Catching It.

It was a dark and stormy night…

I was slightly apprehensive about “Kennedy and Heidi. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch Chris’ death again, but I didn’t want to skip any episodes either, no matter how many times I’d seen them.

It turned out to not be as bad as I remembered, which is not to say that I had my nose pressed to the screen as Tony smothered him on the side of the road. It actually turned out to be different from how I remembered it: I could have sworn that he’d dragged him out of the car first, instead of reaching through the window. Still, my recently acquired sensitivity to death and gore made me a little squeamish about watching this part.

In a scene that recalls Tony and Adriana’s car ride in “Irregular Around The Margins,” Christopher and Tony drive through the rain on a dark, seemingly deserted road. Their conversation runs a little deeper than the one that he had with Ade, as he and Christopher discuss the latest Leotardo bullshit.

The DVD’s closed captions have Christopher calling Phil’s recent appointment as head of the family “the fly in the ointment,” forgetting his penchant for malapropisms. What he actually says is “the flying ointment.”

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If my ointment had wings.

After flipping through the radio (“What is this, Make Believe Ballroom?”), Chris pops in the soundtrack for The Departed.  Comfortably Numb plays, a subtle nod to Chris’ altered state of mind.

Tony tries to shift the conversation away from work, asking Christopher about a party he threw. Christopher responds by stepping on the gas, sending them speeding. They swerve to miss an oncoming car, driven by the steering-wheel clutching Heidi. Christopher’s car flips as the music stutters and finally dies. Behind them, Heidi sails down the dark road.

Shaken but physically unscathed, Heidi’s friend, Kennedy, suggests they go back. Heidi quashes that idea since she’s on her learner’s permit after dark. She would be like, sooooo grounded.  She’d have to delete her Myspace and everything. The two girls, who can’t be more than sixteen, remain unaware of their brush with the other side of the law. What would they have found if they had returned to the scene of the accident? A bigger crime than they left behind, for sure. They probably wouldn’t have been permanently grounded by Tony, if you know what I mean, but their night would have been capped off in a very different way. They might have chanced to meet again in Melfi’s office.

There’s kind of awkward cut between the shots of Chris breathing in, then lying with his head on his shoulder. It’s meant to convey the passage of time (Tony doesn’t exactly jump out of the passenger side with speed or agility of a varsity athlete), but the more I watch it, the more it bugs me.


As is always the case with Gandolfini, it’s all in the eyes with Michael Imperioli in this scene. With only ragged breath sustaining him, Christopher eyes Tony warily, as he slips in and out of consciousness.  He coughs up blood before he asks Tony to call him a cab instead of an ambulance, to avoid legal repercussion.

Tony takes out his phone to call 911 but flips it closed after a moment’s consideration. I’m just impressed that his rinky-dink phone still has service! His eyes darken as he mentally prepares himself for what he is about to do. Standing at the window like a cop during a traffic stop, Tony reaches in and puts his hand over Christopher’s nose and mouth. Stone cold motherfucker.

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I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye…

Christopher’s eyes open in panicked awareness and utter helplessness. Tony expertly tilts his head back so that he will choke on his own blood. The camera pans over the back seat, resting on Caitlin’s empty car seat littered with branches, giving us a clue as to where Tony’s, and possibly Chrissy’s, thoughts are.

Then, just like that, it’s over.

Tony makes the necessary calls. News travels fast,  and rent-a-mob are soon gathered at Tony’s bedside the next day while Carmela visits Kelly’s parents.

Even Sil’s and Carm’s at-home looks are stylish.

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Check out the fine stitching on that shirt.
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Haven’t I seen you on the side of a Grecian urn?

Paulie breaks his own heart regretting time spent fighting and acting the pusher. “Maybe I didn’t do right by him,” he concludes sadly. Tony brushes him off (quite coldly, after extending his support in “The Ride), with a dismissive “it’s over.”

Later over drinks, the family mourns Christopher’s relapse. They are led by the coroner’s report to believe that he might have survived if he had been wearing a seat belt. (Which I think Tony undid before the ambulance arrived?) Christopher’s mother turns away, grief-stricken. Tony gets up from the table. Carmela follows. Assuming that he is also grieving, she pats him sympathetically on the shoulder.

We now take in the scene through the window, the panes cutting across their features. Carmela purses her lips; Tony smiles, the corners of his eyes crinkling in their usual way. From the outside, it looks to a casual observer like any ordinary scene of heartbreak. To Carmela, Tony appears to be in mourning like the rest of them, albeit privately. He is, but we still know better. He is also struggling with a deeper regret that is his alone. The shot represents how Tony continually frames his own version of  events, reorganizing them to his liking until they appear the way that they should.

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Cuties.

This show follows the “show, don’t tell” rule  well. So well, in fact, that it’s taken me multiple viewings (at least three in total) to realize that the scene with Melfi where he confesses to murdering Puss, Tony B, and Chris is just a dream. It was an easy mistake: Melfi plays it characteristically cool in the face of his admission, and this isn’t the first time Tony has called therapy bullshit or turned on a dime. It had me completely fooled. It changes my original interpretation, but only by a smidgen.

Assuming the therapy session was real, I thought that the hard cut from her office to the Sopranos’ bedroom meant that he was coming out of an unseen nightmare about Christopher. Instead of watching him explain the lingering trauma of his death to Melfi, I thought we were seeing the impact that it had on his sleep.

This still fits: dreams continually play an important role in Soprano Land. They often reveal truths, confirming a character’s deep-seated fears. (“Someone should tell your friend she’s dead.” RIP everyone.) Christopher is added to the roster of those who have gone before, whose shadowy midnight presence sheds light on the darkest areas of Tony’s brain. This is exactly the kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo that Tony rejects, but it does seem that his dreams are wishes or representations of repressed urges.

Dream Tony opens up to Dream Melfi (who is clothed this time). He tells her that watching Christopher die in his arms was difficult. This was one of the reasons I thought it was real. He is vague about the cause of death, framing it almost romantically by telling her that Chris died in his arms. This is what he truly wants to believe, what he needs to have others believe.

I did think it was weird that he was suddenly admitting to murder while she just sat there, which should have been my first clue that it was not really happening. But wouldn’t it be a relief to him if he could tell her the truth? Assuming she could keep it from the authorities, Melfi would be the one person above all others whom he could trust with his secret. Carmela would cut his dick off for real if she knew. 

I think his pain is genuine, even if the incident isn’t, which is why even his dream self rushes to renege. “This is bullshit” – exactly what he says to her  in real time a few episodes ago, in “Walk Like A Man,” and as far back as season 4’s “Calling All Cars.

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Any time Tony gets too close to the uncomfortable truth—be it his own emotions, or the repercussions of his actions– he checks out. Backtracks. It’s kind of like a psychological edging. It’s probably why he was able to recognize Paulie’s anxieties so well in “The Ride,” when he told him that he was too fearful of everything.

Like Paulie, he either lashes out or buries anything he can’t immediately understand. One of the easiest ways to cope is by re-telling the tale in his own words. However great the strides he has made in therapy (baby steps for him equal strides), he is still his own greatest fear. So, he lies to himself. Christopher gets blamed for being a “tremendous drag on [his] emotions,” when he would have had just as much heartache and paranoia if Chris had been a sober top earner, and not formerly engaged to a rat. Tony doesn’t seem to realize (or remember) that you can love a person but hate their behaviour, which has been the case with Christopher all along.  Keep lying to yourself, T. Whatever helps you sleep at night. Or doesn’t.

Jerking awake, he asks Carmela if he was talking in his sleep. He is relieved when she tells him he was just snoring. Snoring isn’t snitching.

 

 

 

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Please don’t make me hide the gun in my underwear again.
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“You want sex?”

 

 

The next morning, Tony shuffles into the kitchen for some coffee. Ignoring the espresso machine from Paulie, he grabs a cup from the mug tree, making me miss my own mug tree a little. It’s the promotional mug from Cleaver. He carries it outside, pausing at the edge of the walkway before throwing it into the trees. For a change, he has used the very weapon, his hands,  to throw away the reminder.

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Sell it on eBay with a story about a curse.

Back inside, he speaks with Carmela. I really like where she took their conversation, thinking of Christopher as a child. We were led to do the same with Tony in “Down Neck” with his flashbacks to the fair. Tony deflects her sentimentality with a crack about the Moltisanti schnozz living on in Caitlin. Carmela berates herself for ever suspecting him of murdering Ade. “Obviously, he was violent as an adult… his upbringing. But he adored Ade. He could never let himself take her life.” Death makes saints of us all.

Carmela turns out to be half-right. Technically, Christopher only ordered the hit on Adriana. Silvio is the one who takes her life. Christopher did try to choke her to death in the apartment beforehand, but couldn’t bring himself to. Semantics, I know! That’s the argument Tony would use if ever confronted with the truth.

Still reeling from the dream, he sets about bringing Carmela onto his side as much as possible without revealing everything. His voice is careful as he tells her that he thought she sounded relieved when he called to tell her Christopher had died. He is hoping that she will be as “fuckin’ relieved” as he was in the dream. She is horrified: “You don’t know what you’re saying!”

But he does, and he isn’t exactly wrong. A tearful Carmela admits that maybe she was, but only because it was him and not Tony. The thought of living on the end of a hospital bed again is overwhelming.

He tells her with measured cruelty that Caitlin would have been “mangled beyond recognition” had she been in the baby seat behind them. This is his way of justifying to himself why he killed Christopher. It was for the greater good, he silently maintains. It was better him than anyone else. I did the right thing.  Carmela had just said that she couldn’t stop thinking of Christopher when he was young; Dream Melfi says that he was “just starting his life.” The true beginner is Caitlin Moltisanti. He thinks this will also be of some consolation to Carmela, but she flees the conversation.

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C’mahhhhn! What’d I say?

In (true) therapy, he tells Melfi that he only meant to make her feel better. What he means is, he meant to make himself feel better.

Best line: “I was fuckin’ prostate with grief!” (about Tony B)

Looking at it from a solely professional angle,  I can understand why he killed Christopher. Chris was next in line and angling for his position. He was young. (Tony is approaching 50, an age that Christopher hypocritically predicts he will never reach because of his lifestyle.) He had a family to support.  He was a professional pain in the ass who cost him time and money and would have, as their leader, run the crew into the ground in due time. It only makes sense to kill the incompetent competition.

JULIANAAAAAA. CARMELA MEETS ANOTHER GOOMAR. I detect a flicker of suspicion in Carmela when Juliana says she used to buy her meat at Satriale’s. If she went there often, then she knew Tony well, too. And what does Tony do with every woman he meets? To skew their familiarity, he intentionally flubs her name, introducing her as Juliana Skiffle, not Skiff.

 

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Juliana Wifflebat. Uh, Swiffer. Uh…

As they make their way into the viewing room, Carmela remarks that Juliana is a good-looking woman. Unusual coming from Carm, this is probably more of a comment on Chrissy’s taste, but I also took it as a subtle jab at Tony. Said as nonchalantly as possible, it’s as if she’s asking, “isn’t she, Tony? Wouldn’t you love to have her?” knowing that he has, or has thought about it. Having learned that silence is golden, Tony does not respond, and she does not pursue it. Is this newfound bliss in ignorance?

I thought I saw a tear glistening on his cheek when he was talking to Carmela. It was just light reflecting off the burn. Oops.

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A Don does not cry at funerals.

I liked Chris’ funeral. It was pretty realistic, as far as TV funerals go: the solemn nods, the way Carmela collects herself before approaching the coffin. Nice and understated. In my experience, all Italian men look like mafiosi when they attend a funeral, whether they actually are or not. I’ve never been to one with a professional mourner, but I’m still young.

