The Sopranos Season 2 Review
By Colin Hart
Season 2 of The Sopranos could be called a “Nothing Happens” season. Coming hot off the heels of season one’s action-packed success, the looser and more freewheeling pace may have initially appeared to betray its fanbase. Yet that’s not the case at all. In fact, The Sopranos was becoming more intricate and complex — examining its characters’ lives with flaring intensity.
However, the “Nothing Happens” moniker sticks. One of the best episodes of the season, “House Arrest,” is a somewhat self-aware ode to the idea of a plotless mob show. Elsewhere, various inconsequential standalones keep the season chugging along — Chrissy goes to Hollywood, the gang heads to Italy, Tony organizes an executive poker game, etc. Yet everything remains interesting and compelling due to the strong writing, top-rate acting and subtle psychological nuance.
Above all, however, season two is best remembered as The Sopranos‘ funniest chapter. The series can often double down as both great drama and great comedy, and nowhere is this more evident than in these thirteen installments. Almost every bit of dialogue is hilarious, containing darkly comic undertones.
Even though season two doesn’t quite reach the iconic emotional highs of season one, I was laughing my ass off the whole way through.
But perhaps saying “nothing happens in season two” is a bit unfair. There are plenty of memorable moments throughout the year. Then again, the overall plot largely has no meaning. The main antagonists from season one, Livia and Uncle Junior, are sidelined through unforeseen circumstances — Uncle Junior by house arrest, and Livia due to actress Nancy Marchand’s failing health.
Likewise, the major Mafia conflicts (Chris vs. Matt Bevilacqua/Sean Gismonte, Tony vs. Richie Aprile) are mainly a misdirect to distract us from what’s really going on — the realization that Tony’s best friend, Big Pussy, is an FBI informant.
The easygoing, welcoming nature of the first 12 episodes gives way to “Funhouse,” one of the most tragic (and most surreal) episodes in The Sopranos‘ catalogue. It’s a turning point in the show’s trajectory, signaling a forthcoming era of doom, darkness and bloodshed just around the corner.
Even still, the best arc of the season just might belong to Christopher Moltisanti, who suffers through a tragic existential crisis. His detour into acting in “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is the best standalone of the entire season, while his rejection of his scriptwriting dreams — seen at the ends of both “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “D-Girl” — are the most heartbreaking moments of the year.
While Chris will always be a personal favorite of mine, he won’t reach this level of likability ever again. This season — and Michael Imperioli’s impeccable acting, in particular — is why I rank the character so highly.
While season one dealt with Tony’s connections to his family, season two concerns itself with tracking the toxicity of Tony’s influence. The character of Janice, Tony’s sister, is the clearest convergence of these overarching themes.
All her life she’s rebelled against her Soprano genes — becoming a hippie, experimenting with drugs, moving to Seattle. However, the moment she comes back to New Jersey, she is quickly sucked back into the Soprano lifestyle. She even ends up killing her gangster fiancé.
Tony’s toxic influence is perfectly exemplified in the season’s beautiful closing montage — his influence is as damaging as it is far-reaching. From foreigners selling counterfeit calling cards on the streets, to the ominous waves crashing down on the shore, Tony has indirectly affected them all.
Despite the standalone nature of most of the episodes, season two comprises one larger whole, from opening montage to closing. As a singular work of art, it stands as another impressively-woven tapestry from series creator David Chase.
The story occurs during a relatively easygoing and carefree era of the Soprano regime, still in the throes of “the good times” that Tony alluded to at the end of season one. The laughs come hard and the stakes are low.
But as we see in the season finale, the dream is soon over. There’s darkness lurking just beneath the water.