With Paulie in jail, Christopher becomes acting capo. Junior faces a RICO trial while Tony finds that the recession affects his businesses. Meanwhile, Furio catches Carmela’s eye, and Janice sets her sights on Bobby.
Year 3, Show #1, Season #4 (Total Shows—1, Total Seasons—4)
THE GOOD: By this point, it’s season four of The Sopranos and it doesn’t make much sense for me to keep reiterating the three main components as to what makes this show so consistently great: the characters, the inside look at a New Jersey crime family, and the idiosyncrasies of an Italian-American family. All three remain just as detailed and authentic as they have in the past three seasons. Instead of beating that horse to death, I’m going to focus on some other elements that made season four entertaining to watch.
For TV shows so far, I’ve refrained from focusing too much on a singular episode, but in season four, “Whitecaps”, the season finale, demands special recognition. It is easily my favorite episode of the series so far (it’s listed as numbers 3 and 4 on Entertainment Weekly and TIME’s lists) and it really stands out from all the others for one scene in particular. The amount of raw emotion that both Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Carmela Soprano (Edie Falco) are able to express is stunning. For four seasons now we’ve seen Tony go on his many escapades with his goumares (mistresses) and Carmela sit back with very little to say, or do, in response. There was that almost affair between Carmela and Father Intintola (Paul Schulze) in season one, and between her and the wallpaper guy in season two, and couple of small fights between her and Tony, but nothing really substantial, and nothing ever went anywhere. In “Whitecaps”, this animosity Carmela has been brooding towards her husband finally reaches a boiling point and we get four plus years of repressed rage and frustration.
I know it’s always hard to tell someone just to stick with a show because it shows promise, or that something will happen eventually. Many people, rightly so, want something tangible each season that they can sink their teeth into, follow, and react to along the way. While The Sopranos does have a lot to offer in terms of tangible elements of entertainment, both season one and now season four fall into the other category: wait long enough and something good might eventually happen. Season one proved to be a solid building block for the seasons that followed and also provided many interesting conclusions at its finale. Season four is a bit different though. The whole first part of this season regresses back from the steps forward the show made, back to wandering around for ten episodes. But I can truthfully say, that it’s all worth it to see everything come to a close in “Whitecaps”. This season finale is what I was alway expecting this show to be like and finally answers several nagging story lines that had been building for four seasons. Again, I know it’s hard to hear that everything will turn out good in the end, but “Whitecaps” is the epitome of this show so far and it’s worth trudging through the first twelve episodes this season just to get to the finale.
THE BAD: Season three has been the only one to receive a perfect rating so far and my reasoning for that was because they chose to focus on family. Family means much more to The Sopranos than just the fact that it’s about the mafia (often referred to as a family). Family is a quality and theme that’s inherent to this show and is really at the heart of what makes it so great. However, season four seemed to take the complete opposite approach to that and instead focused on business and money. For the first three seasons, there was always the presence of those two, more so as the show went on and we started seeing the effects of several of the mafia’s operations. But in season four, business and money are the primary focuses to the detriment of the good parts to the show.
Artie’s (John Ventimiglia) foray into the business, the HUD scam, and real estate ventures among others are all interesting, but they don’t really give us a better look into the characters individually or as a collective. Contrast this with the one business venture that was done right this season: Pie-O-My, a racing horse that Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano) buys. The horse isn’t just about making money. Yes, as far as the horse is concerned, that is its purpose, but for us, the horse brings about certain changes in Tony, Ralph, and other members of the family. The horse means more to the show than just a bottom line. Because of the horse, we see more of Tony’s loving and caring side while also seeing the ruthlessness that can drive him to do horrible things at the same time. Things like this are missing from the HUD scam which cousin Brian Cammarata (Matthew Del Negro) introduces through speculation or any of the other ventures that are part of season four.
The whole issue about the lack of money because of the recession (the early 2000s one) and Tony needing to hide the money from Carmela also detracted from this season. While this did end up playing a role in the wonderful “Whitecaps” finale, the amount of unnecessary attention it received really hurt the show. It’s not the focus on the money issues that was the problem with this season, but it was the disconnect between the problems and what was done about them. With both the ventures I mentioned before and Carmela’s worries about not having enough money, the problems are both valid and are interesting to watch unfold. By separating it from the outcomes though (things like the fight in “Whitecaps”, bringing cousin Brian on board to help with family finances, and the sit-downs with Carmine Lupertazzi (Tony Lip) in New York) the result seems unintentional and mistaken. You do have enough information to connect the dots and make sense of what does go on in season four, but it’s so roundabout that it removes any entertainment value from it. This isn’t about some mystery that’s fun to think about and try to solve yourself; this is about making easy connections for the mundane occurrences so that we don’t have to divert our attention from more important issues.
THE TAKEAWAY: Season four of The Sopranos takes a few steps backward, losing it’s focus on family to instead divert our attention to money and business ventures. It makes most of the season painful to watch because most events seem pointless and add very little to the characters or the show. However, the season finale “Whitecaps” negates most of that ill-will and is really the epitome of the show. It brings several long-running pieces to a breaking point and the result is the most explosive, emotional, and all-around jaw dropping episodes of the series so far.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5