The season of that began with “Two Tonys” comes to an end, with one Tony
departing SopranoWorld and the other one coming home.
EPISODE 65 - ORIGINALLY AIRED JUNE 6, 2004 WRITTEN BY CHASE, GREEN AND BURGESS DIRECTED BY JOHN PATTERSON
Many viewers found “All Due Respect” to be a let-down. I’ll agree that the episode is, at least in a conventional sense, somewhat lackluster. It doesn’t quite live up to our expectations for a Season Finale. (But this is quite common for The Sopranos – it is usually the penultimate episode of the season that packs the real punch. This was true this year as well, with “Long Term Parking” providing the wallop.) And yet…there was something about this hour that just worked its way under my skin. “A.D.R.” may be short on fireworks, but it is long on tone and texture and atmosphere. A mood of anguish and unease dominates the hour, but it’s also somehow colored by cheerfulness and poignancy and sweetness. I have never made (and probably never will make) a list of my top five favorite Sopranos episodes, but if I did, I’m pretty sure “All Due Respect” would be on that list.
Phil Leotardo is furious, he wants Blundetto’s blood but will settle for someone else’s in Blundetto’s absence. After claiming his brother’s body from the morgue, Phil goes to Christopher’s mom’s place to look for him. Chris is inside the apartment, waiting with gun in hand, but Joanne Moltisanti doesn’t give him up even though Phil threatens to stow her Discman in an inappropriate place.
The NJ guys are deeply unhappy with the way their Boss is handling the threat from New York. They feel they are all threatened because Tony S seems to be giving Tony B special consideration. Several members of la famiglia voice their discontent—and anger—about the situation. (Chase gets some mileage out of the possibility that a bloody mutiny is brewing against Tony.) When Benny Fazio gets his head smashed up by Phil outside the Crazy horse, Tony knows that he has to act before more of his guys are made to bleed in place of Blundetto. But Tony genuinely doesn’t know what the correct course of action is. Should he or should he not hand Blundetto over to the vicious New Yorkers? Blundetto is a part of his family, but he is also a member of la famiglia. Tony has obligations to both of these families, and his obligation to one is at odds with his responsibility to the other. Tony can talk the talk – he puts a mobster-spin on the “family values” speeches that politicians were commonly regurgitating at the time: “We are a family. And even in this fucked-up day and age, that means something.” I’m sure that Tony genuinely believes in these values, but his sincere belief in the value of both his family and la famiglia makes it only more difficult for him to reconcile his contradictory obligations to each of them.
And this is why I love this episode. We get a deep sense of Tony’s dislocation – he has lost his way. He is vacillating. He doesn’t know what to do as a man or as a Boss. Tony struggles to find the correct course of action and thereby regain his own sense of self. I think we can find a parallel between this hour and the Season 2 finale “Funhouse.” Both episodes are deepened by the despair of Tony’s struggle. In “Funhouse,” we recognized that Tony was made ill by more than simple food poisoning: he was despairing over the betrayal of his best friend Big Pussy. He ultimately chose to sacrifice Big Pussy, and now he must make a similar choice about cousin Blundetto. This is more than a simple managerial decision – it is an existential problem.
Several interactions with other characters reveal just how deep Tony’s confusion runs. Early in hour, for example, Tony and Silvio discuss the Blundetto situation. (I believe this is Steve Van Zandt’s longest two-person scene thus far in the series, and he does a nice job with it.) Tony reveals the burden of leadership to Silvio:
You got no idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fuckin’ thing. It’s too much to deal with almost. And in the end, you’re completely alone with it all.
A hallmark of existential crisis is feeling frozen, unable to act, when confronted with a difficult decision that is sure to have a ripple effect. Someone once said (was is Sartre? Freud?) that there is nothing more terrifying to us than our unmade future. We are burdened with the knowledge that our decisions today can have manifold, significant effects on our future life. When we stand and face our unknown future, we may feel like we’re standing at the brink of an abyss.
Dr. Melfi expressed this same sentiment as she tried to explain the philosophy of Existentialism to Tony back in “D-Girl” (2.07). She described the burden that each one of us must bear as we try to shape our life and our future:
When some people first realize that they are solely responsible for their decisions, actions and beliefs, and that death lies at the end of every road, they can be overcome with an intense dread.
