Archive | March 2013

Does David Chase think he is Dr. Frankenstein?

tony-soprano-bw

OK, this is going to be a little behind on the times since the last episode of HBO’s The Sopranos aired on June 10, 2007.

I live with a room mate who had never seen the greatest television series ever and we’re now about mid-way through the fifth season. Ever since the show’s controversial finale, I’ve been building this thesis: Sopranos series creator David Chase believes he created his own Frankenstein monster in Tony Soprano and turned against his creation to close the series.

BTW – I’ll be discussing all the nitty-gritties of the Sopranos in FULL SPOILERS. It’s six years later, I think we can all come to grips with that.

Early on in the series, the Sopranos come across Hasidic Shlomo Teittleman seeking “alternative conflict resolution” in a dispute with his son-in-law. During negotiation, Teittleman’s son warns that by dealing with organized crime his father is creating a Golem, like the Rabbi of folk lore. Tony and company rough up the son-in-law, but Teittleman insists that a business proposition brought the matter to an end and attempts to rid himself of Soprano involvement. Tony strong arms his way into the Teittleman hotel business and Shlomo calls him mud, a golem, a Frankenstein come to life.

I think David Chase is Shlomo Teittleman.

His creation, Tony Soprano, spends several years wooing and captivating American audiences with his charm, wit, and crude savagery. Tony Soprano is a criminal mastermind. Watch him manipulate his crew, his friends, his associates, and his family. The entire series lives off of sharp dialogue where content is surface and subtext is everything. Tony Soprano plays the game of gangster with a psychologist’s grasp of motive and a diplomat’s care. He beds women, he drinks and gambles, and he kills. And we all applaud.

The idea of the show compared to the movie Analyze This, a midlife gangster with panic attacks seeks help from a psychiatric professional. The Sopranos explores this wholly in a way a movie can never. There is an arc of involvement and discovery by Tony’s psychiatrist, the brilliant Jennifer Melfi, that leads her to a conclusion that gets postulated by her ex-husband as early as the first season: Tony Soprano is a sociopath incapable of processing psychotherapy and is actually honing his dishonesty and criminality through therapy. We see this and we hear this throughout the series, but the point doesn’t get explicitly pushed until the series’ closing.

I think David Chase saw some adoration for Tony Soprano in critic and viewer praise for the show and decided to turn against his creation. It starts in season 4 with the budding relationship between Carmella Soprano and imported enforcer Furio Giunta. There’s a sequence of comparisons between the Napoli gangster and Tony the American: Furio cooks his own pasta, pours a glass of wine, then sits and eats by his lonesome (possibly contemplating Carmella) while Tony reheats something in the microwave, has a coke, and reads the paper. Tony doesn’t appreciate what he has, and is constantly concerned with more he could have (more money, women, food, etc.). Furio is self-aware and thoughtful, Tony is driven by his desires. Tony’s philandering catches up to him in the season finale and the couple split. This is the first movement of the overture leading to Chase’s rejection of Tony.

Season 5 displays a lot of Tony on his own: his slovenly housekeeping, his growing narcissism, his paranoias, a tumultuous relationship with his cousin Tony Blundetto (who went to prison for 17 years for a crime Tony Soprano was supposed to take a part in), and fractious decisions he makes managing the relationships of his family and his “family.” He’s an abusive father to AJ (although it’s nearly called for, in my opinion), a manipulative prick to his sister Janice, and downright hurtful and unsupportive of his nephew Christopher, whom he could rest the future of the family upon given the right amount of commendation or appreciation. There’s still lots of smart Tony moments, though. My favorite scenes are always Johnny Sac and he working together. Johnny and Tony provide oodles of highlights throughout the series. They play off of one another and mirror the other in a supreme display of foreshadowing: Johnny gets the high seat and makes all the wrong decisions powered by his arrogance, then falls. Is David Chase warning us that crime doesn’t pay?

Season 6 came with the knowledge that it would be a two-parter. Tony has an immediate and shocking crisis in the first episode, leading to an existential trip through his psyche that takes two more episodes and affects most of the rest of the season. It’s interesting that Chase leads us through Tony’s subconscious in this and in the previous season’s “Test Dream” where we see a mix of different Tony’s from his own perspective: Tony the contractor/salesman visiting an arms conference, Tony the soldier preparing to whack his high school football coach, Tony the contemplative self-doubter (“Who am I? Where am I going?”), and Tony as Michael Corleone retrieving a planted gun from a restaurant bathroom. The mixed messages here are realistic and sublime. Chase portrays Tony as introspective and full of doubts, yet unable to draw himself away from the road of continued violence, greed, and crime.

