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HBO presents
The Sopranos: The Complete Fifth Season (2004)

"You don't want it to get ugly? Too late."
- Tony (James Gandolfini), speaking with his wife about their impending divorce

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: July 07, 2005

Stars: James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli, Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico, Robert Iler, Jamie-Lynn Di Scala, Drea de Matteo, Aida Turturro, John Ventimiglia, Vincent Curatola, Steven R. Schirripa, Katherine Narducci, Steve Buscemi
Other Stars: Robert Loggia, Peter Bogdanovich, Lawrence Taylor, Bernie Brillstein, Leon Wieseltier, David Lee Roth, David Straitharn, Tim Daly
Director: Tim Van Patten, Alan Taylor, John Patterson, Rodrigo Garcia, Allen Coulter, Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Buscemi, Mike Figgis

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 11h:45m:42s
Release Date: June 07, 2005
UPC: 026359230028
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

For diehard fans, the agonizing lags between seasons can sometimes make it feel like Halley's Comet comes around more often than new episodes of The Sopranos. But nothing good comes easy, and these hours with the family are worth the wait; in fact, the extended hiatuses may account for the intelligence and energy of the show. It's lost nothing on its fastball after five years—many articles about the show's alleged decline and renaissance feel like pieces written either to gin up some phony controversy or to fill up column inches at an editor's behest, or both. It's really as good a show as has ever been produced for television, and not just because of profanity, sex and violence; there's something almost novelistic in the multidimensionality of the show's many characters, and that's what makes these episodes hold up well under repeated viewings.

An episode guide follows, filled with some random ruminations on the show and its evolution. You may recall that when last we left the Sopranos, Tony had moved out of the house, Adriana had become a reluctant Fed informer, Uncle Junior was under house arrest, and Janice was busy consoling the recently widowed Bobby. If you're unfamiliar with the series, it is best to start at the beginning, and well worth your time; also, the comments below blow the surprises of just about every plot element of the season. You have been warned.

Disc One

Episode 1: Two Tonys

At the end of Season Four, the marriage of Tony and Carmela was dealt so many searing blows that it's no surprise to find that Tony isn't living in the Soprano manse; as in the openings of past seasons, the newspaper gets delivered at the end of the drive, but here it's only Meadow's dinged-up car there to greet it. The truly horrific revelation of the episode comes early on: Tony's craftily opportunistic sister Janice has convinced bereaved widower Bobby Bacala to marry her, and now she's a stepmother hosting an unintentional parody of the family Sunday night dinner. (Canned soup?) The episode does well with its introductions—principally here of Feech, an old-time gangster just out of the stir, played by Robert Loggia—and its reintroductions, when, for instance, Tony catches a bit of The Prince of Tides while channel grazing, which strikes him as good a reason as any to reconnect with Dr. Melfi. Also notable here are the simmering tensions between Christophuh and Paulie—they may disagree with one another, but they're of one mind when it comes to handling a waiter who complains about his tip: shoot him.

It's a pleasure to welcome them back, and this episode assures us that we're in good hands this season—it rates four handguns on our five-handgun scale, because that's our Second Amendment right. You got a problem with that?

Episode 2: Rat Pack

Self-inflicted wounds are sure to be the family's undoing, and nearly everybody in Tony's world is talking to the Feds—most prominently, Adriana, Chrissy's affianced, continues her reluctant work as an FBI informant. (Not to telegraph too much, but once the casting of Drea de Matteo in Joey was announced, you sort of knew that poor Ade's days were numbered.) Uncle Junior's house arrest continues, and his Alzheimer's continues its corrosive effects; most notable, though, is the release from prison of Tony B, Tony Soprano's beloved cousin. This one is really ginned up—in the first four seasons, not a peep about this guy, but new blood is necessary to keep the show going, I guess; the machinery sort of creaks, but it's oiled somewhat by the fact that Tony B is played by Steve Buscemi, whose previous affiliation with the series was exclusively as a director. Tony B's thinly veiled hostility toward our Tony marks him immediately as this season's Richie Aprile.

