The Sopranos: Good Times

by brotherfromanother
June 11, 2007 4:16 AM
15 Comments
  • |

The Sopranos, Season Six, Episode 21: "Made in America"

final.JPG

Hello Robbie and cnw,

I’m feeling inclined to cheat and offer this blog post as my contribution to the upcoming Reverse Shot symposium – you know, the one about the power of a single cut to shape and define an entire film. “Made in America” ended The Sopranos in media res with a hard (dare I say Dardenne-ish?) cut to black. Seated at a table in a cozy neighborhood restaurant with Carmela and AJ, Tony looked up to see Meadow coming through the door to complete the family dinner. Or was it to see a gun being pointed in his direction by the two-shifty looking African-American kids who’d come in moments before? Or maybe to anxiously note the return of the leather-jacketed guy who’d walked in just ahead of AJ a few minutes before that and stared at Tony’s table before making a pointed beeline for the men’s room: a location fraught with symbolic peril in this season of Godfather riffs. Yes, it would make sense that the show would come unplugged in the exact split-second that Tony got plugged; like Bobby, with whom he’d previously discussed death’s never-see-it-coming factor, he just never saw it coming. Or maybe our man was just about to order more onion rings.

There’s more to talk about in and around “Made in America” (written and directed with economy and purpose by David Chase) than its endlessly discussable ending. Like the fact that Tony managed to flip the FBI into serving his purposes, or the curious arrival of an adorable orange cat that stayed fixated on the picture of Christopher hanging in the Bing (shades of Ade? Or is that too sentimental?), or its potentially damaging effect on SUV sales after the catalytic converter cataclysm that nearly claimed AJ and his new girlfriend. But I’m going to linger on that final moment, mostly because that’s how Tony would have it. The last significant dialogue of the series was a father-son exchange, with Tony encouraging AJ – now working, at his parents’ nudging, as a “development executive” for a lousy screenplay forwarded to Little Carmine’s production company by Daniel Baldwin – to enjoy the good times. And this is what I thought the non-ending was getting at. Tony may have escaped Phil Leotardo’s endgame maneuvers and this season’s endgame atmosphere but his life has been reframed as one sustained panic attack: somewhere, someone (what rough beast?) is waiting to take him down. Good times, but with an asterisk.

The genius of the episode is that it placed that burden of anxiety onto us. The last five minutes were an exercise in unabashed sweatshop-suspense techniques, with every shot carefully selected for maximum portent. It began with Tony sitting alone in the restaurant, fiddling with the jukebox (before settling on Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin”) – finally out in the open after a small eternity of clandestine movements. The (separate) arrivals of Carmela, AJ, and Meadow –the latter after some extended parking difficulties which, as inter-cut with the sanguine scene inside the restaurant, raised the show’s terror alert level to orange – actually made Tony seem more vulnerable. At the end of last week’s episode, alone in a safe-house, lying in the (hard, sheetless) bed that he’d made for himself, Tony looked like a cornered animal ,but he’d made arrangements to keep his family sequestered far away. Is he really more comfortable with them at his side after seven years’ worth of vivid lessons about how quickly and unexpectedly the proverbial sword can drop?

Let’s take stock of Tony’s situation. Phil Leotardo is dead, killed outside a gas station with his infant grandchildren in tow ( how sick was it then when his SUV, left unattended by his understandably hysterical wife, rolled over his face and Chase cut to the babies smiling in the backseat? Grandpa as a speed bump!). Paulie W is newly entrenched as his first lieutenant (not a rat after all). New York seems willing to do business (that Butch…what a softie). And, after all that, Tony’s still likely to be indicted because Carlo (who he berated a few weeks back about poor earnings) has flipped. “Trials are there to be won,” says Tony’s lawyer, Neil Mink but the real focus of their scene (another restaurant sitdown) was the bank of security monitors sitting over Tony’s shoulder. Mink may have been stealing glances to catch the waitresses as they stumbled, in various states of undress, through the restaurant’s back hall, but given the cut-it-with-a-knife tension of the surrounding episode, we looked nervously at the screens to see if Tony’s fate was about to burst through the door, gun in hand.

So somewhere after that final scene – provided it wasn’t the last moment of his life, of course -- Tony will go to trial. Perhaps he will be indicted. Doubtlessly, Meadow will express outrage, having confided in this episode that her decision to go into law (now looking, to Carm’s delight, like a lucrative choice) was forged after years of watching her Dad being dragged away by the Feds. The woman is, finally, insane. AJ may cite it as another cause for his depression, although at this point, he’s looking sated on anti-depressants, easy money and a hot girlfriend. The shot of him and Rhiannon gladly giggling at footage of MC Karl Rove and a clownish G.W. Bush was a portrait of contemporary material medication. (Didn’t AJ start off this episode by righteously citing “The Second Coming” at Bobby Bacala’s funeral to prove that everything is fucked up and gaping in wonderment at the timelessness of a Bob Dylan protest song? There’s more to say about AJ’s eventful hour, but I will leave it to you guys). Carmela will stand by her man and keep looking at spec house plans – she may have thrown Tony’s last gift back in his face, but when the show’s camera was elsewhere, is there any doubt she went and picked it back up?

