Am currently rewatching The Sopranos from start to finish as part of our regular DVD night viewing. As always, struck by the acting and the magnificent writing and also the beautiful framing of some of the shots. At the moment we are just getting into season four. In the three episodes we watched tonight, and in the season more generally, I am struck by how much it is focused in season 4 on the relationships between husband and wife and the different kinds of relationships. The contrast between Bobby’s intense grief over the death of his wife Karen, and Johnny Sack’s murderous rage over the insulting of his wife with Tony’s disengagement, so much so that he does not even stop to watch when he wife dances with another, younger, good looking man. We know that Tony does love Carmela, but his efforts at pleasing her tend to involve the purchasing of products rather than any sort of engagement with her emotional needs. It is hard to picture Tony sobbing over her coffin the way that Bobby does with Karen. The wives themselves understand the difference, the rarity of that sort of love in their world as they look to their husbands and partners, talking business and discuss the fact that Bobby was the only one who had never had a comare – a mistress – and that the other men had laughed at his for it. In constrast they recognise their relationships as transactional, that they make their own bargains within them to access the things that they want and the lifestyle they have chosen. Janice herself, with her failed relationships and dangerous engagements with men like Ralph, also recognises the genuineness of Bobby’s love for Karen and is desperate to gain that for herself.
This focus on relationships, with the way in which we see the actual distance between Adrianna and Christopher, because of the secrets and the drugs, which eventually leads Christopher to make the decision he does, and in the flirtation between Carmela and Furio which develops and grows continues throughout the season. This The way that men and women interact and the effect it can have on them is a clear focus in this part of the series. Johnny Sack’s outrage nearly leads to both his and Ralph’s murders and it puts another young man in intensive care. When he catches Ginny secretly scoffing chocolate bars in their basement he realises the extremity of his actions. He has overreacted but his reaction is so caught up in multiple layers of humiliation, love, blame, outrage and helplessness that he cannot help but say to her “do you realise what you have done” when it is he who has made the choice to turn Ralph’s (admittedly very poor) joke into a matter of life and death.
The depictions of these contrasts remains subtle and understated and the emotional complexity of the characters is such that often they don’t understand their own motivations. Janice is so panicked by the turn in her relationship with Ralph that she has to throw him down the stairs, unable to in any way communicate her fear, helplessness and panic except by obsessing about his shoes. Carmela uses and obsession with financial security as a substitute for the emotional security which eludes her. And no one is really happy.