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TV Review: The Sopranos – “The Blue Comet”

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! 

“The Blue Comet” is an interesting episode because it’s simultaneously exactly what you’d expect and totally unexpected. After Tony was shot I concluded that the show was not likely to go out with a bang; more likely we’d see Tony fade away, life go on. After the slow fade of last season’s finale, and even through the first couple of episodes of this season, I still felt that way. But starting with “Walk Like a Man,” everything changed and since that episode, we’ve been on a march to this point, with everything falling apart, to the point that this episode leaves Tony alone in a safehouse, all his close friends dead, separated from his family. It’s an apocalyptic episode and another masterpiece from Chase and his team.

The show has teased a New York/New Jersey war for a long time, from Tony’s betrayal of Johnny Sack in “Whitecaps,” to the near war in last season’s “Kaisha,” and after the buildup last week, I was hoping that he wouldn’t stop things before they started again. This entire season has had a feeling of dread, and this episode took it to almost unbearable levels. The opening scene, with Silvio murdering Burt Gervasi, set up that this was going to be a big episode, though I was a bit unclear who he was murdering.

Being near the end of a series makes every threat a bit more real. Last season, you’d never have thought that Phil really might take out the top guys in Tony’s crew; now it was a real possibility, and as Bobby walked into that train store, he was already dead – it was just about waiting for it to happen. Things were so bad after Silvio died I legitimately thought Tony might go.

On a thematic level, the episode integrates a lot of things that have been going on under the surface for a while. Phil says that he needs to take out Tony Soprano’s “glorified crew” because they don’t really believe in the mythology of the mafia. It is the ritual that makes them more than gangsters; the ritual is the reason Phil spent time in prison, and if that’s meaningless, then so is his time in prison. That’s also why Tony isn’t a “real” gangster: Phil mentions his lack of jail time here and shut Tony down with it last episode with his already classic speech about compromising.

The entire series has been about Tony’s inability to live up to his father's and the cinema’s image of what a mobster should be. Now, Phil cracks on his team, marveling at the fact that Bobby is one of the top three guys. After the deaths of Sil and Bobby, Paulie is Tony’s only ally, and he’s constantly shown himself to be selfish, oblivious to the needs of others. Tony is left with basically no one, sitting alone in a room, holding a machine gun.

It’s almost surreal to have these murders actually happening. While I think Chase needed to pay off all this buildup, I do think it’s a bit of a resignation to go down this road. I had come to terms with the fact that the show wasn’t going to have a big ending, and it’s a surprise to see this happen. I would have liked to see Chase screw with people one final time and throw out a big dream sequence or something like that at the close, but this payoff is certainly better than something like “Kaisha.”

The dissolution of Tony’s crew fits with one of the central themes of the series, the decline of the Mafia. Even if Tony survives and either kills Phil or negotiates a peace settlement, he’s got no one left. All his successors are dead. It’s just a bunch of random thugs left, no one to carry the legacy. Can Tony run things like this? How will it work? The only person I could see stepping up to follow him would be Meadow, but I don’t think protocol would allow that.

On a familial level, we see Tony pushing away from them. He’s too much of a target, and now the only way to protect his family is to leave them. It felt final when they left the house, like they’ll never be back there. I do like the implications of him abandoning his suburban mansion to go back to an old neighborhood-style house.

This episode also sees AJ fail another test. I’m perhaps most curious to see how his story resolves. He seems completely incapable of dealing with the world. Will this latest outburst from Tony get him back on track or push him completely away? His arc this season has been phenomenal: here we see Tony finally treating AJ like his parents treated him, harsh, stripping him of his autonomy. He clearly blames Carmela for what happened to him and he’s trying to reverse some of that now.

This comes up in the fantastic Melfi scene, where she finishes his sentences as he goes through a rote list of complaints. She’s so cold here, I feared for her. Tony respects her too much to hurt her, but he is hurt by her abandonment of him at such a low point. It is questionable of her to dump him so suddenly, but that study clearly pointed out what was always apparent: that her work was helping him be a better criminal. Does someone like Tony deserve to be helped? Wouldn’t "progress" only make him worse? Melfi never seemed to think that she could save him, and she must have known that much of what she said led to violence. I always thought she was complicit in that – maybe she didn’t realize how much she was until Elliot told her.

I’m guessing that’s the last time we’ll see Melfi, barring some kind of closing montage with all the characters, and it’s a great way to go out. She realizes that her work isn’t going anywhere and that by treating him, she is in some ways complicit in what he’s doing. She tried to help him, but he wound up saying the same things and not facing up to the basic morality of his life. Unable to do that, she has a right to let him go.

