“Long Term Parking” (season 5, episode 12; originally aired 5/30/2004)
In which Adriana comes clean
When does Adriana know she’s going to die? Is it when Silvio drags her out of the car, pulling her into the isolated woods, so she can crawl away from him pitifully? Is it when he pulls over, not at the hospital, but in the middle of nowhere? Is it on the car ride over there, when she hears him talking about how resilient Christopher is—and must realize on some level that he’s talking about how Christopher will be in the wake of her death, not after the foiled suicide attempt that was the excuse to get her in the car? Is it when Tony first calls her and tells her Sil is on his way to take her to the hospital? Is it when Christopher gets up and says he needs to clear his head before they make any big moves? Or is it when the FBI tells her it’s time to wear a wire or get Christopher to turn—or go to jail?
Or was she dead the second Christopher Moltisanti stepped into her life, the second she was born into a family wrapped up in this life?
There’s a hefty dose of fatalism running through The Sopranos. Things that happen here tug on webs that go back to before the series began. The reason Adriana dies is because she tries to get Christopher to turn on Tony, and he goes to Tony instead. The reason she needs to do that is because the FBI threatens her. The reason they do this is because she covered up for a murder committed by Matush, a guy who’s been lurking around the edges of the series for years now, someone that Christopher has always insisted was bad news. The things that destroy us are often the things we’re not really paying attention to, the stray flaws in the picture that only make us realize too late that we should have been paying closer attention.
Me, I think Adriana realizes what’s happening on that car ride to the woods. You see Drea de Matteo’s face, and there’s a moment where her tears switch over from tears for Christopher to tears for herself, for the life she’s never going to get to lead (even if that life might have involved getting fat and moon-faced or watching Christopher grow a horrifying mullet and mostly ignore their kids as they race through a gas station parking lot). I suspect that she knew all along this was one possible way this car trip would end. I expect that she knew fairly soon into it that option B—the one ending in her death—was a larger possibility than she wanted to admit. But there’s this moment of perfect, crystalline acting, when you can see the switch flip, and you can see she knows what’s about to happen.
There were shocking deaths on The Sopranos—Richie Aprile, for one—but one of the things I’ve always loved about the series’ biggest deaths was that the show was careful to portray the moments when those who died realized what was about to happen. Stretching all the way back to Big Pussy—whose agonized attempts to convince Tony to let him go on the boat grew more and more manic—the series has let us watch these people try to weasel their way out of a death they know is inevitable and perhaps knew was inevitable the moment they signed on for this voyage. Sometimes, it’s the “Oh, shit!” look in the eyes, like the one that Richie gets. Sometimes, it’s the growing horror that comes from being boxed in, like Ralphie before Tony vaults across the kitchen and beats him to death. And sometimes, it’s just a switch that flips, a kind of acceptance that this moment was always going to come.
“Long Term Parking” is my favorite episode of The Sopranos, and it’s one of the episodes I regularly cite when people ask me what my favorite TV episodes of all time are. I wouldn’t call it flawless—those “alt-universe” stand-ins for Christopher and Adriana at the gas station are a hair too obvious as a storytelling device—but the cumulative impact of the episode means that doesn’t matter. The autumnal feel of the first half, when you know something bad is about to happen to Adriana but not quite what and when you know that Tony’s going to have to find Tony B. and kill him, provides a brooding prologue to the second half, which begins with Adriana deciding to try to flip Christopher and ends with Tony and Carmela, sitting on the spot where she will build her spec house and launch her own real estate dreams, dreams Tony’s helping make a reality so he can get back in her good graces. I’d like to say that second half unfolds like a nightmare, but it’s too logical and ruthless for that. Instead, it unfolds like Act Three in a Shakespearean tragedy, the act when some of the supporting characters get bumped off and you realize just how fucked everybody in the play is.
I’ve talked a bit this season about the Shakespearean feel of season five, the sense that everybody is doomed not just by their own tragic flaws but by the tragic flaws of the man at the show’s center, but this is the episode that first solidified that belief for me. Here’s an hour of television where the show knocks off the woman who may be its most obviously sympathetic character (Melfi doesn’t appear—she rarely appears when Tony is doing things this awful). It would be a mistake to classify Adriana as innocent—she’s clearly culpable in the various bad things she’s done over the years, and she knows more than she lets on to the FBI. But she’s an innocent, someone who’s just a little bit naïve and lacks the sense of, say, Meadow, who ostensibly knows enough to flee this life. This life is all Adriana has ever known, and it’s all she will ever know, and even as she paints a vision for Christopher of the life they’ll lead together away from New Jersey, it seems like some part of her doesn’t really believe it, even as the rest of her is giving the hard sell.
From this point of view, what Tony does in this episode—from moving back in to his house to agreeing with John that Tony B. needs to be taken care of to ordering the hit on Adriana (presumably)—finally and definitively answers the question of whether he can be saved. “But we knew that already!” say those who find season five to be a season that’s mostly about killing time before the end game. And, yes, we did know that it was extremely unlikely that Tony Soprano would ever be “redeemed,” even in the slightest. Yet it’s easy to look at Tony—even in this episode, when he’s playing the good husband and father—and imagine that there’s something in there that might be worth preserving. But he’s also a man in a dangerous occupation who has to make tough choices, choices that will haunt those around him (as we can already tell from the way that Chris gets high after tattling on his now-dead fiancée and covering up her death) but choices that he will have to suppress. They’ll only come out in moments when his guard is down, when he’s trying to comfort his nephew and ends up shoving him around or when he’s out in the woods with his wife, looking at the place where her house will go. (I love the way the shots of the tops of the trees link Adriana and Tony—who’ve been linked a number of times this season—one last time. Adriana ascends; Tony descends.)
