Swan Song

After nearly a two year break between the first half of season six and the last half, I feared that the voices of the Sopranos might have lost their full range and subtlety. I needn't have worried.

Last night's episode was about boundaries and borderlines, and crossing borders and boundaries: most of it was set on the shore of the lake house of Bobby and Janice (Bobby's a made member of Tony's crew and Janice is Tony's sister), very near the US Canadian border. Tony and his wife Carmela went up for the weekend to relax. (Big spoilers follow.)

To give you as sense of the density of the imagery and the narrative, let me give you one example: a hit was performed, the story of which crossed over and back and over again the boundary between family and the Family.

Tony and Bobby were meeting with Canadian mobsters who were going to provide them with expired prescription drugs to sell in th US. The Canadians offered to lower the price if the Americans would arrange a hit. It seems that the (sister??) of one of the mobsters was having relationship problems, and her boyfriend was going to take her child away from her. After the four mobsters wholesomely agree that it isn't right to take a baby from its mother, the Canadians inidcate that it would be very good indeed if the boyfriend could disappear. So, for the sake of business, Tony agrees to a do a personal hit.

And for the sake of personal matters, he assigns the business to Bobby. Earlier in the weekend, Bobby admits to Tony that he hasn't killed anyone yet--although he's come close--he'd been on the borderline. Bobby expressed relief that he had not yet crossed this moral boundary. This seems like a close moment--they're out in a rowboat on a lake, talking about life. But it is filled with tension for the viewer--brothers, and rowboats, and lakes are not a good combination. (Fredo and Michael--Godfather II).

Later in the weekend, the two have a blowup, over Bobby's defense of his wife against Tony's repeated insults, and it comes to blows--Bobby beats up Tony. Tony admits he went too far--he crossed a boundary.

But Bobby did too. As Janice tells her husband, as the boss, Tony can't let this challenge to his authority go unpunished. Yet as Janice's brother, he can't entirely disrupt family relations by killing him. So he makes use of the information he just gained, and assigns the hit to Bobby. He kills his soul, not his body-- if that boundary line even holds. Earlier in the their talk on the boat, a weary Tony indicates that he knows the odds aren't good: most people in their line of work end up in jail or in the undertaker's workroom.

Bobby knows he has no choice but to do the hit, if he is to preserve his family with Janice, as well as his status in the Family.

So after a brutal scene where he shoots the unsuspecting Canadian in a laundromat-- a man who will never be able to see his child again -- he goes back to the lake house and hugs his little daughter.

It's a brilliant riff on Godfather II-- the boat in the lake, the specter of one brother killing the other, and the line "It's not personal. It's just business."

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.

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