Season 4: The Most Re-watchable Season?

#1
I posted this on the Sopranos reddit the other day, but I thought this forum might appreciate my ramblings as well. It all came about, naturally, after I felt the urge to watch the low-key, underrated Season 4 episode Mergers and Acquisitions...

Whenever I re-watch a random Sopranos episode (at least a few times a month), there's a very good chance it will be from Season 4. Probably the most controversial season when it first aired, for many of the same reasons that I love it: it's slow, it's paced more like life, it's extremely character-driven instead of plot-driven, it's dark and gloomy and introverted, and it focuses more on Tony as just a guy with a lot of various stresses than Tony as a violent gangster. Despite the less action-packed nature of the season, there's so much subtext and connections and humor and character study, all subtle and more under the surface, which makes it especially conducive to multiple viewings. In fact, I didn't care much for most of the pre-Whoever Did This episodes of S4 until I saw them at least two or three times. (Then again, I still don't care for the misguided Christopher, which is my least favorite hour of the series and the only S4 episode that isn't great).

It makes sense that S4 is as (relatively) uneventful as it is. Shows in their middle years often coast by, unable to pull out their big dramatic trump cards until the last season or two but still needing to cook up something interesting enough to fill an hour. As a result, with S4 of The Sopranos (and many other shows), we get a season that's more like hanging out with the characters and exploring their psychology than it is watching them be badass narrative-driving pawns at the service of awesome explosive drama. Not that there aren't some explosive and awesome events in S4, but they're all built up to very, very carefully and deliberately and slowly. I love this kind of televisual style and vastly prefer it to the wham-bam, excessively plot-driven Scorsese-isms of Season 1. (I also like the way that S4 mixes the show's episodic, mini-movie style with its more linear, brick-by-brick style to create a perfect balance between the two -- instead of somewhat awkwardly alternating between self-contained episodes like College and episodes which only serve to advance season-long plot arcs).

Anyway, like I was saying, the great thing about this season is the way it explores these characters more deeply than ever before (and even after, with only perhaps 6A being so starkly interested in character over plot). For example, we saw Chris was a druggie in S3, but in small glances peripheral to the main action of the story. In S4 the show digs its claws deep into Chris's addiction and we get many ostensibly uneventful but very revealing scenes that show just how far he can slide before he hits the bottom. And likewise, in the first three seasons we saw that Carmella was an unhappy wife, herself addicted to wealth and a life of leisure but deep down disgusted at the means by which this is procured for her. But it's not until S4 that we get a season-long, slow-burn, incredibly powerful arc exploring her deepest fears and desires and sadness.

It's really amazing how different For All Debts Public and Private, the season opener, is just from the previous season. Already there is more time spent just "hanging out," more of a feeling that things are in decline, and more of a sense that the show is taking its time, in no big hurry. Some people don't like this, but I do, and I guess the main reason I love revisiting 4 so much in particular is because I love spending time in the Sopranos's world (as fucked up as it is), and so I tend to prefer those episodes which lavish the most time on that feeling of real-life, with all its drudgery, pain, boredom, cheap pleasures, and the occasional hard-earned victory.

Episodes like Bust Out, House Arrest, To Save Us All From Satan's Power, For All Debts Public and Private, Watching Too Much Television, Mergers and Acquisitions, Calling All Cars, Marco Polo, The Fleshy Part of the Thigh, The Ride, Kaisha, Remember When, Chasing It and even Made in America all brilliantly epitomize this sense of a series that's content to amble around in its own fully-realized world, where its characters, like real people, don't always have the most exciting lives, and are seldom able to make the right choice instead of the easy choice. That's part of what makes S4 interesting to me. (The other part is the inexplicably eerie and haunting atmosphere which kicks in during the back-half of Whoever Did This, goes into overdrive in the underrated, dream-heavy Calling All Cars, and remains gently in the background for the rest of the season).

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