The New York Times said this was as good an episode as the Sopranos has yet to produce. I’m not sure I’d go that far. But it was one of the most entertaining, probably because it was primarily plot driven. Plot driven episodes are fun, but they don’t lend themselves as well to analysis. Nevertheless, let’s give it a go:
First, a few complaints. Top of the list: Meadow. The writers need to lay off the pretentious college girl schtick. It was fun to watch her make the clumsy allusions of the half-learned, and to hear her pepper conversations with hundred-dollar vocabulary words that didn’t quite fit the context she was using them in – the first four or five times. But it’s getting a little old. This week, we had to listen describe a guy friend as “so duplicitous,” instruct Carmella to “read Henry James sometime,” and invoke the western canon. Enough. Also, Meadow’s new therapist, on the recommendation of Melfi, isn’t remotely believable. I’ll leave it to Slate’s team of shrinks to cut her off at the knees. But because I’m such a fan, I’m inclined to side with the school of thought that says the writers are satirizing the psycho-therapy profession, not attempting to portray it accurately.
Toward the end of the episode we see Meadow enroll in a class entitled “Morality, Self and Society.” The writers of this show have been deft at weaving philosophy into storylines and tweaking great thinkers to fit their purposes, whether blatant – as they’ve done with Nietzsche and Sun Tzu, or more subtly – as when we saw the state’s witness to a hit carried out by Tony and Big Pussy reading Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia just before he buckles, and recants his testimony. Meadow’s course should be a nice jumping off point for more of the same.
My other complaint concerns Tony’s tap of Christopher as acting capo while Pauly sits in the can, and his endorsement of his nephew as his heir apparent. It just doesn’t make much sense. Producer David Chase has spent three seasons demonstrating to us that Tony is, for the most part, a capable don. “Contrarily,” (as Christopher has been wont to say), in the last season-and-a-half or so, we’ve also been shown that Christopher Multisanti is little more than a smack-hooked, power hungry buffoon.
Just in this episode, for example, we watch him give the thumbs-up to the theft of fiber-optic cable from the construction site he’s been tapped by Tony to oversee, jeopardizing a quarter-billion dollar project. He’s also oblivious to the fact that his fiancé has just befriended an undercover agent. He nearly demonstrates some level of competence when he begins piecing together the odd aspects of the agent’s personal life (no boyfriend, “great ass,” over all the time). For a moment, we’re led to believe Christopher might stumble onto a clue. Of course, he then blows it when he comes to the meathead conclusion that “she’s a dike!” He then attempts to work his fiancé and the federal agent into a threesome.
All of this hugely entertaining, and certainly consistent with Christopher’s character. But what’s troubling is that Tony doesn’t see any of it. How can this guy oversee a huge operation that includes stock fraud, construction fraud, insurance fraud, truck hijacking, gambling, drug running, and all matter of paper crimes, but not realize his nephew is a complete fuck-up?
Chase wants us to believe that Tony’s blinded by his belief in family. That’s why it took Tony a couple of months and a lot of therapy to draw the obvious conclusion that it was his mother and his uncle who put a hit on him – he couldn’t fathom such a scenario.
But Christopher isn’t blood – he’s related to Tony by marriage. And Tony’s had no problem recognizing and straightening out the kid’s intransigence in previous seasons. I just find it a little suspect that a guy with Tony’s intuition can’t see that Christopher as capo – much less as don – is a calamitous train wreck waiting to happen.
All that said, again, there are still lots of kicks in this episode. Once you’ve stomached Meadow’s faux intellectual routine, the writers have given her a delicious subplot in which she subversively taps Tony’s guilt over the death of Jackie, Jr. to win her wants – in this case, a year off from college to cavort about Europe.
Meadow’s the light of Tony’s life. Consequently, we get to watch the spectacle of a guy who, a) obviously wants what’s best for his daughter, b) knows that means she needs to keep as far away from him as possible, c) is too wrecked by guilt and feelings of hypocrisy to insist she “do the right thing,” and, so, d) inevitably gives in, and allows her to do what’s not the right thing, which undercuts his desire to want what’s best for her. Add to that that he’s devastated by the fact that what’s best for the light of his life is that she be as far away from him as possible, and you have the agony of a guy being ripped in about six different directions.
We’ve seen all these themes play out throughout the series. The death of a Bada Bing! stripper last season (at the hands of Ralphie Cifareto) Meadow’s age sank Tony deep into depression. And in the first season, when Tony and Meadow take a road trip to visit prospective colleges, Tony spies a snitch who flipped and is living under witness protection. He sneaks off and strangles the guy with his bare hands while Meadow meets with a guidance counselor. Consequently, he’s loathe to scold her when she parties with newfound friends and comes back to their hotel room stumbling drunk. When you’ve just collapsed a guy’s windpipe until his heart stopped beating, can you really berate your teenage daughter for underage drinking?