Death certainly lies at the end of every road in this episode; whichever decision Tony makes, someone will be killed, either his cousin Blundetto or one of his other guys in Blundetto’s place. Perhaps Tony’s indecisiveness now can also be attributed to the events of the previous episode. The decision to kill Adriana must surely have been one of the most harrowing decisions that Tony has ever had to make. He tries now, however, to hide his pain over Adriana’s fate. When he meets Christopher in a motel room, he speaks callously of the young woman:
Chris: She was willin’ to rat me out because she couldn’t do five fuckin years? I thought she loved me.
Tony: She’s a cunt.
Tony may certainly be angry at her betrayal (and for the way she “forced” him to order her killing), but his callous words are an attempt to mask his pain over her death. Moments later, Tony and Chris clasp each other in what is probably the most desperate, anguished embrace that we’ve seen two people make on the series. Both men are fighting back tears. They are united (or perhaps shackled is the better word) in their knowledge that they betrayed a woman they both cared about.
In his anguish, Tony goes to Corrado for counsel. His uncle has given him good advice in the past. But Corrado is no longer the man he once was. He is slipping into senility and provides no help to his nephew. Tony tries to share his distress with Dr. Melfi, but she is frustrated by their inability to talk openly and freely. She becomes haughty and sarcastic, mistaking Tony’s deep confusion for “high sentimentality.” Their conversation becomes so broken that Tony seems to be speaking more to himself than to her when he finally sighs, “All my choices were wrong.” (If Melfi’s words did have any effect on Tony, it probably would have been to push him towards murdering his cousin.) Tony’s deep sense of dislocation is emphasized during a quick scene at the Bada Bing…
We may remember that after killing Ralphie in Season 4’s “Whoever Did This,” Tony’s attention was drawn to the empty stage as he was leaving the Bada Bing. His most immediate reason for attacking Ralph in that episode was the suspicious death of Pie-O-My, but he also had some lingering anger and sadness over the meaningless, unnecessary murder of Bing stripper Tracee. The overhead spotlight shone down on nothing at the end of the hour, underscoring Tracee’s absence. By literally highlighting “nothing,” the spotlight underscored the “nothingness” that lurks at the heart of Chase’s universe:
Certain SopranoWorld characters are constantly struggling against nothingness, against the abyss of meaninglessness. Livia failed in this struggle, falling into nihilism and coming to believe that meaninglessness is the natural state of the universe: “It’s all a big nothing,” she told her grandson. In “All Due Respect,” Chase repeats the imagery of the empty stage from episode 4.09. (Chase is literally repeating the image, grabbing a shot from footage that must have been made for “Whoever Did This” – every bottle and glass is in the exact same place as it was in that earlier episode.) Chase now cuts from the Bing’s empty stage to an important sequence: Tony calls Johnny Sac and comes very close to revealing Blundetto’s whereabouts, but slams the phone down without ratting his cousin out:
I think the empty stage functions as visual shorthand for nothingness, for meaninglessness. By juxtaposing the stage with Tony’s phone call, Chase expresses the existential dimension of Tony’s indecision. Tony is struggling to make the right choice, the meaningful choice, the one that will pull him back from the brink of absurdity and psychological chaos.
Of course, Tony wouldn’t find anything particularly significant about an empty stage; after all, he works out of the back room of the Bing, so he must see its empty stage all the time. However, he does find great significance in another object (an object which also happens to be closely connected to “Whoever Did This”) – the painting of Pie-O-My. Paulie has had Tony recast as a General in the painting (though not Napoleon; he’s a bit portly to be Napoleon). Tony confiscates the painting from Paulie and is just about to destroy it when it begins to “speak” to him. The military uniform and the sword in the painting remind him that he is, above all, a soldier. Tony begins to regain his sense of self, and accepts what he must do to Blundetto.
