Picking up from last week, when I began posting about my recent re-watch of The Sopranos. As with last week, I will freely post SPOILERS, so don’t read if you haven’t seen these episodes. Also, I’ll be light and quick; these are just some fast impressions, not deep essays on the show. For a great in-depth, episode-by-episode look at the show, read this excellent series of essays.
Following the groundbreaking creation that was season 1 of The Sopranos, it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine the show failing to live up to the amazing potential it displayed. We’ve all heard of the Sophomore Slump, the idea that living up to a stellar first performance is a near impossible mountain to climb. It has happened time and again to great shows, great bands, great authors, and more.
But creator David Chase and his amazing team of writers, actors, and directors kicked such doubts to the curb with a second season that was every bit as strong as the first. Maybe strong.
In re-watching these episodes many years after I first saw them, I’m amazed at the stuff both great and small I had forgotten. Just how twisted Richie Aprile was. How much I loathe Tony’s sister, Janice. The ugly violence with which Italian import Furio worked in his early appearances. How weak these early Christopher storylines were (but how amazingly gorgeous Alicia Witt was in D-Girl). How gut-wrenchingly powerful Big Pussy’s murder was. Discovering all this for the second time has been fun.
Richie’s saga in season 2 was the centerpiece of this season’s mob story, and it was a good one. The guy comes out of jail and wants a piece of his old action. He’s brutal. Ugly. Terrifying. And he just won’t play nice with Tony and his new rules. You hate the guy, but he’s gripping in every scene, a rebellious jerk you want to see get offed but don’t really want to leave the show.
And what an unexpected ending! This series played with turned out expectations on their head from the first episode, and the end of Richie’s story was no exception. It seems it can end in no way other than with Richie getting whacked or joining with Tony’s opponents. Instead, his story intersects with Janice’s, and in an unexpected fit of violence SHE kills him. What the hell? Great stuff.
Speaking of Janice, I still loathe her with with a deep disgust usually reserved for things like the idea of eating vomit or reading Twilight. Aida Turturro deserves great credit for this performance.
I also still hate this show’s dream sequences. I hate dream sequences in TV and movies in general, so there is that, but find them especially off-putting here. Many people remember the talking fish in the classic “Funhouse,” but I hated those distractions. Even now, recognizing how artfully they were often done — in season 6 some equally distracting dream sequences have admittedly powerful and suggestive imagery — I still dislike them.
But overall season 2 had loads of great stuff going on. Once again, Chase and crew managed to take a series of episodes that stand up fine on their own (“Commendatori,” when Tony, Pauli and Christopher go to Italy; “The Knight in White Satin Armor,” when Janice kills Richie) and build a season-long story out of them. They also manage to make the season feel like one large, self-contained story while also setting up loads of strong material for season 3.
Also, did I mention that Alicia Witt looked totally hot?
Amazing television, this.