When I say, “Can Tony Soprano be saved?” what I mean isn’t whether he’ll be redeemed here and now. What I mean is something in a purer, more dramatic sense, where we have an idea that there was a time when all of this could be avoided, that this whole chain of events that ends with Adriana in that car, having the moment when she realizes everything’s about to go dark, could have been prevented somehow. Season five digs into that history, to show us where things went terribly, terribly sour and wrong, and to show us how they’ll never be set right. That’s why I think it matters that Adriana’s an innocent, someone whose death will cement for us just who these men are and what it is they do. We knew that before, but we rarely knew it as viscerally as we do now, and as she crawls away, we feel that sick anxiety in our guts, just as we do when Tony B. calls his cousin from the bar and Tony traces the call, or as we do when Tony enters the Soprano house and drops all of his bags. We know where all of this is going, but that doesn’t make it any less horrifying.
That’s, ultimately, what I mean by Shakespearean in describing this show. When Hamlet or King Lear or Romeo And Juliet begins, all of the things that will doom everybody are present on stage, and we get a sense—through the soliloquies, usually—of just how things got to be this rotten and how there’s pretty much no way out. And we know where these stories are going, and we’re powerless to stop that procession, regardless of how much we might want to. A Shakespearean tragedy like The Sopranos becomes fascinating in the way a car wreck is fascinating. We watch because there’s nowhere else to look, even as what we’re seeing is tearing us up inside. From the second that the FBI looks at that footage of Adriana digging something back out of the trash that she put in there to begin with—the image that opens the episode—we know she’s screwed. We’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The Sopranos used this sense of inevitability—of fate—as well or better than any other drama series in history. (Really, only The Wire can compete, much as I love my beloved Deadwood.) Tony Soprano is like a walking prophecy of doom. He’s an interesting protagonist, and he can be a fun guy to hang out with. He can seem like a good husband or a good father or a good friend. But ultimately, when he enters your life, something bad will almost certainly happen to you, no matter how much you try to negotiate a truce with him. He’ll say all the right things—sure, I’ll stop sleeping around. He’ll even do the right things up to a point—though the scene where he breaks up with his girlfriend is hilarious for how poorly he goes about it. But sooner or later, everything will go a little bit dark, and things will turn just a few degrees off, and you’ll realize how trapped you were the first time you met him, even if it was only for a few moments. That’s an idea season five comes back to, again and again, but it resonates most powerfully here, in that link between Tony and Adriana (and in Tony B.’s inability to simply stay away.) Tony may want to be a good man somewhere deep down—he confesses to Tony B. about where he was the night Tony B. got sent away—but he doesn’t really possess the capacity. That dooms him. That dooms everybody around him.
So that leaves Adriana, in a car, somewhere on the highway in the wooded landscapes of New Jersey. The leaves are falling, and a song about California’s on the radio, and she’s imagining a point where she simply skipped town, ditched the two warring factions in her life that almost never saw her as a human being. (The mobsters, ultimately, treat her more warmly than the FBI does, on average.) She looks out the window, and she thinks back on everything that led to this point, all of the moments in her life that got her into this car, with the man rambling endlessly about how her fiancé is going to bounce back. And she knows. And it all blows away like ashes.
- I was originally going to make the image immediately above the main image for the article, since it’s haunted me since I first saw the episode, but I couldn’t go with something other than Adriana. So you get two pictures this week. For the price of one!
- John and Little Carmine reach a peace treaty offscreen, one that leaves John as the sole boss of New York. He immediately starts trying to change things with Tony—meeting as they normally do is now undignified—and he doesn’t want Tony handling Tony B. Tony’s having none of it, giving Johnny the ol’ “Fuck you.”
- For some reason, a number of fans believed that Adriana had survived Silvio shooting her because it happened offscreen. For any of you watching this for the first time, sorry if you find this a “spoiler,” but she’s dead. I don’t see how anyone could conclude otherwise.
- I noted this back in the “Speaking With The Fishes” section on “All Happy Families… ” but Adriana’s death here perfectly mirrors that of Lorraine in that episode. Go back and watch and see the foreshadowing being planted.
- Apparently, this episode originally included a scene where Christopher told Tony about Adriana. It was cut by David Chase at the behest of Steven Van Zandt and Drea de Matteo, in order to preserve the suspense of the sequence with the two in the car.
- “Cold Cuts” comes up a couple of times, the ribbing Christopher took in that episode driving him to the point where he seems as if he might break with Tony (feeding Adriana’s false hope) and the phone call Tony B. places to Tony placing him in Kinderhook.
- I’ve always found Shawn Smith’s “Wrapped In A Memory” to be one of the series’ greatest musical choices, particularly the way it comes in as the leaves fall around the reunited Soprano couple.
- Phil’s behavior at the meeting with Tony—particularly after we see the flashback to Billy’s death—always strikes me as a bit odd. He doesn’t seem all that angry, considering what’s happened, just a little miffed, and I know Phil’s capable of more than that.
- Chris’ “last chance power drive” reference is one of my favorite jokes in the series.
- Finally, if you haven’t voted in the poll that will name the next series I’m covering between seasons of this show, do so today. It closes at midnight Central!
Speaking With The Fishes (spoilers):
- Adriana becomes one of the series’ more important “ghosts,” popping up in season six to make Carmela really think about her choices and also clearly haunting Christopher (though we never see such a thing).
- Chris’ drinking and heroin use here presage his fall back into addiction in season 6A.
- The shots of the treetops in this episode always resonate for me with a very similar shot in Tony’s purgatory journey. I’ll try to remember to bring it up when we get there.
Next week: We reach the end of the season with “All Due Respect,” and we take a long break.