In the second half of season 6, the smear-job is in full effect. He picks a nasty fight with his brother-in-law, Bobby Baccalieri, and manipulates this moral fan-favorite into “popping his cherry” and committing his first murder. Tony’s gambling debts lead to severe conflict between he and one of his oldest associates, Hesh Rabkin, and also with Carmella. In a fit of irritation Tony thinks about ridding himself of another long-time associate, Paulie. Tony grows willfully intolerant or even disinterested with Christopher Moltisanti as Chris tries to distance himself from drinking and drug use, and through this disapproval Chris slips back into relapse. Tony even goes as far to believe that his bad luck with gambling is lifted after Christopher’s death.

The writers are pushing Tony Soprano as the bad guy in this last series of episodes so hard its difficult to reconcile some of these episodes as united with the series as a whole. Where in the majority of the episodes Tony is the protagonist anti-hero, the last half of season 6 almost presents as an addendum to the rest. “Look here, he wasn’t so great,” these episodes scream as Tony alienates friends and family before the finale. The creator has taken a look at the monster he created and declared it a pariah to be shunned.

My eternal optimism and fondness for Tony makes me refuse the widely-accepted theory that the final harsh cut of the very last Soprano scene is the end for Tony. I guess I live in a world of rainbows and unicorns, but I didn’t interpret that moment as his death. The dramatic fall of Tony in the episodes before hand are more telling than the actual ending.

I don’t think Chase is disappointed in Tony so much as he is in the audience who put the Sopranos on a pedestal. Before the Sopranos, was the goomba culture of New Jerseyans ever as celebrated? Would Jersey Shore ever have been possible without the Sopranos? The show puts this question out there, too, as it examines the complexities of the Italian-American cultural image in comparison to the small population of organized crime members. It recognizes and tries telling its viewers that this is a small minority that has dramatically affected media.

Hollywood tries to give these sociopaths the tragic grandeur of Al Pacino,” complains Dr. Melfi’s ex-husband and he’s completely right.

I think David Chase came to see that as the show progressed and didn’t feel right about it. The show turns its back on Tony Soprano for the moral high ground, but it was probably the right decision. Like Dr. Frankenstein, Chase might have initially seen some good  in his creation, but would rather have it die than see what it might do to human kind.

“I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over,” Tony says in the show’s pilot episode. In “Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” fashion, this statement rings true even if that wasn’t the intention from the start.

Advertisements

Understanding Competition

It’s funny, I would consider myself a nerd, gamer, and hobbyist, but during the normal course of a day I do not consider myself a competitor. That was never a strong drive within me, I’m much more of an amateur and an enthusiast.

I’ve been reading a plethora of late regarding the differing trends within my games and the importance of understanding the “meta” – the game within the game. For those who wish to know, the games I specifically referring to are:

The interesting thing is that each article is referring to the same concept, but in their own language.

Which is better: rock, paper, or scissors?

In this post on competitive Warhammer 40K, the poster Z cries foul on the merits of actual play versus the work done at the planning table long before anyone sits down to play a game. If anyone with a firm grasp of the rules and strategies shows up with the “correct” army list, they can win a competitive tournament over the likes of a “better” tactician wielding a different army. I believe the trend now revolves around Space Wolf armies with roaming packs of Razorback-mounted Grey Hunters and small units of Long Fang heavy weapon teams. Gone are the likes of “fun” armies and lists that have any hint of originality, you must have the correct formula in your force composition to have any sort of competitive success.

The same goes for Magic: the Gathering. In a scenario where you have 20 years of cards printed and 1000 new cards introduced each year, a competitive deck of 60 cards has to be fine-tuned and consistent. With the internet and the proliferation of ideas & information, the metagame of Magic changes each week. Sometimes aggressive decks with cheap creatures like zombies, elves, or varying colors of humans rule the meta. It usually takes some time, but eventually a meta gets ruled by control decks that specialize in countermagic, card advantage, and playing a slow and methodical pace that evaluates each and every choice. Other weeks are ruled by the correct combo that no one expected which fits exactly in the meta for its time and event, then gets imitated for weeks. Typically, a competitive Magic deck costs in the neighborhood of $400-500 for 75 pieces of cardboard! (the Warhammer players scoff, “$500, eh? I got all my minis from ForgeWorld…”)

Then there’s League of Legends, a game that’s completely free to play, should you choose to do so. I’ve already lamented my own travails in this cyber den of scum and villainy (one week later, the guys @ Penny Arcade did the same), but there is a strong professional circuit already there with cutthroat play. The drive to get to play games professionally makes playing these “games” no more or less competitive than our already bloated past time of professional sports.

