The Sopranos: End of Days

by robbiefreeling
June 4, 2007 7:01 AM
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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.

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More: Sopranos


  • Jackson | June 11, 2007 4:30 AMReply


  • Debi | June 11, 2007 4:08 AMReply

    Very disappointed in the ending.

  • MoroccoMole | June 6, 2007 9:17 AMReply

    Interesting commentary here, but I'd like to provide one small clarification -- it's not anime that AJ and his fellow patients are watching at the hospital; it's an episode of the Adult Swim cartoon "Metalocalypse." Make what symbolism you will of that.

  • Vincent | June 6, 2007 6:07 AMReply

    While my response was perhaps a bit glib it was only framed somewhat as a response to what too often seems like blind praise the show receives. A preconceived notion that because it's the beloved Sopranos one shouldn't deem to critique writing or directorial choices. I would say this goes on much more at The House Next Door where people seem to read any and all they can into the show, often at the neglect of physical evidence, reminding me of some Joseph Campbell-esque grasping for significance.

    But despite that the assertion that "slo-mo...itself constitutes an aesthetic crime" is not what I meant to imply. It is more the fact that I find repeatedly the show to have unnecessary flourishes like said scene, a spelling out that is a little too blatant and hammer-over-head hitting for my liking. It just seemed like an overdone moment that pushed too hard on the points it hoped to make and to my eyes a little amatuerish as a result, which ends up diminishing a certain enjoyment in the show. (And the "Blue Comet" aspect was set up long before this series of shots. It is Bobby appraising and purchasing the Blue Comet when he gets shot, not the trains that run parallel to his death ((pun maybe intended)). That element, which does add significance and was a nice touch, was already there and not a part of the actual "death montage") I've continually found this to be true of the show, and who can account for taste, but I find the utmost praise the show receives, and this isn't a question of writers here per se (see ((author's name forgotten)) in the New Yorker naming it the richest show in the history of television...I have many I could offer in it's place), to at times not be willing to call it on certain flaws that may exist. I still maintain that the depth of character is not as great as believed and the idea of showing the presence of the past in characters lives is not as profound as some might argue. Anyways that's my late evening ramblings, my apologies for incoherence. But, given the quality of discussion here despite disagreements, to quote Adam's Ribout of context: "Hurray for that little difference."

  • brotherfromanother | June 6, 2007 3:49 AMReply

    Hi Vincent,

    The Sopranos has surely had its share of lapses, and there have been times when the filmmaking on particular episodes has been lousy. Just off the top of my head, I remember a diastrous slo-moment where Carm confronts David Strathairn's school guidance counsellour in Season 5, or the all-time blunder of using old footage of the then-recently-late Nancy Marchand grafted onto a stunt double to give Livia a final bow in Season 3(it was like something out of an Ed Wood movie).
    In terms of "reading too much" into the show, it's a worthwhile argument. I know because I had it with someone near to my heart last night over dinner. My feeling is that the show, regardless of whether it's "richer" than shows B,C, or D -- I'll take Homicide: Life on the Street as the G.O.A.T., vtw) has been meticulously constructed to support myriad readings, meanings and interpretations, and also that intentionality isn't the endpoint for discussion. Considering how mealy and/or repulsive most of television is, it's not surprising that people would get so hooked on a program that so consistently (not to say totally) excels in its writing, its performance aspects, and its craft. When mistakes are made, they should be criticized -- I was not a fan, for instance, of the Tony B plotline in Season 5, which felt rushed and undercooked, nor the Vito stuff in Season 6, which felt opportunistic --but since then, my opinion is that the series has hit a very high gear indeed.
    I won't deny that the train scene hit the nail on the head, but as we're in the coffin-building stage as far as the story goes, it didn't bother me one bit.

  • brotherfromanother | June 5, 2007 9:30 AMReply

    I think AJ seized on Bobby's death as a chance to give the poor-me routine another workout -- have we ever seen him with his beloved uncle? Except when he scared the Bacala kids by convincing them the garage was haunted? AJ can moan "why can't we all just get along?" all he wants (mirroring his father's earnest confusion of Kings Martin Luther and Rodney Jr) but his "awareness of the world's problems," as you put it, doesn't constitute an admirable worldview. And yes, Tony (and Carmela) made him this way.

    What you (rather glibly) deride as tired, I found powerfully effective in this particular context. The Sopranos has always saved its expressive flourishes for when it needs them, and at this late-in-the-game stage, I don't begrudge the creative team their well-executed stab at some thematically appropriate stylistic oomph. You could say the cross-cutting was "obvious," or simply inventory the use of slo-mo as if the technique itself constitutes an aesthetic crime, or deride the various metaphors bound up in the train-set scene (the history of New Jersey's "Blue Comet" made for interesting reading... or you could decide, pride intact and tastebuds hopefully still sharp, that it worked for you. I, obviously, am in the latter camp.