I’ve written before about how much I love AJ, but you don’t know that yet because I’m posting my notes out of order. Right now, I fucking hate him. The attack on the Somalian man was disgusting. He turns to AJ for support, hoping he would be the voice of reason. Instead, he of the delicate stomach stands by, unable to act. He holds the most clout in his group, and he does nothing with it. In any other situation where he benefits, he is happy to exploit his name and his wealth.

As with the acid attack, AJ’s reticence reveals his true nature. He’s definitely Carmela’s son, with more than a dash of the occasional sensitivity we see in Tony. He only acts the tough guy, knowing that the world expects him to be the next Mr. Mob Boss.But when things get real, he freezes, ignoring the option to fight (fairly) or flight. With the quick flash on his face as he separates himself from the fight, we are meant to understand that he inwardly condemns their actions, but his inaction outwardly condones it.

 

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More is lost by indecision than a wrong decision.

 

In therapy, he goes on a Tony-style rant about the state of the world, concluding that it would depress anyone who didn’t have their head up their ass.  That’s ass-tute. (Sorry.) It’s probably not fair to compare the way he uses his status at clubs to the way he handles real life crises, since they are completely different situations. One involves his private self, the other his public projection. We already know that he’s nothing like Tony, but keeps trying to be. He can only pull it off so far before it starts to wear on him.

His therapist, who barely knows him, asks him what exactly he’s talking about. AJ responds, “why can’t we all just get along?” Aware of the clear racial motivations of the attack (which would be accurately labeled a hate crime today),  AJ indirectly answers his therapist’s question with the oft-misquoted Rodney King plea. Before you tell me that this is the writer speaking and not AJ, don’t forget his newfound interest in politics and social justice. He’s bound to have come across it at some point, especially with Meadow as his sister.

Tony’s trip to Vegas always seemed like a separate episode. They’ve already crammed so much into the first half, it feels like the whole hour has gone by.

Of course, he fucks Chris’ old one-night-stand. Nice socks.

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Bow chicka wow wow

With the nonsense controversy stirred by the flip phones in “Hello” still fresh when I watched this, I laughed at Phil snapping his phone shut on Tony. “This is me hangin’ up!” Tony says, but Phil beats him to it. Now that’s how you end a call.

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That guy is so in love.

Okay, not to be Paulie, but I noticed that Tony’s pendant touches the inner rim of the toilet bowl when he throws up after taking peyote. Lysol that shit.

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I’m serious, clean it up.

He and Sonya make their way to the casino. Tony wins on roulette. He watches the wheel spin through heavy-lidded eyes, while Sonya moans and slumps against him. When his number comes up, he laughs. “He’s dead.”

Sonya and the croupier look on in confusion as he falls to the floor, helpless with laughter. The croupier has a trained, vaguely sympathetic expression on his face, that says he’s been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. All in a day’s work. Moments like this make me think again about all of the nameless characters who have crossed Tony’s path, often unaware of whose presence they are in. It’s kind of amazing when you think of the number of background players who have come into contact with him in some way in the course of their lives, even from a lucky distance.

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Dawn.

Somehow, Sonya and Tony make it out to the desert. This is one of the most beautiful locations they’ve shot in: pink sky, hazy, half-shadowed trees and mountains on the horizon. I feel like I’m in a Don Bluth movie.

Tony sits on the rock, watching the sunrise. The winking light pulls us back to the mysterious beacon that he saw while in the coma, pulsing cleanly in the sky like the signal from a radio tower. In what inarguably became one of the most famous scenes of the series, Tony stands up (much more steadily than Sonya, I might add), clasping his hands behind his head. With real tears in eyes this time, he yells, “I GET IT!!!!!” The echo makes sure everyone else within earshot gets it, too.

But do I get it? What does he get? I’m finding that hard to work out. Whenever I think I’ve worked out a theory I’m happy with, I think,  maybe there’s more.  Is there even anything to work out?

Honestly, it might just be an excited, drug-exaggerated reaction to seeing the same thing from his coma dream in his waking life. He’s high, he’s alive, and maaaan, I saw the coolest thing that time I almost died… Now he’s tripping in the desert, far from home, far from responsibilities and his wife, with a beautiful woman at his side. What more could he ask for? This is all he’s ever dreamed of. Maybe it goes no deeper than this selfish joy.

On a grander scale, it could mean that he has solved or come to terms with some sort of existential crisis. This trip (both types) is his answer from the universe, which he just referred to in the casino when he tells Sonya that the wheel is designed to mimic the orbit of the solar system. Is he able to let go of his fear of death? Or of life? When he was navigating his alternate universe as Kevin Finnerty, he was afraid to enter the Christmas party. He refuses to give Bellhop Tony B his suitcase because it holds his very identity.  He knew something was pulling him back, but didn’t know what. Something now tells him that he is meant to be here, still.

One of the episodes just ahead of this, “Chasing It,” opens with Tony gambling and losing. In an argument with Carm, he explains the powerful pull of addiction. “You start chasing it, and every time you get your hands around it, you fall further backwards.”

Since Chris’ death, he has been falling ever deeper into the chasm he has never really climbed out of.  He can mouth platitudes about being carried across the sky by a great wind, but he is still chasing freedom from his own conscience. (I think he has one!)  He has admitted to some sadness, but only as much as he’ll allow himself. The rest gets buried or expressed in anger toward Chris and everyone else who mourns him.

For the better part of his recent life, Tony has been on a personal losing streak. Every action of his is a gamble. At any minute, his carefully laid plans may go awry. They come close to crumbling each time his life is threatened, starting from the time his mother and uncle plan the hit on him They fall apart in smaller ways along the way: Jackie’s death, Junior’s Alzheimers, leaving therapy (then going back…. then leaving…), his separation from Carmela, AJ’s suicide attempt, to name a few.

He sees this as an ending to all of that, one that he can revel in because it’s purely symbolic, and does not require his own demise. Chris is gone. He is here. He’s got a crew to return to. He doesn’t have to admit anything to Melfi; they’ve already talked it out in their limited way. He’s back with Carmela. He has slowly but surely watched the obstacles in his way disappear, either by circumstance or his own doing:  Livia (dead), Philly (dead),  Chucky (dead), Mikey Palmice (dead), Junior (locked up; may as well be dead), Tony B (dead), Ralphie (dead), and now Chris. The future looks blindingly, glitteringly perfect. He’s in control again, and his stars have aligned. Everything’s comin’ up Milhouse.

But…

For how long?

I feel like there’s  a greater connection to the finale here, but I don’t know what. Send me flowers.

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Casting Calls: Losing Liotta, Gaining Gandolfini.

The Sopranos is one of a handful of shows that I’ve watched at different stages of my life, obviously with a different impression and focus at each age. I was eleven when the show debuted in 1999, and even though I was in the habit of (often surreptitiously) watching television that was “intended for mature audiences only,” this was one of the shows that didn’t become must-see-TV in my house until a couple of years later.

At that age, I was only aware of this show on HBO that was slowly gaining momentum and praise. The cast had yet to possess the star power that they would with each passing season, but I knew who James Gandolfini was. It seemed to me that his name quickly became synonymous with the phrase “unexpected sex symbol,” and I came to associate him with Dennis Franz, who, apart from looking exactly like my uncle and sharing a first name with him, was known only to me as That Guy Who Showed His Butt. Being interested mainly in David Duchovny at the time, and not overly enthusiastic about seeing the behind of  a guy who looked like a blood relative, I didn’t really see what the big deal about Franz  was… But Gandolfini was a different story.

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Get away from my mother.

Even at a young age, I could understand the attraction that many women seemed to have toward him, even if I hadn’t seen the show. It wasn’t merely about budding sexuality, but just recognizing this wonderful magnetism that he had. He seemed born to play Tony Soprano, no substitutes accepted. Properly casting the main character is key for any series, but I think there was probably extra pressure to get this one just right. There were pitfalls on either side: casting an unknown, such as Gandolfini, would add to the ever-present challenge of hooking an audience.

Erring on the side of caution and casting Ray Liotta, one of Chase’s first choices (get your tongue around that one), would have been typecasting, and would have made the show less interesting, even with the big-name attachment, especially if he had succeeded in hooking Lorraine Bracco to play Carmela. It would have been Goodfellas for the small screen; star-studded, but not particularly innovative. A series headed by Bracco and Liotta would have been too Hollywood, too slick and sexy, and there is really nothing sexy about these characters’ lives. There wasn’t about Karen and Henry’s either, but that was Scorsese. Same diamond, different ball game.

Do you love her?

To be more specific, “Whitecaps” would not have been nearly as effective with these two when we’ve already seen them torn apart by drugs and infidelity. However well or uniquely scripted, a Bracco/Liotta fight as Carm and Tony would instantly invite comparisons to Karen and Henry’s screaming matches about the same subject.

There are easy parallels between the Whitecaps fights and Karen (KAHHHRENNN!) and Henry’s fight over his so-called whores. The beleaguered wives both suffer emotional breakdowns over their husband’s adulterous ways. Karen’s, interestingly, comes much sooner than Carmela’s, only several years (at least six) into their relationship. Karen seems either oblivious to the fact that goomars were part and parcel of living la vida mob wife, or she just never thought it would happen to her. Either way, she confronts him violently, feeling as though she has, like Carm, been made a fool of.

Henry initially takes a gentler approach to Karen, reassuring her that he loves her, which Tony, annoyingly, does not do. (And I don’t think he’s just paying her lip service to talk her down.) But then he throws her off the bed and turns the gun on her. Buckling under the pressure of staying one step ahead of everyone else, and unable to cope with one more threat, he grabs her by the throat, screaming that he should just kill her now. “How does it feel, huh? How do you feel, Karen?” He then punches the bedside table before storming out of the room.

During their first fight, Tony throws Carmela against their bedroom wall as she pleads for him to let go of her. He backs off, stopping just short of striking her, but his release is rough. His hand later goes through their kitchen wall, where she stood only seconds earlier, revealing her fantasies about Furio. These are rare displays of physical anger toward their wives; anger usually reserved for other opponents.

Karen and Carmela also  make sure the other women know where they stand (or lie) in all of this. Karen destroys Janice Rossi over her apartment’s intercom. Carmela capitalizes on her status as a mob wife, threatening to kill Irina herself if she ever calls again. Don’t you talk to her about pecking order.

Eventually, both women take their goddamned men back. If they had even been able to make it as far as the fourth season, this now-famous episode could have simply been ho-hum, instead of the tour de force that it is.

Had we seen Liotta play opposite Bracco as Melfi, it would have been an interesting dynamic, but likely ruined by our almost automatic association of them with Karen and Henry. I have no doubt that they have the acting chops to try to make us forget what we’ve seen, but it would have been a difficult sell. I don’t see that the show could have lasted long with either of them in a leading role.

“What do you do?”

With this casting in mind, Melfi’s oft-quoted introductory query about Tony’s profession, and his equally famous reply of “waste management consultant,” loses some impact when stacked against a nearly identical scene between Karen and Henry. After that glorious Steadicam entrance, in which Karen’s suspicions about how Henry makes a living first arise, she notices the generous tip that he gives the waiters. Twenty bucks each just for seating them at a table? A table that has been brought in specially for them? Now she has to know.

She asks point blank, “what do you do?” Henry dodges the question (purposely, to buy time?), forcing her to repeat it, before finally answering that he is in construction. He focuses his eyes on the stage, avoidant. Touching his hand, Karen flirts.”They don’t feel like you’re in construction.” He dodges again, ignoring even the flirtation, telling her that he’s a union delegate. Fancy. Believable. (I like the rimshot after he says it.)

