June 11, 2007 Jill

I know. It’s a blog about pilots, but how can I resist a finale now and then? So here’s my breakdown of the twenty-first episode of the sixth season of the Sopranos, written by David Chase.

Because The Sopranos is produced for HBO and airs there without commercial breaks, it’s not easy to discern act breaks and curtains. Nor are they important to the structure. Maybe that’s why when I watch an episode of The Sopranos I never feel the structure. I always have the sense Chase is doing something very different than the rest of us. That’s why breaking down the last episode was so informative for me.

The way I read it, there were many storylines through the episode: A. The situation with Phil, B. A.J. and his depression, C. the extended family (Bobby’s death, Janice’s future, Uncle Junior), D. Paulie, E. Meadow and her future and finally the thing we all wanted to know about, F. Tony’s future. Maybe these aren’t the plotlines as they saw them in the writer’s room, certainly lumping all the extended family scenes (Bobby’s funeral, Janice scenes and Junior scenes) into one group and calling them a sub-plot is pushing it, as is naming a sub-plot “the future”. And you could easily argue that A.J.’s story is really the A, but in the absence of the writer to explain his thinking, you’re stuck with my guesses.

Beat by beat:

We open with Tony waking in the bed where we left him at the end of the last episode, assault weapon on hand. (A-story)
With Paulie at his side, Tony tries to solve his problem by appealing to the FBI for help. (A, D)
Tony visits Carmella and the kids at the house where they are staying. (B, E)
Bobby’s funeral – almost a mundane community event in its normalcy, A.J.’s continuing problems and where Paulie is at. (F, B, D)

Back at the hide-out, Tony is avoiding going to see Syl. (A)
Phil gives orders to his men by phone. (A)
Tony talks to Janice about her future. (C)
The FBI tips off Tony that Phil is making his call from a gas station pay phone. (A)
Tony’s men start cruising by gas stations looking for phones. (A)
A.J. blows up his SUV. (B)

Tony reams out A.J., the family is at odds. (B)
An FBI wiretap picks up Tony trying to set up a meeting to end the Phil situation. (A, F)
Carmine, Tony et al sit down. (A)
The family moves home. (A)
Paulie doesn’t like that cat. (D)
Looking for gas stations with phones. (A)
Janice visits Uncle Junior. (C)
Junior’s pal pressures Tony to visit his uncle. (C)
A.J. tells his shrink that the car fire “cleansed” him. (B)

Paulie at the now empty BaddaBing calls Tony: Carlo disappeared. (F)
Carmella talks to Meadow’s old ne’er-do-well friend, now a med student. (E)
Meadow’s boyfriend’s family is over for dinner, Meadow is going to be a lawyer. (E)
The cat likes Chrissy’s photo. Tony offers Paulie a business opportunity. (D)
Looking for Phil. (A)
A.J. is going to join the army. (B)
Carmella learns about A.J.’s plan. (B)
Carmella and Tony meet with A.J.’s therapist. Tony talks about his mother’s influence on him.(B)
Meadow reveals how Tony influenced her career choice. (E)
Phil’s massively brutal yet comical demise. (A)
Carmella and Tony offer A.J. an alternative career. (B)

Tony’s lawyer reveals that the FBI are still actively after him. (F)
Tony visits Syl. (A)
Paulie doesn’t want the new business opportunity, but has his arm twisted. (D)
A.J. leaves work in a BMW, happy. (B)
The family is at peace as they decide where to go for dinner.
Tony goes to see Uncle Junior. (C)
And then that long, hyper-vigilant ending in the diner…

Like most hours, I count somewhere between 40 and 45 beats. More than a quarter are devoted to the A-story and slightly fewer to the B. All the other subplots play out in 4-5 beats with a lot of story separating some of the beats and others coming in pairs. This is the same pattern I’ve seen in many hourlong series episodes.

And we can see that the main storylines arc out neatly through the episode. The Phil situation is as bad as it can get as we open. Tony works at solving it through the episode until Phil is finally killed. I read Tony’s visit to Syl as the tag scene to that storyline. One of Tony’s henchmen mentions early in the episode that Tony has a lot of reasons for not visiting the hospital (“Yesterday it was his gout.”), but when Syl is avenged, Tony finally goes.

Likewise, A.J.’s story arcs neatly, he’s depressed and stuck in his own silly opinions, his SUV burns and he emerges reborn and ready to join the military, but then accepts his parents’ offer of an alternate way out. It tags out ironically with A.J. tooling around happily in his new Beamer.

This little exercise proves to me that David Chase tells a story just like the rest of us, only better. He’s got beginnings, middles and ends but the lack of commercial breaks removes the need to bring the drama to four or five crescendos that punctuate the hour. That alone brings a subtlety to the hour. And then there’s Chase’s brilliance as a storyteller, which I dearly hope he’ll share with us again soon.

Comment (1)

  1. Jody

    Where were the ducks?
    Chase is masterful at evading expectation.

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