I watched this episode once, thought about it, slept on it, and then I woke up this morning -- as they say -- and had so many ideas about it that I came downstairs at 5 a.m. so I could watch it again on the "on demand" channel. I felt pretty sure that Tony had died in the episode, because of the way it ended with him standing in a landscape, staring at the sun and screaming "I get it!" But at what point does he die? When do we shift from life to afterlife? I'm drafting this post as I re-watch with lots of pausing and rewinding, but this isn't pure simulblogging. I go back and rewrite, as this sentence shows.
The episode is titled "Kennedy and Heidi." Heidi and Kennedy are, most conspicuously, the two girls in the car that Christopher swerves around as he loses control of his SUV. Kennedy, the passenger, asks if they should go back and help, but Heidi refuses because she's driving after dark on a learner's permit. Why do their names belong in the title to this episode where the central occurrence is Tony's murdering Christopher after the car crash?
Kennedy is an evocative name, and in earlier episodes Tony has shown an interest in President Kennedy. (He owns the dead President's hat.) Later in the episode, at Christopher's viewing in the funeral home, someone comments that his widow has adopted the Jackie Kennedy look. But why Heidi? If it's the character Heidi from the novel "Heidi," the reference is to a young girl who is so optimistic and good-hearted that she brings an isolated, mean old man back into the community. Our car-driving Heidi is all cold-hearted selfishness, so maybe it means that absolutely nobody is good in this damned world anymore, and nobody can ever save the horrible, nihilistic Tony.
Before the crash, Christopher is driving his SUV -- he's the driver, thus corresponding to Heidi -- and he's having a conversation with Tony -- who as the passenger, could be said to be the Kennedy. (Maybe he'll get shot in the head in the end.) They're having a conversation about a deal with Phil over the disposal of asbestos. This episode began -- and it will (almost) end with a garbage truck dumping asbestos waste. The conversation has a philosophical dimension. Tony doesn't want to cave to Phil's demand because life isn't worth living if you have to bend over for people. Chris thinks that in life you need to "smell the roses," and this moves Tony to concede that some battles aren't worth fighting. Then Chris mentions his daughter, and Tony reverts to bitterness and says that Phil would take those roses and stick them up your ass.
Chris puts the soundtrack from "The Departed" into the player, and the song is "Comfortably Numb" -- a song about using drugs as an escape. Tony glances over at Chris a few times as though he's trying to see if he may be using drugs again. He lets his suspicion show when he asks Chris how that party was the other day. The crash follows.
After the long, sickening roll downhill, Chris, pinned behind the steering wheel, confesses that he won't pass the drug test, so Tony now knows Chris is back to his drug problem. Tony gets out of the car and comes around and breaks the window to reach Christopher. He starts to call 911, then changes his mind and holds Chris's nose until he drowns in the blood that had been flowing out of his mouth. In the middle of the grim, silent killing -- couldn't Tony at least have said I'm sorry I have to do this? -- Tony looks up at the highway as a car goes by and its headlights pulse in the same mysteriously symbolic way that a light kept pulsing in the long coma-dream sequence in the second episode of Season 6. I think the pulse of light is the instant of Christopher's death.
Once Chris is dead, we get water imagery: It starts to rain, and Tony, calling 911, gives the locations as "Old Pumping Station Road, next to the Resevoir." Later in the episode, there will be more light and more water.
At the hospital, Tony's lying on a gurney in the hall, near Christopher's body bag -- we see the "Cleaver" hat next to it -- so this may suggest that Tony himself is dead. But I don't think so, because we also see Carmela at home, getting the phone call from him.
Now, there is a visit with Dr. Melfi and Tony is expressing happiness about Chris's death. "He was a tremendous drag on my future." But this turns out to be a dream. After checking with Carmela that he wasn't talking in his sleep, Tony goes downstairs, finds the "Cleaver" mug and hurls it across the swimming pool -- the central water symbol of the whole "Sopranos" series. The mug -- which represented Chris's hatred of Tony -- lands in the underbrush. We understand Tony's motivation for the murder fully at this point. Had Christopher lived, the drug test would caused the FBI to swoop in on him, and he would have betrayed Tony.
There is some question about whether and at what point Christopher wanted to die. Did he crash the car intentionally because he realized that Tony knew he was back on drugs and that Tony would want to kill him? Did he confess openly after the crash to offer himself up for the killing he knew Tony had in store for him? Why suffer the pain of his injuries and try to live only to die soon enough? His final words were "Call me a taxi." Is a taxi a symbol of death? There's "Death Cab for Cutie."
Bad girl Cutie, what have you done?And there's Joni Mitchell:
Baby, don't do it
Slipping, sliding down on Highway 31.
Baby, don't do it
The traffic lights change from green to red.
They tried to stop but they both wound up dead.
Death cab for Cutie
Death cab for Cutie
Late last nightPresumably, that's Long Term Parking.
I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone?
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Carmela makes Tony a cup of coffee with that expensive expresso machine Paulie gave her in the April 22 episode. Tony says "It's good." At least something is good. They have a conversation that brings out the mother theme. (I note that Paulie's aunt/mother Nucci also dies in this episode, and there's a fair amount of childish whining by Paulie on the subject.) Carmela, crying over Christopher's death, says that when Tony was in the hospital -- back during that coma-dream -- "It was Christopher who held me." This mother-son image prompts Tony to bring up the baby seat in the SUV after the crash. It had a tree limb in it, so if the baby had been in the car, it would have been "mangled beyond recognition." Carmela stomps off, and Tony is left holding out his empty arms toward her in a way that says this boy has no mother.
