In the interest of encouraging myself to be more active on my blog, I figured I’d add some other features beyond the boilerplate film review. Of course, my interest in film is still heavily slanted towards analysis over anything else, so this is more of an extension than anything radically different. I intend to single out great scenes (whether from great films or otherwise) and fit them within the context of the entire work, as a summation of style, themes, et al. Oh, and I figured I’d touch on TV as well, because why not? It is, in fact, a scene from The Sopranos that inspired this. And it goes without saying that these features will be pretty spoilerific by nature.

Okay, on to the analysis.

In any discussion of the merits of TV versus film as dramatic mediums, one point that’s always brought up in favor of TV is that the sheer length of a long-running series allows for more-lived in feel and a greater sense of development. The downside of this is that the series risks treading water, repeating themes and storylines to the point of redundancy. The Sopranos was often guilty of this; look at the parallels between the plots of Richie, Ralphie, and Tony Blundetto, and to a lesser extent, Feech La Manna,  or the lineup of insufferable intellectuals the show couldn’t help but turn its nose up at, for a more minor example. Likewise, the most inexorable character transformations can be stalled in their tracks by a series spinning its wheels, even in a series as brilliant and character-heavy as this one.

And yet, with a series fortunate enough to go out on its own terms, that sense of upheaval and change is given greater weight than ever towards the end. Case in point: three episodes from the end of the series, the death of Christopher Moltisanti.

The relationship between Tony and Chris is in many ways emblematic of the series as the whole. Above all, Chase and his writers concerned themselves with the manner in which Tony’s home life and mob life interfered with one another, and Chris exemplified that clash more than any other character. As Tony’s “nephew” (in actuality, a cousin), Chris was afforded opportunities for advancement and privileges not extended to other members of Tony’s crew, but at the same time was held to a higher standard and dealt with more harshly (on a personal level, anyway) for his transgressions than Tony’s strictly professional associates generally were. Of course, Christopher had more transgressions than most, particularly his abuse of heroin, his addiction to which he was never quite able to shake.

Things come to a head in the fourth season when an ill-fated intervention results in Tony and his underlings beating Chris severely, after which Chris is strong-armed into attending rehabilitation. Tony makes the point that any other associate of his wouldn’t have been extended that opportunity, but would simply have been killed before things came to a head. Chris sinks so deeply into the life that when his fiancee, Adriana, turns out to be an FBI informant, Chris offers her up to Tony rather than sacrifice the material pleasures of a life of crime. This only furthers the tensions between Chris and Tony, and it’s with this context that we find Tony and Chris in a truck together on the highway at night. The two have just come from a meeting with NY boss Phil Leotardo, and as the two discuss professional strategies for dealing with Phil, it becomes clear to Tony that Chris is high once again.

The song playing during the scene – Van Morrison and The Band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” taken from, what else, The Departed soundtrack – is brilliant in a number of ways. (On that note, Chase’s borrowing of the song from Scorsese speaks to his overall indebtedness to Scorsese’s films and their influence on The Sopranos, but his contextualization of this song blows away what Scorsese did with it in that film.) The first is, of course, the song’s association with heroin use. The second obvious thematic connection is the way in which the song’s lyrics are used to highlight the growing rift between the two men:

When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone

As these lyrics play, Tony offers a look towards Chris, simultaneously full of skepticism, loathing, sorrow and regret. A look that says, “This is the man whom I’ve chosen as my professional heir? My surrogate son through whom I intend to transact all business?” When Chris, distractedly fiddling with his stereo, drives his truck off the road and flips it several times before it comes to a crashing upright stop, it’s an obvious symbol of just how much his heroin addiction has crippled his ability to live a normal life. But the lyrics speak of Tony as much as Chris; this episode marks the final nail in the coffin of Tony’s soul, as he has at last abandoned any pretense of morality.

Chase always had a contentious relationship with his audience, wherein he portrayed Tony as, while ostensibly an awful guy, a charismatic and empathetic one as well, with whom the audience had developed a relationship as deep as just about any TV character ever. This scene was a final “Fuck you” from Chase to his audience, portraying the blackness of Tony Soprano’s soul by having him murder, in cold blood, his own surrogate son.

There is no romance to the scene, which is shocking in its brutality: Chris coughing up blood, rasping for Tony’s help, when finally Tony decides to grasp his nose and suffocate him. Chris’ wheezing, and his wide-eyed expression – cognizant of something terribly wrong, but too high to fully process what – allows us no reprieve from the horror of it all. And when contrasted with Tony’s dead-eyed indifference (“comfortably numb,” indeed), it’s all the more haunting. The intimacy of the handheld camerawork, and the low-key lighting of the scene, recall the confrontation between Tony and Chris in the Meadowlands back in “Irregular Around the Margins,” but the effect here is far more powerful than even that great scene.

So at last, Tony is freed of Chris, in many ways his greatest burden but in others the only remaining piece of his soul, as his love for his “nephew” demonstrated the lingering humanity within him. And so by snuffing out his life, so does he extinguish the last vestiges of his own humanity. The inevitability of Chris’ death – which I had mentally prepared myself for earlier in season 6 – couldn’t even soften the blow of how it all went down. Nor could my own recognition of Tony Soprano’s deep-running flaws as a human being prepare me for the monstrosity of this act. To make shocking an event already anticipated is no small feat, but Chase and his team pulled it off brilliantly. It belongs on any short list of the greatest scenes in television history.