The relativity of ‘Sopranos’ and ‘Big Love’
This was a big week for television viewers.
On Sunday, the final episode of HBO’s New Jersey mob tale, “The Sopranos,” aired, followed by the new season premiere of “Big Love,” another HBO show – this one about a group of fundamentalist Mormons living in a plural marriage in suburban Utah.
The sixth and final season ended creatively but controversially, with the Soprano family gathered at a local diner as imminent threats on their lives swim all around them.
For some, it was a frustratingly uneventful conclusion to a masterful series. But the screen cutting to black while loose ends linger speaks exactly to what the life of a Jersey mobster is like: Sleep with one eye open, and trust no one.
Several major scenarios played out, with Bobby, Anthony’s brother-in-law, getting whacked, as well as Sil, his “No. 1.” Revenge is exacted upon New York boss Phil Leotardo, and in a round-table meetings of the two families, a reasonable price for the transgression of Bobby’s death is worked out.
From there, it’s business as usual, at least until it’s necessary for the next Wise Guy to take a dirt nap.
Throughout the final episode, a piece of Scripture from Matthew 6 resonated through my head. Matthew says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The essence is the idea that we cannot “serve two masters.” If money, sex, drugs, work or anything else is our God, there’s little room for anything else.
The creators of “The Sopranos” were masters of revealing truth without beating you about the head and shoulders. You find yourself wondering why this group of thugs would risk their lives, and those of everyone they love, for fancy espresso machines, new cars and terribly tacky suits.
But how are we any different? How much of our own time, energy and souls do we sink into shiny trinkets that we try to substitute for love, fulfillment and peace?
We mortgage, justify and compromise our lives away one bit at a time. Few, if any, of us are at risk of getting rubbed out at work on Monday, but if we invest ourselves in that which doesn’t really give back, ours is a slower, subtler but equally imminent death.
Equally fascinating is the curious code of conduct that governs the Mafia networks, all of which forever verge on anarchy. There is a protocol to follow when whacking a “made” man, as well as how much certain lives are worth, depending on their rank. For a group of sociopathic, thieving, mass-murdering thugs, they have a strong allegiance to what they consider honor.
A similar code of honor is observed in “Big Love,” as indicated particularly by one scene this week. Roman Grant, the vile leader of the creepy polygamist compound in the outskirts of Utah, shakes his head as a fellow polygamist, a man accused of statutory rape, is featured in a manhunt story on television.
“Just watch,” he says, “his transgressions will ruin it for the rest of us.” Meanwhile Roman, a man teetering on 70, is planning to be “sealed” to a young teenage girl in the compound. She will be his newest wife.
I’ve come to realize that the words “at least” are some of the most damaging in our vocabulary. We all have our skeletons lurking in the closet, but we never fail to find someone else who is worse off, saying with a sigh of relief, “at least I’m not that bad.”
The relativity of the values that guide our lives often are only as strict as is necessary to allow us to keep doing what we really want. The irony is that, when we decide without God’s wisdom what’s best, we are sure to miss the mark.
We may not get whacked, and we may not go to jail, but if we sense a curiously heart-sized vacancy inside, a good place to look for it is where we spend most of our time and energy. We’re sure to find it there.