If an unexamined life is not worth living than an unexamined series is not worth ending. And The Sopranos season 6A, the great build-up to the great ending of a great season, is a twelve episode examination of the lives these characters led, where they currently stand, and what life has become for them. Was this worth it? Is my life valuable? Did I do wrong? And through these questions comes an implicit feeling of doom. A confrontation with the end of life.
Season 6A is, in effect, the man on death row or with a terminal illness recalling his past and trying to make sense of it all, before his entire life is in the past. On watching it for the first time, this is easy to write-off as a product of a series that announced its end. But for those re-watching, it is much easier to read as the confrontation with the death that marks season 6B.
The season is littered with recollections of the past. Each episode is reminiscent of season 5’s cover image, with the cast standing over the buried bodies of the past. Chrissy can’t stop bringing up Adriana or leave his addictions in the past. Carmella can’t help wondering about Adriana as well, and she finally asks Roe about Jackie Jr. after her many interactions with the woman who is a shell of her former self based on previous season’s tragedies- Jackie Sr., Jackie Jr., Ralphie. AJ becomes a massive problem, the little shit, and Tony and Carmella review every parental decision they’ve made in an attempt to make sense of how he got this way- remember when he told us God is Dead? He was always so sweet, what happened? We as viewers are painfully aware of how he got this way, reminded of every cringey parental decision that failed to hold their son to any standard of respectability. Meadow continues her trek to become the polar opposite of her father, drawn to the law, fighting for justice rather than creating injustice. And she and Finn come face-to-face with Finn seeing Vito giving a construction worker a blowie. Janice, always fond of recalling the past, continually reminds Tony of their mother, and how they were raised. Johnny Sack and Phil, the dynamic duo, hang on to every slight and memory they can in order to twist the proverbial knife into Tony. And Junior is maybe the best instance of the past resurfacing. In his senility he almost completes what he and Liv set out to do so long ago- off Tony. And he becomes another body, this one alive, buried under the seasons’ churn.
All of these instances, literal and symbolic, come with ‘remember when’ moments in the dialogue, constantly casting backwards into the well-developed plotlines that became our refuge throughout our journey with The Sopranos. It’s a beautiful set-up for the conclusion of the series, no matter how they choose/chose to end it, allowing us closure and preparing the series for an epic conclusion that will have no time for such sentimentality.
The closing scene of this season seems like a more traditional series ending, the way it would end if The Sopranos wasn’t in conversation for the greatest television show of all time. All the characters sat around the Christmas tree- Tony, Chrissy, AJ, Carmella, Janice and Bobby, and even Meadow from afar, and they all finally seem to have their shit together. They all seem able to recede behind the final curtain with the audience allowed to conjure hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow for our favorite characters. But we know better, because the story was told better than that. All that crap- alcohol and junk, AJ’s poor relationship with Blanca, Tony’s relationship to New York, Chrissy’s marriage- is buried under the ground, littered with the bones of bad decisions. And that ground threatens to collapse beneath them at any moment. So the scene feels nostalgic and positive, a real come together moment, but it also feels doomed, as if there is no way it can last, as if no one is actually enjoying a moment that should be so special.
All of this skirts around the big man, Tony, and his reflections on his past and struggles to move forward. His coma and its dream sequence are the beginning of the season, and in many ways sparks all the reflections about the lives they led. He was no exception.
The first time I watched the coma-dream with Tony as Kevin Finnerty, I just wanted it to end. It felt long and drawn out, and I wanted to get back to Satriale’s and The Bing and the ‘real’ stuff. The dream felt stifling to the story. On each subsequent re-watch I appreciate it more. And this time it seemed like such a perfect set-up for this last season (both parts).
Without fully examining the coma-dream (that can be another post for another time)- Tony confronts a different life he could have led. In some ways that life was the choice of going into infinity, death, or waking up, life. But in other ways Tony is choosing a type of life. He has always wrestled with the life he chose. And as he traverses his coma-dream. Seen as a thief, trying to fight for his identity, he must choose to become Tony Soprano the mafia boss once again. And once he does, that life becomes a rebirth.
We see his changes in minor ways after he wakes. He seems more loathe to take a life, not wanting to kill Vito (even though his hand is finally forced), and when Phil beats him to it, he doesn’t kill a man in return, as suggested, but blows up a building.
But in a larger scale, he tries to finally set up a stable life, one that won’t lead to the premature end he faced. He tries to keep Carmella happy with a trip to Rome and eventually, after much prodding, getting the spec house back up and running. He finally stops making excuses for AJ’s bullshit and tries to get his life on track. He does right by Janice, by getting her Johnny Sack’s house, and he tries really hard to work with Phil. Giving in at times in ways he never would have pre-coma.
But here’s the rub. We have followed The Sopranos for five prior seasons, as all of those characters reminded us of in the ways listed above- there are too many bodies buried. And unfortunately, Tony’s desire to stabilize his tumultuous life is too little too late. Maybe before he scorned Johnny Sack. Maybe before he didn’t support Chrissy’s sobriety. Maybe before Tony B. But not now.
But we don’t know that yet. We just know that things finally seemed to come together and that it seems a little too good to be true. Unfortunately, it is.
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