Sopranos: Fifth Season
America’s obsession with all things mob related continues propelling the hit series ‘The Sopranos’ into its fifth year. Since this is HBO and not regular television a few notable facts pertain to the production of this season. It was almost a year and a half since the conclusion of the previous season. While many series are quick to get started again the production team and cast of the drama take their time, crafting the story lines carefully, plot the character development and story arcs with unheard of precision. Fans of this series have to have better than normal long term memories, or review the previous seasons on DVD, since much of the progress of the stories in this seasons are the fruition of seasons past. What has made so many faithful fans of this series willing to commit to it on a level rarely seen is the quality on every level. The excellence in the cast and crew combined with the time required to do it right provides a season full of twists and unexpected turns.
As the fifth season opens Tony (James Gandolfini) and his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) are officially separated. Tony is back living in his mother’s house while Carmella stays at the family mansion. A bear wanders through the yard scaring Carmela and AJ (Robert Iler). In many cultures the bear symbolizes strength and change, two hallmarks of what this season will bring to Tony. Many of the ‘family’ members that where incarcerated in the mob crack down of the eighties are now up for parole, these old school mobsters are now wildcards in Tony’s hopes to stabilize his business affairs. Feech La Manna (Robert Loggia) was once a successful captain, now displaced from earning he is reduced to an old man telling story after story about the glory days. He causes friction with Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) as Feech tries to get back on top. Then there is Tony’s favorite cousin, Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) who tries desperately to get out of crime and go straight. As this isn’t enough Big Carmine (Tony Lip), the boss of New York, dies leaving a power vacuum with his less than bright son Little Carmine (Ray Abruzzo) and his main captain Johnny Sacks (Vincent Curatola) vie to fill it. By the end of the season Tony winds up running through the woods emerging at the family home in the same place as the bear, Tony now has become the bear, the instrument of strength and change, refocused on what needs to be done next.
Like the previous four seasons season five is almost Shakespearean in the way the numerous plots and sub plots unfold. In a manner unknown to conventional television HBO knows how to build suspense and tension slowly, letting the characters simmer to the point where you just know things have to boil over. Even then events have repercussions; a new set of plots is always set in motion. The writers of this show are true artists; they pull you into these lives. While no one is what could be considered an admirable character we become fascinated by the troubles they get themselves into and the methods that become necessary to extract them. What the Godfather has done for the big screen, The Sopranos has brought to television.
Only on HBO could such a cast be assembled. Every actor has brought such nuance to their characters that they provide a truly three dimensional person for us to watch. James Gandolfini makes Tony human, full of doubts and regrets. Unlike most mob bosses that inhabit fiction Tony Soprano is plagued in his personal and professional lives with circumstances that seem to spiral out of control. He is forced to try to balance his family obligations with what it takes to keep an all out mob war from breaking out. Edie Falco portrays Carmela as far from the submissive mob boss wife we have become accustomed to. Carmela is trying to grow as a person and take some control over her new life despite Tony’s efforts to still control her. New addition to the cast, Steve Buscemi, is no stranger to the series having directed two of the most powerful and well done episodes to date. His Tony B is conflicted, he wants to become a massage therapist but the allure of being in the family business is just too strong. Whether they are in a dominate storyline or just in the mix for dramatic seasoning, each cast member performs in a way that far exceeds anything else on the tube. While some characters take center stage more often this is really an ensemble cast and one that knows each other very well. They play off each other to perfection.
As with many television series the task of the director is rotated between several individuals. As with the writers and cast the Sopranos sports nothing but the best in this account. Steve Buscemi once again goes behind the camera making great use of his years of experience in independent films. Creator David Chase has loyalty to those that direct his series. Tim Van Patten has taken the helm in several episodes in every season to date. Usually his episodes are ones that feature a little more background and exposition while still moving things forward. John Patterson also returns as director and like most of the others have been with the series from the start. Pattrerson makes good use of the time between Sopranos seasons taking the helm for another HBO series, Carnivale. Although different directors take the chair for each episode there is an all pervading sense of continuity between episodes, each director may inject his own style but never at the expense of the overall quality of the season.
As with the previous seasons HBO/Warner Brothers has hit another DVD release out of the park. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is amazingly clear. The color palette is more like a film than a show intended for television. The Dolby 5.1 audio also exceeds the routine faire on either cable or broadcast television. Not only is every little effort of the Foley artists there but the use of rock music booms out of the speakers yet never overwhelms the all important dialogue. With the final season almost upon us fans will certainly want to add this season to the others in an honored place in your collection.