The Sopranos, Season 6, Part 1 is the most contentious release yet in the acclaimed series' history. While many fans think it jumped the shark at the exact moment Vito said "I love you, Johnny Cakes" , this season also contains some of the series finest moments and plumbs new depths of character, while continuing to add to the body count. Things get started with a bang, literally, that unexpectedly sends Tony (James Gandolfini) to the hospital and into a coma where he experiences an alternate reality while in limbo. At one point he awakes and asks "Who am I? Where am I going?" encapsulating this season's central theme in a moment of desperation wrapped in a fever dream. But it's not all existentialism. With Tony and Uncle Junior both of the picture, the capos in the Soprano crew try to take advantage of the situation and begin jockeying for position while a reluctant Silvio (Steve Van Zandt), acting in Tony’s place, struggles to keep everyone in check. Things aren’t going much better for Tony’s family, as A.J. (Robert Iler) confesses to Carmela (Edie Falco) that he flunked out of school, and while at Tony’s bedside, swears revenge for his injury. The stress of the situation finally gets to Carmela, who takes up Dr. Melfi’s (Lorraine Bracco) offer to help and finds herself in the strange position of confiding in her husband’s therapist, revealing for once that she feels some guilt over making the kids complicit in how Tony makes his living—plus there’s the issue of whether she really loves him. Christopher (Michael Imperioli) continues to provide much of the comic relief for the series, culminating in one of this season’s best episodes when he flies out to L.A. in a bumbling attempt to get Ben Kingsley to sign on for his fledgling movie (Saw meets The Godfather), and ends up mugging Lauren Bacall for her goodie basket at an awards ceremony. Sowing further discord in the ranks, Vito (Joseph Gannoscoli) finally gets outed as homosexual, and is forced to flee for his life up to New Hampshire where he meets "Johnny Cakes." Finally, even with New York boss Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni (Vince Curatola) in prison, Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) makes plays against Tony and eventually sets in motion a hit against someone on Tony’s crew, and now a larger war with Johnny Sack's crew seems to be looming.
Series creator David Chase seems to be saying with this season that character is destiny. If so, then Season Six, Part 1 is taking the necessary time to flesh out who these people really are, and is leaving the destiny part up for Part 2. The fact that the series’ writers have been able to maintain such a strong show with so many interweaving storylines for so long is a feat not to be taken lightly. That said, this season of The Sopranos does deserve some of the criticism it's received: the Vito storyline would have been better served by resolving it in fewer episodes, and the season ending is the most unsatisfying one yet, leaving many fans wanting more. But the bottom line is that this season deserves more praise than criticism, proving that even at its weakest, The Sopranos is still the strongest show on TV.
James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Tony Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, Robert Iler, Dominic Chianese, Aida Turturro