Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Peggy Noonan on THE SOPRANOS

I’ve been reluctant to comment on this show. For one thing, I didn’t want all you Crunchy Cons out there to judge me for spending the big money just to see the HBO classics. For another, I’m not sure what to make of it. Ir may well be, as Peggy says, a fundamentally nihilistic show. Most people are at heart monsters ready to do anything they can get away with to satisfy their appetites. From that view, it’s a much more realistic show about nothing than SEINFELD or CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Or it may be a slightly more ambiguous and sympathetic account of how people turn out when compelled to operate outside the law and decent conventions. Arguably Tony could have been a formidable political or corporate figure if he didn’t think he could act on all his impulses and get away with it. Or maybe in another line of work his sociopathic character would have led to his destruction much earlier. Even the rare naturally decent Mafia guy--like Bobby--is also stuck with being a murderer and getting murdered (while buying a model train set for himself--Bobby was one lovable husband, father, and friend). It’s behind question that David Chase did create a very singular and very realistic Jersey world (based very loosely--like GODFATHER I and II--on a world that actually existed) full of strange and memorable--I hesitate to add wonderful--characters.

Discussions - 6 Comments

Great article. Thanks, Peter. My wife and I don't have HBO, but we've been working our way through the series on DVD (God bless Netflix), just as we did with Deadwood before that. I must say, after watching the first few episodes there was something about mob life--probably the camaraderie--that I found enormously appealing. As I got deeper into it, though--probably, as Noonan points out, to the post 9/11 episodes, it became clearer that this, too, was phony. In public Tony, Pussy (in the early days), Silvio, Paulie, etc. are embracing one another and behaving like brothers, but privately they're pursuing their own agendas and trying to outmaneuver one another. I agree with Noonan--it's one of the greatest series ever made, but its nihilistic to the core.

It's also clear that while nearly everyone in the show is a monster to some degree, there are gradations. There are some, like Richie Aprile and Ralph Cifaretto, who seem wholly depraved, while, as you say, Bobby Bacala is basically decent. And what about Carmella, who is as close to a saint as you can find in the show?

I don't want to spoil it. But the final show really is a work of art that highlights what's good about Meadow,AJ, Carmella, and even Tony. (And even Paulie and Janice...) (AJ doesn't go out a loser, even though he blows up something very expensive.) But it goes without saying that Soprano family values remain threatened from all sides. The final message, rife with all sorts of strange and smart symbolism, isn't about people who are nihilistic monsters and nothing else.

Personally, I like The Shield much more than The Sopranos.

I haven't seen the Sopranos (I'm still memorizing Seinfeld dialogue), but I did catch the last part of this drama -- Studio 60 isn't it? on CBS? -- over the weekend in which the question of faith figured very prominently, and seemed to be treated with respect, though not exactly with depth. The main characters are writers, etc. for a comedy show. The woman believes in Christ, and her still-in-love ex-boyfriend can't let her go (or, perhaps, her Savior)? That's all I've seen -- I was just curious whether anyone here knows whether it is worthy seeing more.

Institutions don't come out looking very good in the Sopranos, whether it be the family (both nuclear and Mafia), law enforcement, the mental health industry, the church. In the end the FBI is either in cahoots with Tony, or they set him up in a provocation by giving him vital information, in order to snare him in a homicide beef. Cops are largely corrupt careerists, chasing elusive mobsters and terrorists, not actually getting not very much done, except padding their ample budgets. Their big targets, Johnny Sack and Junior, are brought low by disease, not by the mighty hand of justice. The church is populated with philanderers, money grubbers and feckless poseurs, therapists are pill-pushing hucksters who seem to regard treatment as an elaborate parlor game. Nihilist to the end, but a heckuva ride.

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