There were hints of where else things could go further down the line. AJ driving by Rhiannon’s school in his new car recalled Carm’s starry-eyed memories of Tony swinging by her campus in his Camaro; AJ’s short-skirted shrink looked a bit like a younger Melfi. But the final cut rendered them all moot – we’ll never know. There are those who will accuse Chase of churlishness, that his choice to go with an open ending is a kind of cop-out after setting up so many tantalizing narrative dynamos. But I can think of no greater way to pay justice to the compelling lives he’s created – has any show ever had so many intriguingly developed regulars? Not even counting whackees, there are a dozen players whose fate is of great interest to me – than to keep us at a remove. The Sopranos was always defined by its intimacy, accessing the lives (and in Tony’s case, the subconscious) of its characters and sparing no details. Last night, we were, finally, cut off. Yet I have never felt so closely aligned with Tony – during the credit roll (which was, for the first time, silent – as if anything could follow Journey!) I sat, insecure in the knowledge that while I didn’t know what was coming next, on some level I did. And that deeper knowledge that motivated me to look around the living room at the people I loved and resolve to enjoy the good times. It was the banal, evasive Hallmark-card advice of a sociopath, and don’t you know it swelled my heart.


A recap of The Sopranos' final season on Reverse Shot:

The Sopranos: The Big Lie

Season Six, Episode 13: Soprano Home Movies

Season Six, Episode 14: Stage 5

Season Six, Episode 15: Remember When

Season Six, Episode 16: Chasing It

Season Six, Episode 17: Walk Like a Man

Season Six, Episode 18: Kennedy and Heidi

Season Six, Episode 19: The Second Coming

Season Six, Episode 20: Blue Comet

  • |

More: Sopranos

You might also like:

15 Comments

  • cnw | June 13, 2007 6:45 AMReply

    You're right that I fudged it a bit, but it was hardly a misuse of the term. Inertia does come into play once gravity had started the lurch forward. So it was the force of gravity followed by the power of inertia (an object in motion tends to stay in motion).

  • Jerry | June 13, 2007 1:47 AMReply

    While "The power of inertia" certainly "sounds" deep... it is a misuse of the term.

    "Inertia" would come into play if the SUV had NOT started to move forward (but instead remained inert).

    The SUV began rolling because Phil's daughter either took her foot off the brake, or she left it in neutral and it was on a slope. So, it was just the engine, or it was gravity - but "inertia" had nothing to do with it.

  • brotherfromanother | June 12, 2007 8:21 AMReply

    While we're saying thank yous, I'd like to thank Matt Servito, in advance, for keeping his shirt on in all future onscreen endeavors. Speaking of which: "Agent Harris: FBI" is the only Sopranos spin-off I'd even think of watching.

  • robbiefreeling | June 12, 2007 7:55 AMReply

    Thanks for all the kind words, Eve, Paul, Mark, Jshumate, and all the rest....it's been very rewarding to me to feel like part of this community...one that prizes such intellectual and emotional debate and rigorous involvement with the material. I am still disturbed to no end by the end of the series...both for what it did and didn't do, and I will be haunted for years to come.

  • Paul | June 12, 2007 6:39 AMReply

    Along with the other comments I would like to also thank you for the thoughtful coverage of this last half season. After the first couple episodes I found myself making sure to check this site each Monday.

    I'd also like to add that I think this is the best analysis of the show I have read anywhere.

    Cheers and Thanks

  • Reid Rosefelt | June 12, 2007 6:13 AMReply

    Please note that "Members Only" is the name of the episode where Uncle Junior shoots Tony.

  • maryanne | June 12, 2007 5:42 AMReply

    want to add my grazie, grazie, grazie.

  • cnw | June 12, 2007 4:52 AMReply

    I'd like to second Robbie's thanks. It's been a pleasure to read everyone's thoughts both here and elsewhere (and Eve, a special thanks for all of your comments over the past few months: you know as much or more about the show as anyone I've met anywhere, and I can't tell you how much I appreciated your enthusiasm, passion, and expertise).

