The Sopranos season five is heavy. Spurred on by the release of imprisoned mafiosos back into the hands of both the Jersey and the New York crime families, the season rides upon their velocitation of old ideals in a new world, new relationships, new objectives, new values, and new bosses. And as the released mobster’s lives go from 0-60 in the matter of a bus ride out of prison, so do the lives of all those around them.
This shows in small ways through characters like Feech La Manna and Angelo, old school- and now just plain old- gangsters who have a tough time fitting into a family that operates in a new age way. Feech is a pain in Tony’s ass similar to Ritchie in season two. He constantly wants a taste of this or that, impedes on other earners, not quite understanding that the mafia he left- where respect, honor, and prestige were top billing- has made way to a family that focuses on funding and feeding families. The mob can no longer operate in the open with impunity, but nobody told Feech. So he creates unnecessary headaches, and then asks for forgiveness not permission.
Angelo is a much less played out character, and more self-aware. He tries to stay out of the way, recognizing his time is up. But he is drawn back into the mob-life (just when I think I’m out…) because Little Carmine and Johnny Sack start a war over who should be boss of the New York family.
Both of these characters provide an interesting look into just how changed the mafia has become, a microcosm of the changing American Dream and the ideals that comprise it. Tony misses the old days of Gary Cooper, where his dad and uncle could do whatever they wanted in broad daylight, and Feech and Angelo show how far away from that this world we are watching is. As a result… Feech ends up going back to jail on a set-up from Tony, who was, in a moment of smart governing, choosing to avoid another situation like Ritchie. And Angelo ends up murdered in the back of a trunk, a most fateful action that spurs on the rest of the series.
This murder of the loveable Angelo, who got back into the game at just the wrong time, intersects with two other newly released convicts, Tony B and Philly Leotardo. In some ways, these two are opposites. Tony tries to rehabilitate, go to school, work a real job, and become a small business owner, only to be dragged back into the crime world through dint of his relationships with lifestyles he could not match, and a bag of money that reminded him how easier it was to have some. Phil on the other hand, dove right back into the world. And unlike Feech, he hadn’t missed a beat. Phil shows a keen insight, a strong hand, and an ability to fit in when necessary and assert dominance in order to gain power. In short, he is immediately hateable, and deserving of the viewer’s fear.
And when Tony and Phil clash, the world we love in The Sopranos, which up to this point has felt stable (besides some dips in money intake due to the economy) comes crashing down. And the whole Jersey family faces an existential threat from New York, when Tony B takes Angelo’s death into his own hands and kills Philly’s little brother.
Obviously, in classic The Sopranos way, tensions had already been building. Tony’s relationship with Johnny Sack remained fractured after Tony bailed on Johnny’s desire to whack Carmine, Phil and Tony hated each other after Philly refused to pay Tony his dues (showing his contempt for Jersey) and then cut and run after Johnny Sack ruled against him, and the whole New York family was in an upheaval after the battle between Johnny Sack and Little Carmine. So, Tony B’s vigilante justice was a major explosion, as well as the snowflake that started the avalanche. And for the first time, as Chrissy goes into hiding and Benny gets beat to hell, the future of Tony’s organization, and by extension the show, gets very dark and uncertain.
This uncertainty, this existential threat, lends a profound weight to the series, that hadn’t been around until now. The Sopranos in seasons 1-4 found its wheelhouse in the interpersonal rooted in political intrigue in the ‘family’ life (and all that means on the show)- intense therapy sessions, marital strife, parenting issues, mob politics, broken friendships, murder. And it was all fascinating, but the show rolled on, and Tony’s family, though always facing some crisis, felt safe. Season five shows a precariousness to their situation that makes the whole show seem significant, as if at any moment all of the people you love might die at once.
Ritchie, as hated as he was, never threatened to overturn the apple cart. Junior’s plotting on Tony’s life was too early in the series to ever be an existential threat, Big Pussy or Adriana or Tony’s mother’s potential narking was an interesting wrinkle, but not one that would end everything as we know it. But now we face New York, and the series is later in its years, and there is a real fear that this will not end well, or maybe that this might end.
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