Sopranos: Sixth Season Part 1
It takes a special kind of television series to remain incredibly popular with over eighteen months between seasons, but the Sopranos have managed to do it. Season five ended in June of 2004. The first half of season six did not start until March of 2006. What has kept the American audience wanting more after such a long hiatus, in short quality. Even with the normal highs and lows that accompany any series the Sopranos have managed to set the bar for television dramas. The Sopranos combine writing, direction and acting in a way that few television shows or even films can boast. The basic premise is simple, an intimate look into the life of a mafia boss who has more problems at with his family at home than he does with other criminals. HBO has taken this and woven a complex set of stories that keep us all coming back no matter how long we have to wait. HBO had announced that season six would be the last one. Due to popular demand the creators decided to expand this last season to twenty episodes, showing 12, taking another long break and then coming back with the final eight.
As the season starts Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) finds his life in the usual turmoil. At home he has reconciled with his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) who is trying to build a house to sell for a tidy profit. His daughter Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) is successful in college and now living with her fiancé Finn DeTrolio (Will Janowitz). As usual his son AJ (Robert Iler) is a disappointment. AJ has been slacking off, drifting through life. While Meadow is on her way to becoming a lawyer AJ has just flunked out of college. Tony doesn’t find life any easier with his other family. His New York counter part Johnny Sacks (Vince Curatola) is in jail leaving his captain Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent). Phil was not as willing to work Tony as Johnny was so it looks like a bumpy road ahead for ‘T’. There are also some major changes in Tony’s organization. One of his soldiers, Eugene Pontecorvo (Robert Funaro) has inherited some money and wants to buy his way out of the family. Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) is now almost completely senile. When Tony is called to Junior’s home to help out the aged mobster becomes confused and shoots Tony in the stomach placing him in a comma. The first few episodes detail how his consigliere Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) tries to hold things together while the boss fights for his life. In numerous dream sequences Tony grapples with just where his life has taken him and what lies ahead. Tony’s main captain and big earner Paulie Walnuts (Tony Sirico) is starting to go off the deep end. He discovers that his beloved mother is actually his aunt and that his aunt who is a nun is actually his mom. Tony’s cousin Christopher (Michael Imperioli) still has dreams of making it big in Hollywood as a writer. He comes up with a script idea to combine the Godfather with Saw. He takes his idea to Hollywood to pitch it to Sir Ben Kingsley. When this fails Chris falls back on his criminal ways and steals the celebrity gift basket from Lauren Bacall. To make matters worse when Tony comes out of his comma he finds out that another captain, Vito Spatafore (Joe Gannascoli) is gay. Alternative life styles are not well tolerated by the overly macho members of the family. When he is seen in a leather bar by one of the soldiers he leaves his family and runs off to New England. He finally returns only to be killed by the New York Crew which results in the murder of one of the New York Lieutenants. With a full scale mob war brewing this half of the season ends with a Normal Rockwell like family Christmas. The stage is set for the concluding episodes.
In several ways this part season was a departure form the standard format of the series. The messy and explosive murders are few and far between. Instead the main themes and story arcs here explore how the changing times and advancing age affect the mobsters and their families. Tony has always presented a bigger than life persona to both of his families. He would only show any signs of insecurity to his psychologist, Dr. Jennifer Melf (Lorraine Bracco). Now more than ever he comes to her with the stress that is mounting around him. After his near death experience Tony has reconsidered his life. In his surrealistic dreams he found himself isolated, unable to get back to his family. When he comes too he tries to make the most of his renewed lease on life. Even Silvo is showing signs of age. As the pressure of being the acting boss of the family mount he needs to use an inhaler more and more just to catch a breath. He confesses to his wife that he is more comfortable behind the scenes giving advice instead of on the front lines making decisions. Carmela has put up with a lot over the years. She has now come to grips with his infidelity and how he makes a living. She even finds that she needs her husband’s connections to complete her new house. Carmela is trying to define herself on her own terms but is unable to separate herself from the criminal life that Tony leads. With Brokeback Mountain such a sleeper hit the Vito storyline has been called ‘Brokeback Gumba’. When you consider the time spent on creating and filming the episodes this many just be a coincidence. Paulie has never been what you could call stable but finding out the truth about his mother was just too much for him. He starts to make bad business decisions including cutting safety corners with a children’s ride at a local religious festival. This causes a major split between him and another captain, Bobby Baccalieri (Steven R. Schirripa), who happens to be Tony’s brother in law. If conflict is the source of good drama the Sopranos certain raises the bar for any other show. Rather than depending on external violence his part season focuses on the internal struggles. It is almost certain that things will explode in the concluding half of the season.
What has made this series so popular is not just how the stories push all boundaries. The cast here is a dream team of some of the most talented actors on the scene today. James Gandolfini gives such depth to Tony that you can’t help but to be drawn into his life. He gives a portrayal of a crime boss that doesn’t just center on his life of crime but goes deeper into how this life has affected him as a person. Edie Falco is a joy to watch. While the mob wife is usually relegated to a one dimensional background character Falco has created Carmela as a woman who has to live with her decisions. As a nominal Catholic she is torn between doing what the church tells her is right and what her husband does. While she is superficially appalled by the criminal activities around her she never seems to refuse the lavish gifts and beautiful home Tony provides.
HBO pays as much attention to their DVD releases as it does its series. Like the previous five season box sets this one is almost reference quality. The anamorphic video is a wonder to behold. The color palette is brilliant with absolutely no hint of flaws or mastering errors. The Dolby 5.1 audio is pulse pounding. The sub woofer is reserved for the more explosive moments while the rear speakers give a natural feel to the sound stage. The extras are typical of the other sets including some choice commentaries for key episodes. Fans have some more time to wait until the conclusion of this groundbreaking series but this DVD set should tide us over until then.