Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Talkin' About The Sopranos **REVISED

Over its ten seasons, I haven’t been a rabid Sopranos fan. The language, the violence (who can forget that guy kicking the living crap out of the hooker), and the convoluted mob stuff…just not my thing.

So when I heard (spoiler alert!) that Tony killed off Christopher, I decided to catch up on this season’s episodes. Why? Because in storytelling there ain’t nothing better than patricide, right? I knew enough, from my meager viewing, that for Tony to kill a man he looked upon as a son must involve deep, emotional, conflict. ***Okay, Blogreader Joe has brought to my attention that patricide refers to the killing of one's father (duh). The word I was looking for, as it turns out, was filicide. Huh. Why doesn't that sound familiar??

Yummy, yummy.

First lesson in story conflict? Torture your hero by putting him in a no-win situation. Better yet, make it a situation involving a moral dilemma. And we’re not talking about having to choose between right and wrong. Anyone can make that decision. No, the best internal conflict comes from having to choose between TWO WRONGS, or (to use Jenny Crusie’s words) sucky and suckier.

That’s why I eagerly watched the episodes leading up to the “death of Christopher.” When he modeled the hero in his movie after Tony, portraying him as a wacko bully, I went: “Uh-oh.” When he got involved in a pissing match with Tony’s second-in-command, I tsk-tsked. When his mobster pals convinced a “clean and sober” Christopher he didn’t “belong” anymore, I saw the writing on the wall.

All the ingredients were in place for a showdown between Tony and Christopher.

Only it didn’t happen the way I pictured it.

High on drugs, Christopher got them into a car wreck, and as he struggled for breath, Tony pinched off his nose to obstruct the only available airway.


Okay, maybe it’s me, but I didn’t see this as a huge moral dilemma, fraught with conflicting emotions on Tony’s part. First of all, the writers used an accident as the vehicle (no pun intended) to set up the scene. I’d rather have witnessed the two men making a sequence of decisions that consciously and deliberately brought them to a clash of destinies. Second, clearly, it was curtains for ol’ Chris anyway, whether Tony lifted a finger or not. I mean, globs of blood gurgling out of a guy’s mouth can’t be a promising sign of survival. So…did Tony put him out of his misery a la “They Shoot Horses Don’t They”? Not much evidence of that either, because Tony’s expression was flat. No regret, no remorse…no glee, either. Just…nothing. And what about Christopher? Where was the electrifying moment where we should have seen some nonverbal message pass between the two? Was I sleeping?

Okay, granted. In a subsequent scene, Tony expressed relief to his shrink…but it was a dream sequence. I guess we’re supposed to be horrified by this subconscious revelation, but to me it wasn’t enough.

Then Tony goes off to Vegas where he personally breaks the news to a lady friend of Christopher’s, and they get high and jump each other’s bones. Still no real expression on Tony’s face except maybe the manic euphoria during the sunrise scene. But was that the drugs talking??

I wanted to see angst. The huge, gut-wrenching, moral angst of a man forced to choose between his son and his future.

But then maybe that’s the point. I heard one of those TV analysts say we’re finally seeing Tony Soprano for what he is: a cold-blooded murderer. I say, huh? So all those other murders didn’t count? As long as he was a loving husband and father, we could forgive the other deaths? Ah, but see…the difference is (if I recall correctly), Tony displayed at least a modicum of emotion during those other episodes—whether it was guilt, compassion…nonchalance. Something.

I got nothing from Tony Soprano ending Christopher’s life.

And as a writer, I feel ripped off.

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