Picking up on a few other threads:
Ralphie continues down the road to whackdom. Tony finds evidence to confirm his suspicions that Ralphie and his sister Janice are having an affair. This, while Ralphie’s dating (not married to, as I incorrectly asserted last week) the widow of Tony’s mentor, Jackie Aprille. Great scene: only a couple as twisted as Ralphie and Janice could cuddle on the couch with a bag of popcorn to watch….Faces of Death! Great line: Janice implores Tony’s warnings with “my love life is none of your business.” Tony retorts “It is . . .considering I had to haul your last boyfriend out of the kitchen in a Hefty bag.”
Ralphie also makes a crack about the wife of New York underboss Johnny Sack getting “a 90-pound mole removed from her ass.” Problem is, the crack was delivered in front of the nephew of Paulie Walnuts, whose animosity for the Jersey family is building, who’s thinking of jumping to New York, and whose contempt for Ralphie is already well-documented.
Here’s hoping Chase has us chasing red herrings, as he did last season, when Ralphie’s offing seemed to be a sure thing. The guy is just to damned colorful to kill off. And Joe Pontaliano, the actor who plays him, is one of the best character actors around (remember him in “Memento?”). My favorite scene last night finds Ralphie sitting on the edge of the bed as Janice reads by a nightstand lamp. He’s clipping his toenails. One nail chips off and pelts Janice in the cheek. “Whatsamatter?” Ralphie chuckles, “you get hit with some shrapnel?”
Carmella again flirts with adultery. First season, it was the creepy Father Phil; last season, the hunky house painter. This year, it’s Fiorio, the muscle Tony brought back with him from Italy. In episode one, I found it odd that when Christopher came to pick up Tony, Carmella’s first reaction was, “Where’s Fiorio?” Now we see why. This week, when Fiorio announces himself at the door, Carmella makes a quick stop at the mirror to primp. She throws open the door and greets Tony’s driver with wide bedroom eyes. She’s got a crush. The question: Is Fiorio smart enough to keep his hands off of her?
Adrianna gets pinched. The vomit-on-the-feds scene was classic. Note how the producers made undercover agent Deborah Ciccerone into a bombshell while she’s befriending Arianna, but once she’s in the office, she’s remade as an icy, calculating federal agent. More of the way they manipulate our loyalties – trick us into pulling for the morally midgeted mafiosos over the feds, even though we all know better. Not to mention the seedy treachery Deborah shows in showering Adrianna with fake sympathy over the prospect that she’s barren. Deborah even goes so far as to give Adrianna false hope – “an OB-GYN I know” – who she implies might be able to help Adrianna have children. We’re seduced to sympathize with the mob slut over the federal agent.
Adrianna’s an interesting contrast to Meadow, too. At first blush, the two appear to be polar opposites. Meadow’s a student at Columbia. Adrianna’s dumb as nails. But both have long reaped the benefits of blood money – Adrianna openly, and by choice; Meadow passively, and by birth. Both are just now coming to grips with the repercussions of living high on the mob hog – Adrianna’s life will never be the same (she’s either going to jail, or she’s going into witness protection); Meadow’s still coming to grips with the death of her first love (though she has no problem exploiting it to get what she wants). Meadow of course is a far more complex character. But look for Chase to shatter the stereotype we have of Adrianna as her stint with the feds plays itself out. Coming questions: Will Adrianna cooperate with the feds? Will she get Christopher pinched? What if Christopher finds out she’s been pinched before the feds can act? Will he off his own fiancé to protect the family? Will he flip?
Odds of getting whacked this season:
Revised, as of week two:
Ralphie: He just keeps fucking up. 4-6.
Christopher: He’s got Tony’s blessing. But he’s pissing everyone else off. 3-1.
Tony: Last week: Never. This week, there were some grumblings. Patsy’s not happy he was passed over for capo. Paulie’s ready to bolt. Even Silvio, the loyal lieutenant, undermined Tony’s authority by okaying a heist of some floor tiles. Odds this week: just a little less than never.
Paulie: I see him getting some clout in the New York family – that comes with protection. I think his odds drop from last week. 8-1.
Patsy: A new addition to our odds game. He’s a minor character whom Chase could use to satisfy our bloodlust with little downside. I can see Christopher blowing up and knocking him off. 5-2.