Monday, June 04, 2007
Sopranos Rewind: The Blue Comet
Posted by Alan Sepinwall
The Newark Star-Ledger
June 04, 2007 12:10AM
Categories: The Sopranos
WARNING: This column contains major plot spoilers for last night's "Sopranos" episode.
So much for anti-climaxes, eh?
Nearly every "Sopranos" season has been structured so that the major carnage takes place in the penultimate episode: Junior trying to hit Tony, Janice shooting Richie, the murder of Adriana, Phil coming out of the closet to kill Vito. So it makes sense that the next-to-last episode ever should be especially high on the body count, from obscure characters like Burt Gervasi (garroted by Silvio for playing both sides of the New York/New Jersey fence) and Phil's mistress (gunned down with her Phil lookalike father in a case of mistaken identity) to major players like Bacala (killed by New York soldiers while contemplating a model train purchase) and Silvio (in a coma, reportedly never to recover, after a shootout in the Bada-Bing parking lot).
And in a bloodless but no less painful bit of business, Dr. Melfi finally dumped Tony as a patient after the loathsome Dr. Kupferberg forced her to recognize the futility of treating a sociopath.
By episode's end, Tony was hiding out with the tatters of his inner circle, clinging to the assault rifle Bobby gave him for his birthday, literally going to the mattresses.
As Agent Harris so presciently put it while discussing the weather with Tony, "End times, huh? Ready for the Rapture?"
It's still possible that we could wind up with the "life goes on" ending I've been speculating on -- the one where the show ends with Tony alive, a free man, in power, and faced with only the punishment of having to be Tony Soprano -- but David Chase (who co-wrote the episode with Matthew Weiner) is going to have to work overtime to get there now.
What a superb, scary, thrilling episode. Bacala's assassination was a little masterpiece of editing (credit to director Alan Taylor and William B. Stich, among others), with the cuts between the hitmen in the security mirror, Bobby studying the shiny Blue Comet model (which provided the episode's title), the horrified figurines from the model train set, the terrified real-life patrons of the hobby shop, and finally Bobby and the train crashing in unison. For a character who was nothing more than a walking fat joke for years, Bacala got maybe the grandest death scene in the show's history.
Especially striking was the parallel between Phil and Kupferberg, two men saying the right things for the wrong reasons.
When Phil lays out all his problems with the way the Jersey crew conducts its business, is he inaccurate about any of it? Especially after we see how badly they bungled the Phil hit? We know Phil's really orchestrating this war because he's mad about his brother and resentful that Tony never did any significant prison time, but again, is he off in any significant way in his characterization of the Jersey crew as a bunch of bumblers?
Kupferberg, meanwhile, is absolutely on to something about Tony using his therapy to become a better criminal instead of a better human. (Though Tony will still have the occasional insight like last episode's bus analogy, the time when Melfi was actually helping his psyche passed a long time ago.) But he's not badgering Melfi to dump Tony -- in the most obnoxious, unprofessional manner possible, turning a dinner party into an intervention and revealing Tony's identity to the other patients as a trivia question -- because he's concerned about her ethical well-being, or about what Tony might be doing to other people thanks to his therapy. Kupferberg's just a snob -- and, like Phil, a bully -- who can't tolerate the thought of a well-heeled colleague having regular interactions with a violent criminal.
And though Kupferberg and Phil would both be repulsed by the thought of working together, they've combined to rob Tony of his most trusted allies. Who's left? Paulie, dismissed as an aging joke earlier in the season? Carmela, still so in denial that the thought of going on the run seemed beyond her? AJ, viewing Bobby's death as just another obstacle in his attempt to maintain?
I've written before that the second half of last season felt like Chase and company were treading water after deciding in mid-stream to do one more season. And much of this season has revealed those episodes as the place-holders they obviously were: "Walk Like a Man" and "Kennedy and Heidi" as grander depictions of Christopher's drug doom spiral than last year's meandering "The Ride" and "Kaisha," Johnny Sack's death in "Stage 5" a better ending than his allocution in "Moe 'N Joe," Phil here bringing about the war that he only threatened in "Kaisha," etc.
