorn embrace through the hospital doors, we see that the chain of life that connects father and son has been strengthened by the fact that both men know they are of the same mind.

Where this is all leading is anyone's guess. The show goes on hiatus for a week as HBO tries to pimp its replacement, then the final two eps will land with either a bang or a thud. The way things are headed, it looks like AJ will inherit his father's business, Tony will either be killed by Phil or incarcerated by the EPA for illegal dumping, and Carm will fly to Italy and look for her long, lost love, Furio.

Or maybe Tony will go to work for Merck.

During the scene where Tony rescues AJ, an angry & confused Tony cries out to "what the fuck did you do?! What's wrong with you?!" while alternately shaking and consoling his son.

Funny, I feel like doing the same thing to David Chase.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

NBA & Celtics fans both lose in this lotto

Portland "earns the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft; Boston will choose 5th.

In a heart-stopping moment for NBA commissioner David Stern, stud players Greg Oden & Kevin Durant, and the fans of every team in the lottery, the two teams with the highest probability of landing the first pick (Memphis & Boston) wound up with the 4th and 5th picks, respectively, while two seldom-seen West Coast teams (Portland & Seattle) will walk away with the two best players in the college game.

Way to go, NBA.

Not only did the long-suffering fans of Bill Simmons' Celtics lose out on the opportunity to make the once-proud franchise relevant again, but the league lost its two most marketable young talents to the wasteland that is the West Coast.

Sure the Jailblazers and Sonics will now be on TV more than Leave it to Beaver reruns, but the games will still start at 10:30 and end when everyone except bloggers and night watchmen are asleep. For example, the Warriors were a great West Coast story this season, led by a charismatic star and fueled by rabid fans, yet no one knew about them until the middle of the opening round of the playoffs.

Now Stern & the league will go into spin mode, claiming that Oden & Durant will be exposed to the public just as much as every other new star the Association ushers in every year, with plenty of soda ads, sneaker deals and life-sized posters on the side of buildings trumpeting the rise of the new talent in the NBA.

Meanwhile the jilted fans of one of the game's most storied franchises, who have lost more games in three seasons than in the entire Bird era and just re-upped their putrid coach despite his inability to lead, coach or teach, are left to wonder why they should still even watch the game.

If they can just stay up until 1:00 am every other night, maybe they'll find out.