Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Slouching towards Bethlehem

In one of the most dramatic moments ever captured on The Sopranos, Tony is reduced to stroking the wet hair on his son A.J.'s head, repeating "It's alright, baby," and for a moment, all the evil that lies within him is vanished. One has to imagine that scene (and the couple leading up to it - spoilers ahead,) are going to be remembered for a long time, especially come Emmy season, as both James Gandolfini and Robert Iler nailed the heart-wrenching details of the confusion and anguish required for it to work as well as it did.

A.J.'s suicide attempt in the family pool had so many things going on it's hard to know where to begin. Let's start, as we should in a post about music, with the song leading up to A.J.'s decision. As Meadow tries to connect with her little brother, the song playing in the background is Blue October's "Into the Ocean," a song that eerily echoes what's going on in A.J.'s head:
The loss of her, the one I love
My will to quickly end it all
Set front row in my need to fall
Into the ocean, end it all...
Into the ocean (goodbye) end it all (goodbye)
The family pool, where A.J. makes his attempt, has served in the series as a sort of symbol of the core of the family, the womb as it were. It's where Tony nursed the ducks to health, and where he and Carmela consumated the end of their separation. The fact that A.J. leaves just enough rope to barely survive both serves the purpose of it being a cry for help, and also as a metaphor for A.J.'s connection to the family. If he stays too close, he will die, but he only leaves himself enough slack to barely survive. When Meadow tells him he needs to take off on his own, A.J. claims he needs his mom's cooking as something else might "mess up his blood chemistry." (And what's the first thing we see from Carm? Lincoln log sandwiches. There's your blood chemistry! What does it mean that Tony eats one of A.J.'s sandwiches before saving him?)

Speaking of returning to the womb, Tony's recollection of what he sees in the desert on his Carlos Castaneda kick is a fairly poignant metaphor for what's going on here. He says (to Dr. Melfi:)
Our mothers are like bus drivers... no... they're the bus. They're the vehicle that gets you here. They drop you off, then they go their own way, continue on their own journey. The problem is, we keep trying to get back on the bus when we should just be letting it go.
The bus of the series could also be 'the famiglia,' as no one seems to be able to let it go. A.J. seemed to be sort of on the path until Blanca essentially paid for his bus ticket and now it's killing him. Adriana had a chance to leave and instead stayed (and we remember how that ended up.) Even Christopher contemplated leaving before meeting his end last week. Now even Meadow has returned, dating the son of one of Tony's captains. You remember how Tony felt about her dating Jackie Jr.? When Meadow tells him of the sexual innuendos that Phil's lunkhead Coco threw at her, he kept his cool. But soon as he found out she was dating another next-gen-goomba, he lost it... and Coco got curbed.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
This is the second time in the series that WB Yeats' famous poem "The Second Coming" (also the title of the episode) has been referenced on the show (Dr Melfi referenced it in passing during season 5,) and while it's use is cliche, it's an apt one for the series (and it's impending ending.) You have to admire creator David Chase for wielding this blunt instrument so delicately throughout the episode. The apocalyptic poem was written after WWI and while Yeats' Ireland was on the verge of civil war, so his dark visions of a 'rough beast' are open to several interpretations. Over the years, as such, it's come to take on all sorts of meanings, even rearing it's head lately in reference to the war in Iraq, finding Congressmen referencing it in session. One theme that remains in nearly all readings of the poem is that of impending conflict, and a final showdown between NJ (Tony) and NY (Phil) seems imminent (as it's been brewing for nearly four seasons.)

Finally, the episode ends with a Godfather-like shot of Tony walking with his son (depression is like the mafia?) and the song that takes you out is an old Italian folk lullaby, called a Ninna Nanna, which brings back to mind the scene of Tony cradling his son. This particular Ninna Nanna is from Sardinia and has the mother singing (in Italian) to her son, who's father is an outlaw that's escaped to the mountains: "Antoneddu, little Anton, I'd rather see you dead than a bandit in the mountains." Strong sentiments indeed... get out while you can, young Sopranos.

Playlist: The Sopranos - Ep619
1. "Ridin' Dirty" - Chamillionaire - AJ wakes up and turns on his stereo
2. "Please, Mr. Postman" - The Marvelettes - Tony recounts his Vegas trip to the gang
3. "Into The Ocean" - Blue October - Meadow talks to AJ in his room
4. "I Wanna Be Your Lover" - Prince
5. "Caravan" - The Brian Setzer Orchestra - Tony curbs Coco
6. "Suspicious Minds" - Elvis Presley - Tony and Little Carmine have a sit-down in the back of Satriale's
7. "Ninna Nanna" - Unknown Performance - Smithsonian/Folkways - Tony visits AJ at the hospital

More: Two malapropisms in this episode of The Sopranos oddly summed up a lot of what's going on. Little Carmine, king of the mispeak, says "you're at a precipice, Tony, of an enormous crossroads." Meanwhile, earlier Tony says to his crew "Alright, we may as well talk about the 500 pound elephant in the room," making for a very small elephant.

Previously: Uncomfortably Numb (Episode 618)

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1 comment:

bumpershine said...

I know you disagree with me, but I was really turned off by AJ in this episode. I thought all of his proclamations about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and Bush's plans for Iran came straight out of David Chase's pulpit. It was a lot subtler (and more effective) when we only heard Chase's preaching through the din of Bobby's radio. To me, it was Columbus Day all over again, which was, in my opinion, a low point of the series. No disrepect here, quality wrap-up as usual.