What have I done during this sports free quarantine? I’ve watched The Sopranos and watching it for the first time in about 10 years has brought me to the realization that it is the greatest TV drama ever produced.
Since last catching up with the turn of the millienium goings-on in North Jersey, I’ve delved into shows like Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Mad Men. I’ve binged The Wire, loved Fargo, all shows that have had people talking about their place on the Mount Rushmore of drama.
In fact, after watching Breaking Bad, my position had long been that Breaking Bad was a superior show, but my personal taste was that I liked The Sopranos better. I will now recant that statement, Breaking Bad isn’t a better show, it was just shot in such a different way and the story woven more intricately (and sometimes at a pain staking pace) that it felt like a higher quality show.
The theme that Breaking Bad and Sopranos shared was that they ushered in the anti-hero movement: a main character that was a bad guy but for whom you still rooted. Tony Soprano and Walter White do horrible things, but you feel like they’re doing it for the right reasons.
What I found in watching The Sopranos again was that I hated most of the characters. Olivia, Uncle Junior, Janice and AJ Soprano are brutal. Ritchie Aprile, Ralphie Cifaretto, Johnny Sach and Phil Leotardo awful! How could I love this show so much, if I hate so many characters?
I realized it was because in The Sopranos everybody gets theirs. If you’re a bad guy, or a villain, the “justice” of “this thing of ours” will take care of it. Ritchie Aprile backs over poor Beansie and hits Tony’s sister? Well call up the crew because Janice just shot him in the kitchen. Ralph Cifaretto’s a jerk and burns down the horse stable? Well call Chrissy and tell him to bring some bleach, rubber gloves and trash bags. There is something satisfying about seeing bad people get what they deserve and that at a visceral level is refreshing. In a time and place where it feels like terrible people do not often enough get their comeuppance, in this show, they do.
“But the ending, the ending, the ending was so bad. You got no closure. Is Tony dead or alive?” Here’s the question: who would have given the orders to put a hit out on Tony? The Boss of New York (Phil Leotardo) just got it at a gas station in Sheepshead Bay, so who was going to give the order to have the boss of a family whacked?
So what does the fade to black mean? In the season 6 part II premiere, Tony and Bobby are talking about what it’s like when you get hit. Bobby said “I bet you don’t even hear it when it happens.” I believe that was foreshadowing of the end, but I don’t think it is about Tony’s fade to black. I think it’s a fade to black for the audience. We didn’t know (and still don’t) what was going to happen in the closing seconds of the show, but in the end we didn’t even hear it when it happened.