  • Isabella Andolini | June 12, 2007 3:06 AMReply

    Just a quick note. There was a shot of Meadow entering the restaurant. And the ominous dude that entered with AJ wasn't in leather, it was a members only Jacket. If you Tivo'd it look again. :)

  • eve m. | June 12, 2007 2:12 AMReply

    Great posts from all, but I have to say that cnw really did it for me (again) this time!

    Since I starting reading the Sopranos blogs on reverseshot.com, I've particularly enjoyed and shared in your emotional responses to The Sopranos' "experience."

    This time around, the hairs on the back of my neck tingled when I read this description of Phil Leotardo's death: "(He) tried to stave off the future and defend a way of life that he saw slipping away. In one last, great indignity, his skull is crushed by a car without a driver, a death-trap on wheels carrying his unsuspecting infant grandchildren into harm’s way through the power of inertia."

    "The power of inertia..." Wow.

    Now that the season -- and the series -- has ended, and ended brilliantly, my mind returns to and lingers on so many moments over the past eight years.

    These scenes, words, performances, pieces of music, contained such truth, or such pathos, or such humor, or such beauty, that they became as indelible as any other great work of art.

    I know you all have yours. Here are just a few of mine:

    ...In an early episode, Tony, unable to connect with a young A.J., still doing the best he can after some family unpleasantness, squirting dollops of canned whipped cream into his boy's mouth and his own, seeking comfort and connection, giving chubby A.J. what he needed most -- and least -- at that moment...

    ... Tony sitting on an upended bucket in a horse barn on a rainy night, his cigar smoke curling into the darkness, the soft, neighing sounds of the helpless Pie-O-My, the sudden appearance of the little goat who joins Tony's vigil, and in the background, Rick Nelson singing the cowboy anthem, "My Rifle, My Pony and Me."

    ...Tony lying alone in the palatial splendor of the Plaza Hotel, unable to sleep. Even though they have separated, following scenes of terrible acrimony, he calls Carmela in New Jersey, and they speak quietly, each in their own separate bed. He asks if it's light out where she is, then asks if the dog he hears barking in the background is the Cusimanos' dog Esterhaus. Husband and wife, in different worlds, drawn back together by what? Shared history? Fear of loneliness? Love?

    ...Carmela's Parisian dream image of two ghosts: the tall, beautiful, doomed Adriana, dressed for once in spectacular Paris couture instead of goomar spandex, leading her little dog on a leash down the Champs Elysee, exclaiming: "Look, I found Cosette!"

    ...Tony as Finnerty, a lost man with no identity, sitting at the edge of the bed in his non-descript hotel room in the desert, aware of some lurking strangeness, occasionally staring out the window at something, something...A beacon! But emanating from where? Pointing towards what?

    ...Tony, with all his bulk, plunging fully dressed into the frigid and abandoned backyard pool to save his drowning son, then cradling his poor, lost boy, feeling anger, confusion, relief, disappointment, love, guilt -- I could see them all in Gandolfini's magnificent face. And even if they weren't there, because the writing and performances were always so true and so cohesive, I knew all these emotions MUST be there...

    I have to stop, I actually have tears in my eyes. Can't say more at this point -- my skills as a writer just aren't up yours (robbie, cnw, brother).

    Thanks for deepening my pleasure in watching and thinking about "The Sopranos" by sharing your insights and ideas over the past year.

    I will definitely keep my bookmark on your site and check in weekly to see what all of you are watching!

  • yoccaman | June 11, 2007 9:23 AMReply

    Fabulous post brother! As for Phil, I think he had daughters. No sons. so therefore, the last Leotardo.

  • Mark | June 11, 2007 9:18 AMReply

    Yeah, as somebody who posted a bit in the beginning and then continued to read and lurk, just wanted to say thanks for these wonderful writeups. They definitely enriched the viewing of the show for me.

  • jshumate | June 11, 2007 8:18 AMReply

    Thanks to ReverseShot for their adept coverage of the end of this cultural moment. The last ten grueling weeks have been enriched (and made more grueling, no doubt) by these consistently thoughtful and daringly speculative analyses. Kudos.

  • robbiefreeling | June 11, 2007 6:33 AMReply

    oh, and by the way, brilliant work from Dominic Chianese. I have never been so touched by the usually hateful character of Junior than to see him reduced to the gum-grinding, addled old fool he portrayed here. When told he and Johnny S had "run New Jersey," his simple "That's nice" reply was oddly heartbreaking. This, actually, was how it ended, and how it will end for everyone, mobster, viewer alike.

  • brotherfromanother | June 11, 2007 4:41 AMReply

    An addendum: wait, does Phil Leotardo even HAVE grandkids? I didn't think he had kids at all. That he was the last Leotardo. So then, what the fuck? Unless... (guys, you're free to fill in this blank).