By Andrew Williams
May 7, 2013
Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).
Now, this is a story all about how… Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) is still trying to handle all the problems that come with his extracurricular activities. This time around, he’s dealing with hothead Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), while his wife Carmela (Edie Falco) starts to wonder if being the spouse of a mob boss is all life has to offer…
Happy days? The fourth season of The Sopranos is a disappointment given what’s come so far, and represents the show at its lowest ebb (a point the rest of the television landscape was still desperately reaching for). This is television that takes its time, and while that’s not always for the better, it does allow for some terrific twists and turns as we hit the home stretch.
There are two compelling plotlines at play here: Carmela Soprano’s increasing sense of ennui at the life she has found herself living, and the increasingly bad decisions of Ralph Cifaretto landing him in ever hotter water. Both stories hover in the background of a meanderingly plotted season until exploding to tremendous effect towards the end. It’s worth the wait.
However, other plot strands don’t play out quite as effectively. Adriana (Drea de Matteo) and her wavering loyalties fail to have any real thematic impact on the season at large (just one example of story threads that appear to be setting up seasons to come). That’s fine when viewed through the prism of an entire series, but it makes this collection of episodes somewhat unsatisfying.
The final frontier: The worst season of The Sopranos is still a great season of television.
Top three episodes: 9) Whoever Did This. The death of an animal triggers some unexpected, brutal violence; proof The Sopranos still has the power to shock. 13) Whitecaps. Carmela and Tony Soprano’s volatile marriage comes to the fore, allowing both performers to do some of their best work. Plus: Dean Martin! 4) The Weight. A throwaway line threatens to cause all kinds of carnage in an episode as funny as it is sad.
Worst episode: 3) Christopher. There are things The Sopranos does very well. There are things The West Wing does very well. The West Wing never did a mob episode, and The Sopranos should have avoided a political issue episode. Here, the entire cast seems to break character and start reading out dissertations on American history and Italian culture.
Season MVP: For three seasons, Edie Falco played Carmela as a simmering pot of frustration, anger, and guilt on the verge of boiling over. When the overflow finally occurs, Falco takes her moment with both hands and embodies all the humiliation her character has had to endure with gripping honesty and passion.
Check out Andrew Williams’ previous instalments:
The Sopranos is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix Play.