Picturing Liotta’s Soprano glibly delivering the waste management line leaves me cold. I’ve already heard this story, and so has Melfi in another life. There is no way to get around introductions or exposition, so omitting it would be impossible. Scenes like these, with more in common than not, would have crossed that fine line between inspiration and parody. Simply sharing 28 cast members is enough.

 

Home of the burger, what’s your beef?

Why else not Liotta? He’s too pretty. This in no way diminishes his talent, but he did make his screen debut  as a soap opera stud on Another World. Soap actors often have a difficult time breaking into the mainstream and being taken seriously as “real” actors because of the emphasis on looks over talent. It doesn’t matter if you can’t cry convincingly, as long as you look hot at Johnny’s funeral when he dies for the third time that year. Liotta’s abilities obviously match his looks, but Hollywood hotness was ultimately not David Chase’s goal. Edie Falco has commented on his commitment to casting “real people,” cracking that he was probably the only showrunner who encouraged his actors to gain weight between seasons. Cannoli for everyone!

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Transfer them right onto my plate, thanks.

Liotta is very good at being very bad, with the ability to soften when necessary, like Gandolfini. He’s doing a fine job of playing the thoroughly hateful Matt Wozniak on Shades of Blue, which also stars Drea de Matteo. His blue eyes can be as scary as they can be seductive, but he’s still not my Tony Soprano.

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Fun fact: Liotta was later approached to play Ralphie, but mercifully turned it down. I don’t want to imagine him sporting a Nick Carter haircut and killing a girl outside of a strip club. I’d hate him too much and I don’t want to hate Ray.

David Proval, who went on to play Richie Aprile, auditioned for the leading role, as did Stevie Van Zandt and Michael Rispoli. Rispoli took an unintentionally comedic approach to Tony Soprano. His natural “wiseguy cadence” bled through, colouring the character a brighter shade than necessary. But he is physically closer to what Chase must have had in mind, if Gandolfini is any indication, tending toward the Regular Guy side of things. Even though Jackie is the acting boss of the DeMeo family, Rispoli lacks the gravitas to carry a show about a cold-blooded killer with an affinity for ducks.

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Sorry, wrong number.

Proval has the dark Italian looks. Google suggests that he and young Al Pacino totally look alike. I can see it now, even though it hadn’t crossed my mind before. He’s a little closer to De Niro to me. Put all three in a line-up and I’d tell you they were brothers. A stereotypically Italian-looking leading man would again reduce the individuality and intrigue. There is already an array of films to choose from if that’s what I want.

(l-r: Proval, De Niro, Pacino. See a pattern emerging here, Scully?)

Proval was 55 in 1997 when the pilot was filmed, fifteen years older than the 40-year-old Soprano. He has proved himself to be a strong character actor (see 1973’s Mean Streets or 1995’s Shawshank Redemption), making him perfect for the supporting role of Richie. Speaking of Richie (Finestra), there was something in Proval’s performance on this week’s Vinyl that made me think of Gandolfini. Something about the hair and suspenders and Fuck Me? Fuck You! carriage. All that was missing was a cigar.

Van Zandt had a similar look when he was younger, but by the time the 90s rolled around, he had lost a little of the smoldering intensity necessary for the role. HBO also felt that they needed someone with experience, which Van Zandt lacked, but more than made up for in charisma and natural talent. He has the perfect mien for the snappily-dressed consigliere, bringing a certain goofiness to Silvio, a character that Van Zandt had originally created for a short story. That goofy, secret-teddy-bear quality is also present in Gandolfini, but again, these are two men who seemed born to play the roles that they did. Fate knocked…

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Had I been a teen in the 70s, he would’ve been a crush.

Gandolfini doesn’t look like any of these men and that’s part of why it works. Not only is it the chemistry between him, Falco, and Bracco that makes the show what it is, but it’s that Regular Folk appeal. It’s the fact that you could walk out your front door and see someone who looked like him, and maybe wonder, “is he or isn’t he?”

When I was staying with a friend a few years ago, I’d watch their neighbour across the street shuffle out in his white robe and slippers to grab the morning paper at the end of his driveway. He was balding and paunchy, and completely oblivious to the fact that I called him Tony Soprano until I left. When I pass that house now, I cast an ear toward the basement window, in case he, too, has been rejected by his local golf club.

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Just your average, everyday murderer.

Looks aside, it is ultimately James’ undeniable presence and approach to the role that makes him special. He has an instantly detectable sweetness and vulnerability about him that is essential to creating a strong connection to Tony Soprano. In order to feel anything for this guy, whether it be love or hatred, or both in one moment, to willingly let him into our lives each week to follow his unspeakable acts, there must be some endearment. Danger and drama are intriguing, but it is ultimately heart that holds an audience captive. Commingled with the moments of destruction led by him are odd moments of connection, even minute understanding. Even if you can accuse Tony of being heartless, is he always so? No. And even if you say yes, the fact would remain that Gandolfini is not, and that is why he wins us over. Charisma and intuition beat acting cred and connections any day.

Anything I could say about Van Zandt’s, Rispoli’s, or Proval’s take on the character is pure speculation since we may never know how they read for the part (got some tapes for us, David?), but it was Gandolfini who intuitively tapped into the heart of Tony Soprano, even before his creator:

“Jim Gandolfini had a lot to do with Tony’s personality. And this was done without much conversation. I think the Tony Soprano that I was originally thinking of was not as tough as what the character became. Jim showed me early on how much of a prick that guy would have to be. We never talked about it. I just saw it. The first day we shot, there was a scene where Christopher said he was going to sell his story to Hollywood. In the script, it said something like, Tony slaps him. But when we shot it, all of a sudden Jim was out of his seat. He picked Michael Imperioli up by the neck, by the collar, had him almost off the ground and said, “What?! Are you crazy?” And I thought, Of course, that man’s a motherfucker. That guy is surviving the mob. He’s really a dangerous person. He’s not a fun guy.” – David Chase, 2014.

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Two miserable pricks.

This brings me full-circle to the point that glamour is not The Sopranos’ goal: Reality, with its inevitable hills, valleys, plateaus, and chasms, is. That is the landscape of our lives, whether we are made in America or not.

 

Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood: Won’t you bug my neighbour?

Welcome to Mr. Ruggerio’s neighbourhood! Not to be confused with Adamo Ruggiero’s Degrassi neighbourhood.

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Mambo Italiano.

The third season starts off with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a few laughs. Chase takes a light-hearted approach to the premiere, after slamming us with the surreal and sad  second season finale that was “Funhouse.” The previous season opened with the comically titled, “Guy Walks Into A Psychiatrist’s Office…”, a reference to Tony’s return to therapy. “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood” is an obvious riff on Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, although I’m not sure why the title puts the spotlight on Tony’s plumber, other than the sheer fact that it is punnier than “Mr. Soprano’s Neighbourhood.”

References to The Godfather I and II immediately loom large. The agents sit in front of the flow chart drawn up in “Pax Soprana” (a favourite), after Junior’s promotion to boss is secretly snapped by photographers disguised as waiters. The agents do one better and also re-create the hierarchy on a chalkboard, just in case.

These guys even look alike, right down to the expression…

Picking up the driveway daily, Tony, like Michael Corleone, reads a headline that refers to him.

It’s hard to tell, but I don’t think that the article about Vito is fully drawn up. It looks like a mock-up with intentionally blurry filler text. The Star-Ledger in Sopranos Land, however, boasts a full article, complete with quotes from concerned residents. Someone crafted a believable report, even going so far as to name names! Sam Lieberman, one such  resident (apparently not so concerned as to remain anonymous. Watch yer hubcaps), and NJPD Detective F (can’t make out the full name – The Elusive Mr F!) all speak to reporter Bob Shaw, who takes his name from the show’s production designer. Is this show brilliant, or is it brilliant?

Tony’s first scene with dialogue is pure Gandolfini. He had such a natural way about him. It helps that he does not yet have the t’ick Jershee acshent that became his character’s imitable hallmark. If you’ve seen paparazzi footage of James, you’ll notice that he barely seems to be playing a part here, yet he never loses the ability to disappear completely into the role.

Edie Falco once remarked, “He was just Tony – fully inhabiting the part of this man I was married to. And it was thrilling. Usually, if you look deep enough when you’re doing a scene with somebody, you can see the actor, and I never saw anybody but Tony. Never.”

This is how I’ve always felt about him. The only times he’s distinguishable from Tony is when he has a beard. Even when he was walking around the city as himself, with a camera in his face, relieved of any vestiges of New Jersey, he was still Tony Soprano.

A jazzy instrumental, identified by the closed-caption as The Peter Gunn theme, plays over quick cuts of code-named family Bing going to and from various locations. (Seriously, Bing? Not something more discreet?) Peter Gunn was a show about a smartly-dressed P.I., that ran from 1958-1961. I had never heard of it before, and Wikipedia notes that it is a remembered mostly for its music. Our beloved I Soprano has also been lauded for its soundtrack; ask any fan what they loved most about the show, and one of the answers will probably be, “the music.”

Composed by Henry Mancini, the theme has been covered by  everyone from Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, to Aretha Franklin. The brassier version on the Porky’s Revenge! soundtrack is by Clarence Clemons, Stevie Van Zandt’s fellow E Street bandmate. RIP.

Some promotional images for Gunn show a stylized G in the shape of a gun, 40 years before the famous R gun appeared in the Sopranos logo. Probably a fun coincidence!

Operation Bug The Bings is underway. Wearing a sun visor, diamond earrings, and a sporty button-down, it’s almost as if Carmela dressed for the occasion. This is exactly what you’d expect someone with leisure time to spare to wear when being surveilled. Not too flashy, but not so casual that you’d mistake her for a working stiff.

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~*sO 90S*~

As the vans roll toward the house, the theme easily segues into “Every Breath You Take,” before blending with the Gunn theme. This catchy little mash-up was the brainchild of music editor, Kathryn Dayak.

Inside the real Bing, Paulie picks lunchtime to talk about that awful way your shoelaces sometimes drag in the water on the bathroom floor. He goes into great detail about the migratory pattern of germs, our first introduction to his germophobia. Sil hunches over his dish, turning several shades of green.”C’mon, will ya?” protests Hesh. Paulie snaps back, “He’s askin’ me, I’m tellin’ him!” Might I suggest slip-ons?

When Tony enters, Patsy returns Carmela’s sable coat, noting the alterations he had made. “It shouldn’t have torn like that,” he says apologetically. Considering how it was torn, I don’t think that either of them minded.

Picking at his food, Patsy opens up about the loss of his twin brother, Philly. It’s their 51st birthday, and Patsy’s first one alone. He has no idea that he’s breaking bread with the men who had him killed. Tony all but kicks him under the table trying to change the subject. Can we go back to toilet water and shoe laces?

Gigi, who shot him on Tony’s orders, shrugs callously. “It’s the life we chose, right?”

This caught my attention. He says it to shift blame, possibly to alleviate guilt, and definitely to alleviate suspicion, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk so far about choosing to be in the mafia. Walking away from the life is next to impossible, and so far, the only one who has spoken about choosing their connection is Carmela to Father Phil. Okay, Tony too, when he reminds a wet and whiny Christopher that he “chose this life” in” College.” Thanks, google! But as far as hearing it from someone in a serious way, those moments have been few and far between.

Patsy says he misses Philly. Trying to stay patient, Tony abruptly replies, “Well, that’s natural.” He says almost the same thing to Carm in  “Kennedy and Heidi” after she admits that she was relieved that it was Chris and not Tony who died. Both deaths are his fault, and he doesn’t like being reminded of the fact. Deflect, deflect, deflect.

