“He killed sixteen Czechoslovakians. Guy was an interior decorator.”

Hmm:

“Who gives a shit about this Russian?” David Chase says. The creator of The Sopranos has never understood his audience’s fascination with Valery, the Russian mobster who disappeared in the legendary “Pine Barrens” episode. It was a one-off story that needed no closure, Chase says now. He recalls thinking, “We did that show! I don’t know where he is! Now we’ve got to go and figure that out?!?!”

Terence Winter, who wrote “Pine Barrens” and many of the series’ other memorable outings, agreed with the fans on this one, much to Chase’s frustration, and kept pushing his boss to add a coda to that story in The Sopranos’ final season. They finally hit on an idea everyone would be happy with: Tony and Christopher pay a visit to the local Russian mob boss, where they find Valery sweeping the floor, not recognizing Christopher thanks to a traumatic brain injury suffered when Chris and Paulie were shooting at him. (It would be explained that a local Boy Scout troop found him with part of his skull missing, and saved his life.) At the last minute, Chase changed his mind, and he recalls a despondent Winter insisting, “God, you’re making a huge mistake leaving that on the table!”

Isn’t Chase obviously right here? Much better to leave the story of Valery open than wrap it up with that kind of cheesy, implausible conclusion. (For the same reason, I’m on the side that thinks the concluding sequence was brilliant.)

While we’re here, Sepinwall claims on another issue that people in my camp on another issue (like James Wolcott) are unreasonable:

The people in the Tony Dies camp aren’t being unreasonable in the way that, say, the people who said The Sopranos had no business doing dream sequences were.

“No business?” Well, I don’t know what that means — there are no rules per se, and in the unlikely event that you come up with a dream sequence that’s good, by all means proceed. But while other people might cite the didacticism of “Christopher” or the soulful Furio of season 4, the brutal truth the dream sequences were the low points of the series. And it’s not just that the widely (and correctly) derided dream sequence that wasted much of the first quarter of Season 6 was boring and pretentious in itself, but it led to exactly the kind of trite payoff that Chase made one of the greatest television shows ever by avoiding. And the same thing is true of the first extended dream sequence in Season 5; it wasn’t quite as terrible in itself but still led up to the tidy resolution of a question about Tony’s high school trauma that was never interesting in the first place. We can argue about whether it was a good idea to try the dream sequences, but they certainly didn’t work on any level.

33 comments on this post.
  1. Sherm:

    Really? His house looked like shit.

  2. rea:

    I woke up this morning, and President Al Gore stepped out of the shower . . . 2000-2012 was all a dream!

  3. Scott Lemieux:

    We should have stopped at Roy Rogers.

  4. Sherm:

    And I should have fucked Dale Evans.

  5. Jesse Levine:

    I thought the Bracco rape story would be followed up.

  6. daveNYC:

    I thought a lot of stuff would be followed up on. Having a pissed off Russian killing machine running around the middle of nowhere Jersey would have been an awesome story hook.

  7. Lev @ LibraryGrape.com:

    Mostly agree, though the Kevin Finnerty dream/purgatory sequence at least was very thematically relevant–Season 6.1 essentially asked if Tony could change and make up for his wrongs, and while trying to make amends for ripping off some monks in a dream may not have been the best way to explore the idea, it was a setup for the rest of what the show dealt with. The flash of light at the end of it is mirrored when Tony goes to Vegas and does some drugs, when he essentially gives up on trying to be a better person.

    The season five dream sequence, though, doesn’t much tie into anything. It’s just a lot of on-the-nose, not terribly dreamlike free associations that lead to an unremarkable Freudian conclusion that I don’t think has a whole lot to do with anything.

  8. Lev @ LibraryGrape.com:

    That would have been a mistake. There was nothing more to say about it by the end of the episode. The only way she could have gotten back at the guy would have been to tell Tony, and after she didn’t tell him, there was no more story.

  9. Anon21:

    Yeah, I hated the dream sequences. Maybe I’m just not wired to respond to metaphors and imagery, but give me literal, grounded storytelling any day of the week.

  10. Chuchundra:

    The thing about The Sopranos is that almost nothing ever got followed up and it became more and more annoying as the show wore on. Chase became more and more interested in navel-gazing nonsense and even less interested in telling any kind coherent story, all of it culminating in the giant F-U to the show’s fans in the series finale.

    To take Pine Barrens as an example, I was interested in the followup for two main reasons. The Russian is an interesting character. He’s funny (I wash my balls in ice water!) and one of the rare non-mob characters to seriously threaten the Jersey crew. But, more importantly, I want to see the consequences of Paulie’s poor decisions. First to try and kill the guy in the first place and then to let such a dangerous adversary go because he wanted to go home and get warm.

    Actions have consequences, except in The Sopranos.

  11. dan:

    I always assumed that everyone took it for granted that the guy died. Interesting that people believe that the guy could have survived and not done anything in retribution.

  12. Njorl:

    Dream sequences? That’s personal. They shoulda kept it strictly business.

  13. mark f:

    And Chase went on to make what looks like a pretty good piece of light nostalgia.

