Two days ago, I spent 5 hours writing about the previous episode, "Kennedy and Heidi," exploring a theory that turned out to be wrong. So I have some resistance to this new episode, "The Second Coming." All that weird stuff in Las Vegas turned out to just be an actual trip to Las Vegas. The peyote revelations evaporate into nothing.
TONY: "Sun came up."Just like the day after any given idiot's psychedelic trip.
SIL: "Oh yeah?"
Much as I love "The Sopranos," I often get the feeling that the shows are parceled out as separate units, assigned to writers who work out a story arc for that episode. There are threads that go through the whole season (and the whole series), but there are a lot of things that seem to be there for the sake of the story within a single hour. The "Kennedy and Heidi" story had a big ending, but last night didn't take it from there.
Now, again, I'm bad at appreciating the show after only one viewing. The first time I saw "Kennedy and Heidi," I was disappointed. I thought: So, they needed something for Tony to do and they dragged in another beautiful woman character for him to have sex with. She means absolutely nothing to us. And because we've seen so many scenes of Tony having sex -- ugh! -- they threw in some drugs for a little variation, and it was like the big cliché that was in seemingly every movie circa 1970s. A guy takes drugs and sees things a different way. Big deal. But looking at last night's episode, it's like my attitude after the first viewing was right. "Sun came up." "Oh yeah?"
But this is what I'm saying about "The Second Coming" after the first viewing. [ADDED: And now I've watched it a second time, so I'm just going through and putting additions like this in. Actually, writing these notes brought together a lot of my thoughts, causing the second viewing to be less revelatory than I had thought it would be.]
Now, there were lots of things that drew me in and made me excited about getting to my second viewing so I can see what's really there. The title comes is the title of the poem by William Butler Yeats. A.J.'s lovely teacher read us the first verse in class:
TURNING and turning in the widening gyreA.J., in bed, reads us the second verse:
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
Surely some revelation is at hand;[ADDED: Actually, they didn't read the whole text of the poem. More like about half.]
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
You need to study the poem as you rewatch the episode. It's not enought to say "Things fall apart... Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world," so there's going to be an all-out war between Tony and Phil. Or "somewhere in sands of the desert... what rough beast... Slouches towards Bethlehem," so all that talk about the Mideast and terrorism is going to have to be part of the series dénouement. There must be endless depths there. You're just getting started.
Perhaps Tony will find his humanity (or is he the "rough beast"?). He gives an expensive watch to Carmela, which is typical for him, but what was that inscription? He tries to connect with the guys talking about his peyote visions, but he fails. He tells Phil he wants to talk to him "on a human level." Which also fails. He saves his son from drowning. ("blood-dimmed tide... innocence is drowned.") The water imagery from last week. He cradles the son he saves. Mother imagery from last week. He starts saying "poor you," the way his own mother Livia did. More mother references. Before saving his son from drowning, he eats the "Lincoln log" food Carmela made to try cheer up A.J. Imagery carried over from last week: mother, phallus, assassinated President.
Speaking of Presidents and the Middle East, A.J. is worried about Bush bombing Iran, and he's taken to reading al Jazeera. (Is he in on the terrorism plot that better be cooking up after all the references?)
Carmela kills me. Her son is completely depressed, and she makes him Lincoln logs. That's like saying "You need to grow a dick." Then she announces inanely, "I'm going to Nordstrom's." After his suicide attempt, she says, "He was always so happy. He was our happy little boy." Edie Falco is a brilliant actress to be able to fascinate us with a character whose primary trait is utter blindness. She makes emptiness seem so full. She does throw the watch though. Is she going to find her humanity?
Then there's the conversation between Dr. Melfi and her therapist, who tells her -- in one of the least ambiguous things ever said in the series -- that talk therapy validates sociopaths, that they learn how to shape their souls. [ADDED: I misread my handwriting. It wasn't "shape their souls," but "sharpen their skills."] But how does that fit with Tony's grasping after humanity? Considering that Tony -- along the way -- tries to be a good father to Meadow by smashing a guy's teeth out and sits through his son's therapy session with one of the bloody teeth stuck to his pantleg, I'm guessing that he's shaping his soul in preparation for some big sociopathic adventures.
I scrawled notes in the dark, and some of them I can't quite place: "It's all a big nothing." Did someone say that? [ADDED: A.J. repeats this as something Livia once said to him.] "You're at the precipice of an enormous crossroads." Someone said that. But who? [ADDED: Carmine says it to Tony.]
And some of those notes... well, can you read them?
Click here to enlarge the notes. I will enlarge on these thoughts after a second viewing.
PRIMARY NEW OBSERVATION ON SECOND VIEWING: The biggest mystery is what was wrong with the FBI agent who showed Tony the photographs of the suspected terrorists. He was having stomach trouble and referred to a "microbe." I'm going to guess that the terrorism is a kind of bioterrorism and -- going out on a limb here -- it involves tainted meat. There are references to meat: the steak pizzaiola and the Lincoln logs, A.J.'s little speech about meat sprayed with virus, the FBI agent's refusal of meat in a scene at the meat store. There are references to bad chemicals: the asbestos, A.J.'s "self-medicating," Sil's diagnosis of A.J. as having a "chemical imbalance." Admittedly, all this imagery of meat and taintedness suits the general theme of the show -- death, evil, decay, corruption. But I can't get over all the references to terrorism all season and the ominous "microbe."
In the comments, some people wondered that I thought A.J. would be involved in the terrorist plot. (Some people seemed oddly outraged as if this wasn't fiction and I was violating his rights by accusing him without the evidence.) I sort of see the point. He's very depressed and inert, and now he's hospitalized. With only 2 episodes to go, you may think this character has had his big episode, and now he's over. But his story has been linked thematically to the terrorist story over and over. I find it hard to believe that won't pan out in some way. And it should be noted that the black bicyclist who got beaten up in the "Kennedy and Heidi" episode was Somalian. It's possible he'll get together with A.J. inside the hospital. Hospitals have provided the setting for some important doings over the years on this series, you know.