Great news: Radley Balko (damn, I love that name) is joining Blogcritics, and he will be doing a running commentary/review of The Sopranos season episode by episode. Here’s the first installment from his site:
- One murder, some coke, an orgy with Icelandic flight attendants, loads of manipulation, and a capo excusing himself from dinner at the boss’s place while he makes it in the upstairs bathroom with the boss’s sister. All in all, a pretty uneventful — but nonetheless spectacular — premiere for the Sopranos. More than anything, David Chase laid the foundation for the season ahead, setting mulitple plotlines in motion. If we can use the first three seasons as a barometer, he’ll likely follow only a few of them, and leave us to salivate over the others.
This episode really revealed Tony Soprano to be a manipulator, a guy who can’t even follow the shaky moral code of a mob boss. Over the recess, Chase said to a few outlets that he was uncomfortable with the amount of sympathy audiences were showing for Tony, who is after all a murderer, philanderer and general sociopath. So Tony’s in a coarse mood for the entire hour of the first episode, incensed at the lack of funds flowing up the pyramid. Seems that the recession’s hit even the underworld. Chase then takes us on a quick tour of the darker corners of Tony Soprano’s psyche.
First, he allows one of his more loyal (at least until Tony screwed him on the sit-down with Ralphie Cifaretto last season) lieutenants, Paulie Walnuts, to rot in a jail cell on a weapons charge. Not even a phone call. As it turns out, New York boss and Soprano rival Jonny Sack showed a little more sympathy, and Paulie’s contemplating making the jump to the other family, which could spark a turf war. Another possibility: Johnny Sack planted the gun on Paulie and tipped off the cops, hoping that Paulie would pin the incident on Tony, further inspiring his leap to the New York family. Whatever the case, despite the mafioso code of loyalty — allegedly one of the trade’s few redeeming qualities — Tony’s done little to reward his more loyal lieutenants. He sided with the firebrand Cifaretto over Paulie. And he’s apparently grooming the rebellious Christopher to take over the business, overlooking more steady hands such as Silvio Dante or Paulie.
Then there’s Tony’s emotional manipulation of Christopher, a nephew by blood, but more of a son within the crime family. Tony drives Christopher to a restaurant where a cop is celebrating his retirement party. Tony tells Christopher that the cop in question killed his father, then leaves Christopher to exact his revenge. Christopher waits at the cop’s home, pops him on the head, then waits for the guy to come to so he can finish him off. The cop says he knows nothing of Christopher’s father, or of any of the other characters Tony relays in the narrative. Chase never gives us conclusive evidence that Tony lied to Christopher, but he certainly gives us reason to believe that’s the case. Christopher even says to the cop, “Well, it doesn’t matter if the story’s true or not, he (Tony) obviously wants you dead.” If Tony was lying to Christopher, it seems like a particularly malevolent way of ordering a hit. Why tap in the emotion stirred up by the murder of the guy’s father?
Finally, there’s Uncle Junior, the family’s figurehead but generally powerless leader, and Tony’s Uncle by blood. Tony completely screws him. Toward the beginning we see Junior pleading with Tony for “a new arrangement.” He’s just beaten cancer, but the medical bills are burrying him. He’s also just been indicted, and he’s getting socked by his lawyers. He reminds Tony that he was installed as boss “to take the heat off of you,” and that’s exactly what’s happened — Junior’s been indicted, while Tony quietly runs the show from the shadows. Coldly, Tony denies him.
Tony then exploits Junior’s predicament to motivate his capos. He even makes an emotional appeal to Junior’s health and legal problems — the same day he himself told Junior to fend for himself. Then the capper:
A crooked city concilman gives Tony the skinny on waterfront developments that are about to transpire in Newark. The developments will send real estate values in the area sky-high, and the councilman advises Tony to get in on land in the area early. Tony remembers that Junior owns an abandoned parking garage in the area — a piece of land Junior (who knows nothing of the pending development) had been trying to unload. Tony goes back to Junior, tells him nothing of the information he’s been given, and says he’s “resoncidered.” He offers to “take that garage off your hands,” for $100K, as a “favor” to Junior — to help out with his bills.
To top it all off, Carmella expresses concern to Tony over the finanical security of her and the kids should something happen to him (oddly, a lifetime of being wife to a mafioso never sparked this concern — it was the attacks on the Trade Center that got her thinking). Tony proceeds to tell her that she’ll be taken care of. She asks if they can take some of the money he has hidden around the house and invest it — he says no, that he doesn’t hide money around the house any more. He then proceeds to hide huge stacks of bills all over the place, behind Carmella’s back. He even stashes some in the duck food — a bit of irony from Chase, given that the family of geese who made a home in Tony’s pool have been a series-long symbol of Tony’s desire for stability and security.
The incidents with Christopher and Junior and Carmella are all the more striking when juxtaposed with the episode’s only interraction between Tony and Dr. Melfi. Tony tells Melfi that he is indeed worried about his future, and that, consequently, he’s thinking of “only trusting blood,” when running the business. That means nixing his more loyal liutenants in favor of Christopher. It’s also odd, considering that a) his own mother and uncle put a hit on him, and, b) he’s just screwed over the only two members of the crime family who are blood-related to him.
I was little bummed last night that the credits didn’t give us a listing of the music used in the episode. Chase is a music buff, and half the fun of the show is mining the songs he chooses for symbolism and clues to what’s coming next.
Will Paulie jump?
And if he does, will we get the delicious spectacle of a turf war between Tony and Johnny Sack?
What’s with Ralphie and Janice?
This guy’s playing with fire. He’s married to the widow of Jackie Apprille, Tony’s mentor. Getting it on with Tony’s wack-job sister isn’t such a good idea.
That hot fed that befriended Adriana.
We saw Tony checking her out. So, the big question: will the fed agent — who’s married, with a new baby — sleep with the charismatic mob boss for inside information?
Bobbie Bacala as capo?
No way. He’s too sweet. I’m guessing he doesn’t last the season.
Tony badly wants them back — meaning he’s depressed. Hiding blood money in the duck food was a pretty powerful statement. Meadow’s rebelling (we see in the trailer to the next episode that she calls Tony out as “Mr. Mob Boss), and A.J.’s reminding Tony far too much of himself. He’s aching for stability. But he’ll never get it. He doesn’t even consider Melfi’s admonition to “give it up.” “Guys like me end up dead or in the can,” he says.
My Odds of Who’s Getting Whacked This Season:
Tony Soprano: Never.
Christopher: Diminished after last night. 10-1.
Ralphie: Increased after last night. You don’t do blow in the boss’s bathroom. You don’t bang the boss’s sister — especially if you’re married to the widow of the boss’s mentor. 3-1.
Paulie: I think they’re down after last night. If he jumps, he might inspire a war, but I don’t think Tony would put a hit on him. 5-1.
Uncle Junior: He might die, but it’ll be from ill health, not a hit. 15-1.
Bobby Bacala: I don’t see him getting hit, but I do see him bungling an order to take someone out, and getting himself killed. Hit: 20-1. Dead by the end of the season: 2-1.
Silvio: As Tony’s “executive assistant,” Silvio only only gets taken out if there’s a turf war, and Johnnie Sack wants to send a message to Tony. 15-1.
Artie Bucco: One of the stranger and unresolved plotlines from last year was Artie’s advances toward Ariana. Artie’s more than a little careless, and he’s still pissed at Tony for firebombing his first restaurant. I could see him becoming an annoyance. 3-1.
The hot undercover fed: Just the kind of character Chase likes to introduce to us, then knock off. She’ll last most of the season. An affair with Tony would be wonderful. I’ll guess her cover gets blown around episode 10, then she gets snuffed. 3-5.
UPDATE: I should add here that when I say “by blood,” I mean related in family, not in “Family.” Christopher isn’t a blood relative of Tony’s, but rather an in-law. Still, that’s more of a connection that, say, Paulie or Silvio, who are members of the Family, but have no external relation to Tony. Also, check here for EW’s review of the first episode.
UPDATE II: Read Slate’s blog-ish review of the show by three actual shrinks.