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TV Review: The Sopranos – “Kennedy and Heidi”

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

The show surged back last week, teasing major developments and imminent changes. Little did we know just how imminent those changes were — fifteen minutes into the episode, one of the series’ central characters is gone, killed by Tony. I always doubted whether Chase would go the route of having Tony kill Christopher; it seemed so obvious, so melodramatic, and that’s why I love the way it happened here. Rather than being a big thing, the cinematic death Christopher would have wanted, it’s so simple — the car crash does most of the work, and Tony just has to finish the job.

The whole scene in the car was a deliberate callback to “Irregular Around the Margins,” in which Tony and Adrianna drove to get some coke, and wound up in an SUV-flipping car crash. After last episode, I was surprised to even see Tony and Chris together, meeting Phil. Chris seemed so disconnected from that world at the end of “Walk Like a Man,” and once they get in the car, you can see how removed he is. It’s no coincidence that he puts on The Departed soundtrack at full blast rather than spend time talking to Tony. Tony referenced “Comfortably Numb” last week; it’s the feeling he’s had since coming out of the coma. He’s seeking some kind of thrill to jar him out of the boring world he’s living in, just as Christopher is using drugs because it’s just too hard to go without them.

And then the car goes off the road, Christopher’s messed up, and Tony finds out he’s using drugs again. Tony has always felt that Christopher was weak. His addiction made him a poor choice for successor, and given the chance to get rid of him in a clean, untraceable way, he takes it. It’s a chilling scene, no glamour, no grandeur, just a cold-hearted murder.

Some people have said that their was no buildup to Christopher’s murder, which is completely off. To digress for a moment, I have to agree with Chase that some of the fans of this show are absolutely stupid in the way they view things, with people unironically insisting that Adrianna isn’t dead, or that the Russian is going to play a critical part in the end of the show. It’s not happening, beyond the fact that it would be an awful cheat on any show, it’s not Chase’s style at all. His storytelling is always clearly telegraphed, nothing comes out of nowhere.

Christopher’s murder has been elegantly set up the entire season, with his slump back into addiction, which Tony perceives as a personal betrayal. Another betrayal is his dalliance with Julianna, which Tony is reminded of here. The issue for Christopher is that he could never do anything to satisfy Tony; if he’s doing well, maintaining his sobriety, Tony does everything he can to sabotage that. When Christopher makes his movie, Tony is unhappy with that too, but when Christopher slips into addiction, he’s even more angry. If he does too well, Tony is jealous, if he does badly, Tony is disgusted with him. I would argue that Christopher essentially killed himself by proxy last week when he walked out of the Bing and shot JD. He wound up killing the one person who could actually help him out of the mob life.

When Tony sees that Christopher is using, all his issues from previous seasons come to the fore and he does what’s in his best self interest. The genius of this episode is that the rest of it becomes about Tony trying to justify what he did without actually confessing. The baby seat and tree story is the most obvious example, implying that Christopher could have just as easily killed his daughter. And then there’s a lot of subconscious stuff, as he tries to alleviate his own conscience. One of the strongest scenes is when he asks Carmela if there was a bit of relief in her voice when she found out Christopher died, hoping for a subconscious affirmation that he did the right thing.

Over that whole scene, we once again had the specter of Adrianna. It seemed possible that Tony would reveal what happened to her, or a version in which Christopher killed her, as a way of taking away Carmela’s pity for him. I had assumed that Adrianna’s murder kept coming up because it was going to play a critical part in either Tony or Christopher’s downfall. Now that Chris is gone, will it come back?

There’s been a general motif of Tony’s increased conflict between his guilt and his own self-interest. In a dream, he tells Melfi everything he’s done, then worries that he might have said it in his sleep. Christopher is just one of many, and eventually he’s going to crack and reveal his secrets. He wants to talk to Melfi, he even might want to talk to the feds, just because it’s too much to keep everything inside.

