Sunday, March 26, 2006

Wake up and talk

"The Sopranos," week three. I'll be on San Francisco's KNBR 680 AM today at noon Eastern, 9 a.m. Pacific, to talk about last night's episode, so if anyone wonders how basso profundo my voice sounds, now's your chance to listen live (their website has a link to that). In the meantime, here's the opener to my latest day-after review:
Let’s talk about Silvio on the toilet for a minute.

Look, I know you’re dying to talk about what the monks represent, or Carmela’s therapy session, or Little Carmine’s triumphant return, but I think we need to start with Silvio on the toilet.

Okay, so Tony didn’t make his traditional season-opening waddle to the end of the driveway for his copy of The Star-Ledger. It hurt, but I moved on and was rewarded with the sight of acting boss Silvio conducting business from a hospital men’s room stall while thumbing through a copy of this here newspaper. If I didn’t know that HBO refuses to accept product placement money for the show, I would assume my bosses slipped them a small fortune for that primo advertisement.

The toilet scene was also important because it was funny. While the season’s first two episodes had plenty to offer - religious imagery, award-worthy monologues, prolonged hangings - the laughs had mostly been absent from a show that often plays less as a drama than a black comedy about America’s moral decay.
To read the rest, click here, then come back to comment. Two things I didn't have room to mention: 1)It was really the all-scumbags, all-the-time hour, wasn't it? I'm glad the show does this from time to time to remind the audience that these "lovable" mobsters are really awful people. 2)So what the hell do the monks represent? Maybe the idea that this isn't the exact Catholic Purgatory, but some kind of omnibus spiritual way station to the afterlife. Had Tony/Finnerty stayed there another episode, maybe he'd have run into some Muslims next.


UCF Journalism Student said...


I really bought into your purgatory theory, but others have also argued that it can't be because he's not dead. Perhaps the omnibus theory is correct, but I may be leaning more toward the idea that it was Tony's brain's way of coping with the coma, helping him process his dilemma, helping him fight for his life.

As for the notion that Livia couldn't have been waiting for Tony at the gates of heaven - duh! What better way to torture someone for an eternity than to make them think they're going to heaven, glimpse their mother waiting for them, and then descend straight to hell? Why do you think Tony put up such a fight after he saw her? He knew where he was going.

Alan Sepinwall said...

But if Satan (in the guise of Tony B., I guess) is trying to trick Tony into entering the gates of Hell, why give him that glimpse of his mother to tip him off?

I've watched the two Costa Mesa episodes at least four times each, and I'm still trying to wrap my mind around exactly what those scenes meant. The more I think about the monks, the more I think that wherever Tony was, it was a lot more complicated than the familiar Good/Evil or Heaven/Hell paradigm.

Or maybe he wasn't anywhere, and a combination of Tony's inner turmoil and his vague awareness of what was happening to him created this fantasy life. When the monks told him that "someone has to take accountability," that could be Tony realizing that he has to do the same with the bad things he's done in his life.

These day-after reviews have been pretty long by daily newspaper standards (over 1,000 words), but I never feel like I have enough space to get into every detail and theory I want to explore. I could triple that word count and still not fully examine what they've been doing the last three weeks, which is a sign Chase and company are really on their game so far.

UCF Journalism Student said...

Check out this comment on

The poster may have nailed most of the symbolism we're struggling with and that the rest of the series was foreshadowed in the first episode, i.e., Tony will either try to "retire" or sacrifice himself to save his nuclear family from his other "family."

Finnerty was not "Infinnity" but Tony's brain's manifestation of Tony's crminial self, a person he obviously did not like.

If, as others have remarked, that Tony may try to sacrifice himself to prevent AJ from following in his foot path and being subsumed by the "life", it may be plausible.

And Tony B represents not Satan but Tony S's worst betrayal.

