The Blue Comet (6.20)

AJ comes home from the hospital. 
Bobby’s life gets derailed. 
Tony holes up in a safehouse. 

Episode 85 – Originally aired June 3, 2007
Written by David Chase and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Alan Taylor

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“The Blue Comet” was almost universally liked by fans and critics alike, and for good reason. It is an exciting episode, full of drama and pace. The hour is unique in that it could be seen as the first part of a two-parter, something that David Chase has never given us before. (Even though this hour does not end with a “To Be Continued” caption, the next episode picks up where this one ends.) I noticed a curious phenomenon when I was doing my research for this hour: several fans and reviewers misremembered events that occurred in this hour as happening in the next hour, and events that happened in the next hour as occurring in this hour. It’s almost as though “The Blue Comet” and “Made in America” together comprise the Series Finale in their minds. And perhaps they’re justified in thinking this way. In previous seasons, Chase and HBO would use Memorial Day weekend as a bye-week and then air the Season Finale the following Sunday. But in 2007, for this final season, they took Memorial Day weekend off (as usual) but then aired the final two episodes over the following two Sundays. In any case, regardless of whether you want to consider “The Blue Comet” to be part of the Series Finale or not, it is a powerful episode in its own right. Let’s get our teeth into it. 

The hour begins with the camera on Burt Gervasi’s white shoes. Many viewers were by now equating white shoes with death. I believe it was episode 6.14 “Stage 5” that first made this connection—the camera lingered on Johnny Sac’s white shoes just before he died—and the connection continues here. Silvio strangles Burt Gervasi with a wire. Gervasi was talking to New York about bringing in some new management to the New Jersey famiglia, and he pays the price for his betrayal. The garroting of Gervasi, we might note, is much more realistic and brutal than the garroting of Febby Petrulio in Season One’s “College.” (A possible reference to that hour now: Tony sees a telltale wound on Silvio’s hand and understands what went down with Burt, akin to how Meadow had seen a similar wound on her dad’s hand and suspected he was up to something in “College.”) The increased brutality between these two strangulations underlines the dark road The Sopranos has traveled in its depiction of violence, a result of David Chase’s ever-increasing commitment to realism and verisimilitude. Arrivaderci Burt, we hardly knew ya, so it’s hard for us to feel any great pain by your death. Burt’s killing may not feel very consequential to viewers but it may turn out to be a very consequential thing for Tony and the rest of the guys, as Burt was the cousin of Carlo Gervasi. In the next hour, Carlo is believed to be talking to the Feds, and perhaps the death of his cousin here helped push him to start cooperating. 

But Tony’s most pressing concern right now isn’t the Feds—it is Phil Leotardo. Phil, in probably his most quotable scene ever, gives the order to extinguish the rival family across the state line. When Phil gripes that he took Tony’s “fat fucking hand in friendship” at the hospital, it lends credence to the idea that his hatred of Tony comes at least in part from the fact that Tony saw him vulnerable and crying while he was recovering after his heart attack. We know that Phil is all about projecting a tough-guy machismo (maybe because he is trying to hide a closeted homosexuality, but more likely because he is just an old-school mobster). Tony saw Phil at a moment when his usual masculine posturing was down. Phil’s contempt for Tony now seems to be more about emotion and private vendetta and less about business. It’s become personal.

Agent Dwight Harris pays a visit to Satriale’s pork store. Tony sits with him for a moment, and the imagery expresses the complicated relationship between the two. They are cordial enough to share a table, but the vertical elements in the shot underscore the divisions between them:

end times

Although Harris is referring to the inclement weather when he muses, “End times, huh? Ready for the rapture,” we understand that his words may have a deeper significance. The words “end times” and “rapture” connect directly to the Christian eschatology (the theology concerned with the Final Days) that was evoked by the previous episode’s storyline and title. The sense of anguish and impending doom that colored “The Second Coming” is carrying over into the current episode.

This is the final time the that the viewer gets to see the interior of Satriale’s and so I get a little sentimental watching the scene, especially seeing that familiar ‘pig mural’ behind Tony. But there is no time to be sentimental now—things are moving fast. Agent Harris has caught wind of New York’s murderous plan and has come to warn Tony. On the sidewalk in front of the pork store, Harris delivers the news that Tony and his top leadership are possibly being targeted. Moments later, a claustrophobic shot hints that the walls are closing in on the New Jersey boss:

Tony blocking

Tony is so sickened by the agent’s words that he loses his appetite and tosses his sandwich into the trash can. I too was unhappy with the way the story was developing. As I’ve mentioned before, I felt there was something almost lazy about Chase’s decision to re-use Phil Leotardo and New York yet again to bring tension to the end of a season. But I suppose Chase’s decision makes more sense to me when I consider what the New York mob and the New Jersey mob might each represent. Many “conventional” movies and TV shows within the mob genre have used the New York mafia as their subject. The New Jersey mafia, on the other hand, has been the focus of Chase’s  more un-conventional show. The battle now between the New York and New Jersey mobs, then, might be read as a representation of the battle between conventional and unconventional methods of storytelling. (This metaphoric reading of what the New York and New Jersey mobs each represent is more justified when we listen to Phil’s rant early in this hour; he lists various reasons why “this pygmy thing over in Jersey” doesn’t fit the definition of a conventional, traditional Mafia family.) The Sopranos has continually crisscrossed the line, back-and-forth, between convention and innovation, and as it rushes toward its end now, we wonder: will David Chase close his series with the elements—warfare, death, prison—that we traditionally expect to find in this genre, or will he venture across the line into more unconventional territory? 

Tony meets with Sil and Bobby at Nuovo Vesuvio to discuss the impending war. Bobby is a true insider within the famiglia now, he has worked (and married) his way up the organization. Though Tony refers to him as “Buddha” when asking for his input, Bobby is more hawk-like than buddha-like: he wants to go to war. The intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana plays at the restaurant, the same track that Martin Scorsese used as the theme for his film Raging Bull. Sil and T start throwing slow-motion punches at each other, a reference to the slow-motion boxing scenes in Scorsese’s movie. (Another point to make about Raging Bull is that one of its main antagonists was played by Frank Vincent, who of course plays antagonist “Phil Leotardo” on The Sopranos.) We watch with amusement as the guys trade fake-punches. Even with major conflict brewing, the guys are able to joke around and have fun, and it endears them to us.

David Chase also likes to have a little bit of fun as the heat turns up. He cuts from this scene at Vesuvio to a shop-sign with a funny pun built right into it:

flatbush bikini

Those unfamiliar with New York geography might think that “flatbush” is one of the waxing options offered by the shop, but Flatbush of course refers to a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Inside the shop (er, “shoppe”), Phil’s men make plans to hit 3 guys—Tony, Silvio and Bobby—within a 24-hour period. They have some doubt as to whether Bobby Bacala is the #3 man in the rival organization. Even we viewers might share their doubts. But the previous scene at the restaurant confirmed that it is indeed these three men helming the NJ mob now. New York has done its homework, and they are ready to bring the heat.

But New Jersey has a plan up its sleeve too: bring in the two Italian hitmen who killed Rusty Millio last year and surprise Phil at his goomar‘s house. The New Jersey mob is not as professional as their New York counterparts, as evidenced by their long chain of command; the order to carry out the plan passes from Bobby to Paulie to Patsy to Corky Caporale to the two Italians. (Butchie had earlier criticized New Jersey’s redundant layers of management.) Adding to the dysfunction, Paulie Walnuts seems to have some issues accepting orders directly from Bobby. New Jersey doesn’t seem to be in perfect fighting trim, but the apocalypse—ready or not—will soon be upon them.