Tony may have been primed to have this particular epiphany by the documentary he watched earlier about Field Marshall Rommel. Erwin Rommel was a gifted man, physically courageous, mentally disciplined and tactically brilliant. He was a well-respected soldier and leader – the type of man that Tony envisions himself to be. I think some horse-imagery from Tony’s “test dream” two episodes ago also connects to his epiphany now. In the dream, Tony armed himself with a pistol, got on Pie-O-My and went out to deal with Blundetto personally. The painting of Tony with his horse recalls this imagery from “The Test Dream.” Tony knows what do now. He’s back in the saddle again.
The dream-sequence two episodes ago tapped into a lot of Tony’s personal mythologies. Mythology does not always give us clear, concise explanations, but it can nevertheless help us to resolve contradictions and deal with existential problems. (A well-known example: It is very difficult to reconcile the idea that God is loving and benevolent with the fact that human life is full of pain; but reconciling the two becomes easier when we throw in the mythology that Mankind suffered a Fall from grace that prevents us from automatically receiving God’s love and benevolence.) Tony’s mythology of himself as a strong, silent type who does what needs to be done gets bolstered by the Rommel documentary and by the events in his dream, and it helps him resolve his contradictory feelings about how to deal with his cousin.
Up in Kinderhook, Tony Blundetto passes a red barn as he pulls his car (actually Feech’s Cadillac) into his hideaway. Interestingly, a red barn first appeared on The Sopranos all the way back in episode 1.03, in a painting at Melfi’s office. Tony Soprano believed that the painting was a “Korshack” containing some bleak & gloomy hidden messages:
I’m probably treating the red barn like a Rorschach myself now, giving too much significance to it. But the barn does now appear just before one of the most bleak & gloomy moments of the series: the murder of Tony Blundetto at the hands of his cousin. Van Morrison’s “Glad Tidings” scores the sequence, making all sorts of interesting lyrical and tonal contributions to Blundetto’s final scene.
There is some imagery in Blundetto’s final scene that really caught my eye, despite being only about one second long. As Tony turns the corner of the porch with shotgun in hand, Chase includes a shot of his feet making the turn. This echoes a shot of feet in the dream (and on the TV within the dream) from two episodes ago:
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna analyze every little detail from “The Test Dream” to see how it prefigures or relates to Blundetto’s death now. (Van Morrison even advises us “not to read between the lines” in his song.) I just like this “footsteps” thing because it is another example of how Chase likes to use imagery that we almost certainly would not consciously think about, perhaps not even notice. Some of his imagery is meant to tug at us at a subconscious level.
Tony squeezes the trigger and fills Blundetto’s face with buckshot. Although Blundetto meets a violent end, it is a quick and relatively painless end compared to what Phil Leotardo had in store for him. Tony Soprano provides Blundetto with the most humane death possible. I think this is where the “Erwin Rommel” reference from earlier really comes into play. Rommel is the only member of the Third Reich that is still honored in Germany today. He was a humane and decent man, earning even the respect of his enemies. He treated enemy POWs honorably. He was a morally courageous man, ignoring any inhumane or criminal orders made by his superiors. He wanted to have Hitler arrested and brought to trial. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that Rommel was an officer in the most evil regime of the 20th century. He was a Complicated Nazi – sort of like our Complicated Mobster. Tony Soprano is part of an evil organization, and has the capacity to be evil himself, but he also has a capacity for decency and honor. Tony plays by the rules of the game: he knows that Blundetto must pay for his actions. But he bends the rules to give Blundetto a relatively humane death. Afterwards, he brings Christopher back into the fold by giving him the honor of burying their cousin. At the Bing, he accepts his men’s unspoken gratitude (and unspoken condolences) with humility and understanding. And he stands up to snide Johnny Sac with the mix of finesse, reason and fortitude that we have come to expect from him. Tony has pulled himself out of the quagmire of self-doubt and indecision to find himself again. He is the Boss of north Jersey.
The final scene of the hour reemphasizes that Tony has regained his self and his life. After an FBI raid interrupts the meeting between Tony and Johnny Sac in front of Johnny’s house, Tony must find his way home. He traverses over hill and dale, crosses through cold streams and snow and slush. When we see the hedges of the Soprano backyard begin to rustle, we may think for a moment that the black bear has returned. But no, it is Tony Soprano. Like a modern-day Odysseus, he has successfully returned home. It has been a long journey. Season 5 started off in the Soprano yard, with some well-chosen images meant to convey to the viewer that Tony was not living at the house, that he was still estranged from his wife after their Season 4 separation:
Season 5 notably closes in the same yard where it began, with a concerned Carmela now opening the backdoor to let Tony into their home.
