The Sopranos, Season Six, Episode 20: "Blue Comet"
“One more week of this,” Carmela sighed last night—though she was literally speaking of visiting AJ in the psychiatric hospital (the rates of which apparently exceed $2,000 a day, bemoaned Tony) following last week’s attempted suicide, in the context of this second to last episode of The Sopranos, it was merely one of many references to The End. “The End of Times,” groaned Agent Harris as he looked out at a grey, gloomy sky from the Satriales butcher shop window, then continuing, “Ready for the Rapture.” Additionally, AJ was seen watching a decidedly apocalyptic anime film on TV in the ward common area, and, later, on his couch at home, footage of an Iraqi insurgency. Plus, with Tony out back draining the pool, the message from David Chase & Co. couldn’t be any clearer: it’s the end of this world as we know it, and, as Yeats prophesied last episode, we’re not gonna feel fine.
Violent, propulsive, and breathless, “Blue Comet” was something of a change of pace, literally—an episode less driven by drama than action. Although, of course, as with any great episode of The Sopranos, not a moment was wasted, not an utterance or seeming throwaway shot not impregnated with years' worth of meaning. Portentous to an agonizing degree, “Blue Comet” closed many doors while also ending on one of the series’ most literal cliffhangers—its last image was, to speak of this duality, a closed door, though it put us on tenterhooks, leaving us far from resolution.
It was an episode full of references (to itself, to Scorsese, to Coppola) that were all neatly inverted, beginning with the ground level shot of a man walking to the end of the driveway to get the morning paper. It wasn’t Tony, however, but an associate, Burt, about to be brutally dispatched by bloody strangulation by a devilish Silvio for "misgivings" about his loyalty. After this disorienting opening, there was an immediate cut to Phil Leotardo, saying “Listen, I’ve made a decision.” This is the tone of “Blue Comet” – to the point, merciless, making no bones. Phil’s decision to “decapitate” the Jersey family, whom he calls “a glorified crew” after referencing past humilations (Vito, brother Billy, even the thought-forgotten Fat Dom), played out surprisingly literally. Bobby, murdered in a toy store while admiring the toy trains that were his hobby and one escape (if only he could have taken a real train out of town years ago), got an uncharacteristically stylized final scene, complete with close-ups of runaway mini locomotives and a last bloody sprawl over the elaborate train set. (The episode title was taken from the Blue Comet train he held in his hands with pride and hope.) It seemed a rather sentimental (fittingly so) conclusion for a character that often came across as one of the series' most likable: diginifed in his doofery, lunkheaded in his loyalty, to both Tony and Junior. Silvio, meanwhile, got his very own Bonnie and Clyde-esque shoot-out, outside the Bada Bing, ending up in a coma. Though Patsy Parisi got away, a hapless motorcycling passerby didn’t fare so well, slipping from his bike and getting crushed by an oncoming car—while Bing strippers and patrons watched from the parking lot. It was a strange moment of daytime carnage, and it brought the inside out, the secrecy of the establishment possibly forever exposed.
Earlier, in Vesuvio, Tony and Silvio enacted a slow-motion miming of the opening credit sequence of Raging Bul, spurred on by the sudden playing of Rossini’s "Rusticana" on the restaurant speakers…probably from an Italian Greatest Classical Hits CD that Artie has on constant rotation. Yet amidst such dire intimations of the end, this final moment of sandboxing seemed pathetic—and made Tony not just a parallel to Michael Corleone but also to Jake LaMotta. Enormously overweight, wheezing consistently, Tony has now become Jake, a has-been, playing at boss, taking final stabs at tomfoolery. Just as for Silvio, it was his dying punch, perhaps.
Meanwhile, perhaps the most pivotal moment of the season (or series?) occurred with Dr. Melfi, which not only reclaimed her character, but inversed the final shot of The Godfather in immensely satisfying terms. Melfi, on a quiet rampage following the last-straw moral crisis engendered by Dr. Eliot’s prodding about Tony’s probable sociopathic personality and then reading (rendered in extreme close-up font) a journal about The Criminal Personality, terminated treatment. After years of dancing around this possibility, she did so with a swift door in the face, switching the gender roles of Diane Keaton’s final shot in the first Godfather film, her face blocked out by her husband’s slam of a door. This time, she made the decision.
Though it was a moment of triumph for Melfi, David Chase and Matthew Weiner (this week’s exemplary writers) of course complicated matters. All season long, Tony has been pegged as a monster, a beast, a pathetic, murderous shrivelling patriarch, whose only moment of grace (saving his son’s life and cradling him in tears) was quickly followed by more thoughtless violence. Yet last night, Tony was in pure victim mode—hunted down by Phil’s henchmen, losing his associates, and now, kicked out of therapy, as he remarks to Melfi with rage, right when his son tried to kill himself. Melfi’s opportunistic use of Tony’s ripping a page out of her waiting-room magazine (hilariously called DEPARTURES, the publication had a steak recipe that Tony wanted to try) to instigate a fight seemed somewhat childish and disingenuous, further making Tony out as the abused. It was an extraordinarily tense interplay (as with many seasons ago, I greatly feared for Melfi’s safety in these moments), even more throat-grabbing than the death of Bobby, and while Melfi extricated herself, it still left a bitter taste.
One wishes that Carmela, though, had such backbone (though Tony tried to accuse Melfi of being like his wife, he was dead wrong this time). I can’t help but recall Tony in last episode’s session with Melfi in which he remarked on his Las Vegas epiphany: that our mothers are the bus drivers, and we’re always trying to catch up. What then does this mean for Carmela, being the mother of AJ? Last installment's “The Second Coming” dealt greatly with father-son dynamics, inheritance of violence and depression, and as always the show created plenty of other son/proteges for Tony (Jackie Jr., Christopher); yet thus far this season, Carmela has merely reacted, though in increasingly emotional, deluded ways. “He was always our happy little boy,” she wept about AJ, while all viewers collectively went, “Really?”
This week, Carmela’s two small moments were quite telling: in one, she’s making oatmeal for AJ, while Meadow watches her from the counter. Carmela is smiling, while AJ is in the other room, watching the Iraqi war footage. Meadow stares at her mother with both melancholy and compassion. A few scenes later, at Vesuvio, Carmela, talking to Artie and Charmaine, expresses her pleasure at Meadow’s leaving pre-med. In an odd moment, she remarks, with harsh judgment, that she doubts her daughter has the “compassion” or “patience” required to be a doctor. Might Carmela's resentment of Meadow be equal to Tony's towards AJ? Soon, Tony rises to greet another guest eating dinner, and Carmela is left alone. Director Alan Taylor holds on her for a while,long enough to catch her expression changing to something like frustration…or anger…or loneliness. At this point, with one week left, hoping for Carmela’s moral revelation must be wishful thinking. Perhaps in last season’s “Cold Stones,” she saw the beacon at the top of the Eiffel Tower (mirroring perfectly the light on the horizon seen by Tony in his coma dream state), because she and Tony are on parallel paths, heading towards the same “big nothing.”
After all, that’s what Livia Soprano called it. And we know she’s waiting there.