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.