    Winter went on to make a piece of crap.

  14. charles:

    Fucking Rasputin this guy.

  15. Clark:

    I thought the Test Dream ran a little long, but had no problem with the others. I also thought the ending was great.

  16. Substance McGravitas:

    I’m usually annoyed by dream sequences but in The Sopranos it helped serve a humanizing function. It’s useful to have killer mobsters dream like the rest of us.

  17. daveNYC:

    Thing was the guy had shown himself to be such a bad mofo that I (and probably some others) assumed that he was still alive. Hard to kill was one of the characters defining traits, so to just kind of have him kinda-sorta die off camera was weak.

  18. Jay B.:

    I didn’t mind the Russian loose end, but since the entire series ended on a loose end without really addressing dozens of other loose ends, I guess that’s the point. You could kind of see how this was going after the brilliant first two seasons — the writers were drunk with the ideas of possibility, which is a good thing overall for “art”, but not always for storytelling. They fell in love with the fact that they could literally do anything — Ooooh! We can totally have a mob douchebag anti-hero have an epically long dream sequence! Let’s run with it! How about we end it without an ending, that would blow minds — and let the threads get thinner and thinner. When they tried to clean up some of the story lines in the later seasons, some of the resolutions felt too pat or forced, like killing off Christopher to end several other loose ends. I think, and I might be wrong, they just got lost in all honesty. They were able to get away with whatever they wanted in terms of narrative and convention and I don’t blame them for wanting to do it. It just made for some less-than-satisfying resolutions.

  19. TT:

    Taken together, the first two seasons are a work of art. Then over the final five seasons Chase decides to

    1) Slowly render Uncle Junior irrelevant via dementia, thus negating one of the two or three best characters in the whole show.
    2) Make Paulie into this dark and scheming sociopath, which paradoxically makes him much less interesting.
    3) Have Furio become Mr. Sensitive before shipping him back home–unforgivable, since that character’s personal force and brutality is his most compelling attribute.
    4) Try and make you care about Christopher vs. Paulie, which ends up being an irritant more than anything else. And it’s not nearly as consequential or compelling as Tony vs. Ralph, Tony vs. Johnny or, above all, Tony vs. Junior and Tony vs. Richie. (David Proval was simply awesome in Season 2.)

    Not saying the show didn’t have some terrific moments after the first two seasons, but there was a noticeable drop-off in the quality of storytelling.

  20. JREinATL:

    Except that sometimes actions don’t have consequences, or the consequences end up being pretty boring. That’s what Chase was interested in, IMO.

  21. JREinATL:

    I think Alan’s point was that some fans took the position that dream sequences simply should not be on a mob show, because the only thing that should be on mob shows are mobsters killing other mobsters. And boobies.

  22. JREinATL:

    And also, fuck HBO and Warner Bros. for not having the entire series out on Blu-ray yet.

  23. JREinATL:

    Get Rich or Die Tryin’?

  24. dan:

    My recollection was that he was a minor, one-off character. So he may have had a reputation for being tough among the other characters, but that doesn’t establish him. Anyway, isn’t one of the points of the show that, no matte how tough you act or what your reputation is, you can be killed?

  25. Scott Lemieux:

    Right, and on that I would agree. The problem was in the execution.

  26. Reasonable 4ce:

    They should have called the tittie bar Bada Boom instead of Bada Bing.

  27. mark f:

    Correction: Winter went on to make (at least) two pieces of crap.

  28. Anon21:

    Maybe that’s part of it, too. I very rarely remember my dreams, so dream representations on screen tend to be more alienating than relatable.

  29. Pinko Punko:

    I thought the dreams that I did see were OK. Point was Tony was a monster but a human monster, otherwise he wouldn’t be interesting. Sometimes the boring episodes are actually important because the randomness and unpredictable rhythm of the show is what made the tension work. It was never clear what was going to be important and for a show that delivered as much as it did, the occasional thing that didn’t go anywhere is a good price to pay.

  30. Decrease Mather:

    To answer Scott’s original question, yes, that conclusion sounds terrible.

  31. andrew long:

    Well if you’re gonna have a show about a mob boss in psychoanalysis, it’s gonna be pretty dumb if you don’t incorporate his dreams into your story. Also, it allows you to dramatize important aspects of Tony’s psyche, rather than rely too heavily on exposition. I think the dreams were a foundational necessity.

  32. nixnutz:

    For those of us who were watching during the first run I think it’s difficult or impossible to judge the decisions they made in the last couple seasons without the huge effect of the fact that they were spread out over a period close to five years (counting from the end of season four).

    I would have been more willing to indulge a multi-episode dream arc–or the adventures of Vito in Vermont–from a regular 22-episodes-every-calendar-year kind of series. The Sopranos was at a point where it needed to be improving to create a really great cohesive whole and it didn’t feel like they were doing that to me.

    I wonder whether someone coming to it fresh, as a finished piece, would feel differently.

  33. djangermats:

    You’re not supposed to bada-boom in a titty bar. They throw you out for that kind of thing

Leave a comment

You must be