  • robbiefreeling | June 5, 2007 9:17 AMReply

    CNW, I totally agree with you. While it's always in evidence that Chase & Co. are complicating easy readings of characters, are barely interested in simplistic matters of right and wrong, and view morality with all the shades of the grey scale, there is a triumph here...tainted by the complexities of human interaction and power play, but a bitter triumph nonetheless.

    I think Melfi's decision was not merely the work of an opportunist, but the final desperate gasp of someone who has to save her soul.

    I'm always sort of stunned by the lack of sympathy posters on Sopranos blog discussions seem to have for various characters who aren't Tony, especially the women. "Janice should die," "Carmela should die," are oft refrains from some of the whack-a-doodlers, evidently for their whininess, materialism, and manipulation. Meanwhile, this week, many viewers were SATISFIED when Tony dragged his son across the floor by his feet because he dared turn his uncle Bobby's death into his own problem. A little sympathy here? Not only is he a TEENAGER, he's clinically depressed. Further abuse from the murderous father who made him that way and who is terrified of the mirror image he sees in his weakling son, is not going to "knock some sense into the kid." AJ is pitiful, but his sensitivity, growing awareness of the world's problems (something outside of his Jersey shell), and rejection of his father's amorality, make him the best possibility for something good coming out of this hellish, misbegotten family.

  • Vincent | June 5, 2007 8:15 AMReply

    "Alan Taylor's direction here was simply exquisite": The overwrought depiction of Bobby's death! The closeups of a train going off the tracks! the slo-mo! the insert of the plastic spectator! the obvious cross-cutting! the amatuerish visual metaphors hitting you over the head! Exquisite!

  • cnw | June 5, 2007 2:37 AMReply

    “Ready for the rapture,” indeed. These end-time references aren’t just clever in-jokes, though, as you rightly suggest, Robbie (in a wonderful and thought-provoking post; you make your points so cogently that I'm inclined simply to veer in other, more speculative directions), and at the risk of belaboring a potentially obvious point, I’m glad you bring up the Yeats poem again here. “The Second Coming” portends apocalypse, yes, but it’s also about the passing of tradition, the death of an aristocratic class, and the end of the Christian era. Tony knows that this thing of theirs is built on tradition, things handed down from the past, ceremonies and hierarchies maintained “since time immemorial.” Way back in the pilot episode, he wondered if maybe he got in at “the end”, and he compared his way of life to his father’s: “He had his people. They had their standards. They had pride. Today, what do we got?”

    After last week’s episode, a number of bloggers and writers speculated about which character could be the “rough beast” of Yeats’s poem, with some suggesting that it was clearly Phil – the apocalyptic force who would hasten the end. In “The Blue Comet”, though, Phil, too, is fighting back the end, defending ceremony and tradition, a way of life that’s already past. Phil orders a “decapitation” of the Jersey crew because they’ve eroded a sense of etiquette and of right and wrong – of the way things are done. As Paulie reminds us, these wars between families are nothing new – he survived the 70s by “the skin of [his] balls”. But the world around them has changed: Tony attacks his son, fueled by rage and disgust, when he reacts to news of this impending war and the death of his uncle by complaining about his own depression. Tony and Phil are both relics, and they’re more similar than either would like to admit: both Tony and Phil have defended their way-of-life by violently lashing out at a younger generation that fails to respect their traditions, and in both cases, the violence seems like futile posturing, the dying gasp of a creature passing into extinction.

    To take a broader view, though, this season has returned obsessively to the idea of inherited pathologies – addictions, psychological tendencies, and ways of being that reproduce themselves in subsequent generations. Why does Tony hate A.J., after all – is it because he sees A.J. as a failed half-man who could never survive in Tony’s world, or is it because he sees A.J. as a younger version of himself? The answer is both, and even as Tony, like Phil, romanticizes a past that’s slipped away, he hates himself for recreating in his son the very pathologies he inherited from his parents. In a world of change, change is impossible.

    For six-odd seasons, I’ve held out hope that somehow, Carmela would be able to achieve the personal change that would forever elude Tony. She seemed to see through the illusions upon which her world was constructed, and an eventual reckoning seemed inevitable. In last night’s episode, I realized I was looking in the wrong place. It has always been Melfi – and only Melfi – who was really able to see through the self-deceptions and the elaborate facades, but she was also drawn to them, seduced by the possibility of, what, changing Tony? Rescuing him? Or participating without guilt? In “Blue Comet”, Melfi is shamed by her supercilious, snobbish friends into confronting her own hypocricy (attempting to help a man she knew was beyond help), and she rejected it. In the midst of all the bloodshed, David Chase gave us something I thought he would withhold – a moment of redemption.