Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Sopranos" wrap-up: Uncomfortably numb | Salon Arts & Entertainment

"Sopranos" wrap-up: Uncomfortably numb | Salon Arts & Entertainment
Tony flies to Vegas to get some peace. We see him eating dinner alone, sitting by a pool. Finally, he looks up a hooker who slept with Christopher, then tells her Christopher is dead. The two end up sleeping together (no surprise there) and then talking honestly. They smoke a joint, and suddenly it seems that Tony may be trying to crawl inside of Christopher's experiences. He asks the girl about the time she took peyote with Christopher, and then she and Tony take the drug together and hit the casinos, looking dazed. Instead of losing all of his money as you'd expect, Tony goes on a huge winning streak, then falls down on the floor, suddenly struck that Christopher is dead and gone and he can't even feel happy over his good fortune. Will Tony ever feel happy again?

I missed the first part of this episode so a complete literary critique will have to wait. But I want to go on record as betting that this Las Vegas episode is a fantasy. Tony gets to Vegas instantly, as if by teletransportation. Everything that follows is wish-fulfillment and yet hollow: the glitzy hotel, reminiscent of the hotel in purgatory after Tony was shot, great sex with a dark lady (always trouble for Tony), effortless gambling wins and a drug that gives instant insight into the riddle of the universe.

There are lots of clues. After telling the dark lady that Chris is dead, Tony leaves and the door closes but then, without any transition or explanation, Tony is in bed with her. And it turns out that she's working her way through college as a stripper--Tony's ideal woman. She's either the same actress or a reasonable facsimile of the Italian girl next door who Tony hallucinated years earlier. She's also a refugee from the Vietnam era youth culture that Tony missed: long dark hair, a couple of joints in a box by her bed and some peyote to spare. Tony takes an unconvincing drag on the joint and is immediately stoned: life isn't like that.

There's no plausible explanation for anything that happens other than Tony's own half-formed desires, uninformed, conventional notions about some life he's missed and a fantasy of recovering lost youth. It's a flat cartoon, like his notion of college: "fraternity parties, you know, frat boys--the way back to college for A.J." he tells Carmela. Tony's never been a frat boy or been to a fraternity party--he's just heard of such things. Here's the hippie college girl he heard of when he was young: instant sex with no hassles, providing drugs that instantly produce insight into "how it all works." Never tried these psychedelic drugs, but they give you insights into the Universe, right?

The only question I have is: where is Tony, really? Did he really kill Chris? I suspect he did. But did he really walk away from the accident? I suspect he didn't. Is he really in hell--at least temporarily? The story line is reminiscent of an old Twilight Zone episode where a gangster, who's a gambler, is shot and ends up in a dream-world where everything goes his way--he always wins at roulette and women fall into his arms effortlessly. After he realizes that it's perfectly awful, because without uncertainty or effort, none of this is any fun he dials up "Pip," the "guide" who took him to the place and asks why he ended up in heaven rather than "the Other Place." And Pip responds, "So what makes you think you're not in 'the Other Place.'"