This is over twenty years too late. But as I re-watch The Sopranos, I keep getting a tug to write about it and sort out my thoughts on its greatness. And this is the place where I write about things… so two decades, two shmecades.
I often struggle to consolidate my thoughts on The Sopranos into a meaningful post about one aspect of the show- as I do with my other posts. The show is too intertwined, too intricate. But, having finished the first season once again, I finally felt an angle that appealed to me. I want to look back at the breadth of the entire season (and the subsequent ones when I finish those). I think my past troubles with trying to write about The Sopranos is that no individual moment, or a person’s commentary on it, can do justice to the show as a whole (which I would not say is true for all shows). Instead, I want to paint with a broader brush and capture swaths of the show. It is in the broader view, that I appreciate The Sopranos the most and find the most to say (and maybe it will lead to some smaller commentary along the way).
So enjoy a stroll down TV memory lane, or analyze an amazing show a bit further with me. Let’s talk about season one of what I believe to be the greatest TV show of all time…
The Sopranos begins with the story of a mob boss dealing with depression and anxiety and hinges on his psychological well-being and fear of losing his family. The first season is the perfect microcosm of this arc, beginning with a panic attack and ending with Tony surrounded by his family (both immediate and crime), reconciled with all those he wants to bring close, and with all other loose ends tied up, except for one…
But in this final scene we see the resolution of the smaller, more specific sources of Tony’s anxiety- storylines that don’t deserve their own section in this post. His guys finally know about his therapy and have come to grips with it. Mikey P. lies dead in a ditch. All ended well with Artie and his restaurant, and their friendship remains intact. Meadow and AJ still love him as their father, despite both of them making heavy realizations about his profession. Plus, nobody is trying to kill him, so that’s always nice.
Tony and his Mother
Re-watching the early seasons of The Sopranos makes you wonder what they had in store for Tony and his mother if not for the untimely death of actress Nancy Marchand. But for this season, we got more than we could ask for out of this top tier TV villain. She sparks anxiety in Tony more than any fight with his wife, lazy son, or hit taken out on him ever could, and she is the cause of much of Tony’s woes all season.
She is impudent, bitter, conniving, spiteful, malicious, and deceitful and then we get to the second half of the season. Tony’s care for such a ungrateful old hag can be baffling, and we are torn between wanting her to recognize the special child she has and wanting him to cut her off entirely.
The culmination of this tension has a big payoff- a chilling interaction between Tony and Livia as she is rolled away on a stretcher. Tony finally tells her off in the most satisfying, in your face, spittle-flying, finger-pointing way, and Livia smiles her wicked smile, having figured out another way to stay untouchable. She will forever remain the true OG of The Sopranos.
Carmela and the Priest
Carmela telling off that shnorer in the last episode of this season is an underrated Sopranos moment. I believe she said, “you have this M.O. where you manipulate spiritually thirsty women. And I think a lot of it is tied up with food as well as this sexual tension game.” Which is both a stinging insult as well as a succinct and well phrased summary of a complicated relationship.
It is hard to fault Carmela her small indiscretions throughout the series (even though she always picks the most complicated ways to be indiscreet), but it is quite easy to hate Father Intintola, who in his own way is as two-faced as Tony, as he both criticizes Tony’s way of life and then tries to substitute himself into it in Tony’s absence. So, when Carmela rebukes him and, in her Carmela way, turns back to Tony, it feels good. But it also feels bad for Carmela, who, even when things go well, still ends up getting the short straw.
Christopher Finding his Arc
Chrissy tried to explain a character arc to Paulie, which was terrific because Paulie has no fucking clue what he is talking about, and also because Paulie is one of the few characters on the show who doesn’t really have an arc…
But Christopher has an arc. Oh Lord does he… He has arcs for days. But in this season, as he contemplates life in the mob, and his disillusionment with the glamor and accolades he thought it’d bring, he only sees himself as a useless pawn in someone else’s story. So he builds a mental escape hatch and makes himself the main character of his own story by writing poorly spelled screen plays that promise the fame and fortune he is not receiving in his life of crime, but that only leaves him empty as well. But a few hits, a mention in the newspaper, and an added workload with the disappearance of Pussy, bring him, momentarily, into the fold with the man who gives him too many chances. Well… until his next breakdown…
Junior Needing to be the Boss
Junior’s insecurity rages in this first season. The only trait Tony and Junior share is their last names. Junior thinks he is the boss Tony is, and Tony pines for the era Junior is from. And so they come into constant conflict with each other. The moment Tony’s love for his Uncle- and all he represents- brings him close, Junior’s ego and poor leadership drive a wedge right back in-between them. And the moment Junior feels like he has the reigns, Tony’s position with the other guys brings his insecurity rising back up like a whitecap. It only made sense that Junior tried to kill him, they could never work together.
Then The Sopranos clever writing takes over, Junior’s hit misses, and then he narrowly escapes his own death- which was clever. But Junior getting offered a way out of jail if he admits to his greatest fear, that Tony actually runs things… that was damn Shakespearean.
Thus, Junior holds on to the only thing he ever had, his inflated view of himself, and he ends up filling the role Tony intended for him since the beginning of the season, the lightning rod for any heat coming from the feds. Junior’s insecurity trips him up once again, and the part of Junior that Tony hated the most, ends up keeping Tony out of jail. Of all the storylines that wrap up nicely, this one… *chef’s kiss*.
As much as I wish I could have watched The Sopranos while it was airing, there is something gratifying about watching it while knowing the whole story. The way each season provides its own arcs for each characters and new storylines to play out, and each episode has their own arcs and storylines that support the season, and then to look at all 6 seasons and see how they continue arcs and storylines from season to season- it is an impressive sight. And I look forward to reflecting on it all.
And that is what I noticed the most about this first season. I think a lot of first seasons hedge their bets by creating a season that can stand alone (in case they don’t get renewed) and one that can continue on for more seasons. I imagine writers of The Sopranos were assuming there would be more seasons, but I enjoyed the way the last episode wraps everything up (maybe besides Pussy) and makes it seem like no more episodes need be made, but also knowing that many, many more episodes were going to be made (thank God they were) made re-watching it all the more enjoyable.
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