The scene with Janice and Bobby’s kids was heartbreaking because Janice wasn’t reacting the way we’d expect her to. It was just quiet sadness, driving home that for all the over-the-top cool of his murder, what’s left are three kids who will be raised by someone who will resent them and hurt them. Bobby’s kids in particular will be scarred by these next few years. We’ve already seen Janice turning into her mother in “Soprano Home Movies” – this will only make things worse.

While that scene really got to me, the deaths themselves were curiously lacking in emotion. I think it’s because we were so aware of the impending death, it was almost a relief when it happened. Particularly in Bobby’s scene, the minute he walked into train shop, I knew he was gone, and it was excruciating sitting there, wondering when it would come. Christopher’s death was like that as well: he was on such a downward spiral, the death felt like an inevitability, not a surprise. There were moments of sadness surrounding all the deaths, but never in the traditional sappy way most TV shows do it.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about this episode is that it feels like a second-to-last episode. There’s a lot still up in the air, but this was the 84th piece of an 85-piece story. Ever since “Walk Like a Man,” the show has been as good as anything to ever air on TV or in the movies. It’s incredibly tense and perfectly focused on what matters. It’s hard to believe, but AJ has become one of the best characters on the show and Tony remains intensely fascinating. I really can’t wait to see what Chase does with the final chapter.

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About Patrick

  • http://blogcritics.org/ Phillip Winn

    So, care to offer up a prediction on the final episode? Does Tony live to see another day? Before a couple of days ago, I thought he would. Suddenly I’m just as sure he won’t.

  • G Clark

    Per my brother’s prediction….Paulie rat’s out Tony. Tony gets out of jail time by ratting out Phil. Tony and family go into the witness protection program under the name Kevin Finnerty.

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

    “He clearly blames Carmela for what happened to him and he’s trying to reverse some of that now.”

    I think Tony blames himself, his genes, more. The reason he tried Carmela’s methods is because of the way he himself turned out. Since that didn’t work out is part of his frustration and anger.

    “that her work was helping him be a better criminal.”

    but did it really? Of course, they aren’t going to detail a psychological report on television, but who exactly were the subjects? Were the sociopaths in jail or did they seek help themselves like Tony did? Of course, those in jail would be looking to beat the system, which would help get them out sooner. I believe what transpired

    “Does Tony live…?”

    In what sense? Life as he knew it is over. There’s no way he can go back to running things, so it’s either death or isolation, which end up being the same thing.

  • http://paullevinson.blogspot.com Paul Levinson

    I’m predicting Tony will live, but Carmela will not … Soprano Predictions

  • http://www.thoughtsonstuff.com Patrick

    I don’t think there’s enough time to have that much ratting out. My guess is Tony kills Phil then retreats back to his house realizing that he’s completely failed at creating any kind of sustainable organization. All his close friends are dead, the people in his crew are just out for themselves, his son’s a failure and even Meadow’s just following a low level gangster’s son. So, every myth he told himself is sunk and he’s left with little hope for the future.

  • http://www.thoughtsonstuff.com Patrick

    I think Tony blames himself, his genes, more. The reason he tried Carmela’s methods is because of the way he himself turned out. Since that didn’t work out is part of his frustration and anger.

    There’s definitely a lot of personal guilt in it for Tony, as we saw in “The Second Coming” when he told Melfi that this depression is his gift to his son. But, I think he blames Carmela for AJ’s inability to deal with the world. Tony, for all his issues, can at least be a leader, AJ can’t. But, I pretty much agree with you, he hoped that Carmela’s way would work, and it apparently didn’t.

    And, regarding Melfi, I haven’t read the study so I can’t deal with that, but a lot of early season episodes were all about the way he used what Melfi told him to run his crew better. We saw that again in “Mr. and Mrs. Sacrimoni Request…” last year when Melfi told him something like “Act like the man you always were,” prompting him to attack Perry.

  • http://www.scottdeitche.com Scott M. Deitche

    I think apart from the classic “Pine Barrens and the Interior Designer from Czechoslovakia” episode, Blue Comet is the best episode of the series, and mayeb the finest 49 mintues of television drama ever.

    There is so much going on here, I had to watch it three times to pick it all up:

    The sense of impending demise- Agent Harris warns Tony of “the Rapture”, Tony tears out from Departures magazine, The Doors’ tune “When the Music’s Over” playing in the strip club.

    The botched hit on Phil- The Neapolitans, usually spot on, fail the one time it really mattered. They can whack Frankie Valli, but can’t get Billy Bats.

    Anthony smacking down AJ- Partly reprehensible, partly admirable.

    So many other little moments from Carmela’s reaction to having to go on the lam (looks like she expected it), to the scene with Artie and his wife in the restaurant (so uncomfortable you almost want to change the channel- almost).

    No matter what the last episode brings us, this one brought it all home.