The Sopranos: Season Six, Episode 18: Kennedy and Heidi
It would be easy enough to start off my assessment of the Sopranos’ fourth-to-last episode by invoking Tony’s exultant final line – “I get it!” – and saying something cute about how he’s the only one. And I guess I just did. Certainly, “Kennedy and Heidi” has confounded certain expectations (i.e. mine) about the series’ trajectory. Anybody out there who thought that Christopher was going to become the next inhabitant of Tony’s dream house (you know, the one with the doorman who looks an awful lot like Steve Buscemi) should raise their hand, lower it, look into the mirror and call themselves a liar.
Ten minutes into the show, I thought that writers David Chase and Matthew Weiner were the ones whose pants were on fire. The spectacle of an SUV flipping in the middle of a desolate upstate highway was just too reminiscent of Season Five’s “Irregular Around the Margins – in which Tony and Adrianna swerved to avoid a raccoon and ended up in the hospital – and that something fishy was going on. I was convinced that the ensuing shocker – Tony dazedly but determinedly suffocating a badly (critically?) wounded Christopher before phoning 911 – was actually the product of one character’s subconscious. It was, I kept telling myself, either one more of Tony’s portentously coded bedtime visions, or else a glimpse into Christopher’s eternally anxious and newly drugged-out headspace. In other words, I was waiting for J.R. to walk out of the shower, or Tony to wake up next to Susanne Pleshette.
So when Tony did wake up – next to good ol’ Carmela, but still – my pulse quickened. But the scars on his forehead indicated that only the preceding scene – a therapy session in which he blatantly admitted to murdering Pussy, Tony B. and Christopher – had been taking place behind those beady eyes. Christopher was dead, and last week’s severely portentous episode, which loudly dropped hints that he was about to flip and bring the whole family down with him, looked like yet another of the writing staff’s beloved blind alleys.
Let’s refocus, as the show did, away from Christopher (but only for a moment) and towards Tony. (The true subject of its gaze, no matter how many times it’s feinted elsewhere). The aforementioned dream therapy session was replayed in the real world a few scenes later, but where Tony’s dream self was able to inventory his own sins, the waking Tony hid, as usual, behind obfuscations, half-truths and outright fabrications. “They shot his face off and I was prostate with grief,” he says of Tony Blundetto, the lie not meeting his eyes. His need to unburden his conscience does not overwhelm his need to take himself off the hook (cleaver?) every time he does something wrong. In the scenes after Christopher’s death, Tony tells anybody within earshot that the baby seat in the back of the SUV had been destroyed in the crash, that Christopher’s renewed drug use could have cost him his daughter. But when Ms. Moltisanti shows up at the Soprano household with the baby in tow, Tony can’t even come down to say hello – he sneaks a guilty peek at Kelly’s breast while she suckles the infant (the maternal tableaux especially evocative in light of Tony’s own mother issues) and then flees to Las Vegas.
Tony wants to get away. So did Christopher – his disinterest in the “family business” had become palpable. He had become a movie producer and started a new family. I think Tony recognized that he was losing Christopher – had lost him, in fact and, presented with the latest in a series of cosmic “outs,” acted with characteristic expediency. He couldn’t shoot Christopher, but quietly snuffing him out on an empty road while nobody’s around and then acting holier-than-thou in the aftermath? That’ll do nicely. I don’t know if Tony has ever been this unsympathetic, yet at the same time, his behavior shows a remarkable consistency. As much as “Kennedy and Heidi” upset my conception of where the show was going, it jibes perfectly with where it’s been, and if Chase is in the process of punishing us for daring to care about a rich, hypocritical criminal with impeccable survival instincts and an irretrievable soul, he’s going about it fairly.
I’m not going to write too much about the Las Vegas sequences, as I want to know what cnw and Robbie think. I will say that the garbage piling up so ominously everywhere is indicative of more than poor waste management practices in the state of New Jersey and that Tony’s climactic, self-actualizing epiphany (spurred by a return appearance of the mysterious beacon from “Members Only” and “Cold Stones” should be taken with several grains of peyote. Instead of hogging all the exegesis for myself, I will throw out some discussion fodder. Does A.J.’s tearful outburst in his shrink’s office suggest he’s turned another corner (turn enough, of course, and you end up where you start)? What did Tony’s stoned cry of “he’s dead!” at the roulette table signify? And who mourns for J.T. Dolan, who has gone from potential narrative fulcrum to just a dead Law and Order scribe?