Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sopranos II: The Hotel California

EAGLES %u2014 ( Hotel California Lyrics )

On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair
Warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light
My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim
I had to stop for the night
There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the mission bell
And I was thinking to myself,
’this could be heaven or this could be hell’
Then she lit up a candle and she showed me the way
There were voices down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say...

Welcome to the hotel california
Such a lovely place
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the hotel california
Any time of year, you can find it here

Tony is comatose, in intensive care, dreaming of a stay in a California convention hotel. And will die--but not just yet. All bets are off but there's enough information now to make some educated guesses.

Predictably, AJ has gotten kicked out of college and, consistent with his character, tells Carmella about it just outside the ICU where she's spent the night. But now we also know how AJ will meet his end: on his shift with Tony (after he's been bullied and shamed into doing his duty), AJ announces that he's going after Junior to avenge the shooting. So the circle is complete and the parallel is perfect: Jackie, Rose, and Jackie, Jr.--Tony, Carmella and AJ--the mob boss, the widowed first lady, and the punk kid, too dumb and ironically too lacking in moral fiber to make it onto the first rung of organized crime. In case it isn't sufficiently obvious, recall Carmella's conversation with Rose in the hospital waiting room. Carmella makes excuses for AJ's behavior but Rose, always reliable, won't have it: AJ is a selfish brat. Carmella, who takes this as a criticism of her child-rearing practices makes a feeble attempt to suggest that she's reading Jackie's character onto AJ--but sees that that is quite accurate.

Tony will die. Gene's suicide set the theme:

You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!

And Carmella blurted out to the doctor, "Does he know that he's dying?--the fallacy of many questions. The seven souls in the intro to the first episode are leaving, the silver cord that attaches him to family, friends, work, world broken strand by strand. And at Gene's funeral--funerals are where a good deal of Family business gets done--the business is reconfigured to anticipate Tony's death. Silvio Dante passes out the new assignments and sets up Carmella's widows' pension.

But Tony can't die immediately because there isn't another male character that's sufficiently developed to carry the show for the rest of the season and the "bonus" episodes. So while Tony is on ice, while the strands are broken we have to detach from Tony and be drawn into one or more of the other male characters. I can't guess who it will be. Chris is the obvious candidate but in some respects the most difficult to draw us because we know so much about him from the outside.

There's also another literary problem here. We need time to develop sympathy for some other male character or characters so Tony has to stay on ice to keep us in. But so long as Tony is in hospital dying it's difficult, if not impossible, to play comedy. And for me, and probably a large minority of other viewers the chief appeal of the Sopranos was as a family sit-com. Surprisingly, reading some fan sites, most viewers are more interested in the crime drama and soap opera strands--which can play while Tony is in the ICU so the show can go on, but not hitting on all three cylinders.

Meanwhile, in this episode we've been with Tony in the Hotel California--initially, at least, such a lovely place--at a businessmen's convention in keeping with Tony's view of himself as a "captain of industry type" (as he puts it to Melfi on one occasion). The problem is that Tony isn't there. He's lost his identity kit and picked up a wallet and attache case that belong to one Kevin Finity--"Kev Infinity" as a guy in the bar puns or Kevin Finity. Definitely metaphysical. Tony has really lost his identity here--Kevin isn't even Italian and we remember the other vision of hell in the Sopranos, Chris's brief visit during which he discovers that hell is an Irish bar where every day is St. Patrick's Day. Chris is "just visiting" and we get the comic relief of Carmella's Prayer and her women's magazine notions about seeing the white light at the end of the tunnel. Nothing like that here.

The other parallel of course is Tony's dream episode when he sleeps at the Plaza. But this time there's no out--he can't make the morning call to Carmella, just as he couldn't complete the 911 call. And he is definitely losing it--slapped around by a Buddhist monk (the ultimate contrast--the mafia boss vs. the Buddhist monk), fallen down the stairs, told he has incipient Altzheimers, all themes wrapped around the goings on in the hospital room--the bald Asian doctor, Carmella's remarks about the MRI, Junior's dementia.

The Hotel California episode is worthy of Sartre or Camus. Tony falls in with a group of middle management/sales types--on a treadmill, selling junk, doing junk, going to glitzy hotels to drink and screw. In the booth at the bar the women, who he predictably tries to seduce, notes that they're all in the same club:

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said ’we are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

Now that the Sopranos is set to end there's no compelling reason for the writers to pull ratings so they can be as arty as they please, and that, I suspect, is what they will do--because this is the Great American Novel. Of course I have my own tastes--I think the other leading contender is the body of Updike's Rabbit books and stories, and for many of the same reasons.

So I predict that in due course, once the business has been reconfigured and other male characters have been adequately developed, Tony will die. I do hope that there won't be a pious episode posing ethical questions about removing life-support. There will be the mob funeral and, I'm almost certain Meadow's announcement of her pregnancy. Meadow is a good girl and a smart girl, but she doesn't have any real career plans or serious interests--doctor or lawyer, what's the diff? She'll marry Finn and do ok. Once Tony is out of the way the remaining episodes of the season will be business as usual under the new regime--including AJ's attempt to whack Junior and AJ's death. But, I believe, the 8 bonus episodes will be the Gottendammerung, the Twilight of the Mob. Hardly a happy ending since the FBI are the heavies.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
’relax,’ said the night man,
We are programmed to receive.
You can checkout any time you like,
But you can never leave!


Boofykatz said...

For F###'s sake H.E, you have Tom DeLay and Condominiums Arise and you are wittering on about the Eagles, blessed be their names! If you do not recommence your incisive depiction of current US politics I am going to start reading vox crapuli.

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