The first time I watched the second season of the Sopranos Iwasn’t as thrilled as with the first and considered it to be the worst season
of the series. That’s clearly not true watching it again, but my interests were
different at 19. Season 2 doesn’t have as driven, high-stakes plot as the first
season focusing instead to enrich its huge cast of characters.
As the season starts, Tony is now the official boss of the
family. Uncle Junior’s in jail, and later on house arrest, with any threat
neutralized. He’s no longer speaking to his mother after her “stroke,” but he’s
still incredibly angry and having frequent panic attacks due to taking a break
from therapy (Dr. Melfi went on the lam at the end of the last season).
One of the main reasons I didn’t like season 2 initially was
because of Richie Aprile, this season’s not-quite “big bad.” Brother to the
previous boss Jackie Aprile, Richie has been released after 10 years in prison.
The guy is definitely a psychopath yet most of the conflict that arises between
him and Tony is because of his failure to understand how things work now vs.
the “old days.”
There is a sense of him trying to change—him turning up at a
yoga class is an unexpected turn—but he’s also easily manipulated both by Uncle
Junior, who uses him to feel out if there’s any chance for him to regain his
power, there isn’t, and by Tony’s sister Janice.
Janice Soprano is another new character this season who’s
both fascinating and incredibly annoying (in a mostly good way). She’s jealous,
petty, and driven by narcissism like her mother, but has spent her life trying
to deny she is like her mother. That’s led her to dabble in religious movements
and hippie new age nonsense. When she returns home, she becomes jealous of her
brother’s wealth and enters a relationship with Richie Aprile to try to top her
Big Spoiler. It
seemed anticlimactic the first time, but the fact that Janice kills Richie
rather than Tony is pretty incredible and rather subversive for the show. And
it is definitely in Janice’s personality to do something like that. After
falling into the role her mother played in the first season, she violently
pushes back by ending her role as a mob wife (for now).
The rest of the surrounding cast got quite a bit more to do
this season. Christopher with his boneheaded goons at the crooked stock trading
company, Paulie Walnuts got a lot more lines, Adriana became more of a
character, etc. But the real scene stealer this season was Vincent Pastore’s
After disappearing at the end of the first season due to
some suspicions that he’s a snitch, Pussy returns, citing a trip to the
Caribbean to help with his back, he’s put back on to the streets reluctantly by
Tony. It’s then revealed that he is the snitch and has been ratting out Tony’s
crew to the FBI after being caught selling heroin, depressingly to help his
kids pay for college.
I really felt for this guy whose mistakes lead him to the
point where he really has nothing. The stress of the situation alienates him
from his wife, who he can’t tell, and he doesn’t know where he fits. There’s a
hilarious episode of Sal trying to act like a detective to help the FBI, this
would have been a great spinoff, but has to come to terms with that he’s just
an informant and really has no place anymore.
This season boldly tied up nearly all loose ends in the
second to last episode “The Knight in White Satin Armor” one of the seasons
best among with “Commendatori” where Tony, Christopher, and Paulie all go to
Italy. That left the last episode with nowhere else to go other than to finish
the Pussy storyline, which is reached in a boldly bizarre way.
There were one or two dream sequences in the last season,
but the second season finale “Funhouse” devotes almost an entire episode to
fever dreams after Tony gets food poisoning. Through his subconscious entering
his dreams, he comes to a point where he has to admit to himself that Pussy is
the rat. While still throwing up he grabs Paulie and Silvio, who still had
nothing to do this season, and takes Pussy out to “look at a boat.”
They don’t want to kill him and Pussy doesn’t want to die,
but they’re all put in a place where this is a thing that has to happen because
of the strict masculine code of their work and the insulated world they’re part
of. While every show now is seemingly all about killing off characters, this
was a big deal then and really never happened on television unless someone was
quitting the show. This raised the stakes for the show. From here on out, you
didn’t know what they were going to do or if anyone was safe.
The season concludes with everyone celebrating Meadow’s
graduation. Tony is now at the top without any obstacles, but there’s such a
huge loss that got him there.
I didn’t talk a lot about Tony, but this season
seemed more about widening the cast and deepening other characters. We get more
about how there’s no line between work and life with him and a sense of him
trying to be better signified toward the end of the season when he breaks it
off with his girlfriend Irina.
Carmela didn’t get much to do this season, unfortunately.
The good news is Edie Falco would get plenty of good storylines going forward.
AJ becomes a “deeper” character in this season while Meadow gets into conflict
with her father after he takes her friend Eric’s car and gives it to her as
part of Eric’s father’s gambling debt repayment.
In contrast to Carmela, the “other woman” in
Tony’s life, Dr. Melfi, gets quite a bit more this season. We see the affect of
treating Tony on her, and she struggles about whether to take him back and if
he can be cured.
I enjoyed Robert Patrick’s arc as the sporting
goods owner who gets into deep debt with Tony gambling and loses everything. An
old school friend and father to Meadow’s friend Eric, this arc deals with the
blending of Tony’s professional and family life. It’s a great bit of casting to
have the unstoppable terminator of Terminator
2 be this loser who digs himself in deeper and deeper.
Christopher in this season learns the perils of
leadership this season when his two dimwitted thugs try to earn some respect
from Richie Aprile by trying to take out Christopher. We start to get a sense
that he has a problem with and he entertains becoming a screenwriter. At the
end of the season Tony proposes making him a made man and perhaps Christopher
has come to see there’s not a lot of glory or satisfaction in this career.