In her article “An Obsession Returns: It’s been nearly two years since we heard from the ‘Sopranos’ gang. Will the wait be worth it?” Valerie Gay, Staff Writer for Newsday, summed it up this way:
[F]or those who need some reminders of what made 10 million fans first fall in love with this show way back on Jan. 10, 1999, then here’s a start. That pilot episode featured an overweight mob boss about to fire up the backyard barbecue grill when he witnessed a treasured family of mallards take flight from the family pool where they had resided for the summer. He grabbed his chest, fell flat on his back, and the lighter fluid can bounced on the grill, where it exploded in a cartoonish ball of flame.From that moment forward, viewers knew they had entered suspect terrain and quickly learned that intimate knowledge of such pop-cultural landmarks as “The Godfather” trilogy or “GoodFellas” was going to help them hack only so far into this exotic new jungle. The ambitions of creator and executive producer David Chase were conspicuously literary; his muses were O’Neill, Aeschylus and Freud, as opposed to Coppola and Scorsese. What prevented this show from collapsing into an indigestible plate of warmed-over Fellini or worse was first-rate writing, directing and acting.
Chase also had a grand vision – a methodical and careful mediation on families and family dynamics – and if people died, as they reliably did week after week, then that was a dramatic device to reveal how the twisted honor code of a crime family paralleled the twisted and occasionally self-destructive impulses of your average suburban, middle-class, nuclear one. The mirror Chase and his writers and actors held up may have been a cracked one, but more than a few fans recognized parts of the reflection. That’s one reason why “The Sopranos” was so often a unique and splendid series.
I am so excited about the return of The Sopanos on Sunday evening. In my opinion, The Sopranos is simply the best show ever in the entire history of television.
And Tony Soprano is the best acted, best conceived, best written, most complex, most intriguing, most infuriating, most contradictory, most well-rounded character ever in the history of television.
And did I mention that Ganfolfini is about the sexiest man on the planet?
I am genuinely astounded when I hear people say that they don’t watch The Sopranos, have never watched The Sopranos, and/or have no interest in ever watching The Sopranos. I usually do something extremely intelligent in response to such commentary, like stare incredulously at the person speaking with my mouth hanging open.
Because I don’t know how you can fail to be absolutely mesmerized by The Sopranos. If you were working toward a Ph.D. in any number of subjects (anthropology, sociology or psychology, just for starters), you could make either the show as a whole or just the character of Tony the subject of your thesis — and never run out of material in the form of mind-bending, but ultimately unanswered questions.
Tony Soprano is an amalgamation of complex contrasts that leave you scratching your head, wondering why you care but completely unable to deny that you do.
He is at once a brute and totally, disarmingly charming. He loves his wife Carmela, but does not see a thing wrong about his succession of extra-marital affairs with his “goombahs,” one of which ultimately resulted in the woman’s suicide after their brutal break-up. Learning that she had taken her life crushed Tony, but did not stop him from then brutalizing his therapist, Dr. Melfi, upon learning that she knew but was unable to breach professional ethics and let him know.
He is a man of deep faith who has a running dialogue with God and firmly believes in his church and its traditions1, yet he is the stone killer who shot his own cousin, brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi, last season, at point blank range and then called his enemies to let them know that “punishment has been meted out and that’s all there is.”2 in an arson fire for the insurance settlement. Tony became so enraged that Ralph could kill such a “beautiful creature” that he proceeded to bash Ralph’s head into the tile floor, completely disfiguring him as his life seeped away blow by blow. Who could forget the scenes with Tony and Christopher dismembering Ralph in the bathtub, complete with that moment of sheer terror when Ralph’s wayward bowling ball bounced down the stairs?3
What then can we make of these comments from Matt Servitto, who plays FBI Agent Harris: “I get spit on on the street for being the bad guy on the show. I mean, I’ve literally had old ladies telling me to leave Tony Soprano alone.”
When the FBI put the recording device in Tony’s basement, I worried that he would end up in the slammer! And in the final episode of last season, I held my breath when I saw the guys sneaking up behind Johnny Sack with rifles. I thought at first that one of them was going to shoot Tony and, when I realized it was the FBI, I was yelling at Tony to “run faster” as he turned and made his way three miles through the snowy New Jersey countryside, leaving his car in Johnny’s driveway and stopping on the way to call his lawyer to make sure it was safe to go home. Because, after all, there is nothing more important to Tony, as he reportedly states in tomorrow night’s opening episode, than family. So he wouldn’t want to endanger the wife he cheated on and ultimately blackmailed in order to move back into the family home — or his children.
Tony lives his life in accordance with a code of honor. That is, I believe, what ultimately makes us cheer for him, even though we know all of his faults. Underneath it all, he tries to conduct himself with a sense of decorum, honor, and accomplishment because, above all, he wants to garner respect. Recall his reaction when he discovered the painting of Pie-Oh-My, complete with Tony in a general’s uniform, hanging over Paulie’s mantle in last year’s final episode? Ultimately, the discovery of that painting spurred him into displaying leadership — killing his own cousin. But in his twisted world, it was an act of compassion, because he made sure that his cousin did not suffer at the hands of Tony’s enemies and that his body was disposed of with some modicum of respect.
To Tony, it all made perfect sense and was justified by the only code of honor he knows or understands.
I can’t wait to see what that code of honor motivates him to do this season. Or how I am going to react to his various deeds.
I do know one thing: Although I wouldn’t spit on him, if I saw Matt Servitto or any of the other actors who portray FBI agents on the show, I would, just like the “old ladies” he referenced, tell his character to stay the heck away from Tony!
- Remember his exchange with Anthony, Jr. in the car a couple of seasons back regarding confirmation? [↩]
- He even called his nephew and right-hand man, Christopher, to go retrieve the cousin’s body.) )
Let’s not forget that it was Tony who gave the order to Silvio to whack Adriana last season in one of the most shocking scenes in the history of the series. In Season Four, he became enthralled with a beautiful race horse, “Pie-O-My,” who was ultimately sacrificed by Ralph ((Joe Pantoliano in his short-lived but Emmy-winning role. [↩]
- Come on, admit it: They got you, just like they got me. I thought it was Ralph’s head bouncing off-camera, too. [↩]