Episode 3: Where's Johnny?

The show boldly gives focus to two new characters—it's a strange moment when we're privy to a conversation between Tony B and Feech, and while you've got to admire the gamble, you're also probably going to be yearning to get back to our old buddies. Feech and Paulie Walnuts knock heads over the neighborhood gardeners, and their territorial battle turns brutal. Christophuh proves not to be a very apt pupil in his apprenticeship with Tony; it helps re-ignite the bad blood between Tony and Johnny Sac, maybe the most vital and combative relationship in Tony's life now that his mother is dead, his wife has thrown him out, and his therapist won't see him. But the meat of the episode has to do with Uncle Junior, and his mental decline—is he crazy like a fox, or in the early stages of dementia? Tony's final line couldn't be more poignant: "Don't you love me?" Also, the episode features a great inside joke for HBO fans, when Junior mistakes himself for Larry David, and Bobby Bacala for Jeff Garlin, while channel surfing past an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Disc Two

Episode 4: All Happy Families...

The current poker mania pops up here: Feech wants his old game back, and Tommy even offers to give him a piece of the action. (Some high-profile folks holding cards here, too, including Bernie Brillstein, David Lee Roth, and Sir Lawrence of the Meadowlands, aka Lawrence Taylor.) But Feech cannot keep his big mouth shut, and Tony talks about learning lessons from how ugly things got with Richie Aprile; say hello to Dennis Kozlowski, Feech. On the home front, A.J. and Carmela knock heads; she's trying so hard with him, but they've both got tempers. He returns home from a post-rock-concert bacchanal without eyebrows, the last straw for Mom; A.J. goes to live with Tony instead, in an overgrown frat house with Artie Bucco. Also, the first flicker of a connection between Carmela and Mr. Wegler, A.J.'s guidance counselor, fretting over college applications; he's played by the wonderful David Straitharn.

Episode 5: Irregular Around the Margins

Adriana's life as a Fed informant is literally churning up her insides—she's diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, and when Chrissy goes out of town on family business, she compares medical notes with Tony, who has had a small, cancerous growth removed from his forehead. There's a spark between the two of them, and it's disconcerting enough to get Tony back into therapy; circumstances prevent anything illicit from being consummated, but when Ade and Tony are in a car accident on a back road in the middle of the night, everybody on the Soprano rumor mill assumes the worst, and the gossip spreads like wildfire. The worst of it, though, comes with Christopher's return—his violence against Adriana is brutal, he goes off the wagon, and he's so out of control that Tony has to contemplate whacking him. A terrific episode, with the classic overlapping of family and business, of sex and violence.

Episode 6: Sentimental Education

Flaubert comes to northern New Jersey, from the episode title on down. Things heat up between Carmela and Bob Wegler—is she playing him for a boost with A.J.? Is he giving her Madame Bovary to read and putting the moves on the mob boss's wife because he thinks he's slumming? The show withholds judgment, though emotionally, it's pretty brutal stuff. Also, Tony B's efforts to go straight flounder—his boss at the laundry service wants to front him the money to open a proper massage parlor, but life on the other side of the tracks is hypnotic, and Tony succumbs to temptation, aided by finding a garbage bag full of cash in the bushes. And the honeymoon's over at the Soprano frat house—A.J. moves back in with Mom after Dad, in a typical fit of pique, sends his Froot Loops down the garbage disposal.

Disc Three

Episode 7: In Camelot

One of the very best episodes of this series, rich with the subtext and nuance characteristic of complicated and deeply human relationships. While visiting his father's grave, Tony meets Fran, his father's longtime mistress; Tony tries to measure up to the memory of the old man by claiming for Fran the bequest that she was promised. She's beautifully played by Polly Bergen, at once reckless and calculating; we're never quite sure if this is a trip down memory lane for her, some much-needed male attention from her paramour's boy, now all grown up, or if she's a shark, playing creepily on Tony's Oedipal issues with her hunger for his attention. In the B story, Chris encounters a buddy from rehab, a TV writer played by Tim Daly; they're true to their recovery program, but Chris is not above taking a little of his buddy's action, and even if you've been through the detox wars with your bookie, you're still going to get shaken down if you can't meet the vig. Steve Buscemi directs this terrific episode about the power and tyranny of memory.

