The Sopranos 4×07: “Watching Too Much Television”
At this point in the series, The Sopranos has been amplifying the existential dread that the characters themselves are experiencing. During the first few seasons, they were mostly able to shrug off those feelings, even through they lingered in the backs of their minds on a near-constant basis. However, as money becomes more and more of a problem, as the FBI becomes more and more of a threat, the characters become increasingly erratic, doing things that are irrational, to the point where they’re hurting others for reasons that are only truly evident in their subconscious.
The scene I’m alluding to is when Tony becomes teary-eyed after hearing “Oh Girl” on the radio, causing him to visit Assemblyman Zellman and beat him in front of Irina. On a surface level, it’s easy to assume that Tony still has feelings for his old comare, but the only time he even begins to think about her is when he hears that Zellman is in love with her and is sleeping with her. Really, Tony is just exerting power over what he believes is still his “territory”, something that is indicative of an even deeper problem. This season of The Sopranos is slowly turning up the heat on all of the characters, as everybody worries more and more about money and the FBI. Tony feels himself becoming increasingly boxed in, so he begins to lash out in ways that he doesn’t necessarily understand.
And this is all after what seems like a relatively successful venture for Tony. He, along with his associates Zellman and Maurice, conduct bogus housing deals by buying up low-income housing and making a fortune off of it. It all goes according to plan, even though Tony’s idea of using “gangbangers” to clear crack addicts out of the houses isn’t without its casualties. Overall, Tony is making a fair amount of money off of these deals, but it isn’t enough to stop him from feeling this level of existential dread. All season, Tony has been lashing out at those that attempt to cage him, but the real issue isn’t the specific people around him. It’s that the world has less and less of a place for a person like him, and it makes it extremely difficult to feel good even when things seem to be going his way. In the season premiere, Carmela tells Tony that “Everything ends”, and he can’t seem to get that out of his mind.
This plotline with Zellman, Maurice, and the housing projects is certainly bifurcated in terms of its quality. I do like how Tony is the farthest removed from the situation, and that Zellman and Maurice are closest enough to the damage to feel a sense of moral turmoil about it. I really like how this hierarchy shows how the weight is always greater on those without power, how Tony really doesn’t feel that bad about what he’s doing. What I don’t like is how Zellman and Maurice are crudely drawn characters, to the point where any scene with only the two of them feels awkwardly put together. They just aren’t strong enough characters to carry a scene, so they stick out when they’re not paired with Tony. In addition, the depiction of low-income Newark is laughable at best, as we’re thrown into a crack house that’s full of stereotypes and clichés. Sure, it’s great to see how far Tony is removed from that, especially in the scene where he drives by those houses with AJ, but it’s still poorly done.
Aside from Tony, the episode focuses heavily on Adrianna and the cage that she’s confined within. Her cage is becoming more literal by the day, as the FBI keep pressing her for information and she sinks deeper and deeper into depression. She sees on TV that she can’t be forced to testify against Christopher if she’s married to him, so she begins to press him to get married. Obviously, there’s a level to which Adrianna understands that such a fact is too good to be true, which is why she presses forward with her plan to marry Christopher instead of double-checking her facts first. But we can see what marriage to Christopher would do to Adrianna. He has never been a great boyfriend to her, as he calls her “damaged goods” for potentially being sterile, and marriage to him would essentially be marriage to an abuser. But she supposes that such a marriage is at least better than jail, better than losing everything that she has.
But, in reality, there’s not much she can do to keep from losing everything she has. She’s running out of options, as she notices when she has a free consultation with a lawyer and finds out that marriage won’t affect her testifying in court. It was delusion, something that she wanted to believe because it would keep from her the dismal truth of her situation. So, when she’s having a bridal shower at Tony’s house at the end of the episode, when she’s opening all of these gifts, it’s really just a reminder of how doomed she is. It’s a reminder of the life that she, deep down, knows that she isn’t going to experience. Because Tony may feel this pang of existential dread in his gut, but it’s nothing compared to those underneath him, those closer to the end than he is.
