Bingeworthy: The Sopranos 5×01 – 5×02: The desire to change

The Sopranos 5x01 Cover

The Sopranos 5×01: “Two Tonys”

The Sopranos is a television show that largely discusses the same themes across the seasons, with minor variations as Tony experiences a new situation or the heat gets turned up on everybody.  But Season 5 feels like a major shift for the show.  The tone is far more solemn and autumnal than before, where the good times fade farther away and everything feels far more bleak and foreboding.  The sense of entrapment that permeates the characters’ actions appears more constricting than ever before.  But the thing about feeling trapped is that the more trapped you feel, the more you attempt to break free of your chains.  It’s only when you begin to see your fate that you really feel the desire to change.

The Sopranos 5x01-2

Source: HBO

And in the case of “Two Tonys”, change is in the air.  It picks up a year after Tony and Carmela’s separation.  Tony is sleeping in his mother’s former home, Bobby and Janice are married now, it’s only Carmela and A.J. in the house, and there is a wave of old mobsters getting out of prison.  Tony is remarkably calm throughout the episode, his energy primarily focused on trying to win the affections of Dr. Melfi.  Of course, he doesn’t even consider doing this until he sees The Prince of Tides on television, where he sees a character that expresses the same vitriol towards his psychiatrist as he does.  But this is the catalyst for that affection because Tony seems to see Melfi as a way to change who he is and how he operates.

The Sopranos 5x01-1

Source: HBO

This episode really does see Tony expressing a desire to change, even if he doesn’t completely understand that the path he’s taking to change is still one that keeps him comfortable and content.  He tries to buy his way into Melfi’s arms, and even though Melfi experiences a level of attraction to him, she understands the reality of who Tony is.  But not even Tony understands that, as his vying for her affection becomes more and more aggressive, with offers of cruise tickets and his forcefully kissing her in her office.  He doesn’t see what he’s doing, that is, until Melfi brutally points out the reality of who he is, that he’s a man who hates women, a man who uses force to get what he wants.  And Tony can’t handle even considering that he’s that kind of person.  He has to believe that he’s fundamentally decent in order to continue existing as the person he is.  So how is Tony supposed to change if even approaching who he really is damages him so badly?

The Sopranos 5x01-4

Source: HBO

And the rest of the episode illustrates just what kind of environment Tony exists within.  Take Christopher and Paulie’s subplot, where they argue over who has to pay the dinner bill.  Christopher is the one that normally has to, according to tradition (which is built to keep those at a lower level in a form of enslavement), but he’s sick of paying, so he makes Paulie do it.  They become so consumed in their squabble that they don’t realize how little they tipped their waiter ($16 on a $1184 check), and end up beating him and killing them after they’re confronted.  And it’s that confrontation that causes them to make up, as they’re able to bond over beating down the little guy.  It’s the kind of messed-up system that rewards predatory behavior that Tony has to escape in order to be a better person, and how can Tony even dream of escaping that if he’s benefited so greatly by it?

The Sopranos 5x01-3

Source: HBO

But look at how the black bear poses a threat to Carmela and A.J., and what they ultimately have to do about it.  Neither of them is able to get the bear out of their yard, and even animal control cannot handle it until it poses a danger to them.  So, in the end, Tony is the one that has to come and stand guard over his territory.  It’s a great ending in that it emphasizes not only that Tony is an animal who has to stand guard over his territory, but also that Tony cannot be anywhere but that seat with that rifle.  If he doesn’t stand guard over his territory, then it will all fall apart.  His family won’t have somebody to take care of them.  Tony is trapped within the role that everybody else forces him to play because his escape being placing other people at risk.  Escape means completely uprooting from his life, which means razing earth all around him.  And Tony isn’t willing to do that.  He’s too wrapped up in his family, in the Mafia, in the role he inhabits in order to actually achieve meaningful change.  So the question remains: Is there any way to extricate himself from his life, enough to turn himself into a better person?

“Two Tonys” offers up the notion that there are two separate Tonys that exist.  From our perspective, there’s the Tony that we all know, the sociopath that exists as the boss of the DiMeo family.  And from Tony’s perspective, that Tony is a strong, silent warrior who provides for his family and his associates.  But then there’s the second Tony none of us know.  It’s the Tony that doesn’t exist in organized crime, who is able to be a decent man, a person who can live life without hurting those around him.  Because that Tony is out there, even if we’re unable to really see it.

And that’s the question this season: Is it possible for that Tony to exist?

