I’m running a bit behind with this review, but that’s in no way a comment on the episode’s quality. This was another amazing episode, each week I feel privileged to have work of this quality. I don’t think there’s been a run this good since Six Feet Under post Nate’s death. In each case, the death of a major character has forced the others to reevaluate their attitudes towards life. This week was just an incredible hour, as the series narrows its thematic focus for this final run.
I take issue with people who have nothing but bad things to say about the show’s last season. There were some issues with the first half of season six, but the Kevin Finnerty episodes were among the most imaginative and challenging things the show has done. After that, there was a somewhat meandering narrative, but once you’re aware of what Chase is trying to do on a thematic level, it makes a lot more sense. The entire season is about addiction, not so much to drugs, though that does figure in, rather to the lifestyle that has all these people hooked on an easy life outside the bounds of traditional work.
It’s difficult to watch the show sometimes because the characters constantly make inexplicable choices, the first time through the Vito arc, I was so frustrated when he abandoned his life up in New Hampshire to go back to Jersey. On some level, he knew he was going to be killed, but he’d rather take that fate than actually do a day’s labor. The sequence where he tries to work and gives up by 10:30 AM is both funny and deeply sad, the best demonstration of what failures these people are at working within the rules. They cannot escape this life, even if they want to, largely because everyone around them are enablers. That’s what we saw made literal in Christopher’s arc. He was unable to break out of the addiction cycle because the world he lived in required the use of substance. Yes, it’s something of a narrative dead end to show a character try to quit then relapse again and again, but it’s also realistic.
This last season has been all about puncturing the fantasies that the show unconsciously perpetuated during the earlier seasons. Much could be written about the relationship between Chase and his audience, a relationship in which each side frequently seems to hate the other, but they’re still caught up in a cycle of dependence. There’s so many attacks on the fanbase, or at least one segment of it, within the show, and Chase’s comments in the media add more. The show began as kind of a fantasy for middle-aged men, that you could have a loving wife and great kids, yet still be able to sleep with anyone you want, hurt people who disagree with you, and work out of a strip club. I think Chase began to recognize that people were identifying too strongly with the characters, looking at them as role models, and put a series of increasingly violent incidents in to try to break the fantasy. A notable example of this is Ralphie killing Tracee in “University.” Paulie killing Min Matrone in season four is another example, but nothing he did could break the fact that people still admired these characters.