This last and final season of the Sopranos is the same as the previous seasons – good but not as good as the average professional critical analysis. There are individual scenes that are brilliant and there are storylines that are good but there are also some parts that seem to drag a little. The last 4 episodes have been good examples of all of the above.
The episode titled “Stage 5” covers the premiere of Christopher’s movie “Cleaver”. Although there are some hilarious clips from the movie, the story is a bit of a bore. Really, it’s just there to further divide Tony and Christopher. (Way more entertaining is the faux documentary about the making of “Cleaver” airing separately on HBO like a real movie “making of”. Little Carmine has some hilarious lines and the way the director is treated is priceless.)
The real story in “Stage 5” is that Johnny Sacrimoni is dying of Stage 4 lung cancer (“there is no stage 5”). The doctor doesn’t give him much time and the actor who plays Johnny Sack, Vince Curatola, gets to flex some acting muscles. It was sad to see Johnny Sack go but it was a captivating story with great additional characters like the beleaguered prison doctor and the inmate orderly who used to be a doctor.
In the episode titled “Remember When”, Paulie and Tony end up in Florida doing some vacationing and Tony starts to see faults in Paulie more clearly than he has before. Paulie was nervous about getting on the boat because he was remembering the end of Pussy. And yet he still got on the boat because he’s loyal to the end – despite not being honest with Tony about the fact that it was him that leaked the joke. And, as we are led to believe, Tony may actually have thoughts about ending things for Paulie on the boat. He’s thinking he might save his mob family from trouble by silencing the big mouth and he might do Paulie a favor by ending his sad (to Tony) senior bachelor days. Either Tony shows some compassion or he just can’t bring himself to do it, but Paulie lives to talk another day. There were some great individual scenes between Tony and Paulie that were really tense when you weren’t sure what might happen. And this story addressed the Tony-Paulie tension that’s been hinted at over the past couple years.
This was the same episode that chronicled Junior’s activities at the institution. We learn that Junior has a friend who helps him run poker games with the other inmates. And this friend, a young kid with rage issues, helps Junior avoid taking his medication. When Junior ends up incontinent and befuddled, he realizes that he needs the medication and submits. This drives his young friend into rebellion against Junior for giving in. This story was a fascinating look at life in one of these institutions and it was great to see the character Junior again – irascible at first, then ultimately content. He eventually realizes that even though he’s locked up, he doesn’t have it so bad. But my complaint about this story was that it seemed to be a tangent; the consequences of Junior’s time there has no impact on any of the other characters in the Sopranos universe. Maybe they’ll tie things back in at some point. While the treatment of the character of Junior is probably realistic, it’s a bummer having him marginalized.
The next episode was titled “Chasing It” in reference to Tony’s gambling problem. The gambling story was another bore. Again, it’s important because we realize that Tony has money problems and can’t stop himself. It also provides another reason for Tony and Carmela to argue. But the most interesting thing about this story is that we get to see more of Hesh’s world. Hesh has always been one of my favorite recurring characters so it was nice to see his house and meet his wife. This being the Sopranos, though, there’s got to be tragedy somewhere and in this case it is when Hesh’s wife dies unexpectedly. And the story ends with Tony telling Hesh he’s sorry for his loss, handing him a bag of money to repay a debt and then walking out. Did Tony have anything to do with Hesh’s wife’s death? It’s unlikely because his guys aren’t sophisticated enough to make a murder look like an accidental death (usually people just go missing when Tony’s crew wants them dead). But Tony’s lack of compassion in Hesh’s time of need was surprising.
The more compelling story in this episode was about Vito Jr.. He’s having a tough time in school; he chooses a goth look for himself and he gets picked on about his late father’s homosexuality. Watching this story, you get the sense that Vito provided more support and guidance for his son than we may have realized. We get some great scenes from this storyline. Phil Leotardo, who killed Vito Sr. for being gay is eventually convinced by Tony to chat with Vito Jr.. Phil does tell Vito Jr. to man up but doesn’t push much and eventually concludes with “I said my peace” – considerably less passion for the current problem than he had for the kid’s father being gay. Tony reluctantly talks to the kid and realizes the kid needs more help than any of them can provide. He convinces Marie that a tough love camp in Idaho is the right solution and Marie comes back with a great line: “they use corporal punishment there!”. In other words, she’s distraught enough about her son’s problems to ask for a 100K gift and to ask the mob boss for help but not distraught enough to be the parent her son needs. It’s a nice commentary on the soft parenting problems you hear about today, albeit with a mafia slant. I also have to say, I really liked the kid actor’s performance.
In the most recent episode titled “Walk Like A Man”, we see two of the men who see Tony as a father figure having trouble being the man that Tony wants them to be. First, Tony’s son AJ is a mess after being dumped. Although it isn’t very interesting to see AJ moping around, it is interesting to see Tony’s reaction to it. First, he complains to Dr. Melfi that AJ inherited his genes that cause depression rather than ever thinking that it might have something to do with his parenting. Then, he encourages AJ to go out with the boys to the strip club or to hang out at college parties. After the lap dances at the strip club, AJ finds himself helping to beat up a guy for failing to pay a debt. And at the end of the show, AJ seems to be feeling better. Therefore we learn that what made AJ feel better are the same kinds of seedy things that his father does and the parallel was driven home by their arrival at the house together.
The other story in this show as about Christpher’s sobriety and how difficult it is for a made man to be a recovering alcoholic. Again, this is a story about how the mob deals with the changes in social attitudes. 25 years ago, Christopher’s drinking problem would have gone untreated and he probably would have been an angry drunk who beat his wife and his kids would have grown up with that view of adulthood only to repeat the cycle. But with AA, Christopher gets his life together and makes a stable home for wife and daughter and even tries out some new business ventures. But the mob life is tough to be part of when you are clean and sober so his withdrawal from daily involvement causes resentment and ridicule. When he goes to his friend who isn’t in the mob, and doesn’t get the male bonding he needs, he reverts to his mob ways and then JT is dead. While Tony’s crew can evolve in their business – scams in health care and the stock market – their attitudes towards the behavior of men (and women) hasn’t changed at all.
I have no idea how the series will end up. Will Christopher end up so resentful that he takes down Tony? Will AJ end up realizing that he was bred for the life of crime? Will the problems in NY spill over into Tony’s Jersey crew? Will Phil eventually find the revenge he still thinks he is owed? All are possible. But the Sopranos has a history of disappointing at the end of each season – I suspect that the finale will be a disappointment too. But for now, I’m still enjoying the show.
Rating: 8 (out of 10)