I notice that Tony likes to avoid conflict while eating; see countless strained dinners with Livia, and how he handled Meadow’s sly lecture on the Five Families in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” Probably because he’d get acida, then he’d really be pissed.

I laughed at the way they all gesture and grumble in unison when Patsy says he would have preferred to die the way some twins do, within hours of each other. “Ehh, c’mon!” Enough with this talk, stronzo. You’re disrespecting The Bing.

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Way to go, Christafuh.

In case you were wondering, Carm’s tennis visor isn’t just for show. It’s time for her weekly lesson with Ed Restuccia, a good Italian boy who is interested in other rackets. It sounds like Carm wants to set him up with Ade, but then she finds out that his wife (“I didn’t even know you were married!”) got a new job, so they’re moving to California. But it’s okay, Birgit is going to take over for him!

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WOMEN, AMIRITE???

Carmela takes Christ to the courts. That thick golden crucifix goes everywhere, and good thing, because she’ll need it to ward off The Evil Lesbian. Ade doesn’t seem to mind Birgit’s sudden shine to her, but Carmela thinks she’s just a little too friendly. For me, Carmela’s homophobia comes a little out of left field. Even with her strong (or situational, depending on whom you ask) Roman Catholic background, I figured she would be the liberal one. She’s so good at looking the other way when it comes to  other, greater moral transgressions, I don’t know why she couldn’t just let this one slide.

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That’s lesbian activity.
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Tonight on The Office, Carmela Soprano.

You want inappropriate conduct? Listen to the bullshit coming out of the mouths of the G-Men with binoculars. If you only knew, C.

Ed has burned her, so she burns him back. Oh, your wife is a dot-com antiques dealer?

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Oh Ed, ya big lug!

But you have a couple thou in the bird feeder! Doesn’t get any more traditional than that.

With The Sausage Factory, aka Casa Soprano, empty, the FBI moves in to plant their recorders, sift through the mail, and check the expiry dates in the fridge. Safety first!

They set their sights on the desk lamp in the basement. This was pretty cool, watching them bug an exact replicate recreated in painstaking detail, right down to the last scratch. I feel like I’m watching Fight The Future with the establishing shot of Quantico. Scullayyyyy!

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It’s shedding light on things, geddit?

What the fuck, AJ’s drinking Snapple.

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Don’t backwash!

I TOLD YOU THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT MAFIA DUDES AND APPLE JUICE.

Meadow’s dorm room is classic. Touch tone phone with a cord, an NSYNC poster, and a pizza box on the dresser.

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Where can I find that cloud blanket?

I like the juxtaposition of the agent listening at the door as the FBI bug Meadow’s house, half an hour away, while she talks about being homesick. The lamp on the desk behind Caitlin will factor in later. You’ll notice her side of the room is covered in posters for Absolut Vodka, providing the perfect backdrop for her drunken Liza tribute.

This is the one with “that cookie shit“! Ah, the days before private browsing.

Did you cry at Carmela collecting the tennis balls? I did. Such a menial task, by her standards. Add to that that she has been ordered by A Lesbian, while her sweet, straight, cinnamon roll of a friend is being given the very hands-on lesson that she misses from Ed. It’s practically public humiliation.ball collector

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Lesbian request denied.

SHE IS SO ANGRY. That is a white suburban mom face if ever I saw one.  All that’s missing is the “I want to speak to the manager” haircut. Cut to a shot where we hear their maid, Liliana, panicking inside the house, establishing a connection between the demoted Carmela and her “hired help.” Although Liliana has not been on the receiving end of it, Carmela has  previously summoned her first housekeeper with a flick of her long nails, a not-so-subtle reminder to everyone that she will never have dishpan hands. Tony is not the only one who likes to assert his dominance. Out of insecurity, Carmela does, too, by making sure that nobody forgets their place inside her home.

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STOP IT.

Question: Where did Oona, their first housekeeper, go? Did they dismiss her after the indictments in the first season?  Unless they let her go with a nice sum of hush money, it would make more sense to keep anyone who could answer questions about their house close by.

In Denial, Anger, Acceptance,” Carmela beckons to Charmaine in the same manner. Understandably offended, Charmaine retaliates by letting her in on a little secret about Tony’s past.

I’m a big fan of  Uncle’s John’s Bathroom Readers. One of my favourite articles was a collection of different rules from old etiquette guides, with one entry about farting dating back to the 16th century! A rule from the mid-1800s reminds people that how you speak to your servants reflects upon you. Addressing them with condescension, especially in front of your guests, is a tell-tale sign that you were once where they were, and are “putting on airs at the thought of your own promotion.”

This fits her to a, um, T. Class-conscious Carmela knows that she might be in very different position had she married someone else. She resents not merely the fact that Charmaine and Tony slept together in high school, but that Charmaine and Artie are legitimate earners. They built up and have so far maintained, the family-owned Vesuvio without the help of the “blood money” that allows the unemployed Carmela her lavish lifestyle. Even if she will never know how often Charmaine discourages her husband from getting in too thick with Tony and his friends, she is, at least, aware that they will never have to live with the permanent stain of being married to the mob, a stain that she fears may earmark her for eternal damnation.

“I have forsaken what is right for what is easy. Allowing what I know is evil in my house. Allowing my children–Oh my God, my sweet children– to be a part of it because I wanted things for them: a better life, good schools. I wanted this house. I wanted money in my hands, money to buy anything I ever wanted. I’m ashamed. My husband, I think he has committed horrible acts. I think he has… you know all about him, Father Phil. I’m the same. I’ve said nothing. I’ve done nothing about it. I’ve got a bad feeling. It’s just a matter of time before God compensates me with outrage for my sins…” – Carmela Soprano, in College

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Her face. I die. Give her all the awards.

The Police start up again (THE POLICE ARE PLAYING AS THE FBI WATCH THEM. YO DAWG, I HEARD YOU LIKED LAW ENFORCEMENT), joined by Peter Gunn. Carmela heads back to base, and the feds make their escape. They find out later that Liliana was yelling about the water heater. Bye-bye, Black and Decker! Six months on the thing? Not even six days. Our white collar boys are baffled. They can’t even make the connection between their prediction and the plumber’s truck that they saw at the house.

I’m just going to praise the level of detail on this show again. Wading through the flooded basement, Tony grabs a box of old photos at Carmela’s behest. “The prom!” he cries. A black and white picture floats by, and lo and behold, it is actually a picture of them. The prop department took the time to photoshop a believable picture of Edie and James as seventeen-year-old Tony Soprano and Carmela DeAngelis.

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KEEP LOOKING AT IT

Carm and Ade look like they stepped out of the sports section of a 90s Sears Catalogue, not like they’d shop there. I didn’t say I hated it.

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Tennis, anyone?

Jeannie Cusamano almost spills the beans. When the feds in disguise knock, she answers the door in a casual, colour-coordinated outfit that would look right at home on the set of Everybody Loves Raymond.

In classic sitcom fashion, Jeannie leans in like Gladys Kravitz to discourage them from going over there themselves. “They’re in the ma–”

The agents look at her, feigning disbelief. “Pardon?”

Money! In the money. Rich, rich people.

Jeannie recovers. “Nothing. They’re different. For this neighbourhood, they’re a little different, that’s all.”

Sopranos Autopsy already touched on the significance of Jeannie’s role, and how she is the perfect surrogate for the audience… But I wonder if she still has that box of sand?

I didn’t think I would have so much to say about this one. It was a pretty anti-climactic opener. This is not to say that it didn’t have its suspenseful moments. The whole time, I was nervous about the timing falling to shit, and the tap operation being discovered. All it takes is a clear traffic forecast, and you’re home with time to spare. If someone is in the middle of bugging your house, it’s bad news for them.

Stylistically, it deviated a little from the typical Sopranos episode. Parts of it were purposely campy, perhaps as an homage to the original plan of making it a comedy, a la The Simpsons. After the darker episodes that book-ended the previous season, a little levity was in order. “Every Breath You Take” while everyone, feds and viewers alike, watch? Cheeky bastards!

This is the first, and maybe only, episode that I can think of that uses full fades between scenes. Instead of the usual straight or contrast cut to the next scene, they go completely black to indicate a new day. They’re a step away from using the intertitle.

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C’mon, make some mob stuff happen.

I LOVE THE ENDING. The agents take the legally required time-out from their listening session. When they tune in again, Tony is telling Carmela about his own indoor plumbing, and complaining about having something stuck in his teeth for two days. Carmela tells him he needs to eat more fiber, and floss regularly. What is it with us and food in our teeth? If you’re ever around my mom, don’t suck your teeth to remove food: It’s a purported Italian habit that drives her up the wall and around the corner. Help yourself to a toothpick.

I can picture him lying in bed later that night, working loudly on a stubborn piece of gabagool. From behind the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha, Carmela pipes up, “Do ya have to do that, Tony?”

“You want it to stay in there, whatever it is, and rot my teeth? I’ll need a fuckin’ root canal.”

“That’s not how it works. And we have insurance.”

“It’s all being spent on replacing the cocksuckin’ heater and everything in the basement!”

She shrugs, eyes never leaving the page. “AJ got you that nice electric tooth brush for Christmas.”

Tony grunts in reply. He rolls over to snap on the television, where he sees an ad for denture cream.

Yeah, I just wrote Sopranos fanfic lite. That means we’re done here.

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No respect.

To Save Us All From Chase’s Christmas

Ah, the Christmas episode. The flashback Christmas episode; now that’s extra special.

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Angel of my dreams.

“…To Save Us All From Satan’s Power…”  is pretty boring, and it shows, surrounded by an otherwise exciting series of episodes. Even the ellipses suggest reluctance: Yeah, this is our Christmas episode… I guess…  Fuck, I don’t know. In the sentimental spirit of the season, Tony finds himself reflecting on Pussy’s betrayal, and running an errand for Janice.

Things kick off with a slight panic attack over his Christmas list. Um, “all the shit” you have to do?

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Oh, poor you.

I see three things on that list, one of which is unnecessarily pluralized, but I’m not going to tell you how to live your life.

As is customary after such attacks, Tony goes to his appointment with Melfi. As he evasively tells her that the memory of his former friend “working for the government” brought him close to panic, she finds herself in that inner circle again. By this point, she is fully aware of who Tony is. There isn’t much she can do with the limited information he gives her about Pussy. I wish he had made her guess who it was. She could have called him Booty again.

Booty or no, she still gets in a memorable line.

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That’s cute.

I’m willing to bet all the money in the bird feeder she got that from Elliot. In turn, all of Lorraine Bracco’s real therapists are jumping on the couch, going, “I gave her that one!”

Back at The Bing, the annual opening of the Christmas box is underway. Hesh pulls out a branch and says that he doesn’t see the rest of the tree, to which Christopher responds, “Fuck that philosophical shit.” Christopher, honey. Come here. I have a crystal ball, I want to show you your future.

Now that Puss is dead, someone’s gotta don the gay apparel. Who will be the next Santa? I love the way they all look at Paulie, who then looks at Tony. With the empty space between the two sides and Tony at the head, it’s like the parting of the Red Sea.

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Then the consigliere said to the capo…

Sil waves the suit in front of T, who abruptly tells him to “fuckin’ stop.” Sil’s smile drops like a kid finding out that Santa isn’t real. Stevie Van Zandt is the best.

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Ah, go on.

Things are proceeding apace. He’s makin’ a hit, checkin’ it twice.

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Start rushin’, boy.

