”The Sopranos”: Birth, life, death, and garbage
Can we get right to him? Paulie, I mean. While a shaky, vulnerable Tony struggles out of post-op depression this week (”I’ve been feeling not myself — my thoughts keep running away from me,” T tells a nurse), this numb-nuts, this narcissist, this effin’ idiot captain with the Pepe Le Pew silver hair wings and the track suits designed by Sharkey of Secaucus learns that his Ma is his aunt and his aunt was his Ma. And Paulie takes this news as he takes everything: with a self-absorption and indignation (and rage expressed in ice-cold violence — don’t forget that psychopathic avenue of self-expression at which Mr. Gaultieri excels). Oh boo-hoo, oh blubber-blubber from this nincompoop fussing over his ”groin and balls.”
Vito is a snake: ”Somebody you should watch,” Carmela warns Tony. (So she did smell something fishy about that ”gift” from Vito and Paulie after all — and she knew full well that there should have been more in that manila envelope! The lady’s got a head for numbers.) And Bobby Bacala is a lummox: ”You can’t hide behind this brother-in-law s— forever,” Tony tells him, so we can only hope there’ll be a flare-up with Janice and the baby and the whole fancy lifestyle in the future. (Hiring himself out as a marksman who could raise the PR profile of an aspiring rapper with a gently placed bullet ”in the fleshy part of the thigh,” Bobby naturally manages to get the kid in the butt instead.) But right now, Paulie is at the top of my personal whack list. The rickety little Ma, too — she could go, and good riddance, along with her massage chair from Sharper Image. (She well might, don’t you think?)
”It’s like my whole life is a joke,” Paulie kvetches. ”A big f—in’ joke on me.” On us too, pal. Jeez. What an obscure, anxious, jittery, reflective episode. (Literally obscure — so much of it shot in heightened shadows and unnatural light on brooding faces, as if T were still in a kind of life limbo.) So who’s the dinosaur? I mean, there’s Tony reading a book about the subject in his hospital bed. Is Tony (as well as his kind) on the way to extinction? With Jason Barone, a new, ”clean” kind of young man taking over the Barone carting company following the death of his father — an educated yuppie, interested in skiing and sculling and ignorant of what Tony so elegantly calls the ”corporate culture” of mob doings in the waste-management business — is it time for a new generation? (Did you catch the spark between Meadow and Jason at the hospital? Of course, that was when the athletic guy still had usable kneecaps.)
Certainly Tony has regained consciousness in a new world: An ice queen of a hospital ”utilization care specialist” assesses T as a bed to be restocked, not a man recovering from near death from a gunshot wound. A plasticized evangelical pastor with baby-smooth skin and dead eyes sees Tony as a recruit for the preacher’s evangelical agenda, not as a man in awe of his brush with death. In the midst of which, our passing acquaintance with Hal Holbrook as a scientist and fellow hospital patient who engages Tony in conversation about philosophy and quantum physics (”Nothing is separate — everything is connected”) was one of those beautiful little studies in character and dramatic commentary this series regularly offers like exquisite gifts.
Among the name-checks this week: Terri Schiavo, Viagra, Deer Valley, Blockbuster, Hurricane Katrina, Charles Colson, Razor magazine, Kung Fu, and the United Colors of Benetton. The Sopranos is built on the small stuff of a reality accessible to everybody. It just so happens that these everybodies are, you know, not like most, operating in a world at once bigger and smaller than yours and mine. ”Truth be told, ” Tony says with a new-found love of life, ”there’s enough garbage for everybody.” Later he sits by his pool in his pajamas, a man happy to be alive, admiring the blue sky of New Jersey as if it were heaven. How long, do you think, before Tony is fully back on earth? And what’s the first mess of family garbage he’ll clean up?