The previous episode threatened apocalypse as well, but in that hour the potentially cataclysmic event was of a more domestic nature: Anthony Jr’s suicide attempt. AJ is still recovering in the psychiatric ward at Mountainside Hospital. His old acquaintance Rhiannon is also there, proving that possessing a beautiful mug and a lithe figure don’t exempt a person from having emotional and personal difficulties. (We first saw Rhiannon in episode 6.08 “Johnny Cakes.” She was at a nightclub pretending to be 20 when she was actually 15, and we later saw her giving AJ’s friend Hernan a blowjob.) In my previous write-up, I noted that the significance of Chase’s use of “Mountainside Hospital” could be that it connected to the “mountain” found in the lyrics of the old-timey song that closed the previous hour. An additional note about the real-world hospital can be made now: Mountainside is only one of two for-profit hospitals in the state of New Jersey. Indeed, Tony now complains about its hefty $2200 per day price-tag as he rides up its elevator. While Tony complains, Carmela screws on her smile and fixes her façade. Her son may have recently tried to sink himself into the dark abyss, but she manages to look as sharp as ever with her Mandarin jacket and perfect highlights and makeup:

Carm facade

(As the episode progresses, we’ll see more obvious examples of this sort of “façading” and masquerading.) Another note I want to make about this scene at the hospital is that the TV in the ward is showing an episode of the animated series Metalocalypse. The series is a comedy, but it is a very dark comedy and it can be bloody at times. The clip playing on the TV shows multiple dead bodies and severed limbs strewn about:

metalocalype

The cartoon’s name, “Metalocalypse,” may be giving us a premonition: the imminent apocalypse in SopranoWorld will be “metal” in nature, coming via guns and bullets. The bloodletting in SopranoWorld begins when the Italian hitmen arrive—and then whack the wrong guy. I guess there is some resemblance between Phil Leotardo and his goomar‘s father (though I wouldn’t say the man looks very much like the Shah of Iran), but the botched hit nevertheless points to how amateurish the north Jersey mob is compared to its adversary across the river. Maybe our guys are nothing more than “a glorified crew” after all. One of the most clever cuts of the episode—and of the entire series—takes place here, when Chase cuts from the unlucky civilian lying dead on the floor to a TV screen at the porn shop where Corky Caporale is hanging around:

HITS AND TITS

Chase seems to be throwing a bone to his “hits-and-tits” viewers when he cuts from the hit to the tits. Tony is at home draining the swimming pool when Silvio arrives with the unsettling news that Phil got away. In fact, Silvio says, Phil had already gone into hiding days earlier. Tony has just made his first move on the chessboard only to learn that he is already two moves behind.

Janice also arrives at the Soprano home around this time, hoping to get Tony to fork over some money to help support Corrado. Tony mentions to her that he is emptying the swimming pool because “it costs a fortune to heat.” But we can guess the actual reason is because AJ is back home from the psych ward and Tony doesn’t want a repeat of the suicide attempt. The fake excuse Tony gives to his sister is another example of the masquerading and façading that fills this episode. 

AJ seems fairly stable at home, but he raises his mother’s and sister’s eyebrows when he watches a program about the bloody street-fighting taking place in Iraq. This clip playing on the Soprano TV comes from a documentary, America at a Crossroads: Warriors, that had aired on PBS two months before this episode originally airedAccording to its description on PBS.org, the documentary explores how “for many of the American men and women in Iraq, the strongest motivation is a need to serve and feel part of something bigger than themselves.” We remember that Tony had gotten a sense that he was part of “something bigger” during his hospital stay (particularly after reading the mystical Ojibwe quote pinned to the wall). AJ now seems primed to have a similar epiphany, and this documentary may help inspire his decision to join “something bigger”—the military—in the next episode. But I think the presence of the war documentary here is notable for another reason too. When we consider the Metalocalypse imagery earlier, this is the second time this hour that we’re getting a reference to very bloody violence on a TV screen within our TV screen.

Despite all the screentime devoted in “The Blue Comet” to AJ’s problems and the mob warfare that is looming over everything, maybe the most notable event of the hour is Melfi’s termination of Tony’s therapy. (Heads up: I’m going to devote quite a bit of space to break her decision down.) In the previous episode, Elliot mentioned Samuel Yochelson’s and Stanton Samenow’s The Criminal Personality, and the study comes up again now at a dinner party. There is some question among viewers as to whether Elliot instructed the dinner guest to bring up the study. I’m undecided on the matter. I think it certainly could be within Elliot’s nature to give such an instruction, but even he did, I don’t think the dinner guest would have clearly known Elliot’s motivations to do so. Elliot seems quite eager to confront Melfi about her mobster client in front of their colleagues. (When he mentions “rescue fantasy” during an unrelated dinner table conversation, we can guess he is trying to steer the conversation towards Melfi’s years-long attempt to “rescue” Tony.) Elliot eventually “outs” Melfi’s patient when he refers to him as “Leadbelly.” It’s a pretty clever reference—I’ll give Elliot that. But was it proper of him to divulge the info? Dr. Jan Van Schaik, chair of the Ethics Committee at the Wisconsin Psychoanalytic Institute, found Elliot’s disclosure to be “a very egregious ethical violation.” Elliot seems to have engaged in some douchebag behavior here in revealing a patient’s identity, but putting that aside, he does bring up a valid question: should Melfi drop this particular patient? Keith Jarrett’s “Sympathy” playing over the sound system during the dinner party perhaps reflects the “sympathy” that has guided Melfi’s approach toward Tony Soprano. But she seems ready now to reevaluate the tack she has long taken.

Back at home, Melfi reviews Yochelson and Samenow’s study. Maybe it was hearing from a couple of female colleagues that treating criminals has very limited results—as opposed to hearing Elliot mansplain it to her—that causes Melfi to reevaluate now. Chase, somewhat heavy-handedly, does an extreme close-up of the study’s text: “Therapy has potential for non-criminals; for criminals, it becomes one more criminal operation.”

In an interview for Fox News a few days after this episode aired, Dr. Samenow said that Melfi was being “duped” by Tony Soprano the same way that he and Yochelson had been duped by the criminals they had studied. (Dr. Yochelson could not comment for himself as he had passed away in 1976.) In addition to reading The Criminal Personality, David Chase consulted psychologist Nancy Duggan to get an idea where the experts stood on Tony’s treatment. Duggan believed that Dr. Melfi was enabling the mobster more than she was helping him. Although there was a somewhat widespread feeling among mental health professionals that Melfi was justified in terminating Tony’s treatment, there was much head-scratching, even outrage, at the manner in which Melfi dumped him. Many fans felt the same way.

I don’t think Melfi went into their next session gunning to sever their relationship. But everything Tony talks about, from his gratitude toward medical professionals to Meadow’s choice of career to AJ’s emotional problems, seems to strengthen Melfi’s suspicion that Tony is conning her. She starts taking potshots at him. Her rebuke, “So the boy who never cared about anything now cares about too much,” is particularly harsh considering that the “boy” just recently tried to kill himself. Melfi is clearly growing emotional. Tony tells her if they had instant replay, she’d see that she is being unfair. (She hides behind the fact that they of course don’t have instant replay.) As I mentioned in my write-up for the Pilot, David Chase chose a style of editing and operating the camera for all the scenes in Melfi’s office that is very restrained, very austere. We now recognize that this restrained style may have had the effect, intended or unintended, of hiding the growing tensions in Melfi’s heart. Her heart has become a tinderbox ready to explode.

Melfi keeps pecking at everything Tony says, finally attacking him—rather unprofessionally—for “defacing my reading materials” because Tony had torn a recipe out of a magazine earlier in her waiting room. Many viewers have noted the irony: it is a Departures magazine that precipitates Tony’s “departure” from Melfi’s care. I think that the nature of the magazine as well as its name may be relevant here; it is a “luxury lifestyle” magazine owned by American Express and distributed to the company’s Platinum Card customers. Tony steals a page out of the lux-life magazine just as surely as he has been “stealing” tips and ideas for how to bolster his criminal luxury-lifestyle from Dr. Melfi for years now. As Prof. Franco Ricci suggests in his book Born Under A Bad Sign, Tony has long been “defacing” Melfi’s words in order to be a more effective mobster.