Tony and Aaron have a little eyeline match staredown as Tony crosses another laborious task off his list. But wait, what’s this…

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Sup.

Can you strum a keyboard? Does this happen if you see the light?

I know all the cool kids hate Janice, but I don’t. She’s funny, and if you don’t like Aida Turturro, get out of my house. Tony and Carmela bring dinner supplies to her place, interrupting a jam session with Aaron and the Lord. Tony calls her on her born again crap, which he sees as just another flaky phase. “When’s the last time you went to a prayer meeting?”

It’s not unlike the time he told Carmela she was only religious when it suited her. He doesn’t seem to embrace any particular faith, but is quick to call out the women in his life when they do. He sees it as hypocritical; this very judgement itself an act of hypocrisy.

Janice tells him that the conversion was, on  the whole, a chance to break into Christian Contemporary Music, proving his point: “Christianity brought about a business.” It’s all about the daily bread.

Best lines: “It’s a great mother-jumpin’ lyric, Jan” (Jumping mothers, eh? Good thing Tony wasn’t around to hear that one.)

“What are we sellin’, Ajax? ‘His blood cleans stains’?”

This is turning out to be a frustrating one. Normally I’m the defender of flashback and clip shows, but not this time. Chase and co. choose to wrap some  interesting exposition in Christmas paper: We learn that Pussy might have flipped after his trip to Boca in 1995; that Francis Satriale killed himself after getting in debt to Johnny Boy Soprano; and that Tony’s father was the one who came up with the idea of having Santa at Satriale’s in the first place. All good, necessary stuff, but, zzzzzz. Not their strongest presentation. Don’t forget, “Remember when is the lowest form of conversation.”

This is all slightly buoyed by lighthearted theories about the origin of elves and the North Pole. Paulie, Learning Channel fanatic that he is, is the expert: The original elves traveled with Santa to beat up the bad kids and give the good ones toys. Vigilante Santy, right up their alley. Sil is indignant: “And fuckin’ Dr. Seuss ripped it off.”

Also classic is Bobby’s Santa enforcing the one turn rule with a kid whose mouth is as big as the gap in his teeth.

There’s still time for a quick and dirty dream sequence. Sleep carries us over the threshold of time, to the present, but with a face from the not-so-distant past. Sil dreams of finding  Puss in a rat trap in the Bing’s dressing room. Cutting the music on the strippers, he demands to know what happened to the Jarlsberg he had. One of the dancers tells him another girl had just had a wheel of brie stolen from her purse.

He heads to the back, to the ominous beat of an off-hook tone coming from a pay phone on the wall. Sil approaches a rack of costumes. He pushes them aside, and there he is: the rat himself, in the jaws of a gigantic trap. (Which, if you look closely, you’ll see couldn’t even realistically hold him down. The jaw comes to his shoulders, not his neck.)

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Let’s hear it for Mouse Rat!

Once out of his silky red pj’s, Sil pays a visit to Tony. They head to their usual meeting place to talk about when Puss took the bait, as it were. Tony tells him the lamp that used to be down there is with Meadow at school, a reference to the season’s opener, “Mr. Ruggerrio’s Neighbourhood.” The basement is truly sacrosanct again.

And now, a word from our sponsors. The Sopranos actually used a fair bit of product placement during their run. There must be something about apple juice and mafia dudes. Tony hydrates with Motts; Johnny drinks Snapple while watching TV in “He Is Risen.

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CHUG, CHUG, CHUG.
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Snapple happy.

There are also two boxes of panettone on the counter. Their labels are barely discernible, but one of them looks like Bauli, and the other is so familiar, it’s making me mad that I can’t figure it out.

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I said *all* the panettone.

Another Thing Mafia Dudes Love™ is The Godfather. Flashback Sil puts his heart into a prophetic Michael Corleone imitation as Puss enters in the Santa suit. Tony cracks that he’s “method acting, like Al,” poking fun at his suitable size. This comes on the heels of Melfi admitting that her primary sources for situations like Tony’s are movies and Bill Kurtis.

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You broke my haaaht!

Shit just got meta. You may have heard of this little independent flick called Goodfellas, starring some woman named Lorraine Bracco.

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I have no clever caption. I’m just in love. Bye.

Bracco, of course, plays Karen Friedman Hill, who marries wannabe-gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). With the help of Henry’s arresting baby blues and increasing power, she is quickly drawn into the mob world, to discover just how seedy the underbelly of their lavish lifestyle can be.

Karen continually tries to put as much distance as possible between herself and Henry’s business, while simultaneously indulging in all that it affords them. Bracco’s sympathetic portrayal of a tough but curious woman, who gets involved with an equally curious and ambitious man, would likely strike a chord with Melfi. She will never marry the mob, but the intrigue of Tony’s profession is always there.

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Loud, outspoken, turned on by guns?

To make it even more self-reflexive, Bracco turned down Chase’s original offer to play Carmela because of her role in the movie.

“…I said, ‘Look, I don’t think I should play Carmela because I did it, I did it in a Scorsese movie, I got an Oscar nomination. I really don’t think I’m going to bring so much to this for you that I haven’t done already.” – Lorraine Bracco

Not only are all Italians related, we all have to play the same roles, too!

Speaking of being related, guess what? Now that Artie is on the market, I’m gonna marry him.

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Oh hayyyyyy

The final scene doesn’t just save this episode, it makes it. In a bid to smooth things over between them, Meadow gives Tony a Big Mouth Billy Bass for Christmas. It may as well have been a dagger to the heart.

Tony stalls, quietly quelling the familiar rise of panic. What actually happens is kind of like one of his panic attacks, but with everyone around him actually laughing, and not at him. He thanks Meadow, who twists the knife by telling him she expects to see it on his desk, not gathering dust in a closet.

Carmela’s first real laugh in the whole show? Has to be.

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Do the writers jump up and click their heels when their creative stars align like this? It’s 2001. Billy Basses are the perfect dad gift, and here’s a guy who killed his best friend after a talking fish told him in a dream that he was working with the feds. It practically writes itself. Merry Stressmas to all, and to all a good night!

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Merry Moltisanti.

A few random things

Some thoughts on my thoughts. Pile ’em up.

I was thinking over Paulie’s visit to the psychic, which ended with a freaked-out flounce where he denounced them as “fucking queers.” Could he really have meant that any other way? I wanted to believe otherwise, but I think that’s just my own hopeful interpretation.

Paulie is at least ten years older than Tony, meaning he grew up in an age when it still might have been used without homophobic intention, even though its use as a pejorative dates back to the 20th century. And of course, word meanings change over time, or may have multiple meanings at any given time, even if there is a popular overarching definition.

I was just picturing his little ma making that gossip queen face (see below) over coffee with friends and going, “Well, isn’t that queer?” and meaning strange. This is a woman whose vulnerability may have nothing to do with age, and everything to do with naïveté, leading her to be duped by ahem, Mike Hunt.

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Even though Paulie is about as warm as a Sno-Cone, I think that he picked up some of her qualities and characteristics. Innocence is just not one of them.

Moving on to another Sno-Cone… Uncle Jun.

In “Boca“, after his secret gets out, he heads to Bobbi’s office to break up with her. An unsuspecting Bobbi expresses concern for his lateness, and tells him about her dinner plans. Not cut out for the kitchen like Carmela, she has planned a take-out feast of barbecued chicken, salad, and a lemon meringue pie. While she waited, she had a piece.

Now it’s time for Junior to say his. He backs her against the filing cabinet, fist at the ready. This is a familiar scene we’ll see repeated in Tony and Carmela’s bedroom in “Whitecaps“, without the first-person POV.

Shaking with rage, he drops his fist. He reaches for the desk instead. HE SHOVES A CREAM PIE IN HER FACE. It cracks me up, but not because the actual assault is funny. It’s the attention to even the finest points. Little details with big impact. Apple pie? Fuhgeddaboutit.

The general misogyny of this and many, many other actions is pretty gross, but to its credit, this is probably one of the show’s least violent attacks on a woman, at least physically. It is definitely humiliating, but considering the fates of Tracee and Adriana, it is of milder consequence. That said, it’s pretty sad that the only alternative to death is degradation. Internal scars are no less important than outward ones.

To show us that Junior isn’t completely without heart, we see him storm out onto the street, on the verge of frustrated tears. They had been together for sixteen years. Junior never married, and Bobbi ends up being his last romantic interest. He, like AJ, let pride be his guide. This, I think, upsets him more than anything. He is angrier with himself than with her, but you know how the Soprano men deal with their anger. In bocca al lupo next time, Bobbi.

I like Sopranos Autopsy’s comparison to Edward Hopper’s Night Shadows. This, in turn, reminded me of Phiz’s plates for Charles Dickens’ Bleak House et. al.

 

Speaking of “Whirecaps” (when am I not?), I’d written that this was the first time we’d seen Tony physically threaten or intimidate Carmela.

Wrong!

I was forgetting the fight in “Bust Out, when he throws her against the couch. This time, she is mad at him for not coming to AJ’s last swim meet. In both cases, she springs first, unleashing years of pent-up anger on him. He of course can’t see the bigger picture, and views her reaction as an overreaction. After all, he already gave AJ the opportunity to spend time with him, and he passed it up to go to the mall. An eye for an eye, etc.

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Not a glitch in the matrix

While watching the first season, I said that it was easy to imagine Melfi unwinding with a glass of wine after work.  This is either coincidence or some strong writing on their part to guide my imagination in that direction, because she begins drinking to cope with the strain of having “T.S” as a patient.

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T.S Eliot?
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Nope, that other living waste land.

This little detail was kind of cool, because until now, I’d never thought about a therapist using initials only. It makes sense for protecting client confidentiality, but I  wonder if she does it only for Tony because of his notoriety. Watching in 2015, it’s also nice to have a visual cue that isn’t on a computer or smartphone. This episode is almost sixteen years old!

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SIXTEEN?

Melfi admits to Elliot that she has begun drinking alone between clients, mainly before she sees Tony. She has even developed a slight dependence on Ativan. He later finds out the exact identity of her patient, arming him with ammo that he frequently and unfairly launches at her during their sessions. He even goes so far as to identify him at a dinner with colleagues in “The Blue Comet” (which I just saw in full for the first time the other night, what the fuck?)

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#justpsychiatristthingz

Melfi’s professional choices and morality are often questioned, given that she keeps Tony on as a patient, even allowing him back after giving him an ultimatum to get serious or get out. But I think Elliot is way worse. As important as it is to dig deeper, to help someone get to the heart of why they act the way that they do, and dig up roots if necessary, this is not what Elliot does. He goads her, accusing her of getting off on the thrill of her weekly tête-à-tête’s with the head of Jersey’s most notorious crime family. That might be a tiny bit true, but Melfi wastes no time defending herself.

What a condescending fuck. As if he wouldn’t feel the same.

Thinking of Bevilaqua, I linked to the scene from Goodfellas where Karen admits that having her honour defended and being given a gun to hide turns her on. It’s funny that Lorraine Bracco plays both roles because there’s a bit of Karen in Melfi. This is actually a character that a lot of women admit to relating to, proving that superficial attraction to dangerously powerful men like Tony is not new or unusual, or even anything to be ashamed of. The allure of the ~bad boy~ has long existed and been perpetuated in fiction, but this is what I like about The Sopranos. They give us a woman who is not simply a hanger-on, nor a wise, all-knowing Pollyanna. Being a psychiatrist does not mean that she is always perfect or logical, or immune to certain human trappings. Elliot might be hitting a nerve, but that doesn’t mean he now has her pegged. He wishes she were so uncomplicated.

