SPOILERS, they be lying ahead so tread beyond here only with care.
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
This, of course, is the famous line growled by an aging Michael Corleone in the otherwise forgettable third installment of the filmic Godfather saga. It’s also a favorite refrain of Silvio Dante, proprietor of the Bada Bing and all around high level henchman of Tony Soprano on The Sopranos.
As The Sopranos so often does – blissfully and masterfully well – it takes life and art and family and the mafia and our own skewed and biased perception of all of these things, and blends them into a cocktail served cold and sweet and rushing with the torrent of beating life itself.
The Sopranos returned tonight, beginning its sixth season after a nearly two-year hiatus.
Tony (played by the mesmerizingly great James Gandolfini) has maintained his ham-handed grip on the northern New Jersey mob family. With Johnny Sack in jail and acting New York boss Tony Leotardo pacified for the time being over the Tony Blundetto affair (“Tony S.”‘s cousin Tony B., played by Steve Buchemi, dominated much of Season Five and ended with a not-so-pleasant cousin-to-cousin shotgun handshake on an upstate New York farm), the House of Soprano looks to be stronger than ever. Indeed, Tony’s domestic life, usually a source of concern if not outright agita, is downright cozy. Carmela (Edie Falco, an actress who literally can’t be overpraised), now reconciled with Tony after a brief Season Five separation, is busy with her $600,000 spec house property and even enjoys spiriting away with her chubby mob boss hubby for frequent visits to a local sushi joint.
Meanwhile, the FBI is no closer to putting Tony behind bars – it seems their best chance was a bugged lamp in the Soprano home’s basement circa Season Three. The brutal murder of Adriana (remember, these wise guys ain’t such nice guys, no matter how many times we’re exquisitely lulled into forgetting) near the end of Season Five is presage to more death that puts the feds further away.
Which brings us to the sad, nasty, and brutishly brief tale of Eugene Pontecorvo, a mob “foot soldier” trying to do right by both of families (mob and blood), just like Tony himself. Of course, that might mean putting two in the back of the head of a chubby guy in a Boston pizza shop every now and then, but you gotta make a living, right? In any event, Eugene found his way out, a $2 million inheritance that will allow the wife and drug-addled kid to get out of Dodge while the getting’s (sort of) good and “retire” to Florida. Except mob guys don’t retire without the boss’ blessing.
Long-story short, as they say: Tony, after being wooed politely and sincerely by his loyal employee, coldly has Sil deliver the bad news in the back of the Bada Bing: no go, kid. Meanwhile, the crunch gets crunchier as we learn that Eugene is also under the thumb of the FBI (who the hell isn’t these days, come to think of it?). As it turns out, Eugene doesn’t have the stomach (Irritable Bowel Syndrome or not) of Adriana to handle the crunch of the double-life and hangs himself in his basement, a grueling and sickly scene that plays out over seconds you wish would mercifully and finally end.
It seems that the only ways out for a mobster are the jail cell or the coffin. As the final 20 (and now 19) episodes of The Sopranos play out, the rampant speculation will heighten as to what end will befall Tony and those closest to him. We only saw glimpses of children Meadow (who seductively danced in front of a television set for fiancée Finn as we hear William Burroughs creepily rattling off surreal words from beyond the grave) and AJ, the latter of whom looks poised to play a central role.
And we’re just getting to the good stuff now!
Uncle Junior’s dementia has accelerated, leaving him confused and, well, crankier than his usually cantankerous self. His condition is to the point where he needs someone to look after him on a more-or-less regular basis. As dear sister Janice flakes out (and no flakier or more manipulative a character you’ll find in television history!) on her visitation duties, Tony is forced to return from a spin on the new boat to visit his one time rival and mentor.
Lulled into the everyday rhythms of the show at this point – and perhaps, importantly, inured and numbed to the violence enacted on peripheral and season-long character arc players – BANG: everything changes. Uncle Junior, who at one time considered making a deal with the devil’s mother herself (the wonderful and sadly departed Nancy Marchand) to knock off Tony, surprised a singing, pasta-cooking Tony by shooting him right in the stomach. Uncle Junior, of course, thought that Tony was someone else, a ghost of the past long departed.
We’re left to consider the random fluctuations of fortune and life as a bleeding, gut-shot Tony struggles, blood smearing the walls and floor, as he desperately tried to crawl his way to the phone to dial 911.
Earlier, Tony muses about his good fortune over sushi with Carmela. “It’s more than luck,” he says, smiling.
The truth is that Tony’s been riding a wave of enormous good fortune for far too long now, coasting on a sea of dead bodies and shattered lives. Tony’s bound to survive his “friendly fire” attack, but don’t be surprised if the seeds of destruction are about to begin sprouting in evil and unpredictable ways.