WARNING: Sopranos discussion dead ahead.
It all comes back to the pool. The pool, where Tony first saw the family of ducks nesting at the beginning of the series, precipitating his panic attacks and trips to therapy, and where A.J. made the suicide attempt that he was, fortunately, too inept to carry out. “Maybe it was a cry for help,” Dr. Melfi suggested to Tony in therapy. “He could just be a f___ing idiot,” replies Tony. “Historically that’s been the case.”
Either way, the suicide attempt was an excruciating scene, several times over. A.J. realizing he wanted to live–or, perhaps, was just too afraid to die–but nearly dying anyway. The momentary, horrifying possibility that he could have drowned while Tony gobbled up the sandwiches Carmela made for her son in the kitchen. A.J.’s pathetic sobs dissolving into a truly heart-rending wail. (It was one of the first times an A.J. scene has really moved me; as Mrs. Tuned In pointed out while we watched, A.J. could have been an outstanding role if they had given it to someone a little more talented than Robert Iler.)
And the final horror: Tony, after the brutalities he’s inflicted this season, momentarily becoming something like a sympathetic figure again, as he helplessly cradled his nearly drowned son. “Why me?” he asks Melfi later. “I’m a good guy, basically. I love my family.” Which is not true, but the tricky thing is realizing that it’s half-true. He does love his family, and yet he’s not a good guy, and this last run of episodes is confronting us with the fact that one quality does not necessarily lead to the other. (Incidentally, did you think the curb job Tony gave Coco was compensating for the fact that he was powerless to salvage A.J.? Maybe–dramatically it was set up that way–but I have a hard time imagining a scenario in which Tony would not react the same way to an insult to his daughter.)
All in all, a very strong episode on the family level, particularly with the there-but-not-there participation of Livia, who was everywhere in this episode; referenced in A.J.’s therapy session, alluded to in Tony and Carmela’s fight and voiced twice by Tony–”Poor you!”–as if she had possessed him. She even somehow managed to meld herself into the spirit of Yeats’ The Second Coming (“What kind of poem is that to teach to college students!”), which A.J. manages to interpret through the filter of Livia’s nihilism.
On The Sopranos, the worst also lack all conviction. The Second Coming is one of those metaphor-heavy poems that you can make stand for just about anything you want, as long as it’s bleak, but its first image, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer,” conveys the sense of someone losing his bearing amid chaos, being too far gone to retrieve, and where A.J.’s sitting right now, it seems about right.
On the Mafia level, well, two episodes to go, so whatever is going to happen is going to need to happen fast. (Will the trouble with New York really boil over this time, when it’s subsided before over even greater differences? And if so will it require the advice of Silvio’s light reading, How to Clean Practically Anything?) I can just say that I’m glad Carmine Lupertazzi is around to bring us there, whatever happens. We are on the precipice of an enormous crossroad. Where do you think we go from here? (Let’s keep it spoiler-free, please.)