Spoilers! Spoilers! Spoilers! Go away! Spoilers!
Um, yeah, so that was a rather big Sopranos for me to miss, wasn’t it?
There’s been a lot of comment that this final set of Sopranos episodes have been “making Tony unlikeable.” The fact is, David Chase has never liked Tony a bit, in the way that some of the show’s fans do. There’s a strain of Sopranos fandom that sees Tony–or wants to–as a criminal, but also a relatable rogue, selfish and violent, maybe, but also principled in his way. A sort of Archie Bunker with a gun. When I’ve interviewed Chase, however, I’ve been surprised how adamant he is that there are no such redeeming qualities in his creation. To him, Tony is a “monster” and a “sociopath.” Period.
If anything, then, we’re just increasingly seeing Tony as Chase sees him. Tony will not just flout the law to get what he wants. He will jettison any family or Family code of loyalty to protect or even convenience himself. This season has systematically destructed any rationalization for Tony. Yes, he’s bad, you might say, but at least he’s loyal to his friends. Except that he’s not: even his closest captains and confidants can become useless annoyances to him.
Not that Tony’s alone in his selfishness; see Paulie’s typical petty jealousy over the turnout at his mother’s funeral compared with Chris’. And, The Sopranos loves to remind us, it’s not just mobsters who can act out of cold self-interest; there’s also that brilliant brief glimpse of Heidi and Kennedy not driving back to the accident, so as not to get in trouble for driving at night with a learner’s permit.
Ah, but his family–family at least means something to him. Tony would always protect his kids, right? Not so much. First we saw him steering A.J. toward the life he supposedly wanted his son to avoid. And then, searingly, we saw him murder Chris, who was essentially a son to him, because he was disappointed, because he was peeved and because, simply, it was easy. The moments in the car before the accident, where Tony’s annoyance with Chris registers (for falling off the wagon though Tony essentially drove him to it) were brilliant. The slack, stoned look on Chris’ face is pitiable: he’s a junkie, yes, but he also looks childlike, sad, rudderless. But Tony is beyond pity, and he’s enough of a literal sociopath to completely disconnect the man in the car with him from the little boy he gave rides on his bike. The child is grown. The dream is gone.
For someone whose show has been constantly criticized as immoral, Chase is far more moralistic about his characters than his fans are. Tony, to his creator, cannot be redeemed or excused by therapy. He is simply damned–damned, at least, to the kind of Hell that Chase’s secular vision can provide for him, a surreal bender in Vegas nailing his dead surrogate child’s ex-girlfriend. Any other explanation is sophistry, a bogus peyote epiphany in the desert. And David Chase is not going to let us leave until we see Tony that way too.