Melfi recommends that Tony begin “psychodynamic therapy combined with Anafranil” and offers a referral to another doctor. Tony protests, quite reasonably, that his son has just gotten out of the hospital and there may be something irresponsible, even immoral, in her leaving him out in the lurch at this time. She thinks about this for a moment and then gives him what is probably a bullshit response: “Since you are in crisis, I don’t want to waste your time.” Tony was not the only one shocked by the speed and suddenness with which Melfi nixed his therapy—many viewers including myself were disturbed by it too. I’m not willing to chalk her behavior up to “female menopausal situations”—I’m no gynecologist but I don’t think that’s which way the wind blows. I just figured that her arguably inappropriate and unseemly behavior was simply coming out of the emotional state that she was in. Now that she believes that she has been the victim of a long con by Tony Soprano, she feels outrage. As with the case of Phil Leotardo’s stance toward Tony in this hour, Melfi’s stance is being driven primarily by emotion rather than by professionalism or reason.

I think Jeff Goldberg at Slate.com spoke for many viewers when he gave his explanation for Melfi’s actions: “What she feels, I’m guessing, is shame at her vicarious thrill-seeking, which is the real reason she kept Tony on her rolls for so long. And which is the reason we’ve watched the show for so long, Dr. Melfi being, of course, the stand-in for every law-abiding member of The Sopranos’ audience, who shouldn’t derive delight from the actions of violent mobsters but who do anyway.”

Very sensible explanation, it might very well be the case that Dr. Melfi got caught up in indulging the guilty pleasure of treating this exciting and thrilling client. (We might remember that she had once privately complained how boring some of her other patients can be, and in episode 2.05 she stormed out of a session with Elliot after he suggested that she was getting a “vicarious thrill” through Tony—Elliot’s words clearly hit very close to the bone.) Her guilt at having Tony Sopranos as a client finally seems to have surpassed her pleasure. The question of complicity has been a long-running concern of the show, and Melfi must be grappling with it now. In episode 6.03 “Mayham,” Melfi had to supply the word to Carmela when Carmela couldn’t bring herself to say it; now, Melfi may be confronting whether she too has been “complicit” in Tony’s criminality.

All of this seemed like a reasonable enough explanation for Melfi’s behavior, but then something happened that led me to broaden my take. In my most recent re-watch of the hour, prior to starting this write-up, I remembered that this wasn’t actually the first time we’ve heard Melfi suggest an alternative form of therapy to Tony while trying to hand him off to another doctor. I checked my notes, and sure enough, Melfi had suggested Behavior Modification therapy to Tony when trying to nix their relationship back in “Employee of the Month” (3.04). I decided to watch that memorable Season 3 episode once again—Melfi and Tony may not have the luxury of “instant replay,” but we do—and it has supplemented the way I see Melfi’s actions now. I’ll give a quick recap of the relevant moments in that episode to explain what I mean.

In Melfi’s first scene of 3.04, ex-husband Richard is trying to convince her to toss her conniving client: “He’s an expert at this. The guy is conning you…It really concerns me that you don’t see this. Pink-slip this guy. He’s dangerous.” In the next scene, Melfi asks Tony if he brought the log she had asked him to keep. Tony has clearly forgotten, and she is clearly disappointed. In the following scene, she admits to her own therapist that “Richard was right. I’ve been charmed by a sociopath.” Melfi mistakenly blurts out the name of her mobster client to Elliot, who then suggests sending him to a Behaviorist. 

Back in her office, Melfi takes Elliot’s suggestion and tells Tony it may be time for him to move onto Behavior Modification therapy with another doctor. But T pushes back against the idea, and he does it manipulatively and with bluster: “You know, you’re fuckin unbelievable. I ask you to get serious, but when it gets hard, you pawn me off on somebody else.” Of course, we know that Tony didn’t actually try to get Melfi to be more serious—he was the one not taking therapy seriously. Melfi gets startled by Tony’s pushback and she retreats, claiming that Behavior Modification therapy was merely a suggestion. (It’s almost like the time she retreated into being, in her words, “a little girl” at the sight of Tony in 2.03 “Toodle-fucking-oo.”) In the next sequence, she is walking through the stairwell of her office building while talking to Richard on her cellphone. She gets defensive about her failed attempt to cancel her client: “I told you I would discharge him, and I will in my own good time.” She is so engrossed in the conversation that she doesn’t notice the man in the red hat who eyes her with evil intent as they pass each other on the stairs…

In her 2006 memoir On The Couch, Lorraine Bracco writes that:

Shooting the rape scene was a more physically violent experience than I could have imagined. I felt the degradation. My body burned with pain when I was slammed down in the stairwell. It was so realistic that I tore the bursal sac in my shoulder and was in real pain. I had to have laparoscopic surgery to repair the damage. It wasn’t just me—doing that scene was traumatic for the whole crew. Many people on the set cried during the filming. The brutality was absolutely necessary. It was not gratuitous; it was real. So much of the violence we see on the screen—especially on television—is airbrushed so that it doesn’t appear as gut-wrenchingly awful as it is. I think it’s a disservice, because violence against another human being is despicable and it should be seen as despicable. You should be revolted.

After she is raped, she dreams of a Rottweiler that attacks her attacker. She wakes from the nightmare to find Richard resting peacefully beside her with a sleeping mask on. He is, in a sense, “blind” to her distress:

sleeping mask

Back in Elliot’s office, she interprets the Rottweiler to be a dream-symbol of Tony Soprano. Tony would never turn a blind eye to her if she reached out to him for protection or revenge. In their next session—the final scene of 3.04—Tony agrees that maybe the Behavior Modification therapy she had suggested would be a good idea. But Melfi quickly squashes that notion. “I’ve been getting the distinct feeling that you’re giving me the boot,” Tony continues with a smirk, confident now that he will not be kicked out of this office. Sitting before her potential savior, with the fresh trauma still weighing heavily upon her, Melfi loses her composure and begins to break down. Tony tries to comfort her, and then asks, “You wanna say somethin?” She gathers herself and resolutely, memorably, says “No.” 

We understand that Melfi’s “No” meant that she would not break the social contract, would not use Tony to mete out vigilante justice. But it’s clearer to me now that she was also saying “No” to her thoughts about kicking Tony out; if she had utilized Tony to get vengeance on her assailant, I don’t think she in good conscience could have continued to treat him as a patient. Saying “No” assured that her association with the big and powerful mobster would continue. Richard and Elliot had her best interest in mind when they tried to nurse her thoughts about severing Tony’s treatment, but these two men were utterly powerless in protecting her or avenging her after the violent and revolting experience she went through. The rape, in a sense, sent Melfi down an alternate timeline in SopranoWorld. She was getting ready to give Tony the boot, but then changed her mind after being assaulted. She had told her ex-husband that she would discharge Tony “in her own good time,” but the attack put a delay in her plan. Now, in “The Blue Comet,” that time has finally arrived…

Melfi opens her door and stands by it, an unambiguous signal to Tony that it is time for him to go—permanently. Many viewers have noted over the years that Melfi’s office seems to have an oval, almost womb-like shape. We never see any sharp corners along its walls. Professor Ricci notes that the space’s “absence of corners and shadowed recesses privilege openness and honesty.” But Tony Soprano has trampled on those concepts of openness and honesty; he has routinely disrespected this place. He is thus being kicked out of this corner-less room into a world where he is increasingly cornered and isolated. 

