Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A pebble in a lake

Early on in this last Sopranos episode, Christopher says something that speaks a lot to creator David Chase's methods: "Like a pebble in a lake. Even the fish feel it." He may have been speaking about the prior death of Vito, but the sentiment that even the smallest events have a larger rippling effect rings true in the series. It's what makes episodes like this so hard to gauge, where little happens and you can't figure out what's going to come back and be a significant player in the plot. And with only five episodes left, Chase's slow boil is reaching the point where this lake is stealthily cooking all the fish at once.

The episode ("Chasing it") is on the surface about gambling, but really it's about self-destruction as a means of coping. Tony's been surrounded by 'yes' men and living high on the hog for some time now, but since surviving Junior's bullet, he hasn't been happy with being the boss and the knowledge that the only ways out involve death or disgrace. His gambling problem manifests itself as a substitution for confronting these feelings, and it's telling that the music that underscores his gambling is "Goin' Down Slow" by Howlin' Wolf. Meanwhile, Vito Jr is dealing with his father's death and public embarrasment through teenage rebellion. You'd think Tony could empathize given his storied rebellious past, but in the wake of his piling gambling debts, he sees it more as a money problem.

Speaking of money, Tony's trusted friend (and unofficial consigliaro) Hesh unknowingly gets caught in Tony's self-destructive storm when he loans him money. Furthering his self-destruction, Tony adds Hesch to the list of people (Bobby, Christopher and Paulie;) he's alientated in these last episodes. Even Carlo gets Tony's wrath, for both not bringing in as much as Vito did, and for bringing up an episode from The Twilight Zone. The episode ("A Nice Place to Visit") involves a gambler/small-time crook who never gets a break, and finally dies and finds himself in a place where he can't lose a bet, and everybody says they love him. This turns out to be hell. In Ray Kurzweil's 1999 book, The Age of Spiritual Machines, he makes the following point:
Death gives meaning to our lives. It gives importance and value to time. Time would become meaningless if there were too much of it. If death were to be indefinitely put off, the human psyche would end up, well, like the gambler in the Twilight Zone Episode.
This rings true for both Tony and the whole ending of The Sopranos as a series. Meanwhile, it's not all so serious... Nancy Sinatra sings "Bossman" at a party for Phil, celebrating his ascension to 'bossman' of the NY family. Brother Frank Jr has already appeared as himself on the series back in the 2nd season ("The Happy Wanderer" - which was also an episode about gambling, brining it full circle.) One has to wonder if there's enough time left for sister Tina to make an appearance as well, especially considering she's the one that revealed daddy's ties to the mob (and JFK.)

Playlist: The Sopranos - Episode 616
1. "Peppermint Twist" - Joey Dee and the Starliters - Tony vents to Silvio about Vito Jr. at Satriale's
2. "Kernkraft 400" - Zombie Nation - Tony loses a bet at the Bing, as the NY Giants win ahead of the spread
3. "Bossman" - Nancy Sinatra - Nancy Sinatra performs at Phil's party
4. "Goin' Down Slow" - Howlin' Wolf - A night of gambling, and again at the end as Tonys pays his debt and his respect to Hesch
5. "Ralph's New Blues" - Modern Jazz Quartet - Tony pays Hesch a visit
6. "Rompe" - Daddy Yankee - AJ takes Victor to the Latino Day Parade
7. "Livin' La Vida Loca" - Ricky Martin - Marching band plays this as Blanca breaks up with AJ at the parade
8. "Honky Tonk" - Bill Doggett - Tony drives by a mosque and recognizes Ahmed and Mohammed from the Bing

More: The concept album Spiritual Machines from Our Lady Peace is based on Ray Kurzweil's book, and even has a track with the passage quoted above ("R.K. on Death.")

Previously: Why James Dean died and Paulie lives on (Episode 615)

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