The Sopranos – Season Four

Prod. David Chase
2002
The fourth season is the first Sopranos to be written in the shadow of 9-11
and brought home those feelings of doom and anxiety that accompanied the months following. Now, of course, we’re so used to living in this world that we’ve become used to it. This season Tony tries to circle the wagons and just rely on “blood,” that is, his immediate family, but as the season progresses it shows even this is unreliable. Chris, his nephew is addicted to heroin. Uncle Junior is under house arrest and facing his RICO trial. And domestically, bonds start to fray and break, as Carmella asks for, then secretly takes, more control over the household finances. Tony directs his affection to all the wrong places–Ralphie’s goomah, Ralphie’s horse, his ex-mistress’ cousin. And one by one, he loses these things too. It’s a very sad season, and probably my favorite so far.
Part of the reason that we like gangster films is that we like to see a subculture much like our own but with strict, old fashioned rules. In this way, the way of the Mafioso crosses paths with Asian ideas of “saving face” and “honor”. We feel these things are missing somehow, yet our true delight comes out of seeing how these rules are broken and punished, not how they are followed. One of the plot threads of Season 4 involves Johnny Sack and how he seeks justice for a fat joke Ralphie has told about his wife. The idea of besmirching a woman’s honor marks this plot as almost medieval, and much of the tension of this storyline comes from Sack’s intractability in the matter. We like our codes of honor, but this is getting too fundamental.
This medieval way also plays out in Furio’s unrequited love for Carmela, which costs him much heartache, not unlike the traditional romance. When he returns to Italy for his father’s funeral, he is told that in the old days, such a predicament would mean that he’d either have to kill the woman’s husband, or exile himself (as memory serves). And he does think about doing the deed at one point.
These medieval storylines are contrasted with the more modern threads–Bobby Bacala’s grief, Janice’s manipulations, Paulie’s divided loyalties. So, in a way, the whole season gives us both glimpses of a post 9-11 world without being didactic about it: the hard, fundamentalist way (and not in a Islamic sense), or the equally painful, soul-searching modern way. (Note that the female characters have to ask this a lot: Carmela choosing self-respect over marriage, Adrianna choosing a law-abiding future over the crime family).
Favorite episodes: “Christopher” (for the final scene in the car), “Whoever Did This” (so many great images: the wounded child, the bloody dispatch of Ralphie, Tony’s solitary walk through the Bada Bing, empty and hollow inside and out), and “Whitecaps” (nothing sums up a breakup like watching the inflatable mattress go up.)
Now we’ve exhausted all the Sopranos DVDs, we can now get back to watching anything and everything else. Phew.

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