Tony steps through the door into the waiting room. The first episode of The Sopranos, we all remember, opened in this waiting room. I suggested in my first write-up that David Chase may have shot Tony through the legs of the female sculpture in this room in order to diminish his masculine power. In her memoir, Bracco writes that it was her idea for the sculpture to be placed here:

I fought to get that sculpture included. It’s the work of the incredible artist Robert Graham [who is thanked in the credits of “The Blue Comet”], and I thought it reflected Melfi’s aesthetic sense. I wanted it known that Melfi wasn’t a stiff cardboard cutout of a therapist. She was a living, breathing woman, with interests outside of her office.

Jennifer Melfi (and Lorraine Bracco) may have made the effort to mark the office as the personalized space of “a living, breathing woman,” but big ol’ Tony Soprano came in and, over a period of years, in his own unique way, managed to make the space his own. Melfi is taking her space back now. On his way out of the waiting room, Tony makes a big show of placing the torn page back into the Departures magazine. Melfi doesn’t flinch at his ridiculous gesture. She knows that he will never be able to steal her words again. 

I know that I cannot reasonably assert that Chase wanted us to think of “Employee of the Month” (much less go back and re-watch it) when trying to understand Melfi’s reasons for putting an end to Tony’s treatment. And without the details of “Employee” close at hand, it may be a little bit harder to see Melfi’s cancellation of Tony as a tale of Feminine Strength Regained. Or maybe it’s not that hard to see, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just mansplaining something that’s very obvious to many viewers. In any case, I think that the last image Chase gives us of Dr. Melfi bolsters this particular reading of her final storyline. Our last glimpse of Melfi on The Sopranos comes as she resolutely, confidently, closes the door of her office. The shot has always made me think of the final moments of The Godfather, but now I can see better how the callback to that great film functions more as a contrast rather than a comparison:

2 Doors

In Coppola’s movie, the put-upon, passive, manipulated wife can only watch as the door is closed on her. She is shut out of the dark-paneled room where the men conduct their business (just as she is shut out of virtually all halls of power as a woman in 1950s America). She has just been lied to by her husband. She has some intuition that her spouse isn’t the type of man he claims to be, but she is incapable of acting upon this intuition. In contrast to Kay at the end of The Godfather, Jennifer Melfi has found her strength and power. She definitively and decisively closes the door on this part of her life.

TV critic Glenn Garvin of The Miami Herald noted that it is not long after Tony is dismissed from Melfi’s office that he empties his backyard swimming pool; now that the office where he explored the significance of the ducks in the pool is no longer available to him, Tony wants to make sure that the ducks don’t have a place to come back to. Garvin’s insight helps us to see a connection that is being made now, a connection eight years in the making: early in Season 1, Melfi had helped Tony recognize that his anxiety about the ducks in the pool was really an anxiety about losing his family, and now 8 years later he drains that same pool because of his anxiety about losing a member of his family to suicide.

So, no more ducks and no more Dr. Melfi for Tony Soprano. Some viewers were happy that the good doctor was finally out of the picture. For some viewers, nothing would be more frustrating than having to watch Tony and Melfi prattle on in the Final Episode, an hour they hoped would be filled with blood and boobs and bullets. Chase, as I mentioned before, plays with the question of would The Sopranos have an unconventional ending or a more traditional ending throughout this episode; by removing Melfi from the narrative now, Chase seems to hint that the finale will be “less yakking, more whacking.”

At Vesuvio restaurant, Tony puts on a masquerade for his wife. He tells Carmela, “I quit therapy,” when in reality he was expelled from therapy. When Artie and Charmaine Bucco start to walk over to their table, Tony murmurs, “Here we go,” and the Soprano couple ready themselves to do some heavy-duty masquerading. First, they feign total happiness about Meadow and Patrick Parisi’s relationship. Then they try to pretend how pleased they are about Meadow’s decision not to go to medical school. Tony stumbles trying to think of a good reason why he’s pleased about it and starts mumbling something about the AIDS virus. Carmela comes to his rescue, mentioning all the problems doctors have go through with insurance companies and hospital cutbacks. But then, Carmela—caught up in her own storytelling—goes a little bit overboard, questioning if the compassion and patience that doctors need come naturally to Meadow. Tony doesn’t come to Carmela’s rescue now, but instead defends his beloved daughter: “What are you talking about??” When the Buccos query how AJ is doing, the Sopranos can answer only with monosyllables: “Good. Good.” They are stumbling through their masquerade and are losing the energy to continue it. Artie and Charmaine come to both their rescues now: Artie directs Tony’s attention to “Man-genius” (Eric Mangini, the Jets’ head coach), while Charmaine whisks off to order some limoncellos in celebration of Meadow and Patrick.

I’m getting a little sentimental again re-watching this scene, because this is the last time we will see Artie and Charmaine on the series. As an Autopsy commenter recently pointed out, there is something of a parallel between the names “Arthur”/”Anthony” and “Charmaine”/”Carmela,” suggesting that the Bucco couple can be seen as the non-criminal counterpart of the Soprano couple. Surely, Artie and Charmaine have put up façades from time to time (as we all do). But Anthony and Carmela’s entire public life must perpetually be a façade. 

I’ve always argued that “fuckin regularness” is a fundamental part of life, ubiquitous and inescapable. In SopranoWorld, we see that the banality of life can also act as a façade, masking a potential of violence that lays just below the surface of everyday life. That calm façade gets shattered towards the end of this hour. Bobby Baccalieri goes into a hobby shop, leaving his cell phone in his car (which is why he misses Silvio’s warning call). He gets smitten with an $8000 Blue Comet train—it evokes for him the days of yore, a bygone American era (reminiscent of what Tony complained of missing out on back in the Pilot episode). There was always a gentleness to Bobby that made him different from the other guys. When the shop owner remarks that he can enjoy the train set with his son, there is something heartbreaking about Bobby’s response: “He don’t care.” That wistful statement become Bobby’s last words. Bacala’s final sequence is a showpiece of camerawork and editing. The camera dollies through the store, tracking the hitmen between the aisles. Chase inserts images of toy figurines and customers all the while crosscutting to a model train running along its track. Part of the power of this scene, I think, comes from how different its editing style is from the style that is usually employed on the series. In an interview for Post magazine published a few years before this episode aired, editor William Stich said:

In a lot of ways The Sopranos is a conventional show. We don’t use a lot of swish pans, we don’t use a lot of Steadicam that you cut from movement to movement constantly. Not a lot of quick cuts here and there. It’s basic good filmmaking. Shooting your master, shooting your over-the-shoulders, shooting your close-ups and having good composition. And you don’t have to over-stylize something, because you have a good script.

This sequence in the hobby shop is definitely more stylized and dynamic than what Sopranos viewers are used to seeing. I think a couple of the stylized images are particularly noteworthy:

The shot of the toy train barreling off its track activates a metaphor—SopranoWorld is running off its rails:

train 2

The wrecked toy model of the city of Newark, Prof. Maurice Yacowar writes, “parodies an empire crumbling”:

train 3

The closeup of a female figurine-spectator trying to stifle a gasp might represent what I have previously referred to as “the Culture of Spectacle”:

train 1

The author Mario Vargas Llosa, as I’ve mentioned before, is profoundly critical of modern civilization for valuing spectacle above all else. Unfortunately, many of our producers, directors and TV showrunners are not so critical as Llosa is. They don’t want to lose the ratings and dollars that the spectacular brings in. When one of the hobby shop customers (possibly one of the kids that were cowering on the floor) lets out a series of blood-curdling screams at Bobby’s murder, David Chase is reminding us of the devastating toll that spectacle takes upon the spectator.

