20 November 2011

"The Sopranos" The Complete Third Season

The Sopranos The Complete Third Season
Starring James Gandolfini, Lorraine Bracco, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler, Drea De Matteo, Aida Turtorro, John Ventimiglia, Federico Castelluccio, Steven R. Schirripa, Robert Funaro, Katherine Narducci with Nancy Marchand and Joe Pantoliano
Created by David Chase
DVD Released: 27 August 2002
List Price: $49.99
780 Minutes

I suppose the underlying theme of this season is adjusting to a new status quo. God knows that's a theme with which I'm all too familiar of late! For Tony Soprano, this is brought on in large part by the death of his mother, Livia (actress Nancy Marchand passed away before this season went into production). His Uncle Junior--under indictment and awaiting trial--is diagnosed with cancer, and anyone who has encountered that brand of misery knows all too well how it rewrites the status quo at will. Dr. Melfi is brutally assaulted. Meadow has two successive romantic relationships, each of which puts a strain on Tony for different reasons. A.J. is acting out in school, and Carmella begins to have a spiritual crisis about the kind of life she's willfully overlooked all these years. Artie Bucco becomes so smitten with Adriana that his wife Charmaine decides to leave him.

Each subplot of this season resonated with me in a very personal way. My grandfather has had health problems recently, for instance, and he's actually a lot like Uncle Junior. Meadow's nascent sexual relationships were a reminder that I may well have to at some point consider going out and trying to meet someone new (a phase I dread so much I may never actually do it!). I never misbehaved like A.J. does, but I've reminisced lately about when I was that age so I recall the disillusionment that undermined the very concept of consequences. It seemed that nothing really mattered, so why not do stupid things? In some ways, I suppose I never actually grew out of that.

Thankfully, the one subplot that I can't identify with on a personal level is that of Dr. Melfi's sexual assault. It did register with me, though, because my Twitter timeline has been dominated recently by women speaking out against the misogyny directed at them online and the despicable rape culture in which we live that blames victims. I've mentioned Dawn Foster in this blog (it's worth being on Twitter just to follow her!), and she has recently shared some absolutely horrible things that have been directed at her online. She's not alone; several other women I follow have also been caught in a wave of hostility. That kind of behavior lights me up! As I've said in the past, I want my cousin, my niece and all the other women I know and love to live in a world where they are safe and treated with respect. They are not "fair game" for such vitriol, and by extension I have no tolerance for any woman being treated that way. (It seems it's time for me to compose another post about feminism!)

As for this season as TV, this one is a step up from the second season. Every episode is at least four stars in my book, with four episodes earning five stars--including the classic "Pine Barrens" in which Pauley and Christopher have a misadventure trying to kill a Russian. "...To Save Us All from Satan's Power..." is the first Christmas-themed episode of the series, and I had forgotten how funny it is. An arc that takes place over half of the season involving Tony's affair with Gloria (Annabella Sciorra), a patient of Dr. Melfi's, is particularly well done...including its visceral termination. Given Gloria's suicidal, manic nature I related to her for obvious reasons. I suspect I'll think about her when I sit in the therapist's waiting room in a couple of weeks. Someone remind me not to strike up conversation with any attractive car saleswomen I might encounter there. (Though I suspect me not being able to afford to buy a car would be a sufficient safeguard.)
Michael Imperioli and Tony Sirico in "Pine Barrens"
There are some cutesy moments in this season, though. For instance, there's a sequence in one episode in which we see what precipitated Tony's anxiety attack by watching the footage in reverse. It's gimmicky, but this is the kind of highbrow show that can indulge in such things without compromising its artistic integrity.

The DVD box set includes three episode commentary tracks; one with Michael Imperioli on "The Telltale Moozadell" (which he wrote), Steve Buscemi on "Pine Barrens" (which he directed) and series creator David Chase on "Amour Fou." There's nothing particularly special about any of the three, but it was nice to listen to the three chat away about the series and their line of work. I like hearing Steve Buscemi speak, so it was nice to have him record his commentary track. It was a reminder that he appears in a recurring role in the next season, and I'm looking forward to revisiting that. The only other bonus content is a fluff "behind-the-scenes" piece that aired on HBO. It's just a few minutes long. I've always been disappointed that a show this terrific has had such underwhelming bonus content on DVD.

All in all, I really enjoyed going through the third season again. There were a lot of things I'd forgotten, and some things registered differently with me this time through. I caught more nuances, for instance, and of course the subplot with the Buccos hit me in a way that it couldn't have when I first saw these episodes several years ago. I still feel that the first season is the most accessible of the series--it plays out like a mini-series rather than part of an ongoing series--but this third season really grows the series tremendously. These thirteen episodes are stronger thematically than those of the second season, and it makes for gripping viewing.