That issue is magnified in this episode by the grief of everyone around him. Their sincere feeling is a mockery of the hollow within him. He would argue that they are all putting on a show, reinforced by his reference to Kelli as “a movie star.” He points out the hypocrisy of Chris’s mother’s grief, the fact that her feelings now are marred by the fact that she wasn’t there for him before. At least Tony was there for Chris through his life, it was her failure that turned him into an addict and forced Tony to kill him.

One notable thing about the episode is the fact that Tony isn’t so much guilty about killing Chris as he is annoyed that everyone else cares so much. The characters on the show have always been intensely selfish, but I don’t know that it’s ever been taken to this extreme. Much of this season has been concerned with tearing down the mythology surrounding Tony and exposing him for the murderous thug that he is. Some people see this as a betrayal of the previous seasons, but I think it’s consistent with what’s always been there. Tony is no less interesting because we see him this way; if anything, it’s fascinating to watch the pull in this episode, as we’re subconsciously aligned with Tony because we know what he knows. I had some real sadness after Chris’s death, but as the episode went on, I became more interested in the way Tony was dealing with his lack of feeling.

Concurrent with this, we get an interesting parallel story with AJ, a story that reveals that, contrary to what we saw last week, AJ is not his father’s son, he still has a conscience, and a naïve wish that everyone could just get along. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him, or Meadow, fully interrogate their upbringing, in the way that Carmela had to interrogate her marriage in the early years of the show. The critical difference between what AJ saw last week and what happened this week was that this victim was an innocent, a guy who was just riding along and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He can’t support that, and it forces him to reassess his initial infatuation with the mob life. Notably, he seems to have more of an academic interest this time, the combination of Israel/Palestine and Wordsworth pointing him to a moment where he questions the world he’s been immersed in. Tony had to kill one ‘son’ because he got lost in the world of the mob, but things are looking better for AJ. Now, that could change quickly, but the contrast between AJ’s real moral trauma and concern for those beyond himself, and his father’s thorough self-absorption was very telling.

Tony heads out to Vegas, escaping to the West Coast in a sequence that deliberately echoed his Kevin Finnerty dream that opened the season. Coming shortly after Chris questioning him about his stop and smell the roses attitude, it’s clear that Tony is hoping to return to the place he was right after the coma. The first person driving shots echo the opening titles, implying that Tony is moving into an alternate universe. There, no one knows him and he can sit alone, drinking at a bar. If the Kevin Finnerty story was purgatory, this seems to be hell, with everyone utterly disconnected from the world around them, Tony mechanically throwing chips down the roulette wheel.

He meets Sonya, a stripper Christopher used to have sex with. He likely chooses to meet her as a way of finding some closure about what happened. If he can engage with this part of Christopher’s life, talk to someone who knew him outside of a world where piety and respect for the dead are valued, maybe things will get better.

I love that they had Tony take peyote. Once it came up, I was really hoping it would happen, and I love what happened when he did. The show has always had a strong philosophical and mystical component. Tony’s dreams guide him on a kind of subconscious level, and the sense I got here was that he was in touch with some deeper level of the universe. That’s what allowed him to do so well at roulette, he was working beyond his conscious mind, and in that transcendence, he was able to move beyond the surface concerns that have plagued him for the entire series. The stresses that drove him into therapy in the first place came from his business and his family, here he disconnects from all that, and is able to just get lost in the moment.

It’s even more liberating when he wanders out to this endless desert and sees the sun blink, echoing the Costa Mesa lighthouse. I feel like every peyote trip needs to end in the desert, but maybe that’s just Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and The Invisibles talking. Anyway, Tony yells out, “I get it,” and seems to have a moment of revelation.

