His uncle’s in jail. His mother’s in the hospital. His best friend’s still missing. His sister’s moving home. And his panic attacks are back. For mob boss Tony Soprano, life at the top isn’t all it’s cracked up to be in Season Two of this hit series.
Year 3, Show #1, Season #2 (Total Shows—1, Total Seasons—2)
THE GOOD: Season 2 of The Sopranos took the best parts of the first season and made them even better. With Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) now the boss, we get to see more of the inner workings of the mafia, and more importantly, the consequences of their actions. Whereas season one gave us a taste for what the mafia does, season two makes us a member. There’s more jobs, planning, and plotting instead of just allusions to them. We see the stock scam with Wobistics, some operations with waste management (and the side business of selling cocaine on the pickup routes), stealing cars and selling them in Europe, phone card scams, high-risk poker games, credit fraud, and many more. And that’s the beauty of being a member now: instead of just hearing Tony and Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) discuss what they plan on doing, we see Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Silvio (Steven Van Zandt), Paulie (Tony Sirico), and the others actually do it.
With these new responsibilities as boss, comes more stress and anxiety for our anti-hero Tony. Season one introduced you to the problems and dilemmas he faced as part of the mafia, but season two makes it even more personal. Most of the issues Tony faced in season one could be chalked up to mere annoyances. Besides the scheme that his mother Livia (Nancy Marchand) and his Uncle Junior cooked up that could have cost him his life, season one was fairly mild. In season two, there’s more than one betrayal against Tony and a few attempts at his life and his family’s well-being. Combine that with his shrink Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) not even wanting to see him because of the pain he caused her, and Tony is on the loose just waiting to implode.
And there’s my favorite part about The Sopranos: the Italian lifestyle. While it’s more of the same things we saw in season one, there were a few more instances of word pronunciations that stood out and left me smiling to myself remembering when my own family mentions these foods. Proscuitto (pro-shoot), antipasto (ani-bast), capicola (gabba-goal), and mozzarella (moats-a-rell) are just a few of the examples that I remember from season two. Things like these may seem minor and unimportant to just an average viewer, but coming from a family where these words and phrases are part of our everyday lexicon, they are details that sell the authenticity of the show. In terms of story and character they aren’t really that important. But the give the show credibility and make you believe some of the things that aren’t so commonplace such as the body-bags, meat-cutters, etc.
THE BAD: While season two did make the good parts even better, it also made the worst parts even worse. This time around the minor problems were more numerous and of much larger magnitude. Anthony Jr. (Robert Iler) and Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) both went seemingly nowhere. Meadow at least had high-school graduation and college acceptances but Anthony Jr. just moped around and showed his face every other episode or two. They didn’t have a big role in season one either but at least there, when they did show up, they contributed to the show in some way. In season two when they show up, it’s for meaningless things that take away from the show.
There’s a handful of other similar situations in season two. The trip to Italy in episode 4 “Commendatori” seemed like a standalone episode that was barely mentioned afterward, Tony’s mistress Irina (Oksana Lada) took on a much larger role but then dropped out of nowhere (not a euphemism), and Carmela Soprano’s (Edie Falco) almost-adultery with the wallpaper guy (Joe Penny) showed promise (especially in contrast to Tony’s promiscuous love life) but hit the brakes. Most of these stories had their conclusions but they all seemed very abrupt which in turn makes them feel as if they were insignificant and therefore pointless to include.
One specific episode I took issue with was the finale, “Funhouse”. As with “Isabella” in season one where Tony had hallucinations, in “Funhouse”, Tony has fever dreams that leads him to make a very important decision. The dream sequences themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is two-fold however: 1) they’re all crammed into one episode; and 2) they’re apparently clairvoyant. I might not have as big an issue with these dream sequences if they were spread out over the course of the entire season and treated as a common occurrence. Putting them in all in one episode makes it seem like an abnormality rather than a character trait. Now the reason they’re in “Funhouse” is because Tony gets food poisoning and a resulting fever, but after “Isabella” in season one where all the hallucinations/strange things happened in one episode, I can no longer chalk it up to coincidence. The larger part of the problem though is the clairvoyant aspect. If Tony has his suspicions and wants to take action against certain parties (no names, because spoilers), he should do so. Letting the dreams be the telltale piece of evidence to confirm his doubts seems gimmicky. Either let him have doubts (which he does in the earlier part of the season) and then act on them, or not act at all. Do not let Tony’s actions result from chance and a sixth sense.
THE TAKEAWAY: Season 2 delivers more of the good and more of the bad we saw in the first season. As the new boss, Tony Soprano takes us deeper into the New Jersey mafia to see aspects that were only talked about before in passing. There’s also the little lifestyle details that lend the show credibility and authenticity and make it amusing to watch if you come from an Italian-American household. But there’s also a surge of pointless subplots that have abrupt ends and go nowhere despite showing lots of promise and conflict. A bit disappointing coming from season one, but the finale yet again sets up a few different motions that hopefully will carry season three to new heights.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5