After James Gandolfini’s premature death in Italy in June, a 2007 post of mine got some renewed traffic. “Sorry Folks, but Tony Soprano got whacked” came out after the mystifying last episode of The Sopranos and asserted that Tony and his whole family will get killed inside the diner seconds after the show’s ending because The Sopranos was a moral drama. And producer David Chase’s moral message was clear: Tony had destroyed a bunch of people’s lives, including his hapless daughter Meadow, whose inability to escape her fate is the excruciating drama of the last few minutes of the show, when she has car trouble and almost doesn’t make it to the diner in time for the ending. But Meadow gets there, tragically. And so she too is “drawn towards the closing vortex”– to quote another great American tragedy that ends with destruction.
I got that post from my wife, who is ten times more psychological and insightful than I am. After Gandolfini’s sad death, she rewatched a few years of The Sopranos. I asked her if she still believes what she told me in ’07. More than ever.
“Over five years what you saw was that this family slowly became entrapped by Tony. You saw the sweet young son turn into a thug. You saw the daughter who had really tried to get out thwarted by the father. You saw the wife recognize what was happening to her life and to her family and simply not being able to give up the power she wielded in the community and the material goods.
“You saw people painfully getting sucked into a vortex of Tony’s mendacious murderous Mafia behavior and the money that came from that. They all try in their own little ways, but they are not able to get out. In the end they were all in Tony’s dream, which was the fiercest and most powerful dream, and this thwarted them.
“In a famous episode, Carmela is told by a wise old Old Testament psychiatrist [Krakower], ‘You will never be happy or out of pain if you stay with this man and I will not accept your blood money.’ Well, I know, that’s implausible– no one has ever heard of a psychiatrist not accepting money. But he’s like an Old Testament prophet, and he looks at her and says, ‘You cannot say you were not told.’
“Meadow has found this boyfriend from LA who’s half-black and half-Jewish and whose father is an LA lawyer, and he goes to Tony’s house and Tony treats him terribly. Get out of here. I think he calls him an eggplant. So the father in LA does some checking, and the kid breaks up with Meadow.
“It was her first step out into the real world. Then she goes out with a mobster’s son. So she’s back in Tony’s dream.
“A lot of people said that Lorraine Bracco was the moral center of the show, Tony’s psychiatrist. But she’s not the moral center. As her shrink tells her, ‘Why did you accept him as a client? You’re allowing him to rationalize his behavior.’ Right; why is she there? Because she’s excited to be in the mob, too.
“Of course Tony himself was trapped in the family legacy. He had the meanest mother on the planet, he knew no other way. But what made the show so alive was, He loved what he was doing. Everyone else was struggling and in pain, but he loved his work.”
I asked my wife whether she felt that James Gandolfini, dead at 51, was also destroyed by Tony’s drama. She shook her head.
“I don’t know that. Of course we know that actors take on their roles. I’ve heard that when Robert DeNiro is playing a character, he’s that character all the time; and whenever he’s not playing someone, he goes into hiding. Was James Gandolfini also sacrificed to this character? It’s possible. But it’s a terrible thing to say.”