Tony places his mother in a nursing home, ahem, “retirement community.”
Chris and Brendan hijack trucks.
Big Pussy pursues a stolen Saturn.
Episode 2 – Originally Aired Jan 17, 1999
Written By David Chase
Directed By Daniel Attias
This episode is unique in that it is the only one in the entire series that has a scene before the opening credits. Chase may have placed the scene before the credits in order to highlight its differences with the opening scene of the first episode. The Pilot episode began with a disorienting scene, with Tony (and the viewer) in a place of uncomfortable ambiguity. In contrast, this second episode begins with Tony in his milieu, feeling right at home in the backroom of the Bing. Tony has not yet become boss of the famiglia, so he really fits in with the rest of the guys. It is a comfortable atmosphere in the man-cave, and viewers (especially male viewers) can relate – it looks and sounds a lot like this when we’re hanging out with our buddies (minus the handling of extorted money and stolen goods, of course).
The meaning of the episode’s title, “46 Long,” seems to have eluded many viewers, but it is easy to decipher if we pay attention to this early scene. The organized crime (O.C.) expert on the television explains that part of the reason for the mob’s decline is “a disregard within the mob itself for the rules that served the old dons so well.” Tony concurs with this statement by saying “if the shoe fits.” A perfect example of this “disregard within the mob itself for the rules” is Brendan’s hijacking of the Comley truck (filled with men’s suits), even after Boss Jackie had forbidden it. Tony had never ok’d the hijacking and is furious at Brendan for doing it – but he nevertheless benefits from it. By deciding to keep some of the hijacked suits for himself, Tony is complicit—at least on some level—in Brendan’s disregard for mob rules. A man of Tony’s size would wear about a 46 Long; as Tony searches through the rack, we understand that the metaphorical “shoe that fits” is actually, in this case, a suit.
Chase makes it easier for us to decode the episode title by using Silvio to formally connect the pre-credits scene where Tony says “if the shoe fits” with the later scene in which he looks for a suit that fits: in both scenes, Silvio does his “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” impression from The Godfather Part III. By intentionally connecting the two scenes, Chase guides us into seeing just how hypocritical Tony is when he decides to keep a suit for himself.
It’s not just a failure to honor the rules that is weakening a contemporary mob that now finds itself on the cusp of the new millennium; the mob has been slow to understand and adapt to technological changes as well. The guys sound almost Neanderthal when discussing the recent cloning of a sheep. When Chris says “technology comes to the Bing” while delivering stolen DVD players, it reveals how behind the times they are. And Poor Georgie cannot figure out how to use the new telephone system.
There is another, more insidious, threat to the mob (and to America, Chase might say): the rise of corporatism. In the future episode “Johnny Cakes” (6.08), Chase rages against the machine, pitting the Mob against Corporations/Big Business; the battle plays out on a smaller scale here. Paulie rails against incorporated coffeehouses for stealing part of Italian culture, and in a David vs. Goliath act, steals a cafetera to help settle the score. David Chase strikes against the Goliath by mocking the coffee shops in a variety of ways:
- A barista tells Pussy that “these stores are everywhere” making them sound like some spreading virus
- A mechanic mistakenly refers to Starbucks as “Buttfucks”
- The logo for Seattle & Tacoma Roasters, displayed prominently on the store window, looks like the warning sign used for toxic materials
It’s not just moblife that is giving Tony agita, it is his personal life as well. The situation with his mother is weighing heavily on him. She causes a kitchen fire, she doesn’t answer her phone after dark, she drives away her caretaker, and she’s become a threat behind the wheel of her car. All of these things leave Tony with no choice but to check Livia into the Green Grove retirement community. (He cannot know that this act will directly cause an assassination attempt against him before the end of the season.)
In Dr. Melfi’s office, it is becoming increasingly apparent just how toxic Livia is. When Melfi tells Tony that some people are just not “ideal candidates for parenthood,” Tony tries to defend his mother with an anecdote – but the best he can come up with is the story of how she laughed at her husband when he fell off some steps. (Steps, stairs and staircases will be associated with cruel and callous behaviors over the course of the series.) Melfi’s insights into Tony and Livia’s dysfunctional relationship touch a raw nerve, and Tony’s anger swells. Melfi tells him to “own the anger instead of displacing it. Otherwise it controls your life.” In the very next scene, we see it control him – Tony displaces his anger towards his mother on to Goergie who, like Livia, doesn’t understand how the telephone works.
