The Sopranos 2×09: “From Where to Eternity”
When we look in the mirror, we all see a “good person”. Even if, subconsciously, we know that we’re awful, we still fill ourselves with positive affirmations, that the bad things that we do are overshadowed by even better things. Or maybe the bad things that we do are because of outside factors, such as parents who didn’t treat us well or a bully who picked on us at school. Maybe the people we direct our negative energy at are deserving of it. And while there are certainly factors outside of our control that impact the way we live our lives, there is some semblance of free will that we possess, and with that free will comes the guilt and the shame of not being strong enough to exert it.
“From Where to Eternity” steps outside of the normal The Sopranos storylines for one that deals more directly in mystical elements, such as Christopher’s experience and Paulie’s superstition. Christopher, while he was clinically dead, met his father and Mikey Palmice in hell, where they said he was going when he inevitably passed. It’s been established that many of the characters in The Sopranos are Catholic, and while that Catholicism is mostly evident in Carmela, it’s smartly brought up here to remind us that Tony and Co are inevitably going to be met with the consequences of their bad deeds. And it’s interesting the way that Christopher’s vision is met differently by each of the characters, whether it be Carmela’s desire to repent, Paulie’s frantic superstition, or Tony’s mixture of feigned apathy and violent anger.
Tony’s conversation with Dr. Melfi is one of my favorite moments of the episode, if not the entire season thus far, simply because it features a Tony so frantic to escape any semblance of responsibility for his actions. When Dr. Melfi takes a solid stance of Tony being of immoral character, he takes every opportunity he can to push away responsibility, from saying that it’s his victims’ fault that they’re victims to talking about the poor treatment of Italian immigrants and how they had to work outside of the law to fight back. He even talks about how he doesn’t enjoy harming other people (which is a blatant lie and something he proves wrong later in the episode). But because Tony is at the top of the food chain, because he’s the boss and he’s capable of brutal violence, that means that nobody is going to snap him out of his delusion. He might have to deal with his subconscious pain, but that’s all he has to deal with.
Paulie, on the other hand, is frantically trying to push away the thought that he’s going to hell. He’s having nightmares and screaming in his sleep, not just because of what Christopher said, but because Christopher’s vision awakened the latent fear within him, that he knows he’s going to hell. So Paulie tries to break free of that reality using any means necessary, from trying to assert to Christopher that his vision took place in Purgatory to visiting a psychic to prove Christopher wrong. The scene with the psychic is definitely played for laughs, as the camera often cuts to an empty space that the psychic is “having a conversation” with, but even the psychic seems able to bring up people that Paulie has whacked (such as Mikey Palmice). The supernatural elements within this story aren’t necessarily reflective of reality; rather, they’re meant to remind us that none of these people can escape what they’ve done. Paulie may blame everything on the Catholic church, turning the root of his distress into the enemy, but it all comes down to him and the horrible things he’s done. Because he knows that, deep down, he’s a bad person.
But the standout storyline here goes to Carmela, who seems to have this understanding of Tony’s true character and is unable to come to terms with it. She knows that he sleeps around, and, instead of yelling at him to stop, wants him to get a vasectomy to keep him from knocking up other women. It’s Carmela’s small attempt to cut off Tony’s dark influence at its source, though it’s obviously too little too late. She’s already allowed him into her life, had two children with him, and owes every possession she has to him. She might be able to remind Christopher that he has the opportunity to repent for his sins (in a continuation of Christopher’s Season 2 plotline thus far), but she’s already in too deep. At the end of the episode, she simply gives in to him and tries to tries to keep him to herself, reverting to jealousy instead of the moral realization she had earlier in the episode.
Because Tony, being the head of the family and the most influential out of all of the characters, is the center of the status quo, a status quo built on pain and murder and violence. Even though he says that he doesn’t enjoy hurting other people, he chooses to accompany Big Pussy to kill Matthew. He chooses to taunt Matthew before he dies. And he doesn’t flinch when he shoots Matthew again and again and again. Tony can’t even come close to realizing the moral ramifications of his actions because they’re so massive that they would cause any rational minded person to end their life. The further that you dig yourself into your delusion, the harder it is to come back to reality.