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It only takes one call, Jenn…

From the first, Melfi is torn between her feelings, which run the gamut from empathy, to fear and disgust; to attraction and intrigue; to anger with herself and Tony. These remain ultimately unresolved, mixed, and ever changing, which is the magic of it all. There is no breakthrough via therapy, no complete letting go of this feeling or that one, save for the brief sexual intrigue that she felt early on. She stays conflicted, drawn to him like a rubbernecker passing a trainwreck. (Or like a moth to the flame, like Gloria? Hmmm.) Elliot’s idea of the perfect psychiatrist is one who can be completely objective, emotionally separate from their cases entirely. Again, this is a nice goal, and partially true — but only partially. He’s basically a robot who needs to come off the cross and hand in his license.

Even though she drops Tony in “The Blue Comet,” it has taken her years to reach that point, and is so out of character that I don’t know what to make of it. I’m just going to pretend it was an elaborate hallucination, like Isabella.

After the rape in “Employee of The Month,” she admits to Elliot that she would never use her connections, but that she would be lying if she said she hadn’t thought about it. Two of my favourite Melfi scenes are that one, and the closing one in the office with Tony, where she comes close to telling him everything. Kill it, Lorraine!

I kind of ship them, even though that would’ve been a bad and unfulfilling road to go down. (Not to mention that Employee would’ve been a shitty, cliched place to start it.) It was their scenes that drew me to the show in the first place. I fell in love with their chemistry, which is just as good as the spark between Edie and James. But that’s not the whole reason I like that part.

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Now kiss!

I like it because Tony’s concern is real. It illustrates a rare willingness to improve or examine himself. Not knowing the real cause of her bruises (she told her clients she was in a car accident), he immediately asks if it was something he said or did. He approaches her gently, cautiously. He is not motivated by revenge, as he surely would be if he knew what really happened. It is different from when he tells Meadow he would “take care of” Coco in “The Second Coming.” There, violence is immediately implied, backed by parental love and protective instinct. This is a voluntary emotional offering of the self. It’s an understandably tentative one, but it is an offering.

Even though I’m going to watch the finale soon, I’m by no means finished. I’m just going to start all over again. I have a lot to say about that and other episodes, about Ralphie, Ade, Tony B… VITO, OMG VITOOOOOOOOOO.

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Top 5 Most Shocking Deaths: Part One.

I find that as I get older, my tolerance for violence and death on TV gets lower. I’ll skip the self-analysis and only say that regardless of your tolerance for scripted mortality, there were more than a few disturbing deaths on The Sopranos.

I had planned to limit this list to the first three seasons to keep it even, so I could do a separate list for 4-6, but I realized that wouldn’t work. So, without further ado…

The following contains talk of death and suicide. If this is a trigger for you, my next entry will be better.

  1. Vin Makazian (John Heard)Final words: “COME ON, GOD DAMMIT! LET’S GO, LET’S GO, LET’S GO!”

This one truly shocked me. Hard to say why. It’s far less brutal than Febby’s death in “College, which I don’t mind telling you made my cover my throat the entire time. Is it because it’s Kevin McAllister’s dad?

Vin is not our antihero. However familiar his gambling and propensity for sleeping around may be, we have far less emotional attachment to and history with him than we do Tony. There is just something about that stark wide shot of him falling easily to his death. It’s the all too brief moment of hesitation. He considers it the way one might consider a spontaneous trip to Vegas on a Wednesday night. “Fuck it, let’s do this, boys.” He tucks his badge in, securing it, erasing the hope that he might throw it into the water and go rogue. He’s already crooked, completely disgraced by his arrest. Why not trade in one powerful position for another? I kind of had an alternate universe mapped out for him in my head where he moves away, takes on a new identity, and continues to carve out a life of debauchery elsewhere.

I’ve said before that the writers have a knack for blending the mundane with the extraordinary. Not all of us are crooked cops or serial cheaters (if you are, get off my blog!), but we’ve all found ourselves in seemingly impossible situations.  Everyone alive right now has made difficult or split-second decisions that have come as a shock to ourselves and those around us. It’s just a little scary to watch someone wait in traffic, speak normally to a colleague, then suddenly be gone.

He lacks the calm that is characteristic of those who choose suicide, which leads me to wonder when Vin made his decision. Did he decide in jail, off screen? That day in the shower before his arrest, when he realized he was in over his head? Did the traffic jam push him over the edge; one more uncontrollable event in his already spiraling life? As the title says, nobody knows anything.

2. Matt Bevilaqua (Lillo Brancato, Jr.)

Final words: “Mommy! Please don’t, please!”

Oh, man. How did this end up on a list of the ten most badass Tony Soprano moments? The revenge kill for Christopher was one of his worst.

To be sure, Bevilaqua is not an innocent bystander: he’s a social climber who has stolen cars, beaten people up, and jumps at the chance to kill Chris, who is his superior. Huge opportunist. Bevilaqua is ambitious but misguided. He strikes me as the type who grew up watching The Godfather and Goodfellas and thinks that the life of a mafioso is all fast cars and even faster women, all enjoyed in a haze of cigars and expensive wine. If he could just get to the top, he knows he could be the best.

He is, however, not at his best when dealing with the top. He’s already been in trouble with Tony for talking about business casually, risking confidentiality. Cheese it, fucko, the feds!

The evocation of childhood has proved effective in garnering sympathy for Tony, so it comes as no surprise that Bevilaqua earns ours by turning into a five-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. in front of Tony and Pussy in the snack shack. Tony reminds me of Livia here. Heartless. Cunning. He even has me convinced that he’s going to let Bev walk.  (I doubt that Livia could be that patient, though. She never hesitates.)

Sitting across from him, hands dangling easily between his legs (watch that cigar), he turns avuncular. C’mon, you know me. I’m your Uncle Tony and you can tell me anything, pal! B’s relief is clear: he wets himself out of sheer overwhelm, fueled by a different kind of adrenaline than the one that drove him to this place.

He’s thirsty. Tony tells Pussy to get him a drink; Tony feigns concern over the diet Fanta. “You sure you don’t want something with sugar in it?” To get his blood sugar up, right?! You’re going to need energy if you’re going to walk out of here, you lucky, one-shoed bastard! Bevilaqua is grateful. He’s looked death in the face, but he’s going to be okay. He’s so relieved, he doesn’t notice the change in Tony’s demeanor.

“You finished?” ‘Cause that sugarless motherfucker is the last fuckin’ drink you’re ever gonna have!”

WHOA WHOA WHOA HOLD ON

I don’t want to believe.

Remember when Bart told Lisa he could pinpoint the exact moment when Ralph’s heart broke when she told him she never wanted to go out with him in the first place? I had a Ralph moment. My heart broke a little.  Matt thought he was in the clear. WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU!

Tony and Pussy draw their guns, pausing just long enough for Bevelacqua* to throw his arms out in supplication, before doing what they had intended to do all along. Effectively, this scene comes on the heels of Tony’s pizza party apology to AJ. Less than an hour ago, he was sitting in AJ’s room, apologizing for saying he wasn’t fit to be the next Soprano patriarch. Now he’s killing a kid young enough to be his son.

Oh, and since he left the pizza with AJ, he goes out to dinner with Pussy after. Buon appetito.

*I’m keeping that typo in because it makes more sense. Beve l’acqua! Now he can’t.

3. Sal “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore)

poor pussFinal words: “Jesus Christ. I gotta sit down. I feel like I can’t stand. Is that okay, Tony, that I sit?”

Puss. Puss, Puss, Puss. Fitting that his last name is close to pensare (think), because he is never far from Tony’s mind. This one feels more tragic than shocking, although I was fairly shocked that not even Tony’s closest friend was off limits.

The Twin Peaks-y dream sequences return to build up to a revelation about Pussy’s status. Like Dale Cooper, Tony is given the answer to his questions in his dreams. Suspicions raised by Makazian are confirmed by the talking fish in his fever dream. “You know I’m workin’ for the government, right, Ton’?”

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There was a fish in the percolator.
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What fuckin’ percolator?

Like Matt, he was not entirely innocent: Puss has been an informant since the 90s (as early as 1995, but likely by 1998), an absolute no-no in the mafia. but I think we all hoped that they could find a way to let him stay alive. Imagine having to kill your best friend?

Puss knows what happens to snitches. Cornered below deck by Paulie, Tony, and Sil, he asks that they not aim for his face. “Can you give me that?” He either expects a beating, or he’s in denial, since he seems stunned when they all pull out their guns. His last words are especially sad because he still refers to T. He has no hope of making it off the boat alive, yet he remains strangely loyal to the end.

Paulie scares me in this scene.

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The temperature just dropped ten degrees when I looked at him.

Just like on The X-Files, some people never really die on The Sopranos. Not known for dabbling in the unexplained, with the exception of portentous dreams and a religious vision or two, they couldn’t resist a good ghost sighting. His appearance in flashbacks and dreams are one thing. Whoever expected to see him reflected in the mirror in “Proshai, Livushka”?

There’s got to be a rational explanation.

One thing I know for sure, I will never hear Take Me To The River in quite the same way. Maybe Stevie Nicks can help.

4. Minn Matrone (Fran Anthony)

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Final words: “Oh no!”

In the words of Jennifer Melfi, “Jeeeeesus fuckin’ Christ!”

The first time I saw this, I wished I hadn’t. Some people (and by this, I mean youtube commenters) found it funny, but I still have a hard time watching it. I’ve got this thing against watching someone die a slow death. They argue that the scene was camped up for laughs; played as an homage to Goodfellas, which I partially agree with. Paulie is like Joe Pesci’s character: he might be the funniest, but he is also one of the scariest. If you cut Paulie G open, you’d get freezer burn. Even though he is devoted to his mother–this hit was for/about her–he’s still one icy son of a bitch. “I got feelings, too,” my ass!

As with Makazian, it’s the sudden switch that packs a punch. I don’t think Paulie went there with the intention to kill. Violence is always an option, but I don’t think his backup plan involved murder. Not until Minn reaches for her life alert and starts screaming loudly enough to wake the entire retirement home does he spring into action. Pinned against the wall, Minn gains enough courage to tell him that he was “always a little bastard.” This, coupled with the fact that she already called him a disgrace to his sainted mother (ohoho, how quickly the tide will turn), sends him into a rage. He makes a move to strangle her. She bites his palm, so he grabs a throw pillow, and starts to smother her.

This is where I feel a little unwell.

Look, Minn might be a tough ol’ broad, but she is no physical match for her attacker. This one is particularly painful because it’s drawn out. Another victim could have attempted to throw him off, forcing him into faster action. Or, if he had shot her, it would have been over in the blink of an eye. Not here. It takes an agonizing half minute to avenge his little Ma.

5. Gloria Trillo (Annabella Sciorra)

glFinal words: Technically unknown, but her last words to Tony  are, “Kill me, you cocksucker. Kill me. Kill me.”

Gloria is definitely in exelcis, but she probably could have used a few extra prayers when dealing with Tony. Gloria is my #1 favourite girlfriend, and the only woman of his I could relate to. I never fucked a capo at the zoo or threw a steak at anyone’s head; not saying the desire never arose. But she is the most interesting and human goomar Tony has had. The rest of them want the wealth, the status, the thrill. Gloria has all of that. She wants peace. She wants love.

This is not to say that she is not excited by Tony’s identity. She is drawn to him for the same reasons most  women are. Why is he drawn to her? She offers him just as much in return. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, Gloria is funny, successful, spontaneous. She makes him feel alive for the first time in years. No other woman stirred his passions the way that she did. She was a welcome distraction from his long-crumbling marriage. Until he began to see the other side of her, Tony might have even considered seeing her long-term.