“The Blue Comet” keeps chugging along. Patsy and Silvio are attacked in the parking lot of the Bada Bing. Patsy is able to hoof it through some trees and escape unscathed, but Silvio takes multiple bullets. (Some earlier imagery of Silvio polishing his white shoes perhaps foretold that his luck would run out in this hour.) This shootout isn’t as visually graceful as the earlier shooting at the hobby shop, mainly because of some clumsy slo-mo shots that were inserted in. But I do think the scene’s overall editing, particularly the sound editing, is very well done. Great care was taken to match street sounds and engine sounds from shot to shot. The emphatic sounds of accelerating car engines heighten the sense of accelerating urgency within the narrative. (And the next scene, I’ll note here, opens on Tony’s accelerating Escalade, using the sound of the engine once again to sustain the mood of emergency.) A crowd of spectators from inside and around the Bing, including a couple of dancers, watches as the action unfolds around them. In the mayhem, a passing motorcyclist loses control of his bike and gets run over by a car.

Throughout the scene, we get small glimpses of the familiar Bada Bing sign. Susann Cokal, in her essay “Narrative Ergonomics and the Functions of Feminine Space in The Sopranos,” notes that the sign “shows a naked woman arcing backward, overcome by the enormity of an exclamation point that emphasizes the club’s name—a visual representation of the way a phallus overwhelms a woman, or a shock overwhelms a TV viewer.” The Bing sign is now overlooking what is certainly one of the most shocking and overwhelming sequences of the series. The inclusion of the topless dancers who watch the bullets fly makes this scene the second time this hour that Chase tosses a bone to his hits-and-tits fans. But I don’t think Chase suddenly decided to pander to his most lowbrow viewers here in this penultimate hour of the series. I believe he is making is a criticism of those of us who hanker for this type of spectacle. When we momentarily make eye-contact with one of the dancers who inadvertently glances into the camera, it unintentionally reinforces our self-awareness that we at home are gazing at the crowd that is gazing at the violence. We are the crowd. We are the rubberneckers. Chase gives us spectacle while censuring us for requesting such spectacle.

This idea of “providing spectacle” was one of the primary driving forces behind another HBO show, Game of Thrones. Thrones had no shortage of pageantry, histrionic characters and extravagant violence, and in “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of that series, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss gave in to their worst impulses, pandering specifically to their fire-and-flames, death-and-dragons viewers with little concern how the rest of their fans would take it. Kelly Lawler, in her review of that hour for USA Today, wrote “Where to begin with ‘The Bells,’ an absolute disaster of an episode that exhibited every bad habit the series’ writers have ever had? They threw out their own rule book (suddenly the scorpions don’t work and Drogon can burn everything?) to pursue gross spectacle.” Character-consistency and verisimilitude were tossed out the window by Benioff and Weiss, sacrificed for the sake of grand spectacle. (To Benioff and Weiss’ credit, the final episode was more reasonably constructed and, in my opinion, a pretty good end to a very fun series.)

Back to The Sopranos. Tony rushes home after the attacks on his men to evacuate his family. Rosalie Aprile is at the Soprano house with a newly discovered batch of photos from her trip to Paris with Carmela. (The mention of the Paris trip, with its investigation of difficult existential questions, perhaps implicitly brings those existential undertones into the current hour.) Tony tells Carm that Bobby is dead and instructs her to head out to the new property which she acquired in an estate sale. (Rosalie interrupts them after overhearing the conversation. “Anything I can do?” she helpfully asks. But she really doesn’t want to stay a minute longer in this house which may potentially become the site of a gangland shootout—“Or maybe I should just leave,” she artfully adds.)

Upstairs, AJ and Rhiannon are on a website reading about Adnan al Shukrijamah, wanted by authorities at the time for planning “dirty bomb” nuclear attacks on U.S. soil. So: AJ’s computer screen becomes the third time this hour that a screen within our screen references violence or potential violence. Tony directs Rhiannon out of the room, and then breaks the news to AJ about Bobby’s death. AJ doesn’t take it very well, and his immediate thoughts are about his own emotional state rather than about Bobby’s kids or Aunt Janice. When he starts to cry, Tony loses his temper and forcefully yanks wee AJ out of bed. (There’s a bit of irony in Tony’s reaction here; in the previous episode, Carmela lost her temper at Tony for “playing the depression card” and now Tony lashes out at AJ for something similar.) Even though I was a bit disappointed by AJ’s self-absorption here, I don’t think Tony’s response is justifiable at all. He gave his son barely even a moment to process his emotions. Tony plops the young man on his tailbone and drags him across the floor. A cord gets hooked on AJ’s foot, pulling his Xbox and DVDs and other possessions off of his well-stocked shelves:

AJ dragged with stuff

In the previous episode, AJ tied a concrete block to his leg before plopping himself into the swimming pool. I had suggested that the concrete block represented the gloom and nihilism of being a Soprano which had long been weighing him down. Now, as Tony pulls AJ across the floor, we see AJ’s leg “tied” to some of the goodies and products that come with a life of leisure and consumerism. This is a different type of weight, but perhaps just as heavy. As he leaves the room, Tony snickers dismissively at the laptop displaying the latest news developments around the globe. Tony would much rather see AJ spend his time doing the stuff a “normal” young man his age would do. Tony is clearly disappointed that all AJ was doing with Rhiannon—behind his closed bedroom door, no less—was investigating the war on terror. Poor AJ. Living as a Soprano is a difficult thing under the best of circumstances, but now he has to cope with the worst circumstances of being a Soprano. Maybe AJ shouldn’t even be at home; it’s possible Tony pulled him out of Mountainside because he didn’t want to foot the $2200/day bill any longer. Instead of giving his son the attention and support that he needs right now, Tony is busy dodging the bullet that is out there with his name on it.

Carmela and Meadow rush over to Janice’s house. As the Porsche pulls into the driveway of the large, luxurious home, we wonder if the cost of this house was worth the price the mobsters have paid for it. Johnny Sac, the previous owner, was sent to prison and had to spend his last, sad days in a medical lockup. Bobby was then able to get the house for a discounted amount, but now he has paid the ultimate price. Inside the house, Bobby III and Sophia, sitting across from Janice, seem to be in state of shock. Over the course of their young lives, they have had to contend not only with their mother dying and their father dying, but now also with the horrifying prospect of Janice being their one and only caregiver.

Tony and the rest of the fellas hide out in a safehouse. Silvio, of course, cannot be there—but a cardboard cutout of him is. (According to Alan Sepinwall, Chase and the writers wanted some way to include Silvio in this scene. So they conceived this house not only to be an emergency hideout but also a storage space for Bada Bing promotional items, like the cutout.) Tony heads upstairs, toting the giant gun that Bobby gave him for his birthday (in a scene we remember from the season opener). As Tony looks at the gun, he has a quick flashback to the moment from that birthday weekend when Bobby wondered whether a person who gets shot can “see it coming.” Obviously, Tony may be flashing back to that moment because he is wondering now whether Bobby saw it coming. But Chase, a master at setting up future scenes, may have included the flashback for reasons that will become clearer in the next episode… (I’ll be coming back to this flashback in my next write-up.)

Of the three men who met at Vesuvio earlier to strategize: Bobby is dead, Silvio is as good as dead, and Tony is scrambling to stay alive. Phil Leotardo is taking care of all loose ends—he’s not leaving any scraps in his scrapbook. The Tindersticks’ spooky song “Running Wild” closes the episode, its sparse piano ringing in the dark and adding to the feeling of suspense. (Although the track was recorded years earlier, it sounds like it could have been written specifically to score this scene.) As the end-credits roll, we understand that David Chase has laid down all the tinder-sticks needed to ignite a giant conflagration in the final hour. Right now, going into the series finale, it looks like Chase may not be leaving any scraps in his scrapbook either.