There's so much to deal with in the final episode -- one that's scheduled to run the standard hour, give or take some HBO padding at the front or back -- that Chase may have no choice to end on anything other than a "life goes on" note. Again, the way previous seasons were structured, the big fireworks went off in the penultimate episode, while the finale was a time more for reflection (though Big Pussy and Tony B. both died at the ends of seasons). I've gotten a headache trying to outguess Chase, so I'll stop now. One week to go, and we are going to have a lot to talk about. I can't wait.
Some other thoughts on "The Blue Comet":
-His rise through the Family ranks brought Bacala nothing but pain and death in the end, but he was clearly learning from Tony. Besides his willingness to spearhead the hit on Phil, he spent his final moments of life lamenting the way things used to be in the good ol' days when The Blue Comet ran from Manhattan to Atlantic City. All that speech was missing was a gratuitous Gary Cooper reference.
-Which was more cutting: Melfi taking out seven years worth of misgivings on Tony in a single session (and not even explaining the real reason she was dumping him before closing her door on him, literally and figuratively), or Charmaine Bucco's visit to Tony and Carmela's table to passive-aggressively mock them about Meadow and A.J.?
-White shoes equal death? Moments before Johnny Sack passed, Ginny finished cleaning up his favorite pair of white slippers. Doc Santoro was sporting a pair when he got the Moe Greene Special. Burt Gervasi was wearing a pair of white shoes when Sil took him out, and Sil was buffing his own white shoes when Tony gave his orders to reach out to the "cousins" in Naples. On the other hand, Paulie is still vertical, and "Remember When" showed us just how many pairs he has.
-Tony draining the pool seemed, like Carm hiding A.J.'s belts, an obvious method of suicide prevention, but it's one more beloved thing that's been taken from him in these past few weeks.
-When Tony and Sil shadow box after plotting to take out Phil, Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" -- famously used in "Raging Bull" (and also in "The Godfather Part III") -- is playing.
-The son becomes the father: Not only has A.J. inherited Tony's depression and bottomless capacity for self-pity, but he's now become as fixated on current military events (the PBS Iraq special) as Tony is obsessed with World War II documentaries.
-Where on earth is Tony hiding out? Parts of the house resembled Junior's, but not all of it, and what would Junior be doing with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Silvio in his living room? Frankly, what would anyone? (EDITED TO ADD: I've been told this wasn't Junior's house, or Livia's, or any place we've seen before; just an anonymous safehouse.)
-Not only was the death toll higher than usual, but so was the amount of collateral damage: the father and the mistress (whose dying words were "They have shot me, Daddy"), the motorcyclist run over in the aftermath of the Bada-Bing shoot-out (as the Bing girls and patrons gaped, perhaps as stand-ins for the people who just watch the show for the whacking?), the hobby shop customers who are going to be permanently scarred, Bobby's family, etc. Chase is making every effort to ensure that we go out with no illusions about who these characters are and the impact they have on the world around them.
-As sorry as I felt for little Nica after watching "Soprano Home Movies," it's quintupled. At least Bobby Jr. and Sophia (now without either biological parent) got to have Bobby and Karen in their lives for part of their formative years, where Nica's entire being is going to be shaped by Janice. (Assuming Janice doesn't hop another bus back to Seattle now that her meal ticket's gone.)
-Remember that baffling "Seven Souls" montage from the beginning of last season? Looks like it's bad luck to be a part of it -- at least, if you're in the Family instead of the family. Bacala (who was, of course, playing with his trains during that montage) joined Vito, Eugene and Ray Curto in the strip club in the sky, leaving Janice, Meadow, A.J. and Carmela alive -- for now.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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