So Much for Suspense

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve gotten hundreds of hits off of a pack of googlers looking for spoilers for the current season of The Sopranos. Which is odd. Here I was trying to be all scrupulous about not giving away the big thing that happened at the end of episode 1, and everybody else in the world seems to be looking for the scoop on the rest of the season.

This is a phenomenon that kinda baffles me. Do you guys read the end of a novel first? I know there are folks who do; I know people who can’t bear the suspense, and so have to know how it turns out before they begin. But the suspense is the majority of the pleasure for me — wondering if I can work out the puzzle before it’s solved, and, in fact, really hating it when I can. Finding out from an outside source how something turns out can entirely destroy the pleasure in the text for me.

That said, I do love to speculate about a text-in-progress; speculation below the fold.

This week’s episode was a vast improvement on the last; it had an actual structure and coherence, it allowed its characters to do things other than say “hi, what have you been up to?”, and it took us back into Tony’s psychic terrain, the most fruitful arena for the show’s exploration. The episode wasn’t quite as evocative as some of the dream-sequence episodes in earlier seasons, but nonetheless, there’s something fascinating about it. It’s not just that Tony-in-a-coma has lost his identity, becoming, however unwillingly, “Kevin Finnerty” (and was it really necessary for the writers to telegraph the “infinity” joke?) — it’s that Tony-in-a-coma wasn’t Tony to begin with. He’s Anthony, successful defense contractor in the area of precision optics, with a wife and kids back home who bear some of the characteristics of Carmela and Meadow and A.J., but who, finally, aren’t them at all. This doubled desire for escape from the self — first, the unacknowledged leap into an alternate-universe Tony, and then, the Freudian parapraxis of the slip into Kevin, a slip that’s ostensibly undesired but that he doesn’t struggle terribly hard against — is puzzling, and promises some interesting room for exploration, assuming Tony wakes up.

In the meantime, the episode also did a fairly good job of suggesting the impending struggle to fill the vacuum of power Tony’s evacuation has left behind. I’m still with Jason — the series went into a very rapid decline after its first couple of seasons, and the producers probably should have stuck with the original plan of ending after three (or was it four?) seasons* — but I’m hoping that the show manages to maintain an intereresting narrative this go-round.

*Though I do agree with Jason that The Sopranos is no longer the best show on TV, I’m unconvinced that Six Feet Under was really its replacement. Much as I loved the series finale, that season (and, if you ask me, the one before it) had been a pretty long, hard slog to get there. I’d insist, by contrast, that the best show on TV is The Wire, which has consistently improved over the three seasons it’s been on the air, and which is far and away the best exploration I’ve seen of the grey areas of crime and crime-fighting — not just the good guys who do illegal things in pursuit of a greater good, but the bad guys who do illegal things in pursuit of a greater good, too. The first two seasons are out on DVD; if you haven’t seen it, put it on your list.

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