What is it that he gets? Does he remember the Kevin Finnerty episode, or is it something else? I can’t say for sure, we’ll have to wait until the next episodes to find out what he means, but the implication is that he has seen beyond the limits of his identity, and perhaps found a way out of this life. The fact that he constructed the Kevin Finnerty world in his mind implies that he has a strong desire to escape his life, and in this moment, maybe he sees a way. He spent the entire episode disgusted by the charade that is his world, it is in his break from society that he found a moment of happiness.

The flashing light always seemed to indicate the presence of death, and maybe Tony has come to terms with his own mortality. He refused to give up his identity and go to the ‘Finnerty family reunion,’ but now that fear may be gone. He treated Christopher’s death so lightly, after the agonizing surrounding Pussy and Tony B. If it’s that easy to kill, maybe it’s that easy to die.

I loved this episode. It’s shocking and thematically dense, everything a good Sopranos should be. I’d imagine the peyote trip will have a lot more to look at once it becomes clear where Tony is going in the final three episodes, in the same way that Kevin Finnerty is only just now starting to become completely comprehensible.

I’d always imagined we’d end the series with Tony in a kind of purgatory, not particularly happy, but trapped in a prison of his own creation. Now, I’m not so sure; this ending has such an exuberance and freedom. I don’t think Tony’s back at “Every day’s a gift,” I think he’s closer to “Fuck it all,” but in a good way. He’s seen the pettiness and falseness of those around him — can he go back to a world that’s all a pageant? It’s unclear; all I can say is that I hope this mystical component of things sticks around for the rest of the series, and we go out on a weird, wonderful note, like this episode did.

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About Patrick

  • gil

    Thank you – I looked at several reviews of this episode and wondered if they saw the same episode I did.

    Your insight into the peyote trip, the Kevin Finnerty similarities were spot on I think – great review thanks!

  • David

    Great review. I agree that this episode was one of the best. I think the last two episodes have been very good. I also like the way Chase set the murder up. A few episodes ago, Tony was on the boat and almost took advantage of an opportunity to take out Pauly after he point blank questioned his loyalty. In this episode, an accident conveniently helps Tony to do what he knows needs to be done. I thought he was going to give the order to Bobby when they were fishing in an earlier episode and he was expressing disappointment in his heir apparent.

    I also think Tony projected his role in Christopher’s death in almost every conversation (Carmella, the guys, Melfi, the stripper girlfriend) and it was perceived as survivor’s guilt. The only ones who I think recognized that maybe it wasn’t an accident was Sil (great look of recognition) in the bedroom scene when the guys visit Tony and Melfi when Tony admits that he’s actually kind of relieved.

    I also liked that great scene with Butchie laughing as Phil expresses his condolences.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Very good review.

    “Tony yells out, “I get it,” and seems to have a moment of revelation.”

    I read some people thinking Tony said, “I did it,” which didn’t make much sense. I don’t think his “insight” at the moment will be remembered. I lean toward Phil taking Tony out.

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    I wasn’t sure if Tony said “get” or “did,” either. Will watch it again tonight.

    Two weeks ago (after the “Cleaver” episode) I explained to some coworkers why I thought Tony was going to have to kill Christopher, and was mocked for my trouble. The following week they’d started to come around, and of course this week they’re marveling at my predictive ability. But like you said, Chase seems to telegraph things pretty well. I guess some people just don’t pay enough attention.

    Great write-up, thanks!

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Amazing review, Patrick. I believe Christopher has always been a marked man. Remember the scene of his initiation into the mob? The black bird landed on a branch outside the window. Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore?” It was a neat piece of foreshadowing by Chase.

    I have ideas about how it will end. Tony’s last name is “Soprano” after all. Why does the caged bird sing? Maybe, just maybe, this one can avoid the cage if he sings a happy tune about Phil and all the rest of the wiseguys.

    Stay tuned.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/foochuck Charley

    Wow that was some great insight into this article. I really enjoyed reading it – the parallels with the Kevin Finnerty storyline are awesome…I never thought of that, although I knew there was some sort of mystic underlying storytelling going on there…great stuff.

