That only took eleven years.
For much of the time I’ve been in China, I’ve been able to keep abreast of what’s been on TV. A few years ago, the DVD shops in Wuxi all disappeared, although I’ve heard rumours there are still some in the New District, or that they’re still in Suzhou or Shanghai, but my sole source is mostly what’s been dumped in the cupboard of the Maths Office at school.
However, I recently acquired a complete set of The Sopranos from a colleague of mine who has now departed. I’d seen most of the series, but in the days when you could buy DVDs here, I bought a complete set of my own so that I could see the final episodes. But that never happened. The final series stopped (as I’ve learnt more recently) halfway through. There have been occasions over the past decade when I’ve wondered whether I’d ever get to see the rest of The Sopranos, and now I have.
The series began almost twenty years ago and is about Tony Soprano, a gangster who’s part of the New Jersey mafia. Tony may be well large and well hard, but after a stress-induced panic attack, he starts seeing a psychiatrist, Dr Jennifer Melfi to try and deal with his issues. There are the usual work-related problems – who to extort money from, who to whack next, when a good time to faint would be – which form most of the story. The sessions with Melfi are brief interludes.
The first five series were good, having clear storylines (although I kept wondering how many times Artie Bucco could push his luck with Tony without getting killed), but the sixth series seemed to lose its way.
The story about Vito Spitafore being gay when he’d demonstrated no such proclivities in earlier series was ultimately tragic, but came across as the sort of thing which had suddenly popped into one of the writers’ heads when they couldn’t think of anything else.
There were too many whiny AJ stories, but I wonder whether the producers were attempting a little post-911 satire with AJ representing the discombobulated youth of America who were all at sixes and sevens in the early 21st century. Again, this smacked of a lack of ideas and a certain aimlessness as if everything else had been explored. AJ ended up being a bit like the Wesley Crusher of The Sopranos. Robert Iler also suddenly grew himself a silly little beard, but that was perhaps to try and convey that after six years, unlike Bart Simpson, he was actually older.
Tony’s relationship with Melfi came to an abrupt end. The whole idea of mobster-seeks-psychiatric-help had long since fizzled by the final series. This was wound up when Melfi’s psychiatrist pointed her at research which showed that therapy for criminals tended to be a complete waste of time. In fact, it’d been a complete waste for several series already.
Melfi: How have you been, Anthony?
Soprano: F_ck you, motherf_cker!
Melfi: How does that make you feel?
Soprano: This is bullshit! [Storms out of office.]
The final scene left things hanging. It starts with Tony waiting in a restaurant. His wife, Carmella, arrives and then AJ, while outside, Meadow tries to parallel park several times before succeeding. Meanwhile, a couple of blokes turn up in the restaurant. They may just be customers; they may be something else. One of them goes into the loo, the family are sitting around the table, the screen goes blank. What?! A provocative ending, but there was just about no one left. Tony’s nephew, Christopher Moltisanti, had died in a car crash; his brother-in-law, Bobby Baccalieri, had been shot while buying a model train; Silvio Dante, Tony’s right-hand man, had been shot and was probably never going to recover. Without introducing a whole bunch of new characters, there were very few characters left to work with.
The casting was all over the place as well. Apart from the main characters, it seems Chase and co. had to do with with ever actors and actresses they could get from central casting. Tony seemed to acquire new henchmen and lose them on a regular basis; Phil Leotardo, a rival gangster from New York, seemed to have even bigger problems retaining staff.
The Sopranos was a brilliant series that by the end, was asking to be taken out behind the shed and whacked.