I just finally watched the newest episode of the Sopranos last night. It took me 6 days and multiple phone calls to get Verizon Fios to activate HBO for me. They kept telling me that my order was having trouble "flowing" through the system--yet somehow there was no one who could get it unstuck. There are many reasons why I wouldn't recommend Verizon Fios, but the pure incompetence in dealing with that simple request, and the degree of frustration and time, is a big one.
Since this may not be of interest to a lot of readers, I've put the extended under hidden text. I'd be interested in hearing your own comments and speculations on what is going on.
I know a lot of people were down on the first part of Season 6, but I have enjoyed it throughout. I see three themes emerging and building to the end of the series:
1. Tony's weakness, the growing perception of Tony's weakness, and Tony's increasing anxiety about his perceived weakness. In recent episodes he has been challenged by Bacala and AJ directly, and Paulie indirectly. Recall also Tony's observation when Phil Leotardo whacks Vito that it wasn't really about Vito, it was about Phil proving to Tony that he can do whatever he wants.
I recall from an earlier episode (I don't recall which one, I think it was when Jackie Aprile was sick and Tony and Uncle Junior were battling for control) someone remarking that the only real bad situation was when it wasn't clear who was in charge. As long as you knew who to kick up to, everything was ok. Right now, there are sharks in the water around Tony and he realizes it. I find the whole scenario quite enticing.
One big question here, of course, is Tony's leadership transition. Recall that Michael Corleone faced a similar set of challenges when he took over at the end of The Godfather--and recall how he dealt with it. Recall also that Michael was unable to reconcile the competing demands of his two "families" and in the end he lost them both (as he expressly acknowledges). I mention this because it seems obvious that Chase is inspired by prior gangster movies and the impact that media has had on modern conception of the mafia (there are, of course, multiple recurring references to The Godfather movies sprinkled throughout the series--and recall that one way we know that AJ is not mafia timber is his misattribution of a Godfather scene after he takes the knife to try to kill Uncle Junior).
2. The other fascinating dynamic of Season 6 has been the constant struggle of the mafia to remain relevant in the modern world and the constant pressures of its "code" under the assault of modern pressures. Recall Christopher's lament to Juliana Margolies that all that he had was the "old code" of the mafia and that doesn't mean anything any more and so he has nothing (and as he violates the old hierarchy by taking Tony's girl). This also is the tension that comes out of the whole extended Vito story--the clash between Vito's homosexuality and the mindset of the mafia, especially given, as Tony repeatedly notes, that Vito was a good earner. There was also the episode where Tony sells out the longstanding chicken butcher to Juliana Margolies to bring in a Jamba Juice, an episode that really brings out this tension between the "old neighborhood" and the modern, efficient, corporatized businesslike nature of the mafia. And Christopher's constant temptation of Hollywood.
Recall also the brilliant episodes with the Feast of St. Elzear and Carnival and Paulie's efforts to hold that operation together with tort lawyers and similar elements of modern society swarming all around--at the same time that they were boosting and fencing a truckload of vitamins (along way from hookers and gambling). Then this week's similar episode dealing with drug reimportation from Canada. Finally, recall the stunned realization when news breaks that Johnny Sack has taken a plea bargain rather than stand trial.
David Chase seems to be asking what is the relevance of the old-world ideas of mafia, familiy, and their codes in the modern age? How does it adapt and what function does it serve? How does this old-world institution adapt itself to the modern world of globalizaion and lifestyles? Chase seems to be exploring this larger theme of the tension between the simplicity of the old ideas and old neighborhood that rested on clear rules and hierarchies versus the pressures and uncertainties of modern society and economy.
3. Finally, I wonder if this week's episode suggests some foreshadowing as to where this is all going to end up, and particularly the way in which the two family storylines will finally intertwine. The writers of the show have obvioulsly groomed Janice to take over Livia's spot as Tony's nemesis (as this week's episode certainly shows). There seems to be two logical resolutions to all of this. The first is that Bacala gets busted on the Canada murder rap, and under pressure from Janice he sells out Tony to save his own hide. Or Bacala--again under pressure from Janice--takes advantage of Tony's weakness and topples him as Boss of the family. This scenario would be advanced if Bacala does in fact become Tony's trusted number 2, a position which (as he notes in this episode in referring to Christopher) he has tried to fill unsuccessfully.
This second scenario is especially interesting when you compare it to old school Silvio's loyalty in refusing the Lady MacBeth-type appeals of his wife when Tony was recovering from the gunshot wound. Recall that Silvio's loyalty to Tony (and knowledge of his own limitations) are what caused him to reject his wife's pleas. Bobby, by contrast, seems much more conflicted about Tony--and we learned this week that Bobby is especially conflicted when he has to choose between his two "families" but that he chose to defend the honor of his wife and kids over his loyalty to Tony. Contrast this decision with Christopher's decision to choose loyalty to the mafia family over his loyalty to Adrianna.
In the end, I wonder if it might turn out that like Michael Corleone, Tony ends up losing both of his families. Throughout the history of the series, whenever we start to think a bit fondly of Tony, Chase steps in and reminds us of what a vicious, nasty character he is. And I wonder if in the end Chase is going to give Tony his divine due.
And, oh boy, how about all those ducks in the background when Tony is sitting on the dock thinking about how old he is?
Feel free to offer your speculations or observations about the new episode or where this may be headed.