Episode 8: Marco Polo

Carmela's father, Hugh, is turning 75—should Tony, his beloved son-in-law, though separated from his daughter, be at the surprise party? Well, Uncle Junior takes care of some of that; he's not taking his Alzheimer's meds regularly, and he blows the surprise. Michael Imperioli is the writer on this one, and he's loaded up the script with some great lines—I especially like stupid Little Carmine showing off the "trump pale oil" painting in his home. Tony re-connects with Carmela; they're united in their contempt for one of her parents' oldest friends, who has spent decades in the foreign service and is unbearably pretentious. Carmela makes the unsettling discovery that her mother is a self-loathing Italian; like the previous episode, this one has its share of rewards for dedicated fans of the series, with cameos from Angie Bompansero and cousin Brian.

Episode 9: Unidentified Black Males

Meadow's boyfriend Finn steps in it with her old man by picking up the tab at dinner, and, on some level, for his sins, he takes a summer job at one of Tony's construction sites. He comes to all sorts of horrid revelations, generally about his prospective father-in-law's business, and specifically about a friend of ours, Vito, and his life on the down low. Nevertheless, Meadow and Finn get engaged by the end of the episode; their relationship and especially the self-consciousness of the dialogue between the young couple is one of the least convincing and most grating aspects of this season. Elsewhere in the family, Tony fears that Tony B has gone over to the dark side, and he has an Angels with Dirty Faces-like epiphany about how he ended up a boss, and Tony B got a long pull in prison. Tony's panic attacks return, and his scenes with Melfi are terrific; Carmela serves him with divorce papers, as we grind toward the season's end. An uneven episode, but some memorable stuff here.

Episode 10: Cold Cuts

Mike Figgis directs this one, with a little too much flair; there's too much handheld work here, and it becomes a little nauseating. But it's an emotionally rich episode: Janice, as a crazed soccer stepmom, attacks another mother on the sidelines and gets on the local news; Bobby subsequently insists that she go to anger management classes, which should be a Soprano family requirement. Any parent can tell you that it's always trouble when three kids play together, because someone's always on the outs; the same principle applies with Tony, Christopher, and Tony B, when they all make it up to Uncle Pat's farm to dig up the remains of past jobs before Pat gets packed off to his Florida condo. Tony's emotional viciousness is never more clear than in the final scene here, when he baits and taunts his sister; the episode takes its title from the boss's mangling of the favorite aphorism of everybody who holds on to a grudge: "Revenge is like serving cold cuts."

Disc Four

Episode 11: The Test Dream

No season of The Sopranos is complete without the necessary extended dream sequence, and here's this year's. The action begins with Valentina, Tony's goomah, being burned terribly in a kitchen fire; Tony of course makes it all about him, how misunderstood he is, and unwisely looks to Tony B for comfort. But his cousin is too busy being pissed off at Justin and Jason, his creepy, Arbusesque twins. To console himself, Tony checks into the Plaza, and we get an extended hallucinatory sequence that has the weird meldings and hazy feel of a dimly remembered nightmare. Once again, the rewards are many for longtime fans of the show, for the dream features cameos from Ralphie, Pussy, and Gloria Trillo, victims in one way or another of Tony's in seasons past; it's also full of great little movie allusions, the best of which may be a baying mob pursuing Tony, in his own dream, mind you, as if he were Frankenstein's monster.

