Podcast

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Straying from the Party Line: Separating Plot and Character Scenes in the Sopranos Pilot

The “Sopranos” pilot almost perfectly conforms to the checklist, but there’s one major deviation: It has separate “plot” and “character” scenes, which is supposed to be a kiss of death. Nevertheless, it works here.

It’s hard to do therapy scenes, because the characters aren’t moving, they aren’t exchanging objects, and they’re openly engaging in emotional talk. Furthermore, Chase had a rule that not even the camera could move. He didn’t want to “push in” on any one line in therapy, signaling an emotional breakthrough.

So why aren’t these all-character, no-plot scenes dreadful?

For one thing, Tony is getting news he can use. This would change later on, but in the early years, Tony was eager to change, and he was using Melfi’s advice to fix his problems. The plot wasn’t happening on screen in these scenes, but Tony’s wheels were turning, and we would see instant results of his breakthroughs.

But beyond that, these scenes are compelling simply because Tony is so broken. His world is utterly compartmentalized: he must keep each “family” separate from the other, and he feels he must keep his true character hidden from both. Only in therapy does he allow himself to become fully human. It’s usually a problem to have “synthesis” scenes: we like to see a thesis and an antithesis smash together and then synthesize the meaning for ourselves. But in this case, Tony’s worlds, inner and outer, are so divided that it’s actually compelling to watch him struggle (and fail) to fit the broken pieces together.

So the show gets away with it in the pilot, but this would become more and more of a problem as the series proceeded. Dr. Melfi simply didn’t have enough to do. They did try to give her storylines, but it never worked very well:
  • Tony gets a crush on Melfi and half-heartedly pursues her romantically.
  • Tony dates one of Melfi’s other patients (and eventually kills her)
  • Melfi is raped and then refuses to allow Tony to kill her rapist.
The problem is that these storylines were off in their own little bottle. We were still taking breaks from the main plot, instead of furthering it.  It didn’t have to be this way: The pilot creates a lot of potential energy by pointing out the inherent danger of this relationship:
  • She warns him that she must tell the police if he tells her too much about an ongoing or upcoming crime.
  • He makes it clear that he could get killed if the wrong people find out that he’s in therapy.
Insanely, neither of these things ever happened! (Commenters here says that Silvio, at least, did find out, but there were rival mobsters who wouldn’t have taken it so well.) There are so many potential storylines that would have paid off this potential energy:
  • Tony accidentally says too much about a killing that’s about to take place, then wonders if he has to kill Melfi before she tells the authorities.
  • Melfi decides to turn Tony in, or somehow interfere with one of his crimes in a way that preserves her ethical duties (or violates them.)
  • Other mobsters find out about Melfi (with or without her knowledge) and Tony has to protect her.
  • The Feds find out about her and bug her office, or implore her to turn him in, or threaten to arrest her as his accomplice.
  • For any of the above reasons, she has to go into witness protection and/or turn state’s evidence.
Ultimately, this show should have been more like “Breaking Bad” and less like “Mad Men.” Tony’s situation was unsustainable, and the longer the show lasted without any major plot developments, the more dubious and exasperated the audience became.

Even as the show meandered towards its finish, Chase was stubbornly unwilling to deviate from its status quo: Tony was never sent to prison for any serious length of time, none of his capos ever flipped on him in court, etc. In the end, Chase left us with the impression that Tony was killed, but even then he recoiled from showing it, because he was by that point openly contemptuous of the audience’s desire for any sort of closure:
  • “There was so much more to say than could have been conveyed by an image of Tony facedown in a bowl of onion rings with a bullet in his head. Or, on the other side, taking over the New York mob. The way I see it is that Tony Soprano had been peoples’ alter ego. They had gleefully watched him rob, kill, pillage, lie, and cheat. They had cheered him on. And then, all of a sudden, they wanted to see him punished for all that. They wanted “justice.” They wanted to see his brains splattered on the wall. I thought that was disgusting, frankly. [...] The pathetic thing—to me—was how much they wanted his blood, after cheering him on for eight years.”
Ultimately, for Chase, the metaphor became more important that the story. For him, Tony was a mirror of America’s soulless success. Our identification with him implicated us in his evil doings, and so giving him any sort of downfall would somehow let us off the hook for our own moral failings, in Chase’s mind. The result was a once-great show that limped to a belated and unsatisfactory close, without ever cashing in most of the drama inherent in its wonderful premise.

8 comments:

j.s. said...

You're really on fire up with these SOPRANOS posts. I watched the pilot again yesterday and agreed with everything you've written so far. Your suggestions about Melfi here are dead on. Not only does sidelining and normalizing their scenes together fail to deliver on the promise of the potential drama set up in the pilot it ignores the inherently unique qualities of their "relationship we've never seen before." And you're correct that BREAKING BAD is the example of how to do it right. You need only compare this to the relationship between Walter White and Saul Goodman to see how THE SOPRANOS might have ended differently. It's tragic enough to see Saul have to go on the run and end up with a new identity as a Cinnabon manager in Omaha, but he was a shady lawyer compromised on so many levels before he ever crossed paths with Walt. Melfi's really trying to help Tony become not just a more effective person but a better human. To have all that totally ruin her life -- and maybe leave him high and dry at the moment of his most pressing personal crises -- would have been so much more compelling.

Treme eka said...


This is Angela Sean from USA, am sharing this article to give thanks to Dr.Mack, who helped me to bring back my EX lover that broke up with me for 2 months. I was searching for advise on what to do to get back my EX lover and i came across a post of a woman in USA called Angela Sean giving thanks to Dr.Mack, for helping her to get back her lost HUSBAND who left her for years with her kids. I contacted the spell caster for help due to the fact that i needed my EX lover desperately because he is my lover and my life. To God be the glory, my EX lover came back to me within 12 to 16 after Dr.Mack, finished preparing the spell and i want the world to join me to give thanks to Dr.Mack, for helping me. Viewers reading my article that also need his help should contact Dr.Mack, with his email : dr.mack201@gmail.com...he do cure nerve problem.....

joe james said...

Beware of online spell or to fix your broken marriage or relationship problem or after a divorce or Breakup,I was recently scam by two of them, until one faithful day i meet a man called Dr Oseiboh who help me to get back to the mother of my 2 kids after we have been separated for 3 years,I only pay for the items required for the spell and he cast the spell for me within 48hours my ex wife called me and beg me to forgive her for everything and we are back together.if you need a real and quick love spell or you are passing through pregnancy problem Dr Oseiboh is the answer, Please if any body needs. LOVE SPELL,LOTTERY,PREGNANCY SPELL, DIVORCE SPELL,STOP COURT CASE AND WIN ANY COURT PROBLEM,DEATH SPELL,BUSINESS SPELL AND MANY MORE YOU MAY NEED. Email him now for your own help. via email droseiboh12@gmail.com website https://droseiboh12.wixsite.com/spell add him on whatsapp line or call +2347017565415.

JENNIFER said...

Hello everyone i want to share my amazing experience with the greatest spell caster Dr OMOHAN, My husband was cheating on me and when i found out we had a fight which lead to him filling for a divorce i cried and fell sick, When i was searching about love quotes online i saw people talking about Dr OMOHAN and his great work whose case was similar to mine they left his contact info i contacted him and he told me not to worry that after 24hrs he will cancel the divorce and be back to me after i did everything he asked me to do to my greatest surprise the next day evening it was my husband he knelt down begging me to accept him back,thank you once again Dr OMOHAN you are indeed a blessing to me he can also help you contact dromohanherbalmedicine@gmail.com or WhatsApp HIM +2348164816038

Greg said...

