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December 10, 2002

Analyze this?

Slate has been running for several seasons a Monday-morning dissection of The Sopranos by a team of relatively articulate shrinks. This week's is especially satisfying.

Several of the commentators are "declinists," i.e., "The show used to be so much better." (Pete can be a declinist, and is, whereas I cannot as this is my first season.) Glen Gabbard, one of the participants, has this defense about this episode and the season as a whole:

We expect the characters to follow "arcs" that are programmed in our brains from years of television, film, and theater, and the writers repeatedly defy these expectations. In a New York Times interview, David Chase made the point that he attempted to create an atmosphere that resembled the way people actually interact: They talk past each other; they don't listen to one another; conflicts are not resolved; forces of inertia and entropy triumph over our desire to tie up loose plot ends. The fourth season has been stellar, for the most part, far better than anything else we have seen or probably ever will see on television. The marriage held together, like many marriages, through a concerted effort at self-deception on the part of both spouses. The final episode was about the ultimate fate of that form of self-deception.

This struck me as interesting. David and I recently disagreed about the merits of Alias Betty, the highly regarded recent French film by Claude Miller. I found the no-loose-knots perfection of its redemption/rescue narrative amazingly satisfying, while David found it hopelessly contrived. Juxtaposing this against my appreciation of Chase's approach as described above convinces me that I am actually fairly knot-neutral-- I can take my drama artificially tidy or or every bit as messily entropic as life.

But that neutrality has its limits. While our choir of shrinks seems to fear an untidy ending for the final Sopranos season, I should hope it ends up a mess. I for one don't want to know with any certainty what haphazard arcs our beloved New Jersey mobsters take after the camera cuts off. I don't know what happened to Jupiter after the fall of Rome, either, but that doesn't rob the mythology of any of its power. If I knew that he and Juno had patched things up and were living in Pompano Beach, well, that would be another story.

Posted by jay at December 10, 2002 10:51 AM | TrackBack
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Hmm. Re Alias Betty, from the link I see the following phrases: "last-minute details of the plot", "contrived ending", "a plot that meanders", "mechanical and giddy narrative", "doesn't always make sense", "ending ... deeply satisfying". I give myself a metacritic score of about 70%.

I remain,

Posted by: dave on December 10, 2002 01:08 PM

My dear David... look more closely and you'll see that the flaws you cite were more than balanced by positive comments; words like "despite" and "can't compete with" are rather important in a review. And furthermore, note that all the high marks were from much more prestigious publications.

The main flaw with Metacritic may be its overly democratic approach. I mean-- TV Guide is going to rate French cinema for me? Je pense que non. The NY Daily News? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Posted by: jay on December 10, 2002 02:12 PM
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