In the first four seasons of HBO’s hit drama “The Sopranos,” Tony Soprano fought to gain power, fought harder to keep it, whacked friends and associates and occasionally let his emotions get in the way. The character is a deep and complex one — put simply, a mob boss who goes to a psychiatrist to help with depression and panic attacks. Viewers fear his rage, yet are drawn to his vulnerability. It’s this almost Victorian tension between his two halves that give the show its kick.
The family takes center stage in the fifth season, as Tony (James Gandolfini) struggles to salvage his failing marriage to his wife Carmela (Edie Falco), while also trying to remain neutral in a bloody New York power struggle. There’s a scene in the last episode of the season when Tony, in the fever of a tense situation, says to a fellow mobster, “What we are here for, in the end, is to put food on the table for our families, our sons, the future. That’s what’s important.” This simple premise works tremendously; the show recovered from its creative slump in the fourth season and rediscovers its can’t-take-your-eyes-off-the-screen brilliance.
Minor storyline advancement is the key to its success, as even small subplots are given plenty of time to develop on camera. The emotions in each scene are as real and as powerful as it can get for television, so when someone is murdered — always filmed brutally and beautifully — the impact always hits viewers. We’re all part of the family.
The 13 episodes, each with a distinctly cinematic feel, were seemingly made for DVD format, and when five commentary tracks from the directors and actors (minus Gandolfini, unfortunately) are thrown in, the package is everything a fan, or even a casual viewer, could want. The sixth season is scheduled to debut in March, but until then, this set is an offer that no television fan can refuse.
Show: 5 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 4 out of 5 stars
Features: 5 out of 5 stars