The Sopranos: Season Four
December 9, 2001
Charles M. Jones,
Starring: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Joe Pantoliano, Lorraine Bracco, Drea De Matteo, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Aida Turturro, Steven Van Zandt, ,
Some critics found the fourth season of The Sopranos to be an uneven collection of episodes. Fans were disappointed that more characters did not get whacked (even despite a shocking death scene of an important character). Few people seemed to realize that series creator, David Chase, and his team of writers was focused on the bigger picture. The prominent story arc of season four was the disintegrating marriage of Tony and Carmela Soprano (Gandolfini and Falco) with all other subplots orbiting around it.
The season opener sets up the most recent conflict between Tony and his wife. Even the country’s failing economy affects gangsters as he tries to get together enough cash to invest in a potentially profitable land speculation. However, Carmela is worried about her family’s long-term financial security and puts pressure on her husband to place their money in more traditional insurance.
Other storylines see Christopher (Imperioli) struggling with drug addiction, the growing dissatisfaction of certain members of Tony’s crew, Adriana being pressured by an undercover cop to gather information to implicate the Soprano mob, and Ralphie’s increasingly erratic behaviour. These are just but a few that run concurrently with the central story only to either dovetail or diverge into it at various points during the season.
As Chase discusses in his audio commentary, the overlying question that permeates the entire season regards Tony and Carmela’s marriage: are they going to keep it together or is Tony’s infidelities going to split them up?
In a refreshing change, it is Carmela who is the focal point of this season not Tony. Edie Falco is given the chance to convey all kinds of complex emotions that play out in a fascinating character arc—particularly in the season finale with a dramatic confrontation between Tony and Carmela. In addition to thinking about her family’s security, Carmela has to deal with the repercussions of romantic and sexual thoughts she has about one of Tony’s henchmen. Falco does a great job of portraying the conflicted emotions that Carmela must wrestle with—on one hand she is excited and thrilled by the attention that this man pays to her and the feelings that he arouses in her, on the other she feels guilty for betraying her children and her religious upbringing with impure thoughts. By the time season four ends, she is no longer a passive character who puts up with Tony’s cheating ways.
The supplemental material for this season is a bit on the slim side, consisting of only four audio commentaries. Two of them can be found on disc two. Episode four, “The Weight,” features an audio track from its writer, Terence Winter. He talks about the origins of the episode in which he wondered what would happen if Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola) found out that fellow gangster, Ralphie (Pantoliano) told a mean joke about Johnny’s wife’s weight to a roomful of people. Winter uses this idea to examine the unique set of etiquette that gangsters follow.
On the same disc, actor Michael Imperioli contributes an audio commentary for episode he wrote, “Everybody Hurts.” He talks at length on this informative track about his intentions for the episode and the motivations of the characters. He was interested in exploring Tony’s guilt over a brief but intense romantic fling he had with a woman who eventually killed herself as a result. Imperioli believes that Tony is a tortured character because he actually has a shred of conscience—unlike a lot of the gangsters on the show.
Disc three features an audio track by writers Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess for episode nine, “Whoever Did This.” They talk, in detail, about the writing process on the show. David Chase already has an idea what the arcs of all the characters are and maps out what is going to happen in the season. He then assigns certain writers to specific episodes. Their commentary offers interesting insight into how individual episodes are planned and written, as well as entire seasons.
The last disc features an audio commentary by the show’s creator, David Chase for the season finale, “Whitecaps.” This audio track is a real treat for fans of the show as he talks at length about the focal point of the season: the dissolution of Tony and Carmela’s marriage.
The Sopranos is one of the consistently excellent programs currently on television. While a few more extras would have been nice (what about interviews with the cast and crew?), this is more than made up for with superb looking transfers and an excellent 5.1 surround soundtrack for each episode. Season four may not have the body count that fans were hoping for but it eschews the gut-wrenching violence for emotional aggression as characters cause each other more damage than any bullet or knife. The actors really get to show off their considerable talents and prove yet again that this show has one of the strongest, most capable ensembles around.