Better Late Than Never: A Latecomer's Season by Season look at The Sopranos

Season 4
Fans of the series find season 4 to be incredibly uneventful. While it is a slow season, so is every other season of this show so far. What Sopranos does right this time is it puts the comedy in the back seat and really makes you care about the drama unfolding instead. They put most of the pain in the ass characters in the back seat as well. The 4th season manages to plant a lot of seeds early on and then very VERY, almost achingly slowly grow them into living things.
You spend A LOT of time with Carmella this season which pissed people off, but her arc is so tragic that you simply can't turn away.
Carmella truly proves herself as the first real “anti hero's wife”. Even though their husbands are off committing atrocities in one way or another the fans of the show often end up placing hatred and frustration on them. See Betty Draper from Mad Men, Skyler White from Breaking Bad, or Anna Gunn's other less detested wife character, Martha Bullock from Deadwood.
Carmella has spend the last two seasons in love with Tony's soldier Furio and Furio loves her back. But tragically they never even get to tell one another. Furio is forced to leave for Italy and Carmella is left totally alone as far as her love life is concerned. Its a terrible truth that in life so many potentially wonderful things just end and its awesome to see The Sopranos embrace this hard fact.
Tony and Carmella finally have it out in a series of fights that put their marriage on the line in biblical fashion. Especially now that Furio is out of the picture. They have 3 huge fight scenes in the finale and even though they're all short as far as run time is concerned, they leave you thinking they lasted for hours. They pack so much history, rage, and catharsis into them and they leave only destruction in their wake.
Whitecaps, the season 4 finale, is the definition of a slow burn series episode. So many things are said and happen that only work because you've got 4 seasons of history to back them up. Its brilliant.
The reason this is my favorite season so far is because they finally just come out and say that the mob story is a distraction to Tony's home life. All of season 4 prepares the viewer for the final showdown between Tony's crime family and a New York based one. Right up until seemingly the last minute you expect blood to fill the streets or at the very least for certain key players to get whacked. And none of it occurs. The matter is resolved (almost peacefully). What the season was actually ramping up to the entire time was Carmella and Tony's showdown. And its more hard hitting then any mob execution could be. And when its all over Carmella does the unthinkable. She kicks Tony the fuck out.
The true beauty of the finale comes from the the titular sequence. Even with all the awful shit slinging that occurs between Tony and Carm, there is a truly beautiful sequence in which the two dance in from of white caps on the water. In one episode we see a couple at their best and their worst. Thats good writing.
As silly at it might be to compare all this to a later piece of work I can't help but think of a wonderful sequence in the first season of Game of Thrones where Cersei and her husband Robert have what might be the only honest conversation they ever have. No matter how much two people hate each other they'll still have a bedrock that relates them, even if that bedrock is mutual resentment. It powers their scenes together and makes for some beautiful set pieces.
Chris has gone through a lot this season as well. His heroin addiction led to an intervention and rehab. I still really don't care for his character much but he seems to finally have made some progress and is clean as the season concludes.
Above all, Season 4 plays with every expectation an fan of the show could ever have. Carmella and Tony separate. The big mob violence comes two thirds of the way through the season where Tony kills a man on his own team over the death of Pie-o-My the race horse that Tony had fallen in love with. Tony's relationship with the horse is one of the most moving arcs the show ever managed to pull off. Like the ducks that Tony love so much in the first season, the show relies on the power and innocence of animals to show who a person as troubled and conflicted as Tony Soprano really is. And the biggest one of all. Tony fires Dr. Melfi. And not at the end of the season either. After all the fallout with Carmella he gives her a call but doesn't have the courage to speak and quickly hangs up the phone.
Tony also suffers some very intense dream sequences that I hear pay off in the final season so I won't go into them here. Needless to say thats great forward thinking so I hope it pays off well.
In a dark and twisted word this could actually be the end of The Sopranos. Its not. And thats great. I've never been more ready to delve back into the world this show has created than I am with the 4th season under my belt. Its powerful stuff and I can't wait for more.

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