I put my Sopranos series on hold for a while simply because I got busy, but with the recent death of James Gandolfini, it seems appropriate to pick up where I left off. So here are my thoughts on revisiting The Sopranos season 5 many years later. As always, this is written assuming you have watched the season, so SPOILERS ALERTS apply.
In a way it’s more fragmented than previous seasons, with many short arcs rather than several large arcs (though those are present, too). The mafia side of the drama is compelling despite the main conflict being marital, i.e. Tony and Carmella’s split, which is the big story of this season. Stuff with New York is getting heated by this point, ramping up tension in a big way. Not NEARLY enough time is spent on this, but what time they do spend on it is great, and the show wraps up those stories very nicely at the end of the season. For the first time since season 2 you feel like you’ve seen a complete story.
That said, the formula of “old mafioso returns and causes Tony trouble” almost begins to wear thin here. Really, been there, done that. Thankfully, the new cast introductions who fall into that category give this old theme a new spin. The first instance is handled in a new way, the second provides a dramatic story that sets up all of season 6’s turmoil. So that’s great.
Oh, and Adriana.
I really love how this was handled. You think she has talked Christopher into flipping, he seems all in, then they cut to Tony calling Adriana with an emergency. The audience knows the jig is up. But notice this: They never show Christopher telling Tony. I love that choice. It’s played like a mystery — maybe Christopher really did try to kill himself — but we know the real deal, especially when Silvio comes to pick her up. Brilliant writing and direction.
There is also a great tease when she’s in the car with Silvio. She knows what is about to happen. When you first see her after the call from Tony, she’s driving to Washington, D.C. with a suitcase next to her. It appears as if she fled. But no, that was a daydream. She’s actually with Sil. Why daydream about driving away alone? Because she knows what is going to happen but gave in to the inevitability of it.
They also make the choice to kill her off screen. We don’t even see Sil’s muzzle flare. Only treetops and the sound of gunshots. In a show that revels in explicit violence, this was a bold and effective choice.
The marital drama of this season, however, was less compelling. Carmella having a brief fling, Tony wanting to get back with her, the kids being assholes, and finally reconciliation. Eh. I had a hard time caring about most of this. The story beats were good, but there was too much screen time spent on it.
As for Tony — because after all, isn’t he what the series is all about? — you get less and less sympathy for him as the series goes on. In addition to being a thug and murderer, he’s an asshole. That scene when he’s having dinner with Janice and Bobby and he purposely stomps on her happiness … I hate Janice, bad, but I really hated him at that moment, too.
That said, most episodes of this season were top notch. The only dud was, in my opinion, the extended dream episode late in the season. Very arty and symbolic, but it went on too long and they played games with the way they revealed the second murder by Buscemi. It was too vital a story beat to do that with.
Still and all, best season since the second.