The Sopranos, Season Six, Episode 16: “Chasing It”
That pervasive sense of dread and foreboding hanging over The Sopranos seems to be getting stronger as the end nears. Last week, Tony said he was waiting for the other shoe to drop; in this week’s episode, “Chasing It”, Carmela says that she feels like there’s a piano hanging on a rope overhead. As the metaphoric stakes have gotten bigger, the literal stakes have grown as well: this episode saw Tony (played to brilliant, implosive perfection by James Gandolfini) gambling away increasingly vast sums of money in a futile attempt to recover from some stumbles, in pursuit of a fortune he’s already losing. Listening to Tony describe his compulsive behavior, he sounded eerily like the Tony Soprano from the pilot episode – chasing a dream that’s already in the past.
Like the first three episodes of the season, “Chasing It” is all dark and broody atmospherics, more doom and gloom than explosive fireworks, but the oppressiveness is more palpable here, as though the series is inching its way towards something decisive. Note director Tim Van Patten’s shaky handhelds and awkwardly-framed close-ups, which give the episode an uncharacteristically jittery look and uncomfortable feel.
If we need further evidence that things are reaching a boiling point, we also get one nasty fight between Carmela and Tony (and how great it still is, after all these years, to see these two remarkable actors play off of each other). Tony and Carmela know how to hurt each other better than anyone else: she’s the only person who can really call Tony on his selfishness; meanwhile, he sees the hypocrisy in her minor pangs of conscience, well aware that she cares enough to lose sleep over the shoddy construction of her spec house, but not so much that she’d be willing to forego her financial windfall from selling the house (to family, no less). The writers get every nuance of this relationship, and it comes through in nearly every line: Tony and Carmela hate each other because they need each other, because they understand each other so completely, and because they’re so much alike, complicit in their destructiveness, greed, and complacency.
Tony’s increasing alienation manifests itself most acutely in his argument with Carmela, but it pervades the episode. Early on, Tony confides to Hesh (Jerry Adler, also great here) that he can’t trust Christopher, Paulie, and Bobby, because they are all “murderers”, though Tony knows full well he bears primary responsibility for turning Christopher and Bobby into killers. Later, he proceeds to lash out at Hesh with a nasty, racist tirade for his very reasonable request for payment or interest on the $200,000 loan he gave Tony.
Despite his obvious culpability, Tony refuses to take responsibility for creating his current situation. Like Carmela, he’s built his house with rotten wood, and it’s set to cave in – taking others down with it – and all he can do is hope it doesn’t rain. Tony is too weak, selfish, and lazy to do things right (even to take his own therapy seriously). Hence, the gambling and the temptation to stiff Hesh on his money. Towards the end of the episode, Tony reflects on his luck and decides that, money notwithstanding, he’s “still up.” Later, after Hesh’s girlfriend dies suddenly, Tony returns Hesh’s money with condolences: “I’m sorry for your loss,” Tony offers. Forget the money, though. By the end of “Chasing It”, everyone’s on a losing streak.
“Chasing It” may be the most intricately plotted episode of the new half-season so far, and I have neglected a few major subplots for lack of time and space (Blanca and A.J., Vito Jr. and poop in the shower). I hope Brother and Robbie, along with anyone else who’s been reading (Eve, Matthew, etc.), that you will give these matters the attention they deserve. Bonus points for anyone who’s willing to tackle the terrorism thing. I thought this was a first-rate episode, and I’m anxious to hear from everyone.