The Sopranos Season 5 (HBO)
Written by Terence Winter, David Chase, Matthew Weiner, Michael Caleo, Toni Kale, Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, Michael Imperioli
Directed by Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, John Patterson, Rodrigo Garcia, Allen Coulter, Peter Bogdonavich, Steve Buscemi, Mike Figgis
Season five of The Sopranos begins with what might be seen as some retconning or lore building. A group of convicted New Jersey & New York family members are all released around the same time after serving their sentences and prove to be an injection into the current system that threatens to spin things out of control. Tension has been building between Tony and New York’s liaison Johnny Sac since the last season, and now it appears as though their friendship will be shattered by these new arrivals and some shake-ups in New York’s leadership. In some ways, the new arrivals are taking threads of new versus old ways of operating seen between Tony & Ritchie in season two and allowing them to be explored and developed even further.
The more significant problem of the season emerges out of New York’s internal conflicts. Carmine, the boss, passes away suddenly, and it’s assumed Johnny will take the helm. However, Little Carmine comes up from Miami because he likes the idea of playing boss, proving to be a useful idiot for those who want power but not the spotlight. Some of the newly released want right back into the business in both NYC and Jersey; others understand it’s better to step away and go legit. One of these is Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi), Tony’s cousin. There’s a complicated story behind how Blundetto ended up in prison and its connection to Tony’s panic attacks explored during the season. Buscemi had been directing an episode a season for a few years now and is a perfect addition to the cast.
Blundetto wants to do things legit. While in prison, he began studying to do therapeutic massage, something Tony immediately sees as transgressing the paranoid masculinity of his bubble of friends he inhabits. Blundetto wants to have a business of his own that focuses on helping heal rather than destroy. Eventually, he even finds an investor through his main gig of linen delivery. However, Blundetto is constantly reminded of the wealth and family Tony had amassed when his cousin was locked away. Blundetto had a daughter when he was sent away, and since she’s run away as a teenager. While he was in pen, they smuggled out his sperm so his wife could be inseminated, and he has twin sons he’s just starting to get to know, which is a rocky road. His wife divorced him, and so Blundetto lives in his mother’s house. A backyard party serves to rub the privilege of the Sopranos in Blundetto’s face so that his resentment ultimately undermines his goals & dreams for the future.
Blundetto ends up setting off the spark that will follow Tony through the remainder of the series, forever damaging his relationship with New York. By doing some side work for Little Carmine’s people, Tony & Johnny are put at odds. Blundetto’s greatest crime comes when he kills Phil Leotardo’s brother (Phil is played by Scorsese vet Frank Vincent). Tony is placed in a position where he has to lie to Johnny and then commit a breach of honor in the code recognizing these men and a transgression of familial love.
Episode 11, “The Test Dream,” is my standout of the season due to its elaborate twenty-minute dream sequence that is one of the best things I’ve seen on television in a long time. I adore how the show delves deeply into Tony’s subconscious with these sequences, and none have been as elaborate as this one. Multiple actors from previous seasons, mainly those Tony has killed, reappear briefly in this sequence, making it akin to a haunting, a visitation from Hell. The episode also includes a blackout sequence that I believe serves to set up the jarring series finale. Tony lies in a hotel in NYC talking to Carmela on the phone; their relationship appears to be on the mend as much as it can be between these two. A dog barks in the distance on Carmela’s end, and Tony comments on it, clear he wants to hear her voice as things are getting dicey for him. The screen goes black, and after a beat, he asks, “Is it light where you are yet?” Stepping back and seeing this line in the context of the show, the question resonates with importance. Tony is someone sinking into the darkness, primarily due to his own actions and choices in life. He is looking for a lifeboat out of there but has refused the ones that have come by. The big question for the audience is, “Will Tony find where it’s light?” Season six provides us with some possible but still ambiguous answers.
The feeling season five infuses into every episode is that any of these people could die at any moment. That sentiment carries on through the long sixth season, where that promise is kept, and so many fall by the wayside. The mortality of these characters is felt in so many of the newly released who get taken out throughout the thirteen episodes. There are also the themes of age seen in Feech (Robert Loggia) and especially Uncle Junior. Feech thinks he can ignore young Tony Soprano’s orders and go to Junior for direction, which quickly creates problems for him. Before you know it, Feech is set up by the boss and is being carted back to prison for violating parole.
The most heart-wrenching moment of the season revolves around the slow burn of Adrianna’s story set up last season. She’s been reporting to an FBI agent but really can’t provide great detail on what Christopher gets up to because she is so much on the periphery of what’s happening. The club she manages becomes the spot of a violent murder, unrelated to Tony’s business, and the Feds leverage that to get her to try and bring Christopher in so he could feed them information. Adrianna’s heartfelt confession and the explosive reaction from Christopher are difficult moments to get through. Anyone who has been paying attention all these years knows she isn’t going to have a happy ending, and sure enough, things end on a violently bleak note. Christopher reveals his allegiance to Tony above everything else, and that acts as a corrupting poison, rotting him from the inside out. And then it’s time for the final season, an epic closing chapter that brings all the themes and ideas laid out beforehand to the forefront and looks at the fundamental nature of evil.