Something that I liked about Gloria was that Melfi knew her. It made things more interesting. It was almost like a love triangle, given his affection for Melfi. Melfi is usually a few connected dots away from the full picture. She tries to help him as much as possible, but is often frustrated by the code of silence that his profession demands. Gloria is someone she has intimate knowledge of, beyond what Tony thinks he knows. (“I didn’t just meet you. I’ve known you my whole fuckin’ life.”)  She knows Gloria in a way that she will never know anyone else in his life, even Carmela.

Another cute little murderer…. of seven relationships.

A common theme of love triangles is the presence of a too-good-to-be-true person, “who is often revealed to have a significant flaw, such as hidden insensitivity or lecherousness, causing the other person to become the more desirable partner.” I don’t know that they make Carm more desirable, but Gloria’s flaws–lack of trust and need for control, which manifest as insensitivity and disregard for Tony’s personal life–put the relationship in jeopardy before he ever finds out about the car ride with Carm.

Like Pussy, Gloria never really dies. She returns as a discussion topic with Melfi and Janice, and in dreams. In “The Test Dream,” she reminisces with Tony about their time together. They laugh warmly, until he brings up childbirth. “I don’t have any children,” she says, turning serious.”I died too young.”

WHAM.

So, why is it disturbing that Gloria committed suicide? Shouldn’t we have seen it coming? That’s a question that Tony grapples with in “Everybody Hurts.” “Why the fuck didn’t you help her?” For me, this death was surprising and sad because she was not a one-off, one-dimensional character. Even though we never saw her in therapy as often as we did Tony, we could guess that she bared her soul in the same way that Tony did. She was, at least, in search of herself.

HAHAHAAHA Oh wait… Something’s twisting my heart…

While she was a financially stable career woman, Gloria was emotionally vulnerable in a way that his other women were not. Even her boss knew she had a lot of personal troubles. Tracee might be the only one who comes close, since it is obvious that she wants Tony’s validation and advice. But they were never together. Valentina threatens to kill herself after Tony breaks it off with her, only because she blames him for causing the accident that might rob her of her looks. Gloria was a woman who wanted to be lucky in love, and thought she might have found The One in Tony. That he may be to blame for her demise without having pulled a knife or trigger is one of the heaviest burdens he must bear.

Loose ends are usually never praised (just look at the finale), but I like that Vin and Gloria do not have clear resolutions. Suicide is rarely the result of a single problem. Sometimes, there is no confessional note left for those who remain. Gloria’s and Vin’s deaths retain a certain amount of mystery that haunt those who knew them, and those who watched them.

Back To The Beginning

Jump with me, if you will, back to the first season. Seeing the pilot again in May instantly sparked millions of thoughts; so many, I could hardly keep up with my pen. Thoughts on family (not la famiglia), depression, machismo, sympathy for Tony. These have all been tackled by various bloggers and columnists since 1999. Discussions abound about sociopaths, manipulation, and the evergreen puzzler of why so many women are attracted to this self-admitted miserable prick.

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You lie down, confess your secrets, and you’re saved!

One of the easiest ways we’re made to feel sorry for Tony is through childhood flashbacks in the first season. As soon as you can identify with the scared, confused child, you’re going to lower your guard and think differently about the man in front of you. This is, of course, part of what Melfi is trying to do: get him to connect with his inner child.

Constant angel, Livia Soprano.

It helps that he grew up during the easily-idealized 60s. The first flashback is to the Summer of Love, 1967. He’s a kid playing in the neighbourhood. A little boy who wonders why his dad favours his sister, Janice, and why his mom yells at him all the time and threatens to jam a fork into his eye. Where’s Mr. Rogers when you need him?

We hear little about Tony’s father, proving that everything that is taken to therapy really is about their mothers (I’m only half serious). What’s certain is that Johnny Soprano was not the most demonstrative man. The only time in Tony’s memory that his father was nice to him was after his arrest the day the amusement park was raided. Otherwise, he was as cold and calculating as his wife, using Janice and the park as a front for his mob meetings. It is probably here that Tony swears that he will never repeat history, and makes an effort to keep affari di famiiglia separate from affari di cuore. Seeing him make sundaes with AJ at the end of “Down Neck” helps to contrast the nearly non-existent relationship Tony had with his own father, and remind us that he’s doing his best.

You also see adult Tony as a secretly goofy guy. He fucks with Cusamano, asking him ominously to hold on to a box of sand. He knows Cuz will think he’s being made an accessory to some nefarious plot. Carmela tells him, “you’re cute when you’re being a bad boy.” It’s a rare moment of easy flirtation in a notoriously troubled marriage, where you catch a glimpse of what attracted her to him to begin with. It’s also the only time that Carmela will be able to speak lightly of Tony’s misdeeds.

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Who’s my sweet little murderer?

One of the things I noticed immediately was how everything unfolds perfectly. There is no shaky first season. How rare is that? Maybe almost as rare as a mobster who falls in love with baby ducks.

The ducks, Melfi theorizes, symbolize his family. Meadow will be going away to college, Carmela is unhappy, and AJ… is AJ. Tony’s mother, unharmed by the pseudo-stroke, is still manipulative. As the first season progresses, Tony’s life and status are precarious. With the police promising indictments in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti“, he is faced with two options: Hide the stash and deny everything, or join the witness relocation program. Hope above all that Christopher’s impulses don’t get the best of him. Pray that the day he and Carmela are empty-nesters does not come before he can handle it.

Matters are further complicated when they smell a rat. Fearing that Tony’s therapy sessions will lead to the exposure of carefully guarded information, Tony becomes the target of a hit, orchestrated by his Uncle Junior. Junior is also motivated by Tony’s public ribbing during a golf game in Boca, where he mocks him for eating pussy. (A surprisingly un-macho thing. Never until this show would I have equated going down on a woman with sucking dick, but they do. Lots of thoughts on that one.) “Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this!”

A later scene shows Carmela’s and Tony’s playful sides. As she gigglingly tells him what she heard from Gabby Dante, they look like any other couple getting ready for bed. He tickles her, prodding for the truth, before she spills Roberta’s secret. A woman got Junior Soprano, the capo, to go down on her! Hilarious. Power play.

sttttoooopp

Someone who does not bend to Tony’s power until absolutely necessary, and then with unapologetic anger, is Dr. Jennifer Melfi. She is the coolest psychiatrist you’ve ever seen. She has mastered textbook detachment and objectivity, at least on the surface. Her dress is conservative bordering on frumpy (even for 1999), though this doesn’t stop him from fantasizing about her.

Hey Carm, nice dye jo–
JESUSMARYANDJOSEPHANDALLTHEBLESSEDSAINTS

You could easily imagine her spending her nights alone with a bottle of wine and her work, like Dana Scully. But she too is more complex. This is one of the many wonderful things about The Sopranos: it seemed to spring up fully developed, a media Athena, leaping from the head of Zeus (David Chase), already armed. Melfi is shown with friends and family. She has a son with her ex-husband. They argue about her work, their marriage, Italian stereotypes. These glimpses into Melfi’s life are brief, but not boring. They are not inconsequential: through them, we learn that she and Tony have a mutual friend in the Cusamanos.

Melfi having dinner next door to Tony and eventually spying on his house from the bathroom window was a cute moment. For all of her professionalism, she can’t resist taking a peek. It’s a humanizing move. Without it, it might be too easy to see her only as The Psychiatrist. Such nuance so early is commendable.

Any cannoli?

She is still professional when she tells Tony that she was “in the neighbourhood,” lest he hear it from a second source, and draw his own conclusions. He laughs about it with her. “So, uh, you saw my house?” You’re not really sure what he’s thinking. He says it with a smile that could be sly or shy. It’s like that sentence that can be read seven different ways, depending on the emphasis. He could be hopeful that his obvious wealth makes him more appealing, increasing his chances with her. He could be uncharacteristically shy, or contemplative. He softens considerably when he explains why he loves her so much. Interestingly, he’ll love Gloria for what seem to be the same reasons: she’s different from any other woman that he knows. But Gloria has an edge that Melfi lacks.

It is Melfi’s resistance that makes her powerful. She won’t accept bribery in the form of gifts. She does not bend to his angry outbursts. She questions him and demands more from him than probably any woman in his life. The reason why he always gives in and returns weekly is that he knows he needs help and actually wants it.

Most women’s knees buckle when he shows interest in them (lucky for him….), but not Melfi. She’s not afraid of him, as I suspect all women are or come to be; not enough to let him take over. Even when gets into her face, this time with a death threat instead of a kiss, she remains calm. Agrees.

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Quite literally saving face.

She’s far from passive, though. When Tony returns to tell her she should leave town for her own safety, she initially refuses. When he phones her at her makeshift home-cum-office motel room, she bluntly asks if he’s watching her. In a closing scene, he tracks her down at a diner, dominating her physically (but non-violently) by placing his hands on hers, then moving the cutlery aside, telling her not to scream. Though her body language betrays understandable fear, she continues to dismiss him. “Fuck off. Get out of my life.”

How’s the bagels?

The tension is eased momentarily when she tells Tony that a patient of hers can no longer eat bagels because she committed suicide in her absence. It’s a darkly funny way of showing how Tony’s actions affect everyone, not just his immediate circle, of which Melfi is arguably now a part.

Tony leaves quietly, heeding her request. He looms into the frame outside of the diner, the blue sky and old-fashioned sign visible over his shoulder. Shot in muted tones, it’s as if his world has been drained of colour. He just stands there. Now what?

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Where did I park?

All Happy Families: Adios, eyebrows.

This show can be brilliant in its simplicity. Even when tackling the mundane, it is entertaining. In keeping with the lightened tone of the season,  “All Happy Families” shows the unhappy side of divorce – with a touch of humour.

Still so perceptive, Tony.

As in countless episodes previous, there is a mix of business and… well, displeasure. Tony’s poker games, rife with misogynistic shop talk, alongside his attempts at parenting with a woman who wants little to do with him. Two kinds of humour.

Let me say now, I hate Feech, and his name makes me uncomfortable. Die soon, please. I’m so glad true hothouse flower, Artie, isn’t at these games.

 

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You are not a big boy.

 

Ah, the ol’ ride switcheroo. I love when my expensive car gets replaced by an even more expensive car. One thing that Tony and Carmela can agree on, besides the fact that therapy is bullshit, is that AJ needs the incentive to pull his grades up. Luckily, they can afford extravagant ones. Tony presents him with a top-of-the-line Nissan Xterra, imperfect only in its effect on the environment. AJ, perhaps in an attempt to show his parents that he’s not wasting all of his time at school, sullenly tells Tony that SUV’s eat up more of the ozone. “I’m going to get some shit at school for this!” Has he considered a career as an environmentalist?

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AJ Soprano, the Emma Nelson of Jersey.

Tony has taken out the GPS, by the way. It made him nervous, just like that cookies shit.

AJ is pushing for permission to go to a Mudvayne concert in New York, then stay overnight. Soprano or not, Carmela’s precious little peanut is not going to spend the night in the Big Apple without parental supervision. Or maybe he is: after agreeing to stay with Meadow afterward, AJ is allowed to go.

We both know that won’t happen. Instead, he wakes up Krazy Glued to a hotel room floor, with Sharpied eyebrows after a night of drinking and getting high. Undisturbed, Meadow has awesome sex all night.

Anti-drug PSA

Carmela trying to connect with him at dinner by bringing up The Beatles! I remember seeing this and thinking how hilariously middle-of-the-road it was. This is a show about mobsters? She was like Marge Simpson barging in with Tang and Rice Krispies. AJ has posters of The Murderdolls up in his room, and tickets to see Mudvayne; she opens up the conversation with Pete Best.