  • http://www.dumpster.blogspot.com Randy

    You never know for sure about the symbolism with this show, but my theory is that Kevin Finnerty was a shadow piece of Tony Soprano, one that feared to accept the truth about Tony that the light would have shown on him. On peyote, in the desert, Tony finally accepted the truth of who and what he is–a murderous thug; nothing more, nothing less. I suppose that it’s also possible that Tony’s realization also implies an acceptance of his own mortality. If that’s all true, watch out Phil Leotardo, and watch out Jennifer Melfi, though even David Chase might flich at whacking the character who seems to be a stand-in for those of us who get vicarious thrills from mob dramas. Of course, I could be wrong, and there could be more to Tony’s enlightenment. The Tibetan monks in the Finnerty dream and Carm’s dream narrated by William S. Burroughs must play into all of this somehow.

    I had thought the Kevin Finnerty dream sequence was a waste of time during the first half of season six, when it never came up again. Now it does make sense.

  • Pat

    I thought the episode was great. I was thinking that maybe Tony “gets” the high that drugs offer..as in Christopher….maybe he now will “relate” to Christopher on this level..and might even feel remorse for what he did…he never believed Christopher when he said it was a disease..he completely dissed it…only saw it as a weakness.

  • aimes2

    Great deconstruction of the show. I emailed it to my crew of Sopranos watching buddies.

    I am still just saying “wow” about the whole episode. The Sopranos is the best television program in history. There is no way anyone can argue against that.

    Last night was the first time I said to myself, “Tony is a psychopath,” and yes, of course he has been a psycho the whole time. Awesome.

  • aimes2

    Oh yeah, also wanted to say that the “sun blinking” — I just couldn’t place that until you mentioned the lighthouse.

    Anyone know where I can get some peyote?

  • http://www.onlinemediacultist.com Eric Berlin

    Great great review. This episode is putting us into the end run of perhaps the greatest show of all-time, and man it was a whopper, dense and rich and thematic as all get out as you say.

    I’ve also had conversations about whether it was I get it or I did it! (I thought it was “get,” and more people *seem* to agree with this).

    One final tid-bit that I picked up on that I haven’t seen anyone else mention: Chris wearing the Cleaver hat during his final car ride. In my view this clearly hearkened back to the pilot episode of the show. The first time we meet Chris he’s driving Tony and wearing (I believe) a black hat. A darkly comic chase of a dead beat gambler ensues. I don’t recall Chris ever wearing a hat in between these two book-ended scenes.

  • fdssa

    Why did he continue to fuck with the radio. I mean it was up all the way, he found the song he wanted, why was he still messing with the radio? Don’t get it.

  • Lamar

    So who played the Stripper Sonya in Vegas? Can’t find the actress’ name.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “Why did he continue to fuck with the radio.”

    Because he was wasted on drugs.

    “So who played the Stripper Sonya in Vegas?”

    She was also on The L Word

  • http://www.thoughtsonstuff.com Patrick

    He kept messing with the system because it “had no balls.”

    And the actress’s name is Sarah Shahi.

    As for the hat, I can’t remember for sure, but I’m almost positive he was wearing one at some point. But, it’s notable that back in the pilot, I believe Tony said he’d kill Christopher if he sold his story for a screenplay. And, now he’s wearing the Cleaver hat. That played a critical role in Tony’s decision to kill him, as we see in the dream therapy session. The beauty of the show is the way it can present a scene we can all relate to, Tony’s disappointment at Christopher’s portrayal of him in the film, then turn things with Tony’s reaction, the murder, which is totally out of ordinary.

  • http://stranahan.com Lee Stranahan

    Great review – I have a bunch of stuff on my blog at Stranahan.com about theories on this episode that tie into peyote, Van Morrison, and a lot more…

  • Max

    to answer #13 Lamar–
    Sarah Shali played Sonya in that episode of Sopranos. Quite beautiful. Born 1980