The Sopranos 2×10: “Bust Out”
We’re all trapped within something, whether it be a relationship or a group of friends or even our own lives. To be trapped is to experience the human condition. If we interact with other people, we’re trapped within them, and there’s really no way to disconnect from everybody around us, even if we were to get “off the grid” and live outside of modern society. So we focus on the little freedoms we do have, expanding them within our perception until we believe that we have more control than we don’t. That is, if we have enough little freedoms to keep us from spiraling downward.
As The Sopranos transitions to its Season 2 endgame, “Bust Out” is a brilliant way to remind us of the toxicity of Tony’s status quo and how that status quo traps everything it touches, even Tony. Everybody is looking for a way out. Big Pussy is in even deeper with the FBI after Agent Skip realizes that he had something to do with Matthew’s death. David Scatino is spiraling further towards bankruptcy and wants to escape. Carmela sees the imprisoning nature of her marriage and wants to escape. Richie wants to have more power within the family. And even Tony, after an eye-witness to Matthew’s murder turns up, is terrified that he’ll end up in jail. Everybody sees the end of the road, and while some of those people hit rock bottom, many are just waiting for the inevitable crash, trying everything they can do to hide or run before it hits.
What’s interesting is how the ability to escape is directly correlated with how far up the status quo you are. While David Scatino was doomed from the beginning, Tony didn’t have to lift a finger to escape from taking a charge. Tony’s attempts to escape through reconciling with his children may seem painful to him, but David’s attempt to escape means putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. It’s all a matter of perspective, where desperation is present throughout everybody but the type of desperation shifts depending on where you are. But, in desperation, everybody is willing to take drastic measures to ensure that their vision is preserved. If David kills himself, his family can go on without the Soprano influence. If Richie kills Tony, he’ll move up in the world. But we often come so close to those drastic measures, only to back off in order to preserve what is comfortable.
Because, no matter how miserable our cages are, they’re still ours. They’re still all we know. So when Carmela considers going further with Victor, but pulls back at the last second, it’s not because she doesn’t want to. It’s because sleeping with Victor would mean crossing a line that she’s never crossed before, busting out of the cage that’s been built for her. And Carmela’s cage is comfortable, no matter what she tells herself. The Sopranos may have her casting judgment on her husband and on the things he does, but she’s not innocent at all. She loves the money, the expensive things, the power she wields over people. Carmela exists by bouncing between two points on a spectrum, one where she’s fed up with Tony and scrambling for a way out, the other where she’s content with his darkness as long as she’s getting things. Here, however, after Victor finds out that Carmela’s husband is the one busting David out, Carmela sees the true influence that her husband has on her. She’s unable to escape because the people around her won’t even treat her like a person. She’s caged within the status quo, unable to escape.
But Tony is the star of the show here. He’s scared, terrified that he might be finally losing everything he’s ever had because of a stupid mistake. This is something that Tony knew could possibly happen, but not something that he had seriously considered. He’s tried to chase it away for so long that making plans in case of arrest is nearly driving him over the edge. He tries to connect with his children, as he does love his family (even though that love is only present when those relationships could possibly disappear), but A.J. doesn’t want to spend time with him and Meadow doesn’t really believe him. Tony, in trying to act outside of the status quo he set up for himself, ends up boxed in by himself.
There’s one specific shot that encapsulates the beauty of this episode, and it’s Tony realizing that he’s free from being arrested, smiling, celebrating his freedom. What makes this shot so great is that it’s being taken from outside Tony’s house, the wooden bars of the window acting as a cage of sorts for Tony. Even though Tony has escaped prison, he’s still caged within his own status quo. Because there is no real escape. People are forever trapped by those around them. It’s just a matter of forgetting that they’re trapped. So when Tony takes A.J. on the boat at the end of the episode, “Wheel in the Sky” playing in the background, the boat capsizing a small canoe on the water, we see that it’s all about delusion. It’s all about what helps Tony forget inevitability, even if that means pushing everybody around him into the dirt.
Because we all want to forget that we’re trapped, slowly moving towards our deaths. And if we have to beat down others to keep ourselves docile, so be it.
So we’re down to the last three episodes of the season. What big moment are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments!