All last week I was in Holland with some of the splendid old boys of 4th Commando Brigade, commemorating their liberation of Walcheren island 60 years ago. I asked them whether they felt they’d benefited from their wartime experiences and most of them said yes. ‘When you’ve been through all that, you come out knowing you can handle anything,’ said a twinkly-eyed fellow called Pat Hagen. ‘And it’s a useful thing to know because what you have to realise is that life is always hard. After the war I faced obstacles every bit as tough as I did during the war. You’ve got to learn to deal with them.’
I found this Nietzschean philosophy very helpful and I shall try always to keep it in mind when, as at the moment, I find myself tempted to curl up in a shellhole and weep with self-pity rather than press on, as one should, and take that enemy bunker. But it’s terribly hard, being grown-up and having to take wise, emotionally detached decisions all the time. If only there were some perfect guru one could rely on in times of trial.
In the magnificent final episode of this season’s The Sopranos, that guru was us, the viewers. We knew with adamantine certainty exactly what Tony had to do in order to avert the escalating conflict with the rival mob from Brooklyn. He had to go out there and waste his beloved (but psychopathic) cousin Tony (Steve Buscemi). The question was: would he summon up the moral courage to do it?
Our big fear was that he wouldn’t, especially after the scene where Soprano (who hasn’t been showing much firm leadership of late) attempted to reassert his authority by telling his crew that their job was to defend, to the death if necessary, one of their own, regardless of how much of a liability he was. At which point I fully expected a hideous cycle of tit-for-tat killings and the Fawn and I spent the next few minutes anxiously speculating which of our favourite characters were for the chop.
Then came a delicious sequence as Tony sought advice from various quarters, among them the History Channel (a stirring documentary about Rommel), his uncle Junior (unfortunately gaga with Alzheimer’s) and his psychiatrist Dr Melfi. Here, quite unwittingly, Dr Melfi found herself condemning a man to death and deciding the future of the whole New York mob scene by firmly reminding Tony that he didn’t really care for his cousin — he was just eaten up with misplaced guilt, that’s all.
How unconfined, then, was our joy when Tony suddenly materialised with a shotgun at the family farm where his cousin was skulking and, without a word, blew half his head away! Not nice, but such is the way with The Sopranos: each season it sets up a character so uncompromisingly vile that by the time they get their bloody deserts you’re in ecstasy.
That wasn’t the end of our treats, either. There were the comic interludes provided by the sweetly oblivious Carmella, forever cropping up at moments of the direst tension to ask her husband’s views on vital issues like the architectural plans for her father’s new home. There was the quite unexpected pleasure — which will have struck a chord with parents of teenagers throughout the land — of seeing the lumpen Anthony Jr finally show a sense of purpose in his hitherto aimless life (he’s going into the party-planning business).
And then, of course, there was the marvellous scene at the end in which Tony deftly persuades his rival boss Johnny Sack not to be too upset by the fact that now cousin Tony is dead he is unavailable for the slow and agonising torture by blowtorch which Sack and his boys had planned to inflict on him. They embrace. All is resolved. Dénouements really couldn’t be more satisfying than this, you think. Or could they? Suddenly, from nowhere, the Feds come running forward. For a nasty moment, as Tony hightails it into the forest, you think he’s finally going to be arrested. But no, as his lawyer soon explains, his fortunes have taken a spectacular turn for the better. Sack and the whole of his Brooklyn mob have been arrested — meaning that there’s now a huge power vacuum waiting to be filled...
Until then, we’ll just have to get our gore fix from Jed Mercurio’s promising and aptly-named new hospital drama Bodies (BBC1, Wednesdays). The great thing about British medical soaps, unlike so many of their American counterparts, is that they don’t waste your time pretending that hospitals are clean, efficient places run by warm, lovely people who really care. After opening with a nail-biting scene in which the woman who has come in for fertility treatment accidentally gets her notes swapped with those of one who has come in to be sterilised, episode one moved charmingly on to an elderly cancer victim coughing her last with a spew of dark red blood, then a botched emergency tracheotomy so unspeakably grotesque I had to dance round the room squealing, ‘No No Nooo!’ I am never going into an NHS hospital whatever the circumstances. Ever.