The Death of Tony Soprano

Matt Zoller Seitz continues to clearly and insightfully break down the new season of The Sopranos. In his post on “Join the Club,” he makes a connection that seems obvious now, but it eluded me when I watched the episode: With Tony’s brain playing out an alternative existence, The Sopranos is paying its respects to Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective.

The March 19 episode, Seitz writes,

“felt like a muscular American response to Potter’s masterpiece, from the hospital location to the expressive, knowingly nostalgic use of pop music. ... The tone of this extended sequence is very Dennis Potter, but the unexplained identity swap has a touch of David Lynch’s Lost Highway about it.”
Yet the “identity swap” is mysterious only in the purgatorial reading that Seitz subscribes to. It’s a reasonable interpretation, but a limiting one.

The first thing I noticed was that the Tony Soprano of the interior narrative (apparently, David Chase refuses to call it a “dream”) is from New Jersey but has lost his heavy accent. He’s a salesman instead of a mobster. Then he loses his wallet — his photo ID, his credit cards. And then he’s diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Throughout this storyline, Tony is gradually being stripped of his earthly identity — first in the eyes of the world and, finally, even to himself. He’s fading away. He’s dying.

While it’s obvious through the episode’s imagery that Tony is trapped between heaven and hell, that’s a charitable reading of his character, and perhaps wishful thinking on Tony’s part. Carmela’s claims to the contrary aside, Tony Soprano is doubtlessly going to Hell if Hell exists.

It seems more likely that if the episode’s alternative narrative represents a reality rather than merely being the product of Tony’s mind/soul, Chase is using the washing away of identity as a metaphor for his protagonist’s tenuous connection to the world of the living. At the close of “Join the Club,” Tony Soprano seems poised to pass from this world into the next.

I only wish Chase had the balls to kill the fucker next week, with 17 episodes still to come. All bets would be off.

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