Even if most of our life has given us memories, we still wonder exactly how we got to where we are now. The fidelity of our memories is a mystery to us, even if we truly believe that we remember our pasts. But even more mysterious to us is how history has made us the people that we are today. Was there a choice made 10, 25, 50, 100 years ago that altered our lives today? Did your great, great, great grandfather make a decision that created a destiny for those who came after? We can’t ever really know the answer to these things, so we dwell and dwell on questions that don’t ever have answers.
“The Army of One” is primarily concerned with legacy, with the notion that our lives are (at least partially) predetermined for us in one way or another. It’s also concerned with the idea that identity coincides with legacy, where we begin to personally identify with our destinies, or at least the failures that we make. Jackie Jr. was a kid who was so concerned with his legacy that he failed to see that he should have taken different choices in order to create something of his own. He also failed to see his own shortcomings, his lack of intelligence and his lack of work ethic. Both of those things led him to take the choices that would lead him to his death. But what created those shortcomings? How much of this is Tony’s fault for being a terrible mentor, or Ralphie’s fault for enabling him? Tony seems to understand this to some degree, when he mentions it in therapy, but he doesn’t seem to go farther than that.
Aside from Jackie Jr. being gunned down in the street by Vito, “The Army of One” is mostly about A.J. and his being expelled from school. It’s a hilarious scene when the principal talks to A.J. about the DNA left at the “crime scene”, which causes them both to immediately break. Tony wants to take A.J. to military school, but Carmela doesn’t like that decision until she sees Jackie Jr. in his casket. But just when A.J. puts on his dress grays, he has a panic attack. Just like his father. This particular storyline with A.J. is one of my favorites, simply because it takes the idea of A.J. being this little brat and emphasizes the culpability his father and mother have in his upbringing. Tony is quick to blame A.J.’s demeanor on Carmela coddling him all his life, but when it comes down to it, there really isn’t an easy answer to the question. Nobody knows what made A.J. turn out the way he has.
Which, for the most part, is what this season is about. Nobody knows how to save each other, especially when they’re completely engulfed in a life of crime and delusion. When Tony is in therapy, he talks about A.J. and about Jackie Jr, but what really matters is him admitting that he has no idea how to save A.J. If we can’t figure out just what makes a person who they are, especially if we are the ones who raised that person, then just how can we save them? Tony sees Jackie Jr slip through his fingers, he’s been pushing Meadow away for a while now, and A.J. seems hopeless. Another interesting point in his therapy session is his implicit understanding of how toxic he is. He wants Meadow as far away from him as humanly possible, so that she can be a businesswoman like Dr. Melfi. There’s no place for Meadow in his business, and he’s already seen what happens to girls (Tracee) that hang out around people like him. Tony really does want what’s best for his kids, but he’s often too blinded by his own delusions and desires that he’s unable to deliver on that. So when Tony asks “How can I save this kid?”, there is so much in the way of that answer that he can’t even fathom what it would be.
But the show does answer this question, to a degree. If people paid more attention to the needs of others, if they cared more about those around them, then this kind of pain wouldn’t be able to fester. Look at how Tony treats Christopher after he apologizes for saying he doesn’t love Tony. Look at how Tony couldn’t care less about what Paulie needs. Tony pushes people away, and he does the same with his son when he slaps him for making a smart remark. If we paid more attention to those around us, maybe they would be okay. It’s also a matter of recognizing the kind of person that you are, the kind of culture that you’re raising these children in. With Tony, he has to delude himself from the truth of who he is in order to maintain the façade that he’s a decent person, but that delusion damns his children by forcing them to grow up around that kind of toxic individual.
And so the ending leaves us with Junior singing, a celebration of legacy and identity, and children who don’t care to hear it. It’s not that A.J. and Meadow are necessarily spoiled brats, it’s that they understand who their parents are. They understand that Jackie Jr. probably died as a result of Tony and the Mafia. They understand that their parents are highly deluded people. It takes an outsider looking in to be able to draw those conclusions, and children are often able to do that. So Meadow runs off and A.J. is left at Tony’s side, while they all listen to the singing. Many cry, but they’re not necessarily tears for the beauty of the music. They’re also tears for their own legacies. What do we put into the world that’s worth something? For Tony, he believes that to be his children, but those children have already been doomed by his toxic nature. Maybe they’ll find a way to be free, but it takes a lot of luck to break free from predetermined fate. Some, like Meadow, might be lucky. Some, like A.J., just aren’t.
What did you think of Season 3? Is Season 4 one of your more beloved seasons? Let me know in the comments!