A sample from an upcoming project…
The One Where There Is No Geographical Solution to An Emotional Problem
Perhaps no other show liked to hold the average TV viewer in as much contempt as ‘The Sopranos’. Mob battles occur completely in the background, anti-climax reigns supreme, and just as you think you are aboard the plot train you are offered a replacement bus service taking on an incredibly scenic route. True, this is what makes the show one of the most compelling in TV history, but it also means with just a handful of episodes left the show can deliver a completely out-of-sorts short story about gambling compulsion, teenage grief and shitting a highly unrealistic turd onto a gym-room floor.
Tony wins on roulette at the start of the episode, but from then on it’s lose lose lose all the way. A horse called ‘Meadow Gold’ lets him down (hmmm….). Tony and Carmela have the biggest row we’ve seen them have since ‘Whitecaps’. Control slips away from Tony, and he compensates with bigger and bigger bets.
Part of the reason this does not work for me is it all feels so inconsequential. Some of this is caused by chainwatching. Following straight after the sometimes devastating exercise in entropy that was ‘Remember When’, it feels hard to invest in the reckless spending of Tony, especially when compared to other case studies in gambling we have already seen in previous seasons. We see Tony spend morewithout actually buying anything (except a place in the ‘Full Metal Jacket’-sounding camp Vito Jr is sent to) in this episode than perhaps we do in any other episode (though don’t hold me to that), and yet more money always seems available. Even if Tony cashes in on all of his liquid assets, there are always those stacks of money lying around Casa Soprano ‘for emergencies’, as Tony and Carmela remind us here. It’s hardly like we are going to see a destitute Tony pawning that $2000 espresso machine Paulie gave to him last episode any time soon.
Then we have the B/C plot of Vito Jr. Emotionally unbalanced by the death of his father and the graphic newspaper stories about the state of his corpse when Phil Leotardo had finished with him, VJ has gone full goth, causing havoc in graveyards and crapping in the school showers. Again, here, Sopranos is foisted by its own petard. We have seen such powerful expressions of people being haunted by dead figures from their pasts (including last week’s visions of Big Pussy), whereas this seems much more like a disturbed-child-of-the-week on ‘Desperate Housewives’ or ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit’. That, and he feels like an unfleshed out totem used to show us a further dimension of the two big players in the mob subplot of the season; Tony and Phil. Phil’s cold, aggressive lack of empathy and Tony’s failed attempts at providing a mentor role are what has partly caused the mob battles of the season, and are what will drive that plot to its endgame. So Vito Jr. is a good way of making this decision explicitly clear, but that is about it. Plus, that turd is more plastic that season 2’s Billy Bass, and the most obviously fake thing we’ve seen on the show since the CGI monstrosity of Livia Soprano’s last appearance on the show.
That said, the episode is redeemed by the scenes that show us the world of the Sopranos we know and love rather than this stake-free short story of an episode. The first and best of these is the vicious money row between Tony and Carmela. Though disliked by many fans of the show, for my money (the money I have left after betting against the sure-fire Jets, that is) Carmela is one of its most fascinating characters. At this point, Carmela has built up a system of delusions so strong that when Tony challenges them here she throws an expensive vase, the most violent act by far we have ever seen her commit. Carmela has seen the housing business as hers alone, the financial independence she was advised to build all those seasons ago. When Tony reminds her that all this would not have been possible without his capital and intimidation (and by extension, the mob, the facades slip for a moment and Carmela reacts with violent haste. In this case, perhaps she is more like her husband than one would ever think, a fascinating thought that adds another edge to perhaps the most compelling depiction of a marriage in TV history.
Second of these standout and standalone scenes is with Melfi. Tony and Melfi have mostly been in a stagnant stalemate for several seasons now. The show had completely outgrown its initial ‘Mafia boss sees a therapist’ premise, and views of Melfi had felt like simple lip service to this initial idea ever since ‘Employee of the Month’. So even the tiny amount of Melfi calling Tony up on his bullshit here is hugely refreshing. Melfi warning him that he cannot keep missing appointments is hardly the stuff of the charged early therapy sessions, but it’s the first sign in the while of an idea of what to do with this difficult character, even if that idea is as simple as to credit the intelligence of a talented psychiatrist in realising a dead end (though a discussion on how good a psychiatrist Melfi is could easily fill its own article, if not its own book.)
All in all then, an inconsequential breather from the unremitting bleakness of season 6B, one of the less successful strange outliers in a show almost entirely made up of strange outliers. An OK-to-good episode amongst a magnificent season. Consider it this way; the rest of the season is Christopher Moltisanti’s ‘Cleaver’, and ‘Chasing It’ is a ‘Cleaver’-branded baseball cap. It’s fine, but you’ll want the DVD too.