Monday, March 20, 2006

You can check out any time you like...

Ahem... so... "The Sopranos" episode two. Not exactly a variation on the formula, was it? Here's the opener to my day-after review:

IT'S NOT a dream. It's Purgatory.

When I had my annual summit with "Sopranos" creator David Chase a few weeks ago, I complimented him on having the onions to put a major dream sequence like this so early in the season, considering how many fans complain about the dreams.

"I, frankly, would not call those (episode two scenes) dreams," he said, which sent me scurrying back to watch my DVD over and over again, until (with some help from my wife) I got it.

Here Tony's stuck in Orange County, quite possibly the most personality-free corner of the world, with no way to leave (a k a Purgatory). On one end of town is a shining beacon (Heaven), on the other, a raging forest fire (Hell). Over and over, he stops to assess the worth of his own life, asking, "Who am I? Where am I going?"

Then he steals the identity (sin) of Kevin Finnerty -- a heating salesman who lives in one of the hottest states of the union (Arizona) -- checks into another hotel, and falls down a red staircase, at which point he learns he has Alzheimer's (eternal damnation). And while Carmela's busy in the real world telling him he's not going to Hell, Tony's in Purgatory debating whether to tell his wife this is exactly the fate he has in store.

To read the rest of the review, click here, then come back to comment. I'm a lot more curious about reaction to this one than I was about the premiere.


bill komissaroff said...

Great review, thanks! A couple of thoughts:

-There seemed to be a couple of other "nods" to the gunshot during the sequence. When he was coming out of the bar he paused and put his hand on his stomach near the wound, and then when he went back to the bar he reminded the bartender that he had ordered the blackened grouper but changed his mind because he was feeling stomach pains.

-At first I thought that the voice on the other end of the phone might be Adrianna.

-Who is this other sister all of a sudden? Am I missing something?

-Sil seemed to be wearing a much nicer suit then normal at Eugene's funeral. Appearance is everything!

-I can't wait to see how Phil/Johnny react to the events.

-I loved when Vito tried to insist on driving home AJ.

-Although I enjoyed it, I am already kind of missing Tony.

Bill from Delaware.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Tony and Janice have a younger sister, Barbara, who has popped up on occasion but in general isn't interested in being involved with the rest of the family. The actress who plays Barbara changed in season five, which makes it a little more confusing.

UCF Journalism Student said...


My father was kind of lost during the episode, so as I explained it to him as a a kind of running commentary I started to pick up on the purgatory angle. I agree wholeheartedly that Chase and co. have essentially upped the anty with this season, challenging the viewers to see the whole picture and examine the past sins of the family [both of them] and force us to confront much of what we like about the show.

This obviously isn't the first time purgatory and sins has been brought up on the show, but I think it has been more powerful than when Chris got shot.

One question though: Didn't the wife sound a lot like Gene's wife, who I believed was played by Tim Van Patten's real-life wife?

LT said...


Great that your column pointed out the two types of "Sopranos" fans. I think these first two episodes put both camps in sharp relief.

Those who think the show is about New Jersey gangsters are bored, and those who think the show is about one man's moral, personal and familial crises are singing David Chase's praises today.

I belong to the latter camp. (I'm even one of those who thinks the oft-maligned Season Four is among the best of the canon.) And just as I thought the show had probably ran out of surprises, Season Six comes in like lion.

Like the previous commenter said, Chase has boldly taken the series in daring new directions for its final go-round. I can honestly say I have no idea what will happen next. For a show six seasons old to be this fresh and this daring -- and to still be plumbing exciting new depths of characters we all thought we knew inside-out -- is, I think, simply unprecedented in series television.

The gangster fans might complain, but they'd do well to pay closer attention. This is best TV gets.

floretbroccoli said...

I had thought the dream wife's voice sounded a bit like Charmaine Buco, which would tie in nicely with some of Carmella's memories. I'm glad to get definitive word that this was not so.

I was surprised that Father Jughead didn't appear. Did I miss some explanation of that? You'd think he'd be there to comfort Carm, and eat whatever food friends brought to the hospital.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Father Phil pops up in either one or both of the next two episodes.

I've been very pleased that so far, the comments here and the e-mail I've gotten at the office has been about 80-20 positive about the episode. On the other hand, the negative letters and comments are all of the Worst. Episode. Ever. variety.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Haven't seen the whole ep yet (DVR'd it, burned a DVD, and watched the first 40 min. on my laptop on the train to work in the morning; will watch the rest on the way home). Am I the only one who really thought that the wife on the phone was Edie Falco, not doing a "Carmela" voice, in the same way that Gandolfini was doing a "not Tony" voice.

Alan Sepinwall said...

You're not alone about the voice. I've heard people suggest it was Carmela, Charmaine, Adriana or Gloria (my initial reaction), which is why I checked to confirm that it wasn't anyone we know.

Marian at first thought that Purgatory Tony's daughter was Meadow with her voice electronically altered, but I don't think that was the case, either.

Anonymous said...

Give Edie the Emmy? Are you nuts?

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Nice interpretation, Alan. Whether it's a dream, an alternate universe or something else, it's pretty clear that we're seeing a reckoning of some kind. The only question is whether Tony takes this shooting incident as an excuse to seriously reevaluate his life, or falls back into the old familiar patterns. As I've argued in previous posts over at Casa de Seitz (click here, here or here) I tend to think that no serious forward motion can occur even in this final season, because that would kill the joke Chase has been re-telling over and over again throughout five other seasons. His characters are supremely self-interested, and when push comes to shove, they almost always choose animal urges, financial gain or simple comfort over the "right" decision. Christopher got shot in season two and endured a purgatorial brush himself (remember Paulie Walnuts' monologue about being able to withstand hard time in purgatory? It might as well have been a script outline for this season!) but pretty soon he was back to doing drugs again.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I'm suspicious of any attempt to suggest one of the characters will change, but if there's one character whom Chase has suggested even has the capacity to change, it's Tony. Eighteen episodes to go (two of which I've seen, so I shouldn't say much more), and something has to happen to create a sense of finality. Some shows can and probably should have a business as usual ending, but this isn't one of them.

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

I'd add Carmela to that list along with Tony. She's the only character on the show besides him who's demonstrated even a passing, superficial interest in psychology, theology and morality.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Yeah, but Carmela's had more chances to change -- both when the Jewish shrink told her to leave Tony, and then when they were separated -- and she decided it would be easier to just keep the status quo. Tony hasn't yet been given a realistic opportunity to be something other than what he is.