Tony has surely regained his sense of self and his home, but as the season closes, we still can’t help but feel that he has irrevocably lost something as well – his soul. Despite his going to therapy over the years, we’ve never felt that Tony Soprano is genuinely interested in rehabilitating (much less redeeming) himself. But because David Chase has continuously given us such a complex portrait of him—a hideous man who is nevertheless capable of tenderness and honor—there was still a sense through the seasons that Tony’s soul was still somewhat in play. There was always some possibility, however small, that he would turn the corner, begin again, do right, live right. By the end of Season 5, however, it becomes very difficult for us to feel that there is any hope for Tony Soprano. As he enters the warmth and security of his upscale home in the final moments of this season, we know that his security, comfort and lifestyle have come at horrendous costs. They are costs that put him beyond the possibility of redemption.
In her 2007 article for Commonweal magazine, “Salvation and The Sopranos,” Cathleen Keveny found Season 5 to be making an argument that redemption is impossible not just for Tony but for almost every major character in SopranoWorld. She starts her case with the two major characters that died at the end of the season:
Neither Tony Blundetto nor Adriana LaCerva ever had a chance. In both cases, fate conspires with greed, the characteristic moral failing of mob life, to bring about their doom…These two grim tales suggest that we are trapped in a world ruled by an inexorable fate that seizes upon our moral failings in order to bring about our ruin.
Another example is Janice, who tried to redeem herself therapeutically, going to anger management classes to change her life. But she allowed Tony to derail her efforts. Keveny also brings up the case of JT Dolan, who had found salvation from opiates in a 12-step program but quickly fell into an abyss when Christopher introduced him to high-stakes gambling. And of course, we can’t leave out Carmela. For much of this season, it seemed that Carmela might actually salvage herself, get away from her old life and her old ways. But the arc of the immoral universe is long, and it bends towards Tony Soprano. The devil on Carmela’s left shoulder eventually whacked the angel on her right so that she could get her old life back (with a $600,000 parcel of land to boot). These characters seem doomed now with no possibility of salvation. If we take a look again at the photograph that Annie Leibovitz made for Season 5, we can now better understand the implications of its imagery: as the sun sets on any hope of redemption, the darkness that has always lurked at the center of The Sopranos will spread unchecked to corrupt the entire landscape of the series.
As I mentioned in my entry for “Two Tonys,” some viewers figured out that this photo might based on Delacroix’ painting, The Barque of Dante, which depicts a Stygian journey to the Underworld. In the belief-system of Dante and Delacroix, the underworld is that mythic-religious place where lost souls go after their death. But in Leibovitz’ photo, all the characters—including those still living—seem like lost souls. SopranoWorld has finally become a vision of Hell.
Y’ KNOW WHO HAD AN ARC? NOAH.
One of my favorite things about Season 5 is the way that Chase plays with character arcs throughout the season. Some arcs are long, some are short, some reach conventional resolutions while others reach an unexpected endpoint, or are simply left dangling. Part of this is just standard television practice: variously shaped arcs create tensions that push and pull against each other, thereby engaging the viewer. But I think Chase was doing more. I think Chase conscientiously structured and shaped his arcs in particular ways in order to stretch our understanding of how much narrative and thematic potential there can be in one season of a television show.
Chase may have, for example, used arc-length to set up a formal contrast between Blundetto and Carmela. Most of us figured that both of these characters would eventually return to Tony Soprano by the end of Season 5, despite their efforts not to. The only thing up for debate was how long it would take. Once Blundetto gets a taste of the high life, he falls quickly – he is back in the mob by the midpoint of the season. Carmela, in contrast, holds out for almost the entire season; it’s not until the twelfth episode that she remortgages her soul back to the devil.