As a brief aside, most of my dream/Purgatory/whatever-sequence hating friends have given up on the show. As a college student with mostly liberal arts/literature major friends, I can only assume that either they're not that deep or the symbolism is becoming too tedius for even college-educated wannabe intelligentsia. I'm not saying Chase should ratchet the violence up, but with only 17 hours left, enough with the exposition/set-up.

UCF Journalism Student said...

Sorry about the the too-long url, try this one:

Alan Sepinwall said...

While I don't think Chase's intention with this two-parter was to chase away the blood-and-guts fans, I wouldn't be at all shocked if he intended it to be a positive side effect. The whole "when's somebody gonna get whacked?" crowd has always been the bane of his existence, and I think he'd rather be an art house success with a higher average audience IQ than to have this mainstream hit where half the fans expect "Scarface: The Series."

UCF Journalism Student said...

Given the trajectory of the series and the more esoteric nature of the story arcs, I can't imagine he didn't anticipate the alienation of the "Whackings'R'Us" crowd.

I'm just worried that he and Terrence are becoming too clever by a half, and that by exploring the more psychological nature of the series they're losing the progression of it.

Anonymous said...

Of course Sil was lying when he told his wife that there was talk of him "stepping up" after Jackie died. One of the recurring themes this season seems to be delusions of grandure, represented most prominently by Vito's belief that he could be running things even though he was Tony's third choice (after Gigi and Ralph) to run the Aprile crew.

Alan Sepinwall said...

You're right, JRE, and in an early draft of the review, there was a parenthetical pointing out that everyone on this show lies to make themselves look better. Got cut for space.

Sarah D. Bunting said...

And is Sil a "captain" even now, technically? It's my impression that, as the consigliere, he doesn't have a crew, and I can't remember him ever having had one.

It seems like I've read a lot in the last month or so about the so-called blood-and-guts fan contingent, but I seriously don't think I know any of them (and we don't see many of them on TWoP either). Are there really people who watch this show as an action series only? Is this really a thing? I've talked to people who were starting to get fed up with the limbo sequences, sure, but they were all concerned with narrative pace and nobody said they thought a whacking would solve the problem.

I'm not disputing that it's a real trend; I just wasn't aware of it until it started getting so much play in the TV press.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, how I wish these people were made up. A sample from an e-mail I received just this morning: "Analogies & deep thought aren't meant for this program. Bring back the whacking. Tony is a simple person not caught in a complex show where he appears "out of place"."

Meanwhile, as I was walking into the office, one of our security guards -- a burly ex-Newark cop who's basically the law-enforcement version of Paulie Walnuts -- chases me down and says, "Al, Al, Al! That Sopranos episode with the dreams -- that was the worst on ever, am I right?"

Alan Sepinwall said...

And you're right: Sil has never been a captain (Paulie runs what's left over from Tony's original crew), but consiglieri ranks higher on the food chain than captain. I'm not sure if this means that Sil makes more money than Paulie, since the captains kick up directly to Tony (maybe Tony in turn sends a percentage to Sil), but it's the more prestigious job and the reason Sil was acting boss during the coma.

Sarah D. Bunting said...

Right on. I just couldn't remember Sil being anything other than a consigliere, although he couldn't have been that, at least in the series' initial episodes.

Anonymous said...

To go back to the monks for a second -- to me the monks were a generic religious symbol cast via an ethnic inspiration/manifestation/extension of his Asian doctor who kept checking his eyes...

Granted, it doesn't hurt that the monks tend to be regarded as more "enlightened" and less corrupt than perhaps their Judeo-Christian counterparts, which make them appealing to Tony... only to find that they're putting the screws to him/Finnerty too.

When I first heard Gandolfini's voice (as opposed to Tony's) as he approached the conference sign-in desk, I thought we were in for a "Last Temptation of Tony Soprano" -- his meditation on what he might have been had he not followed his father into the family business.

He changes his name to get military contracts to avoid the Soprano connection (tho, of course, a Fed background check would breeze thru that like the proverbial hot knife thru butter) and I was almost hoping that it was Charmane on the phone as Mrs. Finnerty... tho it was not to be.