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MARIO DIACO, ACCOUNTANT
I want to circle back for a moment to the scene when Janice visits Tony’s house. Janice tells Tony that their uncle doesn’t like speaking to Mario Diaco, his accountant, because the man has an artificial voice-box which makes Corrado think he is from outer space. This mention of a “voiceless accountant” toward the end of The Sopranos caught my attention. This final season of the series has been rife with questions of karma, of justice, of a moral accounting. By placing a voiceless accountant in the show now, perhaps Chase is suggesting that SopranoWorld is not a place where a final moral accounting can be heard. Corrado hesitates to meet with the accountant because his dementia makes him mistake the man for a space alien. But in a sense, all of the gangsters, including Corrado, have always considered any sort of true accounting of their work to be an extra-terrestrial concept, foreign to the world they move in. With apologies to Phil Leotardo (and Ralphie and Richie and Feech and others), this lack of moral accounting is the true villain of the series. In his essay “The Sopranos, Film Noir and Nihilism,” Kevin Stoehr writes that “While the external villains in Tony’s life change from season to season, the internal villain in his life remains ever-present: his inability to take account of his own moral decline…” 

Mario Diaco most probably had his voice-box removed because of laryngeal cancer (overwhelmingly the reason why most laryngectomies are done). We remember that John Schwinn, back in “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” (6.04), underwent a laryngectomy for this reason. I had suggested in my writeup for 6.04 that the significance of this plot-point might be that the man who gave Tony a less nihilistic way of looking at the universe—the man who suggested that Everything is Everything rather than a Big Nothing—was left voiceless in Chase’s cruel but realistic universe. And now we learn that the accountant, a man whose very purpose is to give a reckoning, has also been left voiceless in Chase’s universe.

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THE CRIMINAL PERSONALITY
The Yochelson and Samenow study had a considerable impact on Melfi and Tony’s relationship in SopranoWorld. In the real world, the study has been influential but has also received some criticism. There have been concerns raised about its methodology: for example, no control group was used, only male (no female) inmates were studied, and the 240 subjects that started the study winnowed to a small fraction of that number by study’s end. Yochelson and Samenow ultimately reached the conclusion that biological and social factors don’t play a very significant role in the behavior of criminals, a conclusion that is controversial and not universally agreed upon. I don’t think David Chase is necessarily making a comment about the merits or the flaws of the study when he places it in The Sopranos; I believe he uses it simply as a way to reignite a line of thinking that Dr. Melfi had abandoned years ago.

Nevertheless, the question of whether psychotherapy can help a criminal personality is fascinating. I’m not well-versed enough on the issue to give an intelligent answer. I have, however, often thought about how effective psychotherapy is in treating the nihilistic personality. My hunch is that psychotherapy—particularly when it’s just talk therapy with a couple of prescription drugs thrown in—is inadequate. I’ve always felt that the dread of “the Big Nothing” that nihilistic personalities must contend with is better addressed by Art. I’m not talking about going to some insurance-approved “art therapy” class once or twice a week, but rather immersing oneself in those profound works of film, literature, music etc that grapple with the deepest of existential questions. (Dr. Krakower suggested something similar in episode 3.07 “Second Opinion” when he told Carmela that her husband should read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.) But I know that not everyone has the time—or the inclination—to seek the balm and wisdom found in Art. And so I guess it’s a good idea for psychotherapists to leave some space in their calendars for all the nihilists out there seeking help.

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SCREENS WITHIN A SCREEN
I don’t want to make too much of AJ looking at three screens in this hour (2 TVs and a laptop) which each convey violence (or at least potential violence), but I do think it is interesting in that it reinforces the idea of AJ as a regular spectator to violence. Over the last few seasons, Chase’s camera has focused on AJ as he gawked at a fistfight outside a house party, gawked at his classmate Victor getting his toes acidified, and gawked at a young Somalian man getting beat down. AJ is the son of a mob boss, but ironically, these three instances of violence that he witnessed were not directly related to mob activity. They occurred within the flow of AJ’s daily life. Daily life in America may simply be more violent than it is in other first-world countries. The three screens within our screen in this hour self-reflexively underscore our perpetual exposure to violence. Regardless of whether or not the upcoming Grand Finale of The Sopranos will contain a massive bloodletting, we are not able to escape the spectatorship of violence that is a part and parcel of living in America.

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OF DEPARTURES AND DIET COKES
As I mentioned earlier, the specific reason why Chase chose to use Departures magazine in Melfi’s office might be that its status as a luxury lifestyle magazine added an interesting subtext to the scene. After the series finale, many viewers also believed that that magazine was a clue of sorts pointing to Tony’s “departure” from the world of the living. But I wanted to come back to the magazine for an entirely different reason. There has always been some chatter among fans and even some of the Sopranos pundits out there about “product placement” on the series. While I’ve never really heard anybody claim that the Departures mag is another example of product placement, I did take a look at the credits to see if there was any info about this particular item there. I found that gratitude and credit is given to various companies and products, but not to American Express (which produced Departures at the time):

Departures

Viewers often make a charge of “product placement” despite not having any evidence, from the credits or otherwise, that the product was actually “placed” there with financial or advertising considerations in mind. Not too long ago, a podcaster described the Diet Coke that Matt Bevilaqua drinks just before he is killed in “From Where to Eternity” as product placement. Perhaps the podcaster has some inside information not available to the rest of us, but the credits of that episode don’t indicate that HBO was working with Coca Cola. Plus, the “placement” of the soda can in that scene is actually quite poor, as the brand name on the side of the can is mostly obscured by a napkin. Furthermore, the brand name “Diet Coke” is never spoken by anyone. (Also, I’m not convinced that Coca Cola would pay good money to have its product described as a “sugarless motherfucker.”) The podcaster seemed to assume that the mere presence of a brand name qualified it to be product placement. 

As I argued in my “Luxury Lounge” write-up, the use of name-brand products adds to the realism/verisimilitude of the show. Such realism strengthens the relationship between the viewers and the characters. Watching “From Where to Eternity,” we feel Matt Bevilaqua’s terror as these hulking mobsters tie him to a chair and question him. His mouth is predictably dry, and we understand his urge to gulp down the Diet Coke. David Chase could have had Big Pussy hand him a can with some made-up name printed on its side, something like “Dr. Salter,” for example. But doing so could have taken the viewer out of the moment; we might find ourselves thinking, even if only for a second or two, “I’ve heard of Dr. Pepper but I’ve never heard of Dr. Salter. Is that supposed to be some kind of salty root beer?” All of the universe-building, all of the suspension of disbelief, all of the work that had been done to build tension up to that point could have taken a momentary hit. 

While realism strengthens the relationship between character and viewer, product placement tends to diminish it. A silent third-party essentially comes between the character and viewer to oversee the hawking of their product. The on-screen character is reduced to being a vehicle for an advertisement while the viewer at home is reduced to being a mark. I’m not naïve—I’m aware that HBO has spoken with various companies about the appearance of their products on The Sopranos. But the details of these talks are somewhat murky. We don’t know if money was ever exchanged or if HBO simply enjoyed the free use of the products, nor do we know the extent to which the companies had a say in what was seen or heard onscreen (if they had any say at all.) I know that HBO isn’t some hippy socialist collective trying to bring a golden era of peace upon the earth—they are a network running a business in the cutthroat world of television. Still, we need to be careful not to make unfounded, haphazard accusations of product placement on The Sopranos, because we might then be guilty of making an egregious error: we mistake an attempt to increase realism as an attempt to increase profits.

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2020
This year has rained a shitstorm on us like we have never fucking seen. A global pandemic, economic downturn, locked-down cities, Kobe Bryant’s death, George Floyd’s death, protests, riots and killings in American streets, murder hornets, West coast wildfires, an endless run of hurricanes and storms, unsettling events in the political sphere—the list goes on and on. If ya ask me, you can take 2020 and give it back to the Indians. Perhaps as Americans, we’re not as equipped to deal with such chaos as the rest of the world is. Svetlana Kirilenko told Tony as much in “The Strong, Silent Type” (4.10) when she said, “That’s the trouble with you Americans. You expect nothing bad ever to happen when the rest of the world expects only bad to happen—and they are not disappointed.”