Leading to the NBA, of course. The NBA is a game just like Chess and Rock, Paper, Scissors. How you ask? Every team in the NBA right now is asking themselves the same question: how do you stop a 6’8″, 260-lb superfreak with eagle-eyes and pogo-legs by the name of LeBron James? Although no one except for the 30 coaches in the league have to consider the merits of small-ball lineups versus a killer post-up strategy with your tallest players, the nation is still enthralled with these discussions. It’s all the same.

Whether you’re looking at Fire Dragon aspect warriors to burn down tanks, finding a spot for Rest in Peace to shut down graveyard combos, jungling with Amumu because his build has been buffed by the latest patch, or drafting a corner-3 shooter with long arms that can defend 3 positions, it’s all rock, paper, scissors. It’s all about getting an edge on your competition. It’s all about …   fun?

The nature of all of these is still in the context of a game and I think ALOT of people are forgetting this. After all, the professional basketball business is a billion dollar industry and inflated way over its practical or even pragmatic service to society. But we embrace it. Call it love of the game, call it city or team pride, call it entertainment.

Over in League of Legends, there’s a mixed bag of accounts from the positive play experiences to the negative. People are jerks when given the anonymity of the internet, but not always. I had really great fun in a game recently where I was laning with a whiny team mate (in a bot game!) who called me a n00b for not playing Maokai “correctly,” but I then proceeded to complete my build, farm our lane, and pull off a nice ambush and triple-kill of our enemy bots. It was one of my best games ever and I even got to say to the guy whining at me, “Do you have any constructive advice instead of name-calling?”  I was never answered. It felt great! In the competitive arenas, its both much better and much worse, the extremes are way out to either side with very helpful people with actual input and suggestions on one end and the scum of the (w)hole of the internet on the other.

The game is a game is a game. Gamers and nerds are strangely competitive people. It might be something residual from high school, but how strong that trend towards friendly competition versus rudeness is up to the participants. I know a long time that the major Warhammer tournaments started giving out trophies not only for best painted army and overall winner, but also to the best sport/most fun to play. That attitude is the goal, I believe.

If you’ve fallen in love with a game, you know what I’m talking about when I say there was a golden era for you when you started playing it. For Warhammer, it was in the 8th grade playing in my friend’s basement. For Magic, it was only a few years ago right after I learned how to play and hosted multi-player games in my home. For basketball, it was my sophomore year in college when we had a regular rotation of 8-12 guys who played pickup twice a week.

No one likes to lose, but the simple joy of playing a game should reach people more often. Yes, if you want to take a game more seriously, start to learn your meta. Know the ins, outs, and match-ups. For a professional athlete, that is as much of the job as the actual performance. Read Sun Tzu and learn strategies that apply to warfare, politics, and personal interactions. Hell, watch Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.

Just have some fun, too.

Actual Sorin vs. Tibalt Duel Deck List

Sorin vs. Tibalt

Sorin vs. Tibalt

MTGSalvation’s forums managed to grab a hold of a spoiler list of the Sorin vs. Tibalt duel deck and posted them today.

The big news for many is due to the rare slots that come with the Planeswalker cards, particularly in Tibalt’s deck, Hellrider and Sulfuric Vortex.

As of today (March 1st, 2013), the value for Sorin, Lord of Innistrad($17-20) and a Hellrider($14-16) make their release together in a product that retails for $19.99 a steal. Many, including I, are impressed that Wizards of the Coast decided to throw them into a  product together. Most initial responses are positive on the deck designs. The decks look fun and reasonably competitive against one another.

So, how did I do with my September speculation?

My Sorin Decklist
Actual Sorin Decklist

My Tibalt Decklist
Actual Tibalt Decklist

Thematically, I was very close. Sorin’s list is indeed a black/white token deck with a vampire subtheme. There are more vampire cards than I would have anticipated and it borrows a little more heavily from Zendikar block than I expected, but nothing is out of place. There are a few cards in there that show off Sorin Markov’s personality and mechanics (Sorin’s Thirst), which matches what WotC has done before in past duel decks like Venser vs. Koth. Tibalt’s list I was less accurate in guessing, it’s a red/black deck with plenty of devilish creatures and a strong graveyard theme, as befitting Tibalt’s Planeswalker card abilities. Whereas I guessed his spells would drive a deck with Burning Vengeance in them, the actual deck relies on Unearth creatures and Flashback spells, and a lot fuel in its burn spells than I predicted.