The Sopranos 5×02: “Rat Pack”

Everyone has experienced this, where they’ve walked into a situation where they know things are going to end badly.  Maybe it’s as simple as going to a party where somebody you hate is going to be there.  Maybe it’s being born into the wrong family, where your father is an abuser or your mother is an alcoholic.  But we’re pushed into situations where we know that the ending isn’t going to be pleasant.  But we’ll fight the whole way down, hoping, trying for something better.  And maybe we’ll achieve it, just maybe.  But the odds are overwhelmingly against us, and we just have to ride the wave to the ground.

The Sopranos 5x02-3

Source: HBO

“Rat Pack” primarily focuses on two of The Sopranos’ key characters this season: Tony Blundetto and Adrianna.  Tony Blundetto was just released from prison after a stint that ran a couple decades, and it shows.  He’s unsure how to act around those around him, and his dress is an older, 1980’s style.  Tony Soprano’s speech at Tony B’s party is important not only because it emphasizes how close the bond is between the two Tonys, but also because he mentions quite a few people who have passed on.  It’s a reminder that time continues to inexorably move, even while people are still in prison.  Tony B. may have this party thrown for him, but nobody really knows much about him.  Everybody has moved on, and now that Tony B. is back, everybody pretends to care because to do otherwise would upset the delusion that everybody within the Mafia exists as one cohesive family.  When, in reality, the Mafia is a pyramid scheme, the rich getting richer while those lower down the ladder are unable to climb.

The Sopranos 5x02-1

Source: HBO

Tony B., when he comes back, doesn’t want to be part of Tony S’s Mafia family, as he just wants to be legitimate, but we can already see him adapting to life in Tony S’s inner circle.  He finds a purpose within those around him (massage therapist), and has the wit to make the mobsters around him like him.  But he has an issue with Tony S., as he’s far too comfortable with him, making weight comments and other disrespectful remarks.  Of course, Tony S. is irritated to no end by that, but the issue resides in how Tony B. is policed like he’s just another associate.  Tony S. wants to help his cousin, but he treats him like he’s just another of the crew, and in doing so, he’s implicitly drawing Tony B. back into the mobster world.  Not to mention that Tony S. is using his power and favor to help his cousin find work, and being in debt to Tony Soprano is never a good thing.

The Sopranos 5x02-4

Source: HBO

Adrianna, on the other hand, is so far trapped that there isn’t much that can be done to help her.  She knows that the FBI is going to drain her for all she’s worth and dump her when she’s not useful, just as she knows that Tony S. would kill her if he knew the truth about her.  In dealing with the FBI, Adrianna hears Agent Sanseverino’s story about why she joined the FBI, but the issue is that, despite the agent’s good intentions, Adrianna still knows that she’s going to be hurt by those people.  That doesn’t mean that the Mafia isn’t hurting her as well.  Christopher spends the episode flirting with another girl, and he’s been known to push Adrianna to the side for his own desires.  She’s living a lose-lose situation, where neither world she exists in is going to help her.

The Sopranos 5x02-2

Source: HBO

But Adrianna has nowhere to turn with her problems.  She goes to the Soprano residence to watch old movies with the Mafia women, where they all attempt to become cultured only to revert to the same old gossiping women when they exhaust the only one or two comments they have about the movie.  And when everybody talks about Big Pussy being a snitch, which deep down I’m sure most of the women know is a joke, Adrianna can’t handle it.  It’s because she’s coming face to face with the reality of what is happening to her.  She knows that Big Pussy died, and she knows that she’ll die too if something isn’t done.  All she can do is run away, to get into her car and get far away from the people who expose the truth to her.

But all of this revolves around Tony, who is becoming increasingly paranoid as more and more people turn on him.  It’s the inevitable end that Tony, deep down, knows is coming.  Everybody turns on each other when the heat cranks up; everybody is willing to screw over the rest in order to stay alive.  When he thinks that Jack Massarone might be snitching, be can’t figure out for sure whether or not it’s true.  So he convinces himself that it is true, just to make himself feel better.  And it’s what happens to empires as they age and decay.  They begin to destroy themselves from within.  The powerful are afraid that they’ll be usurped.  The weak are afraid that they’ll be the next to fall.  Everybody tears each other apart until, in the end, there’s nobody left standing.

So I’m going to be moving these reviews to Monday, just because it’s easier for me to publish these on Mondays.  Anyway, let me know what you think of Season 5 of The Sopranos?  Is it your favorite, your least favorite?  Let me know in the comments!

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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