March 2, 2004
Return of the King

The Real Messiah: Tony Soprano and His disciples, (photo by Annie Leibovitz)

The Sopranos returns to HBO this Sunday. The show's been on hiatus for fifteen months, but returns just in time to save the world.

Maybe you've heard about the little culture war going on in America right now: frightening religious evangelism at the muliplexes, a bigoted election year proposal for a new Constitutional amendment , Clear Channel pulling Howard Stern from radio stations under pressure from the FCC, seemingly endless debate about a pop singer's exposed breast. What we need right now is something to unify us, something we can all get behind. The Sopranos may just be the thing.

What we also need is a strong leader, someone who understands the moral ambiguities of this world but has the clear(ish) vision to (mostly) know the difference between right and wrong and who even occasionally does the right thing. Someone who has a leadership philosophy personally cobbled together from Sun Tzu and "that book Prince Matchabelli," rather than handed to him by Karl Rove and Hop on Pop.

Re-enter Tony Soprano, and not a minute too soon.

Tony may seem like an unlikely hero, but who else do we have? (Superman? Guy's a total fuckin' square.) In Tony, we get a hero these times deserve: He's powerful, but gentle, decisive, but racked by insecurities. Tony's complicated, off-center sense of morality is the perfect antidote to the simplistic manichean world views of our elected officials and the supercilious 'talking heads' who attempt to contextualize them for us on TV.

Tony knows this world is fucked, which is why he feels it's up to each of us to define our own destinies. As he told his shrink in the first episode of the series "It's good to be in something from the ground floor. I came too late for that, I know. But lately I'm getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over."

If that's not a "God is dead" for our century, what is? (Ask Anthony, Jr. who said "God is dead" and he'll tell you "Nitsch".) Through his actions and the ways he deals with their consequences, Tony shows us that we all in our own ways upset the moral ecology: if there's a shit storm all around you, you better look in the mirror before you shake your fist at the sky.

With the return of The Sopranos, we'll all finally have something to talk about besides the election, terrorism, the economy, and conflicting interpretations of family values. (Well, those of us willing and able to pay for HBO, at least.) And Slate will bring back its panel of shrinks to analyze the show for us, instead of relying on pundits to read the entrails of the body politic. Soon, Tony and Carmela will return to magazine covers and supplant that other power-hungry dynastic clan. And what a great day that will be.

Besides, this culture war's gone on long enough, hasn't it? Let's bring on the entertainment. It's gotten to the point where no one can even remember why the war started in the first place. As Tony once said, "This whole war could have been averted. Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this."

That's almost a little kinda true, right?

The Sopranos airs Sunday at 9PM EST on HBO.

Posted in a Shallow fashion.

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