Episode 12: Long Term Parking

Well, the handwriting had long been on the wall, but still, it's pretty devastating in this episode to see Adriana come to her sad and inevitable end. The FBI is putting the squeeze on her, and poor Ade figures that her best option is to try and get Chrissy to flip, and to join the witness protection program with her; he's in a rage against Tony, but she miscalculates the balance of his loyalties. Their confrontation is at once brutal and intimate, and her awful death is haunting. Business goes on for the family, though—as Valentina checks out of the hospital, Tony dumps her; Carmela makes clear that the price of marital reconciliation is $600,000, the cost of an empty lot on which she wants to develop a house. Tony B has crossed a line, too, and not even cousin Tony can save him from the wrath of Johnny Sac. An episode of extraordinarily high quality.

Episode 13: All Due Respect

The season finale is actually something of an anticlimax; principally about payback and Tony B, it doesn't pack nearly the emotional punch as does the previous episode, because there's a sense that these guys are replaceable (cf., Richie Aprile, Big Pussy, Carmine, Ralphie), but Adriana is not. Still, Tony's loyalty is put to a test, as he's caught between his cousin on the one hand, and his business interests on the other—how much is Tony prepared to sacrifice to assuage his guilt? Not much, despite his words ("We are a family. And even in this f**ked up day and age, that means something"), and his hypocrisy and self-interest are never more clear. The one hopeful end is that Johnny Sac is hauled away to the big house; Tony gets a pair of soggy Florsheims, not a bad deal, all things considered.

And now our wait continues, for Season Six, which David Chase has intimated may be the show's last. Just keep stirring the gravy.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Strong cinematographic work, nicely rendered on these discs. It still strikes me as a little grand to have a letterboxed TV show, but if you've got a widescreen television, it makes it worth the effort.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Solid and well balanced mixes, on both the 2.0 and 5.1 track; your home setup will determine the best choice for you. Also, click over to hear Tony in Spanish and French; I do not think anyone has yet established an appropriate and accurate translation for "Fuhgedaboudit."

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 78 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
5 Feature/Episode commentaries by Rodrigo Garcia (Episode 4), Peter Bogdanovich (Episode 6), Steve Buscemi (Episode 7), Mike Figgis (Episode 10), Drea de Matteo (Episode 12)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Five of the episodes feature commentaries, the only extras of any significance on this set; I'd listen to series creator and executive producer David Chase talk about anything, and so it's a minor disappointment that he's nowhere to be seen or heard anywhere on this set.

Director Rodrigo Garcia sits for a commentary track on Episode 4, his first time behind the camera for the show; he was a big fan, and seems delighted with the opportunity. Mostly, though, his commentary is a valentine to the cast and the production staff; he doesn't offer a whole lot of insights, and you almost get the feeling that he's sucking up in order to line up work for upcoming seasons. Peter Bogdanovich has lots of love but not much insight during his comments on Episode 6, which he directed; he also trots out his Alfred Hitchcock imitation, numbingly familiar now to those of us who have listened to more than one Bogdanovich commentary track. Like Bogdanovich, Steve Buscemi works both sides of the camera this season; his commentary track on Episode 7 is worth a listen. He's gracious in paying compliments to members of the cast and the production team (especially writer Terry Winter, and production designer Bob Shaw), and sheds some insight on how the directors are assigned by David Chase to their respective episodes—organized chaos seems to be the operating if oxymoronic principle.

Mike Figgis, a longtime fan of the show, talks about how David Chase made good on throwaway Hollywood chatter and invited him to direct an episode; Figgis's commentary on Episode 10 is short on substance, but long on enthusiasm. The final commentary track, for Episode 12, is the only one not by a director; Drea de Matteo offers her free-ranging reminiscences about her years on the series during Adriana's last days and hours. She clearly loves and misses the show, and there's some great stuff here, especially about Chase's established protocol for telling actors that their characters are getting whacked.

Each episode has six chapter stops; Previously On and Next On pieces that ran on HBO; and each disc has a season index with brief recaps of the shows. Also, Disc One opens with a promo piece for other HBO series available on DVD.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

In its fifth year, The Sopranos has lost none of its hypnotic power, explosive energy, and psychological insight. This box set is a little skimpy on the extras, but the high level of craft and skill of these stories make these worth rewatching. Salut.


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