”The Sopranos”: A weekend getaway
Oh, I have an awful feeling something bad is coming. I mean really bad. I mean…Carmela. Is she well? That shoulder was bothering her even before she was thrown to the floor trying to break up the thrilling, horrifying, drunken, defending-the-honor-of-Janice brawl between Tony and Bobby. Throughout the episode, Carm was rubbing her shoulder, kneading her neck. ”You ought to have it looked at,” her husband said to her the morning after as he nursed purple bruises and brooded about the betrayals of his own aging body. Was that a throwaway line or a portent?
I’m of the school that nothing is a throwaway line in Mr. Soprano’s neighborhood — ”No risk, no reward,” according to T. So I can’t reason away my clammy conviction that Tony’s cosmic payback for a life of crime isn’t going to arrive via whackings (although Bobby ought to watch his back) or turf fights (although ”cranky f—” Phil Leotardo looks ready to rumble now that he’s back in good health). Instead, the head of the family is going to be brought low by losing what he holds dearest, which is Carmela by his side. Her death would destroy him. And even illness and the possibility of her death, dragged out, Sopranos style, over the course of these final final final (I think David Chase means final) episodes, would fatally weaken him.
With every small grimace of pain on Carm’s face, I’m thinking…cancer? There’s no reason to be so morbidly obsessed, and I know no more than anyone else who’s committed to the next eight weeks. But I just can’t shake my case of the dreads. So while I’m fretting, let me fret about AJ, too. There’s too much gone numb and wayward in that young man, too much waiting to explode before the final curtain falls. While his mother, willing to be gullible, believes he’s working his pizza job, the sullen, sneaky layabout is really dirtying his parents’ bedroom sheets (!) making whoopee with his tough-chick girlfriend, Blanca. AJ is not going to get away with this for long — am I right?
Okay, enough fretting. Here’s the point in the essay where I irritate the impatient whackaholics among you by declaring (once again) that I don’t care how long it takes for anything to happen-with-a-capital-H in the coming weeks. I suppose that if, two months from now, Tone is doing the exact same ”sitting-in-the-chair thing” that worried Janice this week, I’ll be feeling a tad itchy. But the ruthless, funny, essential family Monopoly game (cheating and all) that served as a mood-establishing prologue for the developments ahead was about as elegant a survey of the Soprano emotional landscape as any longtime devotee could wish for. It is the show. Within the framework of ”nothing happened” — well, everything happened: Tony’s undervalued, playful pop-cultural sophistication received its props. (”Ohhhh!” said Tony to his shlubby brother-in-law upon arriving at the Baccalieri lake house. ”National Lampoon’s Vacation!”). Carmela was busted on her selective naïveté. (”My husband is not a vengeful man.”) Janice’s mean, reflexive manipulativeness, learned at the knee of her late mother the ”splitter” (and evident even in a delightful glimpse, via old home movies, of bullying little Janice), flared up, ugly, when her own innocent daughter, Nica, dared to say no to Mama.
Come to think of it, just about every character short of Nica’s nanny (and by the way, whatever that young woman’s paid, it’s not enough) was presented in the context of family, and of imperfectly protected children. The French-Canadian gangster with whom Tony and his brother-in-law did a drug-scam deal at the Canadian border (it really was business — not the end of the road for Bobby!) worried about his sister and her son. Carmela recounted their family pharmacist’s tragic story of a kid drowning at a pool party. Bobby reminisced about how his old man (per Tony, ”the f—in’ Terminator”) didn’t want the murdering life for his son (making Tony’s order to Bobby to do a hit all the more sadistic). Janice told a childhood story of their monstrous parents that was so painful to her brother that he recoiled in anger. ”It makes us look like a f—in’ dysfunctional family!”
Of course, there were ducks. (For emphasis, Nica and her nanny sang the nursery ditty ”Four little ducks swam out one day.”) There were the calming sights of water and a sweet little boat moored at the dock (a pipsqueak of a vessel compared to the Stugots). And of course, in such a pretty sketch of nature at its most serene, Tony and Bobby expressed their own natures: They recklessly shot off rounds from automatic weapons, then brawled, then brooded.
So you tell me: What’ll happen to them next?