In March, just as coronavirus was forcing the country to go into a shutdown, Netflix released its original docu-series Tiger King. A goofy soap opera of misfits and miscreants, Tiger King was exactly the escapist entertainment that we needed at the time. It had heroes and it had villains (and part of the fun was trying to decide which was which). Though not very poignant, the show occasionally managed to be sweet. Tiger King’s editing style—subtly borrowed from reality shows—exploited the sensational nature of the storylines, making the series one of the most talked about shows of the year. Adding to its popularity was the fact that it was remarkably meme-able. The lockdown meant we had lots of time on our hands to pass around memes like this one:

tiger king2

But I wondered if the popularity of Tiger King was being fueled by something more subterranean than simple escapist longing. Putting on my Captain Subtext hat, I wondered if the series struck such a nerve because it was reflecting the situation we found ourselves in: we were having to confront wild nature in the form of a dangerous virus much the same way people on the show confronted wild nature in the form of dangerous tigers. As much as we’d like to believe that we’re safe and secure from the threats of untamed nature in our cities and towns, the virus reminds us that the entire world is essentially a jungle. Walking through the aisles of a grocery store during the pandemic now, we may feel an anxiety similar to that felt by our hunter-gatherer forebears as they foraged for food in primal settings tens of thousands of years ago, and it is that same primordial anxiety that drives the narrative of Tiger King. Or perhaps not, I don’t know. I readily admit that I may be reading too much into Netflix’s show about a gay, gun-toting zookeeper.

Another show that found great popularity this year was our very own Sopranos. As with Tiger King, a variety of reasons probably accounted for The Sopranos’ newfound popularity, chief among them being the lockdown. A pair of new podcasts hosted by Drea de Matteo and Michael Imperioli surely also contributed. Another factor may have been the introduction of HBO’s new HBO-MAX streaming service. But here too, I wondered if there weren’t subconscious elements contributing to the Sopranos lovefest. Perhaps we recognize at a deep, almost subconscious level that the cultural concerns that David Chase explored in his TV series years ago are closely connected to our contemporary worries. First airing in 1999, The Sopranos expressed various fin de siècle (end-of-century) concerns: the increasing complications of the “American Dream” and the winding-down of the great “American Century.” We are now 20 years into the new century but are still grappling with some of those old concerns. Many Americans on both sides of the politico-cultural divide today feel that the country is headed down a wrong path. The pessimism on each side stems from two different, even opposite, sets of anxieties—and the horizon shows no clear signs of reconciliation or resolution. The Sopranos was a reflection of America’s troubled soul in the late ’90s/early ’00s. Most of us today do not have any greater clarity on these issues than we did back then, only a greater conviction that “our side” is on the right side of the ongoing battle for America’s soul.

Ever since 2007, the year The Sopranos ended, David Chase has no longer had his primary vehicle to make topical commentary about the state of the country. But he still seems to have the desire to do so. In May of this year, Chase sent newly written lines of dialogue imagining how various Sopranos characters would currently be dealing with the coronavirus to Michael Imperioli and Steve Schirripa to share on their podcast Talking Sopranos. The new lines, for example, expressed Meadow’s regret about choosing law school over medical school, Carmela’s happiness that Mead didn’t become a doctor, and AJ’s astonishment at his younger self: “At one time I wanted to work for Trump. You believe it?! Fuck me, dude.” 

The lines Chase sent to Talking Sopranos seem to have been a one-off, we haven’t heard much from him since. If Chase was a memer, he would have had a way to express his thoughts about the current state of affairs with regularity. But he’s not a memer. And that’s why I think all the Sopranos meme accounts on social media are so important—they connect The Sopranos to the current world in a way that David Chase no longer can. My internet-buddy @sopranosgram does exactly that here:

sopranosgram covid2

A meme usually works only if it is instantly understood—otherwise we just keep on scrolling with barely any recognition of it. The Sopranos had so many memorable lines by so many memorable characters in so many memorable situations, and was so eminently re-watchable (further imprinting its lines and characters and scenes into our collective memory) that we are able to instantly recognize the joke or reference behind a Sopranos meme.

Sopranos meme accounts have helped make the series relevant to new, younger viewers. At the same time, the meme accounts may appeal to older, original viewers of the series in part because they evoke a certain nostalgia. As troubled as the first decade of this century was, it feels like those days were positively paradise compared to today. Hell, right now I feel nostalgic for just last year. I feel cautious today walking into a restaurant containing a dozen or so patrons, but a year ago I felt only enthusiasm walking into a convention center packed with thousands of people. SopranosCon, taking place in November of last year in Secaucus NJ, was quite a scene. Stocked with several Sopranos actors, fans in bathrobes and tracksuits, the horse that played “Pie-o-my,” recreations of various sets (including the Bing stage, staffed with actual dancers), plus almost anything else Sopranos-related you could think of (and some stuff you would never think of), the convention in some ways was itself a hothouse of nostalgia. Artist John Podgurski’s reproduction of the Satriale’s pig-mural became a popular and nostalgic spot for people to meet. I and Vik Singh (warm and convivial host of the Poda Bing podcast) enjoyed a sit-down in front of the green and pink painting:

pig mural 2

Perhaps some of Bobby Baccalieri’s nostalgic sentiment in this hour, as he pines for the days of sipping on a Negroni in the club car of the Blue Comet, has rubbed off on me. But I’m sure the bulk of my Sopranos sentimentality right now is coming from the knowledge that I will soon be wrapping up this years-long Autopsy project. Recently I came across some photos of the sets used at Silvercup Studios, and—to my surprise—the sight of the familiar furniture and set-decoration put a little lump in my throat:

Animated GIF-downsized_large (16)

There’s something strange, almost haunting, about seeing these production sets sitting lonesome in the cold glare of an empty studio. The disembodied sets, depopulated of all the familiar faces we’re used to seeing, serve as a reminder that the world of The Sopranos was not actually a real place. Chase’s consistent effort to portray SopranoWorld with realism and verisimilitude was so successful that it is sometimes easy for us to forget that the series was a crafted work of fiction, employing dozens upon dozens of technicians, designers, writers, actors and artisans to bring the fiction alive. David Chase was exceedingly good at marshaling the most exceptional people and resources together in order to breathe life into his fictional TV world. And that—more than nostalgia, current events, meme accounts, podcasts, blogs or anything else—accounts for the ongoing popularity of the series. We never get tired of revisiting a skillfully crafted work; its artistry has no expiration date. “A thing of beauty,” wrote the poet John Keats, “is a joy forever.”

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ADDITIONAL POINTS:

  • Possible reference of “The Blue Comet” title?  In some interpretations of Hopi Indian prophecy, “the blue kachina” is a comet or star that signals the imminent end of all mankind.
  • White shoes.  As usual, Chase seems to undermine our reading of his images as fixed “symbols.” This hour makes a good case that white shoes symbolize death, but we also know that Paulie has a closet full of white loafers—and he manages to remain standing all the way through the end of the series.
  • It’s ironic (and probably a bit devious) that Janice tells Tony that she can’t afford to support Corrado any longer, yet her husband Bobby barely hesitates to blow $8000 on a train set. Tony is outraged that she would even approach him about their uncle: “You got a lot of balls, coming to me! And as for your husband, Janice—‘Exile on Main Street!'” We’ll never know just how serious Tony’s threat of excommunication was because Bobby gets killed in the following scene.
  • The song from Cavalleria Rusticana, which I mentioned plays at Vesuvio, also appears at the end of The Godfather III. <<< G.3 SPOILER ALERT: The music starts just after Michael Corleone’s daughter is killed, and this led some Sopranos viewers to predict that the series would end with the death of Tony Soprano’s daughter. >>>
  • Punning all the way to the end.  One of the guests at the dinner party claims, “All Italians have big noses.” He is not invoking an ethnic stereotype, as we are led to believe, but describing Italian wines.
  • During one scene at the Bada Bing, we can hear the dreamy but disturbing groove of The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over (Turn Out the Lights),” perhaps foreshadowing that the music and the lights will both suddenly go out at the end of the next hour.