Tony continues pursuing Melfi. This time, he gifts her a card of apology, and a basket full of bath products. Elliot’s interpretations of Tony’s actions are worse than hers. Tony is cleansing himself… by sending her bubble bath.

James Gandolfini makes this face often. Watch, if you don’t believe me.

(reading from his card) “‘But it is still no excuse to use the vile word that I used, of which I am sure you know that I’m talking about”‘
“‘Cunt’, right?”
“Yes, Elliot.”

Tony’s greatest English faux pas is yet to come: (to AJ) “If you’ve got some sexual proclivities with that teacher, you’d better tell us now!” This is the same man who quietly reflects on Meadow’s difficult adolescence by saying it was like watching an angel fall.

IS THAT THE CARS PLAYING IN THE BING?!? IS PHOEBE CATES GOING TO SHOW UP?!?

Edie Falco continues to turn out wonderful performances. Carmela’s insecurities surface again, as she tells Tony that the only reason she let AJ go to the concert was so that he would love her as much as he loves him. A classic parental struggle.

(brief interruption to remind you that her hair is back to its usual level of fabulous. thank you)

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Wife goals

Did I mention how much I love the sound bridges and scene transitions on this show? When I’m done, I’m going back to make a list of them from the first three seasons. Pairing Tony’s dumbfounded expression with Ralph Kramden stammering on a game show is only one example. Tony is rarely at a loss for words but bumbles frequently when it comes to parenting. He flounders as much as anyone.

It was also a nice tie back to his waiting room conversation with Gloria about The Honeymooners. I think she’s still on his mind, even subconsciously, hence the panic attacks.

THEY’RE ALL GONNA LAUGH AT YOU

After a fight with AJ, where he swears at her, she tells Tony, “he can be so hateful.” IS THERE AN ECHO IN HERE?

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Ouch.

Here amid the teen troubles begin Carmela’s own “sexual proclivities” toward Wegler. Get that dick, Carm.

Dinner

“I’ll stop by Borders on my way home.” RIP 2004.

Wegler recommends Madame Bovary, hailing it as “an almost perfect novel…. Emma Bovary destroys herself for some fantasy in her head.” Hmm, that’s never been a problem for any women we know. Cough. Livia. Cough. Carmela. Cough. Is it dusty in here? I swear I heard someone say Gloria Trillo. Hack.

I love watching her awkwardly write down Flaubert’s name. I often complain about how slick TV dialogue can be (mostly in sitcoms. Hey, Gilmore Girls), how the patter is too perfect. There’s no line trading on The Sopranos. Even the Bing banter comes off as natural. Carmela hasn’t dated for years (She and Tony were high school sweethearts!) She kissed Vic Musto, but never had the chance to have a real conversation with him. She had limited conversation with Furio. She craved his attention. Now, she has Wegler’s, and what does she do? She talks about Tony. It’s what she knows best. It’s only natural that she would be flustered in this situation. Which leads me to…

The ending. Carmela comes home to an empty house, with only her memories and groceries. Finitura.

Whitecaps II: White-knuckling it.

Tony Soprano is a violent guy.

You’re learning a lot from this blog, aren’t you?

Tony plays fair with his wrath. Nobody is exempt. He’ll choke this month’s best fling, murder his best friend, and smack AJ when he thinks he deserves it. His unpredictable nature is one of the most predictable things about him. It’s a main draw of the show: Who’s going to die in this one? Which unsuspecting man or woman might meet their end by his hand? We’ve been sure until this point that the answer to either of these questions will not be Carmela.

I never thought he’d actually kill her, but when I saw this episode a few years ago, I felt a little betrayed. Like Carm, we’ve trusted that the one thing Tony will not do is physically hurt her. He’ll scar her emotionally and take her out financially, but he wouldn’t actually hit her.

To his credit, he doesn’t. But he has ripped her heart out one time too many. Now, it’s her turn to pour it out to him. Whether you ship them or not (I do. I can’t help it. It’s the chemistry), Carmela’s anger and sadness are justified, even glorious. I love watching her lay into him. She slaughters him and his “pigs” – clever of Junior to call their home the abattoir.

Round One. User has disabled embedding on both videos, so get that split-screen going.
Carmela’s pain is so palpable here. Even if you only watch the gifs, you can feel her yelling at him.

When he slams her against the wall, it’s clumsy enough to be believable. Even though James G choked Annabella Sciorra for real, they lacked the chemistry and history that are special to him and Edie. (Gloria is still one of my favourite girlfriends.) Watch his hand in her hair. You can see him place it there to take the impact as Edie hits the wall, but he incorporates it into the fight as a hair pull. It’s a small but important detail that gave me a little extra chill as Carmela screamed for him to let go.

Finally, she asks what any woman in her position would: “What does she have that I don’t?” It’s a little cliched, but Edie is no soap opera queen.

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Okay, maybe that looks a little like As The World Turns

Carmela has tried. She’s cut her hair. She goes to the gym with Adriana and Rosalie. She gives Tony sex when he actually wants it with her, for a change. Only earlier that day, on the beach at Whitecaps, she kissed him and told him that he was full of surprises. Now she gets to ask him the question that she has asked herself each time he took a new lover.

The happy trio: Tony, Carm, Carm’s nails.

Round Two.
David Chase said they filmed it at 4 A.M. Take after take, starting at midnight, both delivering flawlessly every time. As before, her vulnerability shines. If anything, the late hour helped her world-weary tone. “You were my guy. Nobody could make me laugh like you. … You really don’t hear me, do you? You think for me, it’s all about things.”

I love the catch in her voice when she tells him she’s been dreaming about Furio. Not just dreaming about but in love with! She makes a distinction between dreaming and fantasizing, to make sure that he knows that both love and sex are part of it. Kind of funny how she doesn’t stop to think that she might lead the same life with him as she had with Tony. If she could have seen how he took down that kid in Italy…

It was probably all choreographed, but I wonder if James charged at Edie a second earlier than she expected, the way they dropped Alan Rickman on the count of two instead of three in Die Hard, to get a real reaction. She rolls out of the way just before his fist hits the plaster. I know she has to, it’s just the way she adjusts her collar makes me think she was getting ready for another take, in case they called cut.

Carmela isn’t eligible for sainthood by any means, but until season five, she remains more faithful to Tony than he ever was to her. She reels off a short list of the women he has slept with, starting with the pre-school teacher… and those are just the ones she knows about. It’s been a very long time coming.

Carmela’s desperate need for happiness and security are what make her breakdown so heart-rending. She will do almost anything to make Tony love her. Now that it has failed, she can tell him exactly how it makes her feel. When she starts sobbing. I have to wonder if she’s not just discovering it for the first time, like he is.

Whitecaps (4×13): Part I.

Here’s where the “mostly” part of my “mostly chronological” claim comes in. I just finished Whitecaps, and think it’s a good one to lead with. I’m going to break it up into two posts, so stay tuned.

Holy balls, kids.

I need a lawyer. I’m ready to sue for damages. Edie Falco caused my heart to ache for her so much, I thought I would need medical intervention.

It has been said in too many instances to reference, that Whitecaps is one of the most realistic portrayals of a couple’s separation. It makes you feel like you’re five, peeking through the bannister while your parents are fighting downstairs. It’s almost voyeuristic. This episode strips Tony and Carmela down to what they really are at the end of the day: A husband and wife in crisis.

Edie Falco earned her Emmy. She is extremely believable as the broken-down wife who is tired of looking the other way when it comes to Tony’s goomars. It takes a home invasion of sorts–Irina’s phone call–to push her over the edge. It is easy to turn a blind eye to your husband’s affairs if they don’t happen under your roof. Sort of a “what happens in Vegas” agreement. She has even told Janice that she will have to “accept a goomar” when she marries Richie.

Carmela has long accepted Tony’s secrecy; his one-or-five-night-stands; his money hoarding, so long as she gets a fur coat and a weekly manicure out of it. She doesn’t mind his unpredictability when it benefits her, which is often (see the furs, the jewelry, the lingerie).

“Who the fuck did you think I was when you married me?” Tony asks angrily. The truth is, Carmela doesn’t know anymore. While she knew from the first what she was getting into when she married a Soprano, she has rarely been comfortable confronting it. She has already refused counselling from Melfi and Dr. Krakower, the latter of whom is bold enough to label Carmela an accomplice to Tony’s crimes. She has sought spiritual guidance with little effect. But Irina and Svetlana are unexpected interlopers. Irina crudely brings the situation to the forefront with her call. Although Gloria Trillo called their house before, speaking directly to Carmela, Carm had no knowledge of Tony’s affair with her. The close call (heh) prompts Tony to break up with her, swearing off of extra-maritals for good (in declaration only).

Gloria entered dangerous territory when she gave Carmela a ride home in Our Mofo Amour Fou, allowing an unsuspecting Mrs. S to sit beside her husband’s latest goomar. Only Gloria never spoke to their children; Irina did.  With Irina’s call, the outside is now in. It doesn’t matter that AJ never finds out who was on the phone. In fact, it’s kind of nice that there’s an innocent party in all of this. AJ is still just a kid, whose voice cracks as he blames himself when Tony announces he’s moving out.

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Carmela’s explosion at Tony is powerful. She sounds as if she’s on the verge of a panic attack, and I involuntarily flinch every time he has her against the wall. I want to devote another post to them, but looking briefly at the climactic scenes, there are a couple of things worth noting:

Carmela finally gets to play the cat in the cat-and-mouse game they’ve been at for twenty years. When Tony confronts her about the stolen money from the birdfeeder, Carmela goes full Gas Light on him and tells him he’s demented. Money, what money? Just like, women? What women?

Tony calls her “my own wife,” now that it’s convenient for him to acknowledge their relationship. She just finished telling him about all of the times she let him off over the years, as if he thought about her then.

Carmela almost catches him in another lie when she brings up the fake nail she found on their bedroom floor in “Mergers and AcquisitionsThat episode was the beginning of the end for Carm, but instead of forcing him to explain, she left it on his nightstand. She has now assumed that it belonged to Irina or Svetlana. Tony realizes that she doesn’t know about Valentina, and shuts his mouth, unable to defend himself. Junior is not the only one on trial!

(Just going to add that Gandolfini was adorable in the scene where Valentina lost her nail, even if Tony is being a dick. Don’t break my heart like this, dude.)

What makes Whitecaps so good is its brutal honesty. During their second fight, Carmela flatly tells him that he is hateful. Now that everything is out in the open, she can delight in deflating his ego. It is one of the best forms of revenge. She is able to turn a formerly bitter experience into a sweet victory when she tells him that she’s been fantasizing about Furio. I noticed that Tony never connects Furio’s lapel-grab outside the casino with her confession, proving how imperceptive he can be about this type of thing. It has never occurred to him that Carm could have her own affair.

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The rest of the episode is kind of a wash, except for the comic relief provided by the Dean Martin smoke out (“Just give it to him, Alan!”). I can’t get too excited about the hit on Carmine.

Melfi knows it can only be one person when *69 returns a blocked number. Car 54, where are you?

As always, the dark humour finds its way in (there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.) Carmela rambles that she poured her heart out to Irina when she was his mother’s nurse, talking about Livia’s “alopecia and bowel movements.” Irina cheerfully calls herself “a piece of shit which the world, every morning, strains and pushes out its butt.” Poetry.

Season five awaits! There’s another fight in season six that I was probably misremembering as being from Whitecaps, that I can’t wait to see again. V is for violence.

Part II forthcoming.