The final season of “The Sopranos” was divided in half, effectively stretching out the conclusion of HBO’s epic drama about family and the mob. With a little less than one year between the two halves, though, and 12 episodes airing last year and another nine airing now, the two-part sixth season seemed to be little more than two seasons pretending to be one.
However, as the premiere of the second half showed, these two smaller seasons are unquestionably linked; both began with similar themes and plot elements. The first half of season six began with Uncle Junior shooting Tony Soprano, leaving his nephew in a coma. Violence came unexpectedly from someone Tony was caring for, trusted, and maybe even loved.
The first episode of the second half of the sixth season began with a similar sort of violence from within; once again, Tony found himself battered at the hands of someone close to him.
Although an old-fashioned whacking in a laundromat came toward the end of the episode, this violence was far more brutal.
Tony and Carmela spent Tony’s 47th birthday at a lake house belonging to his sister Janice and her husband Bobby Bacala, the quiet and reserved member of Tony’s crew who cared for Uncle Junior for years.
As they drifted across the lake in a boat, Bobby and Tony talked about how Bobby had not yet killed anyone. The images of them talking were both medium shots, with the two men centered in the frame, and as long shots from the woods, their boat framed by trees and water. Later that night, while the two couples were drinking, singing karaoke (Carmela sang “Love Hurts,” as she knows all too well), and playing Monopoly, the camera again took a close-up position, showing us the group inside, and a faraway position, showing the action from outside, through open windows.
These moments seem borrowed directly from horror films such as “Friday the 13th,” the 1980 horror movie that, perhaps coincidentally, was set at a lakeside camp. Just as the killer’s point-of-view shots in those movies dramatically increased tension when juxtaposed with shots of unknowing victims inside, here it suggested that someone was lurking outside and would, at any minute, shoot Tony. Instead, the shot came from inside.
While playing Monopoly, Tony joked harshly about his sister. “You go too far,” Bobby told Tony. Atypically, Tony backed off and apologized — repeatedly. “Jan, he’s right, I’m sorry, I crossed the line, it won’t happen again,” he said. That’s when the lingering, almost listless nature of the scenes, during which we were almost just eavesdropping on conversation, finally broke.
After glaring at him a few times, Bobby punched Tony, slamming him in the side of the head and causing Tony to tumble to the ground as if he’d been shot. They fought violently, and even Carmela was injured after she jumped on Tony’s back and was thrown off. Eventually, Tony fell and was left on the floor, bruised and battered. (In a flash of “The Sopranos” unparalleled ability to blend horror and humor, Tony also was left with a Monopoly house stuck in the side of his face.)
While Tony’s ostensible enemy Phil Leotardo worked hard to prove himself to his own men far away from the Adirondacks, the aftermath of Tony and Bobby’s fight at the lake house turned family member against family member.
Carmela blamed Tony for the fight and, with carefully chosen words, also blamed him for a lot more. “You had it coming,” she said. “You get away with murder because you’re his boss.” But even though her language suggested she was furious at her husband for all that he’s done, she wasn’t willing to admit the reality of the situation to others or perhaps even herself.
Later, Janice compared Tony to his mother, prompting a quick and unconvincing defense of her husband’s behavior from Carmela. She told Janice, “Bobby took advantage of him ... there is no excuse for the way Bobby blindsided him. Tony is not a vindictive man.”
If only she believed that.
Tony was at once destroyed and re-energized by the confrontation.
“I’m old, l, and my body has suffered a trauma that it’ll probably never fully recover from. So why don’t we just face the facts,” he said, staring at the water. His message was clear:
Tony is no longer the man he was eight years ago when we first met him, and he’s not long for the life he’s built for himself.
Before going to the lake, Tony and Carmela woke up to the sound of violent banging on the door. “Who is it? Is this it?” Carmela asked her husband, afraid that, at long last, the feds had come to tear down his all-too-fragile empire, and her all-too-fragile part of it.
Instead of the feds, Tony found the local police at his door, and they arrested and briefly jailed him over a gun they recovered. A flashback that opened the episode revealed that he dropped it three years earlier, while fleeing the feds at Johnny Sack’s house, and it was picked up by a young man.
The past haunting Tony was obvious here, and it was echoed in other moments, too, such as when Tony and Bobby drove away post-fight. As Tony turned down a side road into the woods, the moment was more than reminiscent of Silvio’s trip with Adriana, when he drove her into the woods to shoot her. But Tony had a different, almost more brutal punishment in mind for Bobby. After meeting with two men, Tony forced Bobby to kill a person for the first time.
Earlier, Bobby foreshadowed his own eventual downfall by commenting how good DNA evidence has become. After he shot his mark once, the bullet rattling around in the dryer behind him, Bobby stepped in closer to finish his job, and the guy reached up and ripped off a piece of his shirt. Bobby fled, leaving a piece of himself behind.
In another particularly damning juxtaposition, Carmela called A.J., who said he was working at the pizzeria. Instead, he was naked in his parents’ bed, making out with his girlfriend, lying to Carmela on the phone. Then, just as his friends came over to party, Tony and his friends partied at the lake house to celebrate his birthday. A.J. could have only become more obviously his father if he gained weight, lost some of his hair, and started breathing through a single clogged nostril.
Tony may not want A.J. to have his life, but A.J. doesn’t really seem to want anything else.
Whether it’s his body or his family, everything and every one is betraying Tony Soprano, and even if their threat seems lessened now, the feds and Phil Leotardo are still targeting him. He’s even betraying himself and the progress he’s made.
Earlier, Janice told Tony that she was glad that they’d reconnected, saying, “The credit goes to you. You really changed.” Tony was indignant. “So I had to change? ... I’m different how? How’m I different?”
No one answered him, perhaps because they all know what he knows:
Tony Soprano may be recovering from sickness and aging, and his approach to dealing with problems may have changed, but as the final chapter begins, he’s still Tony Soprano.
is a writer and teacher who publishes reality blurred, a daily summary of reality TV news.