The following scene is Tony's real session with Melfi, and he's talking about mothering. He's disgusted that Christopher's mother is showing up now and soaking up all the sympathy, when she didn't mother him well during his life. He says, "I hand carried him through the worse crisis he ever had." "Hand carried" is an odd expression, but it conveys the image of a mother carrying a baby. Of course, it's completely ridiculous for Tony to think he ought to be getting the sympathy when he's the murderer. Tony thinks Chris was ungrateful, that his hand carrying only inspired hate. Well, yeah. It consisted of offing Adriana.
This sequence of mother-themed scenes culminates in a gathering of various mothers in the Soprano living room. Tony wanders out of his bedroom and looks down on them from the upstairs railing. Christopher's baby is there. Christopher's mother says: "She doesn't know. Isn't God wonderful that way?" Christopher's wife pulls out her large breast and as the baby takes it, Tony snaps open the cell phone. He's calling some guy in Las Vegas. "I need a suite." The guy offers a plane too. Enough of the female. Bring on the phallic symbol. Escape from the family sphere into the realm of sin.
On the phallic plane, he looks out on the clouds. Is he dead now? I wonder. There's a quick but surreal-looking drive through a tunnel, which also gets me speculating. He arrives at Caesar's Palace. He plays roulette once, loses, gets up, and we see him eating in restaurant alone. It's all very quiet. Deathlike?
Cut to AJ's classroom. The lovely teacher's lesson is about Wordsworth. "'The world is too much with us.' Later, he invokes nature again. Why such strong words against the material world?" Cut to Tony in a lounge chair by the glitzy Roman-themed pool at Casear's. Water again. Water is death. The camera wheels around him, and we notice the incline of his head, propped up on a folded up towel. It mirrors Christopher's head angled up on the casket pillow. So is Tony dying now? Or is he still in the material world?
We see Tony driving past a sign for the Tropicana and the Folies Bergere. Then, he's in a hallway, where he transfers a wad of cash to his back pocket. He's going to see a woman who is never named -- except in the credits (as Sonya Aragon) -- and that money is the tip that she's a prostitute. But she did know Chris, and she's somewhat sad to hear he's dead. She asks how long Tony's going to be in town, and he says -- seeming to speak more generally of life itself -- that he doesn't know. He's playing it as it goes.
After a scene with Anthony and his friends beating up a young man, mainly because he's black, we see Tony driving through a tunnel again and then having sex with the woman who is never called Sonya. She offers him "paranoid free" marijuana. He takes it. She says, "Chris loved to party." Tony's all, "What's your point?" And she's says: "So much for paranoid free." Why is she comparing him to Chris? He wants to know. She tells him that Chris said sad things, but Tony seems really sad. He asks about peyote. Chris had talked about taking peyote with her. When he says "Why the f*ck am I here?" she thinks he means he wants to take peyote to get at the meaning of life, but he says "I mean Vegas."
AJ goes to his psychiatrist twice in this episode. The first time, he's doing well, even interested in school. That goes with the Wordsworth scene. In the second visit, after the attack on the black man, he's become completely nihilistic: "Everything is so f*cked up." Absurdly invoking Rodney King, he adds "Why can't we all just get along?"
Now, we see Tony taking the peyote with Sonya. Of course, he's got to vomit. Not only is peyote famous for causing vomiting, but "The Sopranos" is famous for vomiting scenes. Tony vomited in this one, and, in this one, Adriana performs "the best projectile vomiting scene in the history of television." After the peyote vomit, Tony collapses against an ugly patterned towel that clashes nauseatingly with his jagged patterned shirt. He stares up at the light fixture. There's the light! Is it death now?
Tony and Sonya are walking in the hotel lobby, across the shiny patterned floor. There's a slot machine with the word "Pompeii" on it to remind us of death and destruction. Then Tony is staring at a cartoon devil face on one of the machines. But, really, is he in hell finally? Now, he's staring at the roulette wheel and observing: "It's the same principle as the solar system." Does that make this the afterlife? He keeps winning. That's not the way real life goes. The croupier looks somewhat like Christopher. There's a strange white chip held in a vertical position on a glass cube. Are there really chips like this or is this more proof we are not looking at the real world? The chip seems to signify a communion wafer. Tony starts laughing a lot and says, "He's dead." He falls on the floor laughing. We're look down on him. Is he dead now?
Perhaps symbolizing the disposal of his evil body, the garbage truck full of asbestos waste backs up to the edge of the Jersey swampland and dumps. More water.
And now Tony and Sonya are hanging out peacefully, tripping on the sunrise in a beautiful -- unearthly? -- landscape. It was filmed in Red Rock Canyon, I see in the credits, so the place is really there, outside Las Vegas. Sonya is in a motionless trance. Tony is squinting toward the sun. As it rises above the canyon edge, it pulses in a burst of light that chimes with the headlight on the highway and all those lights in the coma-dream.
"I get it" he says quietly, standing, then once again, he stretches out his arms out. He yells -- and the canyon echoes -- "I get it." Surely, at this point, he is dead.
I see that over on Television Without Pity, there's talk that the entire episode was a dream. The episode begins and (almost) ends with a big truck dumping powdery contents, ostensibly asbestos, but also symbolizing the cocaine that caused Christopher's downfall, and perhaps representing the sleep of a dream.
The only part of the episode that is outside of the garbage truck brackets is Tony, at the canyon edge, getting it. Conceivably, Tony was asleep and dreaming throughout the episode, and the final dump of the toxic waste into the swamp was the point where he died in his bed like a good old godfather. The waste went down as the sun came up. He gets it as he passes into the infinite. The dream -- if that's what it was -- contained many indications of his death, but he was still alive and merely approaching his death. It is only when the sun bursts in the end and he shouts "I get it" that he dies.
We shall see this Sunday, if Carmela discovers his dead body in the bed.
ADDED: That powdery asbestos drifting off the garbage truck in the beginning and at the end represent the funereal line: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."