In my first post about season five of The Sopranos, I addressed how heavy the season felt due to an existential crisis the likes of which the series had not experienced to that point. However, underlying that tension is a much more subtle theme that holds the season together, Tony’s pride.
Sylvio calls it out towards the end of the season, amidst Tony’s refusal to hand over Tony B to Johnny Sack. Tony struggles with pride and refuses to bend the knee to Johnny. So, instead of turning Tony B over, he tells Johnny Sack to go fuck himself, turning a dangerous situation into a full-blown crisis.
That was the moment Tony’s pride was named and pointed to, but it had been there all along, causing tension and driving storylines for the whole season. In some ways, it had been driving storylines from before the series began.
Take Tony’s relationship to his cousin Tony B (may he rot in hell). We start the season thinking the relationship is strong, believing that Tony was about to have something he has never had on the show, a true friend. Instead, the relationship grows more and more fractured and Tony screws up more and more frequently in his dealings with Tony B, leading to a less harmonious friendship than we came to expect.
Before the series began, Tony was supposed to be there the night Tony B was arrested, but he missed the job due to a panic attack that led to him cracking his head open. Everyone, including Tony B, is over it, and wondering why Tony isn’t as well. And the reason Tony can’t get past it, is because he had lied about why he wasn’t there. He claimed he was mugged, and this lie and its subsequent guilt, kept him from moving on like everyone else. And the reason he was lying? Pride. He didn’t think anyone would understand that a fight with his mother could cause him to pass out and crack his head open or, if they did, he didn’t want to deal with that stigma. He was trying to preserve his image due to his pride, a decision that would have dangerous ramifications many years later.
Tony faced his pride in other ways too. This was the season where Tony was separated from Carmella, a situation he told everyone was a major blessing. He could go where he wants, fuck who he wants, and do what he wants when he wants. However, the reality was much different. His house was a sty, he drank himself to sleep, he ate like a pig, and he was lonely, often having nothing to do, and he would call people and then hanging up without saying anything. After this lifestyle became too awful, Tony went back to Carmella. Heapproached her to get back in the house. Tony was the one who never wanted the divorce, Tony’s life was the one that was noticeably worse after the separation, and so he had to swallow his pride and go back to his old life.
We see small instances of his pride as well. He refuses to let Finn pay, and loses his shit on him for doing so behind his back (a great Tony blow up), he lies about his skin cancer that served as a representation of his mortality and commiserates with Ade over their illnesses.
And ultimately Tony had to recognize his own futility in the face of the much bigger New York by killing his cousin as a peace offering to Johnny Sack. And in so doing, he had to overcome his own pride, recognize New York’s dominance, and bend the knee. Admittedly, he did it his own way rather than turning over Tony B carte blanche for Philly to torture to death, but he did it. And to be honest, even if he had turned Tony B over alive, there is no reason to believe Philly would’ve been satisfied with that either, he doesn’t appear to be the forgive and forget kind of guy.
And this lack of humility, a decision to hold on to a bit of himself in the face of Johnny’s request, led to Tony having to eat even more humble pie, by offering Philly retribution in terms of money and percentages while humbling himself before Johnny Sack at Johnny Sack’s house, in a place Johnny Sack dictated, at a time Johnny Sack dictated, in the way Johnny Sack dictated.
This is a far cry from the Tony at the beginning of the season, who was trying to convince everyone around him, every opportunity he got, that he had life by the balls. Instead, he progressed through the season to the point where he had to face his own humanity through illness and the threat of New York, his own need for companions through Tony B and Carmella, and ultimately admitting his mistakes through an offering that served as an apology.
Through that lens, Tony’s flight from Johnny Sack’s house at the end of the season as it is being raided, his walk through the woods with a torn coat and ruined suit, his trek through a river soaking his shoes during his journey back to civilization while bloodied by tree branches was the ultimate humbling of a prideful man. Even when he called his lawyer who told him he wasn’t indicted and that he should celebrate, there was no desire on Tony’s or our part to celebrate. Instead, it was a slow slog back to the house and wife he had tried to leave behind, with an expected explanation of how he ended up in this situation. It was the journey of a man humbled through circumstances.
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