Season 6 Act 1 -->
Season 6 Act 1 of The Sopranos comes with quite a lot of weight behind it. It's the beginning of the end. Its the calm before the storm. It's the deep breath before the plunge. So where does it all begin to end? It ends with the episode Members Only and with a man we met in season 3 and who sort of bounced around in the wings between then and now. His name is Eugene Pontecorvo and he wants out. He's inherited 2 million dollars from a deceased aunt and fully plans on moving to Florida with his wife, leaving the mob life behind. And what does he get for his good fortune and his aspirations? He gets Tony up his ass about leaving at this point we learn that Eugene has been an informant for the F.B.I. and they too can't see letting him leave at it would mean a serious loss in information in their case against La Cosa Nostra. So Eugene, paralyzed by the stresses of two immovable objects weighing down on his life, hangs himself in his basement. Good. For a second there, I though The Sopranos might go soft in it's final season. Now we can begin.
Now Eugene isn't the only storyline we follow in the premiere. In fact, in the grand scheme of the season its probably the least important. But it sights precedent and that's whats important. Again we see a person who finds a safe and easy way to escape the life of crime he's lead for so long. But he simply cannot. Whether it be fate or otherwise the stakes end up being too high and they can't get out. Eugene taking his own life is a nice touch. It ties back in quite well with the notion that at the end of the day a criminal only has his or herself to blame for their situation.
The big moment that starts off season 6 takes place at the end of the season premiere. Junior Soprano, increasingly overcome by his Alzheimer's, shoots Tony during a fit of strong memory loss. Tony then spends the next two episodes in a coma. And I'll go out on a limb and say that those two episodes are some of the best the series has ever produced. Tony takes a serious journey through his subconscious. He spends his time there as another man named Kevin Finnerty who is in turn looking for Tony Soprano to return a mistakenly taken briefcase. Tony's journey takes him through some strange adventures. He meets violent monks. He consistently sees a beacon, not unlike a lighthouse, on the horizon. He even meets a few characters who had died in seasons past. Outside of the coma, Carmella, AJ, and Meadow all struggle with Tony's situation and do all in their power (well...maybe not AJ) to be as supportive and positive as they can. On the mob front, everyone begins to wonder if Tony will actually ever come back and start to figure out who'll run the show if Tony does pass. But it all takes a serious back seat to Tony's dream experience. The key scene in Tony's coma comes when he gets to a giant house part out in the woods. The house is lit up like a Christmas tree and is filled with guests. Tony as Kevin Finnerty runs into Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) who is playing a waiter at the party. He comes to learn that this house is heaven and Blundetto is playing the role of St. Peter. Tony is very hesitant about entering the house and is even more put off when he sees a shadowy figure, no doubt a woman, standing just inside the doorway. Its pretty clear that we're looking at Livia Soprano and it makes sense that Tony would be especially put off at the idea of seeing her again.
Tony does escape the coma by the end of the 3rd episode (to my disappointment) and we the audience are told exactly what this season is about. Tony's survival is a blessing and now he plans to live with that constantly in the front of his mind. But, this is The Sopranos we're talking about. Thats not the way things work. And sure enough, not long after Tony is recovered he heads right down the same road. He comes very close to cheating on Carm, though doesn't actually, and makes so attempt to clean up his life or his business practices.
Now a big focus of the first act of season 6 is Vito Spatafore. Vito's always been around but early in the season the entire cast learns that Vito is gay. He makes a sad but smart decision and runs to New Hampshire knowing that at least some of his fellow gangsters will be so offended by his sexual orientation that they'll come after him in a violent way. Audiences really weren't happy about this side plot. They found it a tad contrived especially this late in the game. I don't see it that way at all. In fact, I think it hits home better than a lot of the series' attempts to show the dangers of living a life of crime. Vito's homosexuality becomes a character flaw as far as his associates are concerned. They feel they can't trust him because he's lied to them for so long about it, though with good reason. Vito runs north, falls in love with a small town firefighter and actually moves in with him. But he can't escape the mob lifestyle and more importantly, his love for it. He runs back to Jersey after spending nearly the entire season in New Hampshire. Before he's even back he kills an innocent bystander to avoid an encounter with the police and finally meets Tony in secret to apologize and show that he can still be quite valuable to the crime lord. Tony is reluctant but accepts his proposal. Unfortunately Phil Leotardo, who's taken the most offense to Vito's lifestyle, finds and kills him in a motel room not long after he returns home.
I'm sure audiences were happy to see this subplot finally come to a close. I was happy but not because it was over but instead because of how it had ended. The Sopranos didn't disappoint. Vito's homosexuality wasn't his job. It wasn't how he earned money. It was him more than anything else ever could be. It was his truth. And he found an escape and true love, love that he'd never been able to fully experience or enjoy before because he'd finally admitted this truth to himself. But like so many before him he simply could not escape because of his ties to crime. And like Eugene his death was his own fault. He didn't take his own life but if he never went home to Jersey there's a great chance he could've lived as close to happily ever after as anyone in the series' universe ever could.
There's plenty of other subplots going on across the twelve episodes that comprise Act 1 but most of them are pretty much fluff. Only Carmella's brief but potent trip to Paris in the penultimate episode really rings home as being important but even that sort of falls to the wayside when measured against Carm's experiences in the the beginning of the season and the end of the previous one.
What Act 1 is really about is the idea of redemption. So many characters are given the possibility of a second chance. Tony being chief among them. What The Sopranos tries to say is that redemption doesn't simply happen to anyone. They have to work for it. They have to earn it. And frankly, they have to want it.