We can also look at how Chase manipulates the “Class of ’04,” all those new faces that appeared this season. There is a real diversity in both their fates and in the lengths of their arcs: Lorraine Colluzzo made only fleeting appearances before she got whacked on her hands and knees early on; we thought Feech was going to meet an end like fellow hotheads Richie Aprile and Ralphie Cifaretto, but he was peacefully redistributed back to prison; Angelo Garepe went down in the NY power struggle late in the season; Tony Blundetto is taken out by a family member in the final episode; and Phil Leotardo lives on to fight another day.
THE STAGE IS SET
As I mentioned 12 write-ups ago, Season 5 is my personal favorite, and I believe that the majority of viewers rank it closer to the top than to the bottom. The upcoming season, however, was much more polarizing – many viewers just found it too bizarre and scattered. I’m a big fan of Season 6, I find it wildly innovative and interesting. But I think Season 6 only works because it builds on some of the characteristics of the season that preceded it. S.5 sets the stage for S.6 primarily in three ways:
Chase took a couple of quick jabs at the Bush administration in Season 5, but political and social issues play a greater role Season 6. He will take shots at both the Left and the Right in clever, subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle ways.
Season 5 stretched TV conventions. It played with the shape of arcs and storylines. Season 6 takes this to another level, almost abandoning the very idea of an arc at times. Season 5 played a little bit on the meta-level, mainly through the inclusion of several famous faces, and this practice becomes formalized with the Cleaver storyline in Season 6. The extended, experimental dream sequence of “Test Dream” primes us for the extremely long dream sequence (or out-of-body-experience/alternate-universe/whatever) of “Join the Club” and “Mayham.” Also, the SopranoWorld time-line strays from its usual logic in Season 6: the earlier episodes flow rather continuously, but there are notable skips in time elsewhere in the season.
Season 5 puts the question of redemption for these characters to rest. There will no longer be much of an inquiry into their moral potential. In Season 6, Tony becomes a lumbering, almost Satanic, beast. Several characters will suffer paroxysms of despair, nihilism, and addiction. And some of the grimmest, most bleak imagery of the series is yet to come. Season 6 won’t be all gloom-and-doom, however. There will be plenty of humor and playfulness. We’ll still have some laughs at AJ and Corrado’s expense, and then some more at the FBI’s. There will be plenty of “boring” moments too – the fuckin’ regularness of life will continue to be a major theme. And Season 6 will supply some of the most gorgeous imagery and vistas of the series. But the overarching sentiment of the next 21 hours will be that things fall apart, the center cannot hold. It just gets darker from here on out. I can hardly wait to get to it.
- When Chris tells Carmela that Adriana has left him, she tries to comfort him with the age-old platitude: “There’s other fish in the sea.” Her words may be inadvertently accurate – there’s always the possibility that Adriana may have actually been dumped in the sea.
- Chris says that he is taking some jewelry to Milt’s Pawn Shop, but we know that it’s not just “some” jewelry, it is Adriana’s stuff. Jesus frickin’ Christ, Christopher – her body is not even cold yet.
- I chuckled when Carmela, wearing a negligee, gives a sexy “I’m comin’ to get ya” look to her spec-house blueprints.
- I laughed my ass off when Tony and Carm wondered about their son’s sexual preference after coming to believe that he is interested in “event planning.”
- Hmm, interesting: Tony Blundetto hides out at Uncle Pat’s farm in Kinderhook, NY. Kinderhook was the home of schoolmaster Jesse Merwin, a friend of Washington Irving and the man whom Irving supposedly based his character “Ichabod Crane” on. We learned in 5.10 that “Ichabod Crane” is the nickname that “some very sorry people” had given to Blundetto. (My guess is that it’s just a coincidence that Chase had Blundetto hiding up in Kinderhook, it’s probably not some elaborate allusion to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”)
- The schoolkids’ rendition of “Mr. Tambourine Man” wafting out from the schoolhouse somehow adds the perfect texture to Tony’s wintery trek through suburban New Jersey.
- Van Morrison’s “Glad Tidings” has always made me want to get drunk on champagne and jump around the room. Now, the memory of this episode has so thoroughly grafted itself on to the song that every time I hear it, I want to raise a glass to Tony Blundetto before I leap on to the couches.