In the previous episode, we saw how two explosions functioned as a visual rhyme linking Tony’s professional and personal lives. Similarly, in this episode, two rhyming scenes of Tony lashing out violently with a telephone visually link his professional and personal lives: in the first case, he is infuriated to learn about the Comley truck hijacking; in the second, he vents the anger he feels toward his mother by beating Georgie with the telephone receiver.
Tony’s attack on Georgie at the Bing is brutal, but it’s just B.A.U. (business as usual) – the girls resume their positions on stage and keep on dancing. Goergie is an inoffensive employee of the Bing who will find himself getting in the way of these mobsters and suffering for it repeatedly in episodes to come. The Comley truck drivers are also innocent civilians who are hurt by the mob: one gets beat up and the other is killed by a stray bullet. The phenomenon of civilians being made to suffer by mob actions, either purposely or inadvertently, is one that will repeat over and over.
THE SOPRANOS – A CONTEMPORARY MOB-STORY
The discussion about the “golden age of the mob” in this hour’s opening scene possesses a kind of ironic self-awareness. David Chase is certainly aware that his TV series is appearing after the golden age of the mob-movie, after the era that gave us The Godfather Parts I and II and Mean Streets, and long after the era that produced classics like The Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces, and Little Caesar. Chase uses The Sopranos to push and pull against the expectations that we have of the gangster genre. Chase began bucking expectations right from the opening scene of the Pilot episode. Susann Cokal, in her essay “Narrative Ergonomics and the Functions of Feminine Space in The Sopranos,” writes of the Pilot’s opening scene that it announces “that the series will use feminized spaces for defining and refining male characters. In this first sequence alone, women both confine Tony (tightly between the statue’s legs) and allow him to expand (the therapist’s invitation to speak).”
The Pilot establishes that “feminized spaces”—the Soprano home, Melfi’s office, Livia’s house—are important parts of SopranoWorld, and integral to the overall narrative. This second episode opens contrapuntally to the first, in a very masculine space: the back office of the Bada Bing. “46 Long” contains storylines that fit into our conventional expectations of a mob tale: trucks hijacked at gunpoint, trafficking of stolen goods, tensions among the tough guys over the famiglia hierarchy. But much time is also given to the story of a teacher’s stolen Saturn. The effort that goes into recovering the vehicle somehow feels petty, it doesn’t quite live up to our expectations of what tough-guy mobsters are supposed to be doing with their time. As he tracks down the car, Big Pussy voices his own disappointment at having to do such small-time work when he grumbles, “I’m fuckin’ Rockford over here.”
Interestingly, it may have been during his time with The Rockford Files that David Chase first began to think about how notions of “masculinity” and “femininity” play upon TV narratives. In his essay “Driving in Circles: The Rockford Files,” Robert Gross argues that Jim Rockford was part of a group of newfangled American heroes who showed…
…the influence of 70s feminism and an emerging critique of traditional American masculinity on the popular imagination…Rockford is a fantasy figure that can reconcile both old and new values for men: good with cars and his fists, yet competent in his relationships and in touch with his feelings…The new values, the series implies, can simply be added onto the earlier ones without any tension or contradiction…
I am not suggesting that the men of The Sopranos are sensitive figures who are deeply in touch with their feelings. I am saying that SopranoWorld, like RockfordWorld, exists in a post-feminist period in which the character of Tony Soprano cannot function as a male fantasy-figure the way that Gary Cooper and Michael Corleone might have functioned in earlier periods. Michael Corleone was always too busy doing macho stuff—avenging his brother’s murder or warring with rivals or expanding his gambling empire—to ever worry about recovering some teacher’s stolen car. But Tony Soprano, alas, is not exempt from worrying about such domestic (some might say “trivial”) things.