Let’s take a little closer look at the composition of these decks.

Sorin’s black-white vampires with a human and token theme is totally predictable. The rare cards are Butcher of Malakir (GREAT card), Twilight Drover, Ancient Craving, Death Grasp, and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Butcher of Malakir and Twilight Drover are reallllly close to my guess of Anowan, the Ruin Sage and Bloodline Keeper, since there’s a combination of forced sacrifice and token generation in each pair. Cards I did get right are Doomed Traveler, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Mortify and Sorin’s Thirst. I included two copies of Purify the Grave, but Decompose fills in that slot. The same thing can be said of my copies of Altar’s Reap that turned out to be Ancient Craving. There’s a lot more life gain and lifelink on Sorin’s creatures than I expected, but I didn’t expect Tibalt’s deck to be as aggressive as it is with its potent burn spells (like 2 copies of Browbeat!). They did do a typical WotC thing in here and stuff it full with 25 lands, but its not an egregious offense. Cards that are getting their first run in the modern card frame are Ancient Craving, Death Grasp, Decompose, Field of Souls, Mesmeric Fiend, and Tainted Field.

Tibalt’s deck sticks to a devil theme with plenty of graveyard support, but instead of going mono-red, it leans on some black mana to grind down Sorin’s life total. The rare cards are Hellrider, Lavaborn Muse, Breaking Point, Devil’s Play, Sulfuric Vortex, and Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded (one more than Sorin’s!). Cards I got right on this side include Hellspark Elemental, Scourge Devil, Vithian Stinger, Devil’s Play, Faithless Looting, and Geistflame. I had a copy of Rolling Temblor which would have been better than the included Pyroclasm, if only for its flashback cost. There’s plenty of graveyard interactions, but more unearth creatures than I expected. I remember now that Mark Rosewater said that  unearth almost came back in the Dark Ascension expansion, but they decided on the undying mechanic instead.

That’s actually not connected to this, but an interesting thought. 😉

Thanks to Hellrider, it looks to me that this deck wants to try and surge through Sorin’s defenses and use some nasty direct damage (Bump in the Night, Blightning, 2x Browbeat, and Sulfuric Vortex) to get over the incidental lifegain the other deck may accrue. Cards in this deck getting their first printing with the modern card frame are Blazing Salvo, Breaking Point, Recoup, and Sulfuric Vortex (Browbeat was re-printed in the first Planechase set).

There are a few things I’m disappointed with, one specifically in each deck. On Sorin’s side, there is no sacrifice outlet to unlock the spirit creatures in Doomed Traveler, Mausoleum Guard, and Field of Souls. There’s a slew of bloodthirst cards in his deck (ironically, a theme I put in my version of the Tibalt deck) that don’t need to be there when Blood Artist and Vampire Aristocrat/Bloodthrone Vampire would have fit in better thematically and mechanically. On Tibalt’s side, the flashback count is a little light (6 cards, although Recoup will give any sorcery card flashback) and there’s only one reanimation spell, Torrent of Souls. It’s one of my favorite cards, but it doesn’t seem like enough. That copy of Corpse Connoisseur has to search out another unearth creatures to place in the graveyard to be of any use. I prefer to use connoisseurs to set up a wicked reanimation play and my choices for that tactic in this deck are lackluster, especially when I start comparing the creature sizes between the decks. Tibalt’s largest creature is the 4/3 Shambling Remains and the deck contains no flyers. Sorin has access to the 5/4 flying Butcher of Malakir and the 4/4 flying Sengir Vampire, which can grow to become much larger. If Tibalt’s deck can’t burn out Sorin’s flying creatures, it will be quite dead, so watch out!

That’s a lot of text without card images in front of you, I apologize. Go back to the above links and check the decks out on Tappedout.net. It looks to me that this is going to be a much more exciting duel deck than the last two: Venser vs. Koth and Izzet vs. Golgari. The gap between Sorin and Tibalt will be much closer than their perceived power levels.

I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy and play.

I had a lot of fun speculating what could be in this release and you can expect more of the same when we see the next announced duel deck from WotC. Thanks for reading!

%d bloggers like this: