The Sopranos: Everybody Hates Tony

by cnw
April 30, 2007 6:30 AM
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The Sopranos, Season Six, Episode 16: “Chasing It”


That pervasive sense of dread and foreboding hanging over The Sopranos seems to be getting stronger as the end nears. Last week, Tony said he was waiting for the other shoe to drop; in this week’s episode, “Chasing It”, Carmela says that she feels like there’s a piano hanging on a rope overhead. As the metaphoric stakes have gotten bigger, the literal stakes have grown as well: this episode saw Tony (played to brilliant, implosive perfection by James Gandolfini) gambling away increasingly vast sums of money in a futile attempt to recover from some stumbles, in pursuit of a fortune he’s already losing. Listening to Tony describe his compulsive behavior, he sounded eerily like the Tony Soprano from the pilot episode – chasing a dream that’s already in the past.

Like the first three episodes of the season, “Chasing It” is all dark and broody atmospherics, more doom and gloom than explosive fireworks, but the oppressiveness is more palpable here, as though the series is inching its way towards something decisive. Note director Tim Van Patten’s shaky handhelds and awkwardly-framed close-ups, which give the episode an uncharacteristically jittery look and uncomfortable feel.

If we need further evidence that things are reaching a boiling point, we also get one nasty fight between Carmela and Tony (and how great it still is, after all these years, to see these two remarkable actors play off of each other). Tony and Carmela know how to hurt each other better than anyone else: she’s the only person who can really call Tony on his selfishness; meanwhile, he sees the hypocrisy in her minor pangs of conscience, well aware that she cares enough to lose sleep over the shoddy construction of her spec house, but not so much that she’d be willing to forego her financial windfall from selling the house (to family, no less). The writers get every nuance of this relationship, and it comes through in nearly every line: Tony and Carmela hate each other because they need each other, because they understand each other so completely, and because they’re so much alike, complicit in their destructiveness, greed, and complacency.

Tony’s increasing alienation manifests itself most acutely in his argument with Carmela, but it pervades the episode. Early on, Tony confides to Hesh (Jerry Adler, also great here) that he can’t trust Christopher, Paulie, and Bobby, because they are all “murderers”, though Tony knows full well he bears primary responsibility for turning Christopher and Bobby into killers. Later, he proceeds to lash out at Hesh with a nasty, racist tirade for his very reasonable request for payment or interest on the $200,000 loan he gave Tony.

Despite his obvious culpability, Tony refuses to take responsibility for creating his current situation. Like Carmela, he’s built his house with rotten wood, and it’s set to cave in – taking others down with it – and all he can do is hope it doesn’t rain. Tony is too weak, selfish, and lazy to do things right (even to take his own therapy seriously). Hence, the gambling and the temptation to stiff Hesh on his money. Towards the end of the episode, Tony reflects on his luck and decides that, money notwithstanding, he’s “still up.” Later, after Hesh’s girlfriend dies suddenly, Tony returns Hesh’s money with condolences: “I’m sorry for your loss,” Tony offers. Forget the money, though. By the end of “Chasing It”, everyone’s on a losing streak.

“Chasing It” may be the most intricately plotted episode of the new half-season so far, and I have neglected a few major subplots for lack of time and space (Blanca and A.J., Vito Jr. and poop in the shower). I hope Brother and Robbie, along with anyone else who’s been reading (Eve, Matthew, etc.), that you will give these matters the attention they deserve. Bonus points for anyone who’s willing to tackle the terrorism thing. I thought this was a first-rate episode, and I’m anxious to hear from everyone.

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  • shaun wetzel | May 9, 2011 12:35 PMReply

    The Sopranos is a great American television drama series which has six seasons and 86 episodes. All episodes are too good to watch and still I watch all my favorite episodes online. Thanks.

  • eve m. | May 1, 2007 6:00 AMReply

    I agree with robbiefreeling who thought the Vito Jr. storyline was "a wonderful example of The Sopranos' and David Chase's inherent empathy." But the choice of returning to the Spatafore family in this way and so late in the series is telling, I think.

    On one level, the episode demonstrates the extreme culpability of both Tony and Phil Leotardo in Vito Sr.'s unhappy fate which has caused his family to implode emotionally.

    Sure, Vito had lots to answer for on his own hook (larceny, violence, cold-blooded murder, deceiving his wife and children). But Tony never defended Vito, never granted him the "out" of continuing to earn for the Sopranos somewhere outside New Jersey. And as we know, hateful, homophobic cousin Phil was waiting in the wings with his pool cue to defend the family honour...

    But the episode's focus on Vito Jr.made me realize something else. Think of all the pudgy, dark-haired, sweet-faced little Italian boys we've been presented with on The Sopranos over the past six years.

    In the early seasons we were given young A.J., confused and possibly fearful about his father's true occupation.

    As A.J. grew older, his confusion and oppression continued (I'll never forget the painful scene where he was forced to don the ridiculous-looking military school cap, his parents beaming while the tears rolled down their son’s tight-lipped face. Fortunately, A.J.'s wonky adrenal system saved him from god-knows-what-abuse in military school; sadly, Vito Jr. wasn't so lucky.)

    We were also treated to a number of flashbacks showing us Tony as a little boy, either being threatened with a fork by his maniacal mother or else being ignored and left behind by his criminal father.

    Later on we watched as Bobby Baccalieri Jr. endured the death of his (good) mother and then went on to suffer further torments -- A.J.'s immature pranks, his father’s crazed and self-centred bereavement, his stepmother's coldness. Think of the many small cruelties we saw Janice inflict on Bobby Jr., and how Bobby B. never really defended his boy…)

    All these little boys resembling Tony Soprano, all victims of some form of emotional neglect or direct cruelty.

    In this episode, when taken on their own, Vito Jr.'s actions can be viewed simply as a cry of rage and a plea for help from a troubled child (the lipstick and mascara possibly alluding to deceptions and confusions surrounding his father's tormented sexuality).

    But as Tony sits across from Vito Jr., trying to "talk some sense" into him, he might well be looking into a mirror.

    Could that tortured baby face, grotesquely altered by slashes of dark Goth makeup, represent a Munch-like scream for relief, and a final, vivid externalization of Tony Soprano's internal state as the series draws to a close?