In a sense, television is a medium that favors small-scale stories. Big, dramatic stories are perhaps better told on the big screen, in movie theaters. TV is better at getting at the nitty-gritty intimacies of everyday life. In his essay, “‘TV Ruined the Movies’: Television, Tarantino and the Intimate World of The Sopranos,” Glen Creeber says that…
…The Sopranos implicitly critiques the ‘televisionization’ of the gangster genre – parodying its gradual development from cinematic epic to standard video or television fare…its constant self-reflexive referencing to its own generic history reveals a television narrative desperately trying to re-invent and re-examine itself; searching for the means by which it can both deconstruct and possibly reconstruct its own narrative dynamics.
It seems to me that the dynamic of The Sopranos undergoes a change from the first episode to the second. The series settles down a bit – it goes from “cinematic epic” to more standard “television fare.” The Pilot had some unorthodox camera angles and wild steadicam/dolly movements, but the camera is far more restrained in “46 Long.” The Pilot also featured weird tones (probably through the use of lens filters) and heavy stylization (like at the MRI clinic) which are absent in the current hour. It is understandable that the first episode was more “dramatic” – most Pilot episodes need to be more eye-catching and heart-pounding in order to win viewer (and network) interest. With this second episode, The Sopranos begins to settle into its truer, less cinematic, more televisual personality.
The surest example of this is found in Tony’s therapy scenes. In the Pilot, Tony’s first therapy session was used to frame the scene of him dramatically running down deadbeat gambler Mahaffey (with the cinematic action of the chase scored to a toe-tapping Doo-wop song). In contrast, none of the therapy scenes in “46 Long” are used as a framing gimmick for other scenes. Dr. Melfi’s office will no longer be used for exposition in the dramatic way that it was used in the Pilot. Melfi’s office (one of those “feminized” spaces) is becoming a place of great importance in and of itself within the series.
MORE POINTS, CONNECTIONS & REFERENCES:
- Chase, an audiophile and musician, had seriously considered using a different song to open each episode every week. HBO balked at this, perhaps worried about additional licensing fees. This second episode establishes the convention of using “Woke Up This Morning” to open each episode, and cemented the opening sequence as one of the most memorable in TV history. The Rockford Files, the series in which David Chase began to learn the craft, also featured a driving sequence and catchy song in its opening credits.
- AJ’s mention of his teacher “Mr. Miller” prompts Tony to sing a line from Procol Harum’s most famous song: “…while the miller told his tale…” Procol Harum’s line is itself a reference to The Canterbury Tales, in which the Miller’s Tale is the second; perhaps a parallel is that this episode is the second of the series. More importantly, we are introduced to Tony’s love of classic rock.
- Chase has said that GoodFellas is his Koran; his “prophet” makes an appearance here – Marty Scorsese (actually an actor playing him) rushes past the crowd into a nightclub. There will be many references and allusions to Scorsese films throughout the series, and Chase will cast many of Scorsese’s players in Sopranos, the most important being Lorraine Bracco. In GoodFellas, she played a hot-blooded gangster wife, but here she is cast against type, playing the even-tempered Dr. Melfi.
Tony references Franki Valli when he tells his mother that Valli uses the same florist that he does. Valli, of course, appears on the series later as “Rusty Millio.”
- Ugly pun: Brendan refers to cancer-stricken Jackie as “chemo-sabe.”
- It’s ironic that it is at the Bada Bing that the guys watch the mob expert talk about the decline of the Golden Age, because the strip joint gets its name from the signature film about the Mob’s golden days: in The Godfather, Sonny tells Michael, “You gotta get up close like this and ‘bada bing’, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit!”
- When Pussy and Paulie track down Mr. Miller’s stolen Saturn, the trail leads them to a gay man named Eddie Arnaz. That last name explains why Paulie calls his boyfriend “Lucy.”
- Cinephiles take note: In what is almost certainly a nod to Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel, the remains of the stolen Saturn is found at Bunuel Bros. Body Shop. In May 2013, a list of David Chase’s “must-see movies” appeared at NPR.org, and it included Bunuel’s Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970).
- After Livia is checked into Green Grove, Tony wistfully looks at some pictures of his mother, including one of her smoking at a much younger age. This image takes on a particular poignancy in hindsight as we know that actress Nancy Marchand died of emphysema and lung cancer about 17 months after this episode aired.