A separated Tony and Carmela negotiate family and money issues. Meanwhile, Tony’s reunion with paroled cousin Tony Blundetto may endanger his alliance with Johnny Sack; and Adriana gets in deeper with the Feds.
Year 3, Show #1, Season #5 (Total Shows—1, Total Seasons—5)
THE GOOD: For pretty much every season of The Sopranos so far I’ve been saying how it’s all a big setup for some big reveal that’s going to come. Most of the time there is some resolution in the finale followed by a cliffhanger that gets you pumped for next season (as any good show should do). But a running complaint of mine that I never really vocalized was how the payoffs seemed to be too small, and too few and far between. You only get the last two episodes for exciting stuff, the rest of the season is pretty much lots of filler to prep you for the end.
In season five though, things start to change. This season was much more about outcomes than it was about setup. Sure, there was still of lot of that preparation for bigger happenings (see: the FBI), but we also got a lot more action and results early on this season. A big part of this is probably due to the influx of new faces, fresh out of jail. We get to meet Feech La Manna (Robert Loggia) and Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi), two made men who’ve been in prison since the 1980s (along with a few smaller characters). While new characters have been introduced constantly throughout the show, they’ve almost always lacked the extra energy. Even people like Richie Aprile in season two or Ralph Cifaretto in season three — who were both major characters and commanded a lot of screen time — didn’t have the same effect Feech and Tony B. have in this season.
And it’s weird, because neither of these two characters would rank anywhere near the top of my favorite characters list. But while they may not be my favorite characters, they brought something that had been deteriorating for a while: a sense of direction and purpose. The big thrill of watching The Sopranos has always been the experience more so than the overarching story. You get to see the life of the New Jersey mafia, and while that does bring along certain inherent dramas, the only real logical end game is being arrested or killed. Season five opens that thinking up and get’s you wondering, “What if there was more? What happens when the status quo is disrupted?”
The status quo isn’t just disrupted by the introduction of some new people though. All of our surviving friends return for more great memories and interesting developments. We see Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Carmela go through their divorce proceedings, Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) getting wonderful news, Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) and his fiancé Adriana (Drea de Matteo) getting some not so great news, and rising tensions between the New Jersey and New York families after some deals go awry.
THE BAD: But while some big payoffs start to happen, there’s also several notable disappearances that occur this season. And I don’t mean that as a euphemism. The biggest example is the FBI investigation into the Sopranos. It’s been going on since the beginning of the show and after a big increase last season, was surprisingly absent from season five. Yeah, some of the detectives made a few appearances, and a few more people turned informant, but for a long while it felt like the FBI vanished. It wasn’t until the finale when they came in with all the troops that they made their presence known.
The other example of being strung along is Uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese). He’s at least seen in half the episodes, but he’s very much slipping away. The worst part is, that even though his importance is slipping, the show is still trying to force him upon us by making him go senile and oblivious to half of what he says. If he’s no longer that important, make him more of a minor character like Tony Soprano’s kids. Both Meadow and Anthony Jr. appear in more episodes, but their roles are secondary to the effect they have on their father.
THE TAKEAWAY: Season five takes The Sopranos from a show that’s fun to watch solely for being like a documentary (albeit highly fictionalized), to one that has many more goals and purposes along the way. This season isn’t like the rest which set you up for eleven episodes and then deliver the conflict and resolution in the last two; there more rewards scattered throughout the season. It not only makes it much easier and more fun to watch the whole time, but the big payoffs that still remain at the end are even bigger. It doesn’t hit quite the high that season three did due to some false starts and pointless directions of focus, but it does bring the show back around to what really matters: family. Family, and the things you do to protect it.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5