As we find ourselves in the midst of summer, with both games and the TV season in a cooling off period, I thought now would be the perfect time to cross off one of the biggest items on my TV backlog, The Sopranos. Going through and watching the entire show for the first time I thought it was only fitting that I share my thoughts and experiences of this seminal show throughout the season.
The Sopranos season two presents a far bleaker, tragic, and somber look into the world and life of Tony Soprano and company. Dealing directly with the ramifications of the previous seasons finale and then building off of that to showcase the new and challenging hurdles that come with Tony's new place as boss, this season takes us down a far different, yet no less excellent tale of this average North jersey family.
Whats particularly striking about the second season of the Sopranos is how much my opinion of it changed. The season gets off on a bit of an awkward foot, at least for me. The first five episodes of the show, and particularly the first three are so dominated with piecing things together from where season one ended and establishing where everyone is at now, that things go about rather slowly. The lone exception here is the standout Commendatori, which is among the very best episodes the show has produced.
Showing Tony, Paulie, and Christoper going off to Italy to meet their cousins from across the ocean, the episode constantly evades and avoids the expectations of the viewer in brilliantly crafting a sorrowful, melancholy, and whipsmart piece of television. While Tony's story with Annalisa is noteworthy, both for what does and doesn't occur, it is actually Paulie's sad and slow realization that the homeland isn't all its cracked up to be, that steals the show. Paulie has long been among the bigger, larger then life characters of the show. Outlandish, humorous, and very alpha-male, it was more then a little sad to watch as he slowly realizes that despite all his bluster, nobody really likes him in Italy. That this revered place isn't what he had made it out to be in his mind. That's without even mentioning the excellent B-story line of Big Pussy's wife wanting to get a divorce and the impact this has on Carmela. The whole episode just has a heavy and somber feel to it and this pays huge dividends.
Yet, it took the season hitting its halfway point to really begin to take off. Beginning with the standout Full Leather Jacket and never really letting up from there, the back half of the Sopranos second season was tense, poignant, and awash in dozens of different cinematic themes. To try to single out the best from this stellar crop of episodes is next to impossible. I mean do I chose Big Pussy's performance in D-Girl, as he wrestles with his lifetime friendship with Tony, how about A Knight in White Satin Armor, as Tony delivers arguably my favorite version of himself, brilliantly showcasing his troubled nature while also highlighting that perhaps he truly is the moral center of his group. Ultimately thought, I would like to give particular praise to From Where to Eternity and Funhouse.
The episodes are in many ways a sharp juxtaposition of one another. Funhouse, which also serves as the season finale, is a tightly crafted, and minimalist episode that essentially deals with a single issue the entire episode, namely Tony's slow realization and acceptance of the fact that Big Pussy is a government informant. All season long Vincent Pastore, has shined as Big Pussy but his performance here, as he realizes almost from the opening seconds that Tony suspects something, is among the most powerful and striking pieces of acting the show has produced. The fact that he doesn't own this episode is a testament to the sheer force of nature that is James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano. Transversing the entire emotional spectrum in Funhouse, as he is haunted by a series of fever dreams that increasingly point him in the direction of Big Pussy's betrayal, Tony is overcome by the truth. His actual confrantion with Big Pussy onboard Tony's new boat as the truth finally comes out is among the most gut-wrenching and devastating confessions I have ever seen. Even as Tony, Silvio, and Paulie all pull their guns out you still get the feeling that they are all searching for any possible way to avoid the devastating reality laying in front of them. The fact that the episode then promptly shifts to Meadows high school graduation and the ensuing scenes of a happy family life give the whole affair a very Godfather 1 type conclusion.
From Where to Eternity on the other hand is none of what I just described above. A deep, penetrating look into the morality and souls of Tony and his friends and what their ultimate resting place will be, it leads to numerous different theories into what kind of men they all are and whether they deserve heaven or hell, or purgatory as Paulie suggests. The duel nature of how Carmela and Tony deal with Christopher as he fights for his life is a brilliant look into the two characters. As Carmela goes to God and Tony goes to letting all his rage and fury out on Christoper's shooter you are given a stunning look into the kinds of people they really are. The fact that the episode ends with Tony and Carmela coming together in an act of intimacy, I believe the first of the series, is a touching and moving window into the fact that despite all their flaws and their rather large differences the two do care for each other.
The Sopranos second season is unlike anything else I have ever watched, in ways both good and bad. The first half of the season left me questioning whether the show had spent its brilliance in its first season. Slow, tedious, and worst of all joyless and overly depressed it was a chore at times to watch, yet it brilliantly established the promise and potential of the back half of the season. As the season turned to the home stretch and Tony's feud with Ritchie was kicked up a notch, as Janice pushed all parties ever closer to violence, as Tony in his own complicated way both sought to be a hero and fully embraced his darkness, The Sopranos produced one of the finest tour de forces I have ever seen. Illuminating, darkly violent and bitter, and with breathtaking displays of the humanity and inhumanity of Tony the second season powered though all preconceived notions of where this show could go and what it could do and instead brilliantly pealed back the layers ever more on the complex, unlikeable, angry, and bruised life of Tony Soprano, and what a wonderful ride it was.