The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sopranos

"A Finale Without Finality"

That was the title of the Variety piece on the 86th and final episode, which was broadcast last night. Tananarive bet that Tony would die. I bet he’d live—but I DID think there would be a bit more closure than there was.

I have to say that creator David Chase did the best job of humanizing a monster that I’ve ever seen in my life. A great, great show. But make no mistake: Tony Soprano, while human, is a monster. He has broken every commandment, corrupted the (relatively) innocent, promoted contexts in which bystanders have been killed and directly ordered or facilitated the deaths of “non-soldiers.”

But he is a (relatively) honorable monster, who lives unapologetically, accepts that what he has done to others may well be done to him, and loves his family as much as he can. Dr. Malfi disappointed me greatly. Couldn’t she see that unless Tony was willing to step away from his criminal activity, it would be impossible for him to heal. Impossible for his actions, words, values, and beliefs to travel in a straight line toward resolution of fear and preparation for death. All she was doing was helping him be a more effective criminal.

Note, please, how seductive all of this is—not just to Tony, not just to Carmilla (who is as monstrous as Tony, but lives in greater illusion. She believes her hands are clean), not just to the endless string of young women who service him to be close to his power, not just to Dr. Malfi who perhaps dreamed that she could be the one to save him, but to us. To the HBO audience, who fell in love with him. I loved him too, but he was a rabid dog, utterly beyond redemption.

It is so, so easy to stray from the path. All we need to do is say: “I want it, and it is easy to take.” We all do this. Most of the time in tiny ways. And because there are so many definitions of moral behavior, it is easy to find someone to support whatever position we wish to take.

But one thing I liked about Tony is that he knew he was a predator, and didn’t claim that his predation was somehow good for the world. THAT particular lie is particularly venomous. I’ve often said that I’d rather live in a world controlled by the Mafia than one run by the Church. Why? The Mafia won’t torture you to death to save your soul. They won’t convince themselves that the damage they do was for YOUR benefit. That drives me crazy.

Thomas de Torquemada convinced himself that he killed and tortured for the sake of the victim.

Radical Righties and Lefties have blown up buildings and killed “for the sake of the people.”

“Information Wants To Be Free” types say they steal music in the name of abused artists—whether those artists wish their music “shared” or not.

Slave-holders claimed that they were doing blacks a favor, civilizing them. And raping black women was doing them a favor—improving the breed. I had a man tell me that whites segregated blacks “to protect them.” Dear God.

At least, Tony didn’t engage in this. He was an honest monster. So phenomenally charismatic that a huge proportion of his audience seriously debated whether he was “good” or “bad.” Gandolfini only lost faith in Tony last season. Wow. Talk about self-deception.

I draw the line much more clearly than that. Whatever one’s motivations, actions speak louder than intents. Are children safer because Tony and his Crew worked the streets? Hardly. That makes a gigantic light go off in the back of my head. No justifications can compensate for the near-corruption of his own son, when Tony pushed him toward the criminal sons of his own friends. He KNEW what would happen. He knew.

Bye-Bye Tony. I loved you as much as anyone.

Satan is the man in the mirror.


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