By Andrew Williams
May 29, 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 separated from his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), meaning the level of anxiety in the Soprano family is even higher than normal. Meanwhile, Tony’s cousin Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) has emerged from a long stint in prison, and desperately wants to go straight.
Happy days? It would be easy to criticise Season Five of The Sopranos for covering old ground. The two primary plot threads were already seen in Season Two: an interloper leaves jail and starts to cause Tony problems, and a member of his ‘family’ becomes involved with the FBI. But the mastery of The Sopranos has always been more in the telling than the story itself, and the telling in Season Five is outstanding. Character motivations are strong, tensions are high, and genuine surprises lurk around every corner.
This is a season concerned slightly less with Tony Soprano himself and more about his influence on the people around him. Characters both on the fringes and in the inner circle find their lives influenced by him in surprising ways, and almost every story thread is an effective addition to the tangled moral tapestry surrounding The Sopranos’ central character. It’s compelling material, and any missteps to be found are confined to individual moments that don’t ring true, rather than structural problems affecting the entire season.
The final frontier: After a lacklustre fourth season, The Sopranos approaches the end of the series in fine form.
Top three episodes: 12) Long Term Parking. One character’s series-long arc reaches its heart-breaking, inevitable conclusion in an episode regarded by many as the finest this show ever produced. 5) Irregular Around the Margins. If The Sopranos is a series of short stories (as opposed to the novelistic approach of The Wire) then this is one of the best; a mostly standalone ep in which rumour and innuendo nearly have fatal consequences. 6) Sentimental Education. Steve Buscemi takes centre stage as Tony Blundetto’s best attempts to go straight slowly sink into the quicksand of Tony Soprano’s organisation.
Worst episode: 11) The Test Dream. Dream sequences are among my least favourite storytelling devices, and so an episode devoted almost exclusively to one of Tony’s was never going to be up my alley. Even so, this strikes me as a particularly egregious example of self-indulgence plagued by overly obvious metaphors, and a black mark on an otherwise stellar season.
Season MVP: The journey of Adriana La Cerva remains one of the most affecting arcs The Sopranos ever did, and a lot of that is due to Drea De Matteo’s performance. De Matteo imbues the character with a quiet desperation sitting just beneath the surface of all that make-up and lingerie, and it’s a terrific performance, though obviously it remains only her second-best after Joey. (Cough.)
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The Sopranos is available on Quickflix.