A Great Wind
The Sopranos is the greatest television show of all time. It contains heart and heady violence, perfectly balancing comic absurdity with brutal tragedy. One of its best episodes occurs early in its final season when Tony Soprano, the show’s mobster anti-hero, emerges from a gunshot-induced coma. During this coma he experiences a series of hallucinatory, spiritually awakening dream vignettes. When he awakens he finds, among his bedside collection of get well cards, a mysterious note that relates an Ojibwe proverb: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.” It is never revealed who shared this card with Tony but, for a time at least, it stirs a moral revolution in his soul. He’s more calm and contemplative, as if allowing the Ojibwe wind to take him where it wills. The final sequence in the episode has Tony released from the hospital and in his backyard peacefully admiring the gentle breeze wafting through the tree leaves. Across town, carried by this same benevolent wind, Tony’s underling, Pauly Walnuts, smashes an innocent man’s kneecaps with a baseball bat.
It’s a brilliant sequence in a series of brilliant sequences. Many credit the show’s creator, David Chase, as being the single genius who caused the show’s great success, much like how Tolstoy in today’s chapter says that the historians credit Napoleon as being the single genius behind the battle of Borodino. But the battle of Borodino, as Tolstoy points out, could not have occurred without the coordinated will of thousands of soldiers. Likewise, neither could The Sopranos have reached the heights of brilliance it did without the coordinated efforts of many cast and crew members.
You could say that it is the Ojibwe’s wind rather than any great man that produces a television show or sets the stage for a battle. That’s certainly what Tolstoy’s up to here. In doing so he’s setting up one of the big questions he asks later in the second epilogue: How do we reconcile history’s ostensible deterministic fatalism with the individual’s apparent freedom of will? What are the consequences for human behavior if it’s true that the wind directs us?
I am part of the whole, I shall be content with everything that happens.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations