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Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Sopranos: Second of Nine: Media on Media

The Sopranos was a superb media-on-media story tonight. Daniel Baldwin - great on Homicide: Life on the Street, and a notable hack actor of late - put in a fine perfomance as himself playing Tony in Christopher's movie.

Geraldo Rivera, fresh from his heated exchange in real life with Bill O'Reilly, appeared in tonight's episode as a talk show host interviewing guests about who will be the next mob leader. (Actually, this was likely taped for The Sopranos before Geraldo and O'Reilly went at it - which was probably somewhat staged, too - but it's fun to think that what we were watching on The Sopranos tonight was happening in real time.)

And the director Sydney Pollack was a pleasure to watch, not as himself, but as a doctor who murdered his wife serving time in Johnny Sack's cancer ward in prison. This had little to do with the central story, but had some of the best scenes in this magnificent episode, anyway. Johnny Sack - played masterfully by Vincent Curatola - has been one of my favorite characters in the series.

The media-on-media that did animate the central story tonight, and indeed spilled over into Soprano lives - as all good media-on-media stories do - was the realization of Christopher's Cleaver movie. "Godfather meets Saw," as Christopher put the story of the movie, is just what it sounds like. Baldwin plays a slightly hefty mob boss who gets his just desert from an axe-wielding monster.

Now, Tony might have enjoyed this homage to himself, and in fact did, at a screening attended by the whole Soprano extended family. (I could relate to this - not that anyone has made a movie about me - but I've attended at least two similar screenings for movies produced by my wife's cousin.) But Carmela, no dope, notices that the Tony character played by Baldwin is having an affair with a sexy young thing.

As Carmela of course explains to Tony, the axing of Tony/Baldwin at the end of the movie is Christopher acting out his true feelings about Tony in the making of this film: Christopher wants Tony dead.

And, as we can see clearly in a great psych session with Tony and Melfi, the media-on-media story has come full cycle. Christopher made this movie and now, in real life, it is starting to eat at Tony, kindling misgivings he already had, maybe even leading him to believe that Christopher is a threat to him.

The final hug at the christening of Christopher's baby carries the delicious, unsettling ambiguity of some of the great, pivotal hugs we have seen in gangster movies at christenings and weddings and funerals over the years...

Useful links:

Naked Bodies, Three Showings a Week, No Commercials:
The Sopranos as a Nuts-and-Bolts Triumph of Non-Network TV
my 2002 article, published in David Lavery's This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos

reviews of other episodes this final season: The Sopranos: First of Nine, Third of Nine, Fourth of Nine, Fifth of Nine, Sixth of Nine, Seventh of Nine, Eighth of Nine, Ninth of Nine

O'Reilly v. Rivera: look again, not what you think

listen to free podcast of this review, and reviews of all the other final nine episodes


M. Twist said...

Hiya Paul, thanks for the fast turnaround on the blog.

As I noted in an earlier electronic missive to a certain younger Levinson, tonight's episode carried several references to the granddaddy of gangster media: The Godfather. The climactic christening quoted the first film's famous closing sequence, a brilliant reference for its implicit foreshadowing of future mayhem; as a media-savvy audience, we were cringing for a murderous cross-cut that never came.

And when Sil finds his napkin splattered in blood instead of spaghetti sauce, we heard the same screeching subway train that heralded Michael Corleone's first big kill in the 'GF1.' Even the pastry counter looked similar.

Also, anyone wanna support me on the A.J.-Blanca/K-Fed-Britney parallels? What's with the pencil beard?

Paul Levinson said...

Excellent pick-up on the sauce and subway screech, m.twist!

And I'll support you on the AJ/K-Fed parallels... Something's gotta give with that relationship ... I can't see AJ taking much more of her attitude. (And yeah, the pencil beard - and the face - AJ looks about 3 years younger than he did last year...)

Anonymous said...

I would truly like to know the name of the song and artist at the end of this episode. It was a very good fit musically, as usual..

Anyone who knows must email me at

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I don't think the Sopranos has produced a magnificent episode since the end of season 3, maybe some of season 4. The look of the show is completely different than the show we fell in love with years ago. Maybe it has something to do with the conversion to HD in season 4. Big mistake. Part of the essence of the show was the grittier look. Season 5 and especially 6 have been especially boring and clumsy looking compared to what Chase produced in the early years. The new staff of writers are trying to capture the magic of Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Frank Renzulli, and Lawernce Konner, but it just isn't working. The writing seems contrived now and the attempts at capturing the quirky off-center humor is failing. While the second half of this unnecassarily long season is a little better, it is hardly magnificent.