Season 2 of The Sopranos is considered one of the greatest single seasons of television of all time, and for good reason. After a first season that overperforms while poking and prodding at greatness, season 2 is the becoming. In order to recap it in posts of reasonable length, I am dedicating two blog posts to the task. This one will largely focus on some of the smaller (less pervasive?) storylines. Although that is a tough way to view it considering how impactful The Sopranos makes even the smallest elements of its plot.
The Sopranos is not for the impatient, take this season as proof. Every storyline is a slow play, unravelling and intertwining until its big payoff in the end. And the end, in the form of two season ending episodes, is well worth the wait for those who find themselves engrossed in these slow burning storylines.
The precursor to the main meal of this season revolves around a Christopher storyline that carries the workload for the front half of the season and then takes a back seat in the back half. Christopher is manifesting as a first-class drug addict, and it creates a volatile homelife with Adrianna and an unsteady relationship with his writing career and with Tony. Then those worlds meet. The precariousness of his situation is incarnated in Matthew Bevilaqua and his croney Sean Gismonte who take to Christopher, but due to Christopher’s neglect due to his infatuation with the film biz, eventually try to take his life to rise faster in the ranks of the mafia. The attempted hit cools down the Christopher storyline just in time to see other facets of Tony’s life ramp up.
The other intriguing, smaller storyline that pokes its head up for air throughout the season, is from Meadow’s friend’s dad, Dave ‘Davey’ Scatino. The storyline is interesting enough, he gets in deep in a card game and the sharks descend on him to pay back what he owes, destroying his life in the process. But its portrayal of Tony in comparison to the everyman provides essays of analysis. Tony warned Davey that he couldn’t afford the game but let him play anyway. And one of the best moments in the season, is when Davey, aware of how much he owes, washing his face in the hotel bathroom, tries to talk to Tony as his friend, but Tony makes it painfully clear that he is now talking to Tony the mob boss. The switch from friend to gangster is startling, one of many quick changes Tony makes throughout the series.
Later on, Tony admits he let Davey into the game, despite knowing what would happen, because he wanted his store. He didn’t just ruin Davey’s life, he strategically planned its demise. And his thoughts on Davey and his degenerate gambling create interesting insights into Tony’s worldview. He despises the ‘happy wanderer,’ who smiles as he traipses through life, with no fucking clue how bad it can truly be. But Tony knows how bad it can be, in fact he lives in that world even though he pretends to be Tony the friend, the father, the husband. By extension, we can assume Tony finds some joy in revealing to Davey- the happy wanderer- and his family, who represent the idyllic suburban life, how bad the world truly is.
Tony makes very clear that he sees the darker side of life, it is probably the source of his depression, ‘the big nothing’ of life, that is so much more real when lives are ruined and ended in the span of days in Tony’s life. And he also makes it clear that he wants other people to know, especially those who judge him for what he does, that they don’t know the half of it. It’s why he gave Meadow her friend’s repoed car that Davey used as payment on his vig. Meadow has been one of the only people ballsy enough to critique the way Tony earns a living, if not in so many words. What better way for Tony to shatter her illusions of what a more ‘normal’ life might be, than by showing her how bad other fathers are? In fact, her life is made on the sins of other men, men more accepted in society than Tony. Who is really the bad guy?
This storyline also inspires what may be my favorite therapy scene in the whole show (it is at least the one I remember the most) when Tony explains why he doesn’t deserve to go to hell because hell is for the Paul Potts and the actual bad guys. Tony and his crew are soldiers, and the men they kill all agreed to fight in the same war. It’s simple, its elegant in that way only Tony can be, not overly complex, but logically daunting.
These smaller storylines outline the makings of a belief system for Tony. The Sopranos flirts with religion throughout all its seasons, with its cast of Catholics who do or accept horrible acts in their lives, while trying to make sense of a life that confronts its harshest realities. Tony believes in heaven and hell and a god of some kind, maybe not in the same way as Carmella- who takes Chrissy’s dream of descending to hell after he was shot very seriously, praying for his soul and Tony’s- but he definitely believes in a higher order, a greater morality, a giant ledger by which the good done gets weighed against the evils perpetuated. And he believes in a moral code on this earth, not the ten commandments or some path to enlightenment, but a tacit code of understanding that he believes all humans agree to, a mixture of the pursuit of happiness and manifest destiny. And it becomes clear through his interactions with Dr. Melfi, his decision to shoot Bevilaqua himself, his conversations with Carmella about religion, the way he views Davey and other pathetic men like him, and what he tries to impress upon Meadow (and succeeds in doing as she admits in the final episode of this season). This is the season that paints the portrait of Tony’s morality, anger, and depression and why he does what he does. And that’s not even the best part of this season…
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