Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Sopranos - What Rough Beast

(William Butler Yeats)

With the restoration of my cable service I was able to catch up with Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, "The Second Coming".

The title obviously refers to the Yeats poem, which is read almost in its entirety by AJ and his professor. The poem perfectly captures the feeling of building dread that characterizes this final shortened season of the series. The wonderfully written script is also replete with other events that qualify as second comings. There is Tony's return from the pleasure palaces of Las Vegas. There are Tony's two pilgrimages to see Phil Leotardo, both to no avail. There is AJ's return from near-death in the family swimming pool, famous in the series' first episode as the home of Tony's fantasy of a perfect family in the guise of his beloved ducks.

Something bad is going to happen in the two remaining episodes. Chase and Co. have spent these first six shows reminding us what a nasty piece of work our Tony is. At the same time, we are shown the tragedy to this family brought on by the web of lies they inhabit, compounded by the gene pool from hell. This is not going to end with Tony and Carmella moving to Hawaii to quietly live out the balance of their lives.

When last heard, Phil Leotardo is shouting from the darkness, "Get that cocksucker off my stoop!" In the preview scenes for next week, he is seen telling his henchmen that he has made up his mind, now make it happen. I think that he is directing a hit on Tony or his family. A quick shot in the preview of Tony's sister, Janice, turning around suddenly led me to think that killing Tony's sister might be seen as rough justice for the death of Phil's brother.

The acting in this hour was just superb. Robert Iler was especially good handling AJ's agitated depression and drug induced blankness. He and James Gandolfini were brilliant together in the moments after the rescue from suicide. Also very moving and understandable to all parents was the family's desperation, fear and worry as AJ is admitted to the hospital. Kudos here to the always splendid Edie Falco and to Jamie-Lynn Seigler.

I love the Sopranos, in part, because its creators are constantly willing to display the schizoid nature of this family's life and to make the audience question the premises that have been assumed over the years. So in this episode, we have Dr. Melfi's shrink (played by Peter Bogdonovich, the director and film historian and critic) point out a study that suggests that "talk therapy" might be counterproductive or useless for sociopaths, Tony Soprano being the poster boy for that malady. The central gimmick of the series, especially at the beginning, was the uniqueness of a mafia don in psychotherapy. Now it is suggested that these years of treatment may have been a waste of time.

Such reverses of expectation, refusal to pander to the audience and the richness of each script mark the entire enterprise as the work of art that it is. We will know it is such, regardless of how it ends or how dissatisfied we are with that ending. David Chase is entitled to fulfill his vision as the series' creator.

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