For the past 2 years now I have been looking for good and genuine spell caster to bring back my ex lover back and also help me to win lottery,and it has been a hard time for me finding the right place until I get in contact with Dr Oseiboh who gave me powerful prayer and assured me that it will take two days before the spell will be effective,unbelievable the next two days i got a call from unknown number so i decided to pick the call the next thing i could hear was my love voice she was pleading and begging me on the phone that i should forgive her that i should forget all that have happened that she did not know what came over her,she promised not to leave for any reason, that she was really sorry for what she did,i was so surprised because i never believed that this could happen,so that was how i accepted her apology the next morning she came to my house and still pleading for me to forgive her i told her that everything is ok that i have forgiven her from my heart, that was how we started again, we are together now. thank you Dr Oseiboh for making her to know that we are meet to be together and also making my dreams to come true. And he did a spell that make me to win the lottery, Please if any body needs. LOVE SPELL,LOTTERY,PREGNANCY SPELL, DIVORCE SPELL,ANY FOUNDATION COURSES,REVENGE SPELL,STOP COURT CASE AND WIN ANY COURT PROBLEM,DEATH SPELL,BUSINESS SPELL AND MANY MORE YOU MAY NEED. Email him now for your own help. via email droseiboh12@gmail.com add him on whatsapp line or call +2347017565415.All thanks goes to Dr oseiboh for the excessive work that he has done for me....

Omar Jesu said...

I want to use this opportunity to thank this great holy man called Priest Babaka for what he has done for me and my family. This great man has brought happiness and joy back again to me and my family. Priest Babaka has used his great power to help me bring back my husband within the period of 48 hours and also helped me in getting pregnant with his powerful prayers and after 7 days of applying his herbs.This is more than words can say, at first i didn't believe it but today it is so true and all thanks goes to him. i will advice every one out there that has a similar issue, and also any one who is willing to get his or her lover back and any one who wants to get pregnant quick to contact this wonderful man today and forever remain happy in life. email: babaka.wolf@gmail.com or Facebook at priest.babaka

Ruth Miller said...

God bless Dr.MOSES for his marvelous work in my life, I was diagnosed With HERPES VIRUS since 2015 and I was taking my medications, I wasnt satisfied i needed to get the HERPES out of my system, I searched about some possible cure for HERPES i saw a comment about Dr.MOSES, how he cured HERPES with his herbal medicine, I contacted him and he guided me. I asked for solutions, he started the remedy for my health, he sent me the medicine through UPS SPEED POST. I took the medicine as prescribed by him and 8 days later i was cured from HERPES VIRUS,thank you so much Doctor, you can as well contact him through email.Drmosesherbalisthome@gmail.com you can also call or add him on whatsapp with this number +2348156768667

DR.MOSES CAN AS WELL CURE THE FOLLOWING DISEASE:-
1. HIV/AIDS
2. HERPES
3. CANCER
4. COPD.
5. HEPATITIS A, B, C
6. ALS
7. DIABETES TYPE 1, 2 3
8. ZIKA VIRUS
9. HPV .
10. AUTISM

Ruth Miller said...

God bless Dr.MOSES for his marvelous work in my life, I was diagnosed With HERPES VIRUS since 2015 and I was taking my medications, I wasnt satisfied i needed to get the HERPES out of my system, I searched about some possible cure for HERPES i saw a comment about Dr.MOSES, how he cured HERPES with his herbal medicine, I contacted him and he guided me. I asked for solutions, he started the remedy for my health, he sent me the medicine through UPS SPEED POST. I took the medicine as prescribed by him and 8 days later i was cured from HERPES VIRUS,thank you so much Doctor, you can as well contact him through email.Drmosesherbalisthome@gmail.com you can also call or add him on whatsapp with this number +2348156768667

DR.MOSES CAN AS WELL CURE THE FOLLOWING DISEASE:-
1. HIV/AIDS
2. HERPES
3. CANCER
4. COPD.
5. HEPATITIS A, B, C
6. ALS
7. DIABETES TYPE 1, 2 3
8. ZIKA VIRUS
9. HPV .
10. AUTISM