“Watching Too Much Television” isn’t particularly a great episode of television, as the housing project plotline isn’t as strong as it could be, but it is a reminder that Tony and his associates are increasingly caged in by a world that is decaying. As the world continues to decay, the society that Tony and his Mafia partners have crafted is decaying as well. It might first take people like Adrianna, pawns for Tony’s empire, but the tentacles continue to creep upwards, slowly edging their way towards him. And there’s really nothing he can do about it.
The Sopranos 4×08: “Mergers and Acquisitions”
Tony is defined by his territory. In reality, we all are. We’re measured by net worth, by the assets and the money that we have, and even if we don’t want to subscribe to the capitalist system that controls us, we can’t help but want a bigger house or a nicer car or maybe another pretty picture to decorate the walls. We want more, and that more is always attached to a price tag, be it a price we have to pay for an object or a price that we have to pay to keep somebody around.
Carmela is lashing out more and more at her husband, and it all really boils down to not being a passive presence in her household. And, in order to take back some semblance of control, she puts a price tag on her complacency. After finding out that Tony has taken on another comare (Valentina, whose fingernail she finds in Tony’s clothing), she retaliates by taking $40,000 and investing it in amounts small enough as not to attract attention from the IRS. Of course, Tony eventually notices that the money is missing and immediately knows who took it. But when he storms back into the house, ready to explode, he sees Valentina’s fingernail placed on the table next to his bed, obviously placed there by Carmela. So when the two of them end up in the kitchen, wanting to explode but restraining just enough to keep from doing so, Carmela has collected on the price of her silence. If Tony is going to take on a comare, he’s going to pay for it.
The greatness of this episode really boils down to the damage that Tony and Carmela do to their relationship, how their relationship is so rotten to the core that they’re going to keep pushing and pushing until one of them finally pushes the eject button. And, in the kitchen, either of them could push the eject button. Both of them have had this stand off again and again, where they’ve found an uneasy truce but keep pushing at the other, halfway out of selfishness, halfway out of curiosity. They, along with the rest of the characters in the series, are experiencing a steady decline, where they edge closer and closer to the precipice without quite going over yet.
The rest of this episode is decent enough, even if it focuses on Ralphie’s “perversion”, which is kind of a joke, but is emphasized enough to lose its touch. Tony is hung up on Ralphie’s sex life because he needs to know if he’s sleeping with a woman that Ralphie has already slept with, another obsession that has to do with territory. Tony wants a comare that has nothing to do with the men around him; that way there’s no sneaking around or comparison between men. He only cares about Valentina when it suits him; there isn’t a point to their relationship if it doesn’t build up Tony’s ego. But Melfi eventually points to Ralphie’s sex life coming out of his relationship with his parents, something that has Tony reflecting on his own life. It is never made explicit, but Tony is really wondering if his own life has impacted him in a negative way, if his mother and father have cursed him like Ralphie has been cursed.
Along the edges, we see Paulie with a plot that has to do with his mother in Green Grove (a storyline that is pretty dull compared to the rest), Christopher still struggling with drugs, and Furio returning to Italy to bury his father (while beginning to obsess over Carmela). I didn’t mention Paulie finally getting out of jail last episode, but this episode has him trying to acclimate his mother to Green Grove, a place that is basically “high school with wheelchairs”. He, in the end, has to intimidate the son of one of the other old women in order to secure his mother’s comfort. It’s an issue that Paulie shouldn’t have to deal with, a sort of indignity that comes from returning straight from prison.
“Mergers and Acquisitions” emphasizes how these men are becoming increasingly desperate within their lives. The tension ramps up between Tony and Carmela. Tony risks being in a relationship with Ralphie’s comare. Even Paulie has to deal with issues that shouldn’t be a problem (his mother in Green Grove). We’re seeing that, at any point, tensions could explode into bloodshed, the end rising up to meet everybody. It’s just a matter of time.
What does everybody think of Season 4 so far? I know that it is a little slower than previous seasons, but trust me when I say that the next episode will liven things up a little more. Let me know what you think in the comments!