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Paulie 2020

Duly noted.

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38 responses to “The Blue Comet (6.20)

  1. Thanks Ron. I enjoyed your insights on this one – especially the legwork behind the psychiatry stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yay! A new post! I’ll have to read this one again LOL! But I had to mention the “Metalocalypse” reference. Man I enjoyed that show, the premise sounds totally ridiculous (and it is) but it was just so…endearing, I guess I’d say. When I first saw this episode I had to rewind to verify I really saw that.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You bastard. The entire way through reading this I was thinking “but Paulie has shelves full of white loafers, and he doesn’t die, albeit responsible for a lot of death”, but you nixed me in the additional points.
    I wonder how many penultimate episodes of a season contain a death?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tony whupping AJ is foreshadowed in the final Melfi session. He muses that he should “put his foot up his Ass”. You wonder if his confrontation with Melfi in some way caused him to attack AJ. This was a way to lash out at her and to reject her as she certainly would have disapprove and tried to coach him out of such behavior.
    Thanks for the write-ups and glad to have you back.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Well worth the wait Ron, so much to feast on. Thanks for your hard work over all these years. Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay, here’s my first thought. I saw Tony’s look when he saw what was on AJ’s computer as concern because the troubling thoughts are still there in AJ’s mind. He had no time to coddle him because they had to get the hell out of the house. I couldn’t help thinking that maybe less coddling would have done AJ good. I still get the feeling that he is not as depressed as he says he is, I think he is self-pitying and Tony gets frustrated. I also think its going to be an ongoing syndrome with AJ. Self-involvement, and a disconnect from how other people feel. Yes, he is angry that he is a Soprano and has to deal with this…but still, he doesn’t seem scared.

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  7. So glad to get one of these in time for Thanksgiving

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I literally went “OHHH!” and woke up the cat when I saw this was updated. Awesomeness. It had the effect of a jump scare in a movie, but a nice one.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hallelujah! Been checking this site pretty much daily.
    I imagine you have your work cut out for you for the next instalment. I wonder if you’ll end it in mid-sentence?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ron, there’s no thanks I can give that can accurately convey the gratitude I have for what you’ve done on this website.

    At surface-view, it would seem quite unlikely that a show like the The Sopranos would have any deep resonance with one such as myself–a geeky, black, Gen Z-er living in the Midwest. However, therein lies one of the key attributes of American Myth that perhaps make it the central myth of the world–a story of one facet of the United States is irrevocably entwined in all its others.

    Everything is Everything, and I am absolutely down with that.

    Your musings on Spectacle gave me somewhat of an epiphany. The Sopranos–a numinous, mythic, phantasmagoria dressed in the skin of mundane, urban criminality–presents us the world as we know it before slowly cracking it open to reveal the bottomless realms and potentialities we’ve been unknowingly standing atop of. For me, THAT IS the Spectacle. Not flashy, not even a slow-burn, but more like the steady, beating pulse of a universal onmi-image stirring something dormant, yet eternal, in our cores.

    …………and yeah, the shoot-outs and big titties are cool, too.
    Thank you, again.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “the order to carry out the plan passes from Bobby to Paulie to Patsy to Corky Caporale to the two Italians. (Butchie had earlier criticized New Jersey’s redundant layers of management.)”

    It’s like a game of telephone.. Tony seems to give Bobby a look when he asks ‘who do you want to take care of it?’ Why does he involve Paulie at all? Amateur power move as a result of their beef from the Italian festival in the previous season maybe? Or is it just bad management? But then why is Silvio there and not making sure it goes more smoothly? Paulie doesn’t want to be involved at all because he wants to survive which leads to him putting patsy in charge. Patsy, who has every reason not wanting to be 4th in line barely seems interested (“does he speak Ukrainian?” “The fuck do I know?”) and on and on it goes this thing of ours..

    “Maybe our guys are nothing more than “a glorified crew” after all.”

    I’ve always thought these quotes about Jersey being a lesser outfit were bullshit to be honest. I think the way the New York guys talk shit is similar to how real New Yorkers kind of look down on Jersey and it’s more of these alpha guys having a dick measuring contest. If you look at the facts, the two times the term ‘glorified crew’ came up were: 1) On the golf course when Johnny Sac was trying to convince Carmine of the importance of the relationship with NJ on a business deal until Carmine Jr. got pissy cause Carmine said Tony was like a son. Carmine loses his temper and uses the phrase. 2) This episode where Phil uses the phrase cause of his own beef (and even then his consigliere is like “whacking a boss, you sure?”). Not to mention the boss of a prominent family in Italy gives away her best/most loyal soldier and cousin. I doubt she’d do this if they were just some under-respected, under-valued “glorified crew”

    Don’t have anything to add to the Tony-Melfi dynamic analysis except that it was incredibly insightful and well written as usual, Ron. Literally gave me goosebumps reading it.

    Also the Lorraine bracco book sounds incredibly well written as well. How much sopranos stuff is in there? Is it worth a read for someone who isn’t particularly interested in most of her other work?

    “This idea of “providing spectacle” was one of the primary driving forces behind another HBO show, Game of Thrones.”

    I hate to be ‘that guy’ but this show got worse and worse the more they ran out of source material (or decided they were better writers aka 4.5 seasons in) but I can’t recommend the books enough (although I have to warn you the books are unlikely to ever get finished.. Still definitely worth the read though)

    “Viewers often make a charge of “product placement” despite not having any evidence,”

    Never understood this complaint. Products in the sopranos always seem naturally introduced and never forced. For example when Tony orders Chinese on the phone and orders cans of coke.. If he said cans of cola or something it just would’ve sounded ridiculous. Or when the commercial for Mercedes is on tv and it makes Tony think of Gloria. It wasn’t in there to promote Mercedes, it was in there to remind Tony and the audience about this beautiful woman who might became a major player in future episodes while at the same time leaving Carmela completely oblivious as to what Tony (and the audience) are thinking. I’m not sure they could’ve achieved that without the commercial but either way it worked perfectly. If done naturally and with purpose there’s nothing wrong with putting products in your tv show or movie in my opinion

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Finally! I am happy that the analysis has been uploaded (great as always, by the way) but at the same time I’m sad because there is only one left and I’m afraid the analysis will end with: “and the real meaning of The Sopranos ending is…”.
    I haven’t rewatched The Sopranos and The Wire this year (which I regret) but I watched seasons 4-7 of Mad Men and then I rewatched the entire show and couldn’t help but compare the chaos of 1968 shown in season 6 to the chaos of this year. It was especially shocking to see the King-assassination riots episode and that a few months later the George Floyd protests occurred.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I read a book once that studied the 100 most shocking events of human history, and one of the events on their list was the year “1968.” Lots of parallels to that year now in 2020..

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Always brilliant to have another one of these! The analysis is worthy of the subject matter, which is the highest praise I can give. Great work Sir!!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I think Melfi’s dropping Tony as a client also works as a meta dropping of the audience by Chase himself. We never really had to think about what everything actually meant before this point. Why did Tony dream that? Melfi / Chase will tell us. If they don’t, it’s probably not important or it’s simply “bad writing”. Tony never actually read into anything and neither did we, the audience. And what happened when Melfi / Chase wasn’t there to guide us one last time? We got one of the most divisive final episodes in television history. Can’t wait for you to review it, Ron!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I just wanted to say thanks tbh. Great work.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Can we identify if one of the shooters that gets Sil is wearing a members only jacket?

    Liked by 1 person

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