I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (1.13)

Artie Bucco wants to kill Tony.  Tony wants to kill Corrado and Livia.  Everybody wants to kill Jimmy Altieri.
The first season of The Sopranos comes to a close at Artie’s new restaurant.

EPISODE 13 - ORIGINALLY AIRED APRIL 4, 1999
WRITTEN BY DAVID CHASE
DIRECTED BY JOHN PATTERSON

_________________________________

Tony Soprano has been betrayed, both professionally and personally, over the course of the last few episodes, and now it’s time for payback.  Jimmy Altieri is dispatched early and easily.  Chris, using the lure of a beautiful Russian woman, draws Jimmy to a hotel room where Silvio is waiting for him.  His mouth is stuffed with a message to the FBI and anyone who may be thinking of becoming a rat.

jimmy the rat

Tony must also take vengeance upon his Uncle Ju, but Junior’s henchmen must be disposed of first.  Tony pulls a gun out of a fish (a novel way of referencing the Godfather‘s “sleep with the fishes” line?) to kill Chucky Signore.  In a scene that almost seems like a preview of the notorious episode “Pine Barrens,” Paulie and Chris chase Mikey Palmice down in a forest.  Although his men are whacked, Corrado escapes – he is arrested by the Feds before Tony can get to him.

The greatest betrayal, however, is one that Tony is unaware of (or unwilling to admit to himself).  Dr. Melfi guesses that Livia, with Borderline Personality Disorder, is more culpable for recent events than Tony admits.  Melfi says that those with this disorder are good at “creating bitterness and conflict between others in their circle.”  Her words touch a raw nerve, and Tony explodes, smashing a table and looming over his therapist. 

Melfi’s suspicion is confirmed when Tony hears the FBI recording of Livia machinating against him.  Agents Grasso and Cubitoso seems to enjoy playing the damning recording to Tony, while Agent Harris takes no pleasure in the event.  And neither do we.  James Gandolfini, who has been excellent all season, is sublime in this scene, eliciting our sympathy as he modulates between brashness and vulnerability, between insolence and humiliation.  Gandolfini was afforded the opportunity in this episode to display many of Tony’s characteristics: hot-headedness, cold vengefulness, leadership ability, sense of humor, cheekiness.  However, we don’t know—and we’ll never know—if Tony Soprano had it in him to kill his mother, because she escapes his wrath by having (or faking) a stroke.

Of course, I understand why David Chase doesn’t allow his protagonist to kill his mother.  If Tony murdered Livia, it may have meant Game Over for The Sopranos – many viewers would no longer be able to relate to a mother-killer, even when the mother is as horrible as Livia.  Corrado’s escape (by arrest) and Livia’s escape (by stroke) are scriptwriting ploys that keep our sympathy for Tony Soprano—as well as the series’ primary tensions—intact for next season.

This season started off with a bang – the explosion of Vesuvio in the Pilot episode.  That storyline comes full circle here, thanks to Livia.  Proving Melfi correct, who had earlier suggested that Livia is good at “creating bitterness and conflict between others,” Livia artfully reveals to Artie that Tony was behind the destruction of his family’s restaurant.  Like a puppetmaster, she pulls Artie’s strings, and he later confronts Tony with a gun.  But Tony’s intuitive grasp of psychology is as cunning as his mother’s, and he knows exactly what to say to Artie to diffuse his anger.  And with that, Tony evades all the major mortal threats against him in Season One.  This doesn’t mean, however, that he’s totally in the clear.  There will always be storms brewing in Tony Sopranos’s life.  A particularly wicked storm roars up by the end of the episode, preventing the Soprano family from completing their trip to Aunt Patty’s.  Tony decides to shelter his brood at the New Vesuvio.  As he pulls his Suburban up to the front of the restaurant, we see a fallen tree before them.

fallen tree

The restaurant provides a warm, ambient refuge to several of the major players of this season.  Clearly, Artie and Tony have repaired their relationship, and even Charmaine softens her hard stance against the Sopranos.  Artie remembers that Tony likes Regaleali, and we might remember this too – Tony and Carmela shared a bottle in the Pilot.  Tony raises a glass and makes a toast to “the little moments, like this, that were good.”  The crashing sound of a tree falling outside immediately follows the toast, and it catches Tony’s attention for a moment before Springsteen’s “State Trooper” leads us into the end credits.

I find it notable that the final sound of Season 1 is that of a tree falling.  Coupled with the image of a fallen tree minutes earlier, it seems to harken back to the rotting tree that Tony was convinced he saw in Melfi’s “Korshack” painting in “Denial, Anger, Acceptance” (1.03).  The painting was not a Rorschach, nor did it seem to contain a rotting tree.  In fact, it depicts quite a serene and pastoral scene.  Tony’s misperception probably arose out of his preoccupation in that episode with the cancer that was rotting Jackie from the inside out.  The pair of fallen trees (one seen and the other heard) that close out this season remind us that, despite the warm, serene ambiance of the final scene, something is rotten in Sopranoville.  Death and sadness and conflict are never far away in The Sopranos.

red barn painting

___________________________________

FOOD, FAITH AND FIREARMS
This episode provides a litany of images showing the unholy connections between religion, consumption and violence.  Father Phil is quite the character here.  He engorges himself on food made by mob wives, at one point raiding the Sopranos’ refrigerator while Carmela is out.  He feels no compunction wearing Jackie Aprile’s old watch, which may have been purchased with bloodmoney – if not directly taken off some unlucky stiff’s still-warm wrist.  A shot of him comforting Rosalie Aprile (moved to tears by the sight of her dead husband’s watch) shows that Phil goes, via the wives, hand-in-hand with the Mob. 

phil food and money1phil food and money2phil food and money3phil food and money4

Phil blissfully lacks self-awareness of his own sketchy behavior, until Carmela (in a fit of jealousy) calls him out on it.  She recognizes his coyness, manipulativeness and neediness and sees that “…a lot of it is tied with food somehow.”  Father Phil’s indulgence in rich, tasty food parallels him to the mobsters who share his culinary zest.  Like them, Phil is too ready to give in to temptation.  As the series progresses, we will see more and more that The Sopranos itself is “tied with food somehow” – food will be used to help define issues of masculinity, sexuality and power.

____________________________________

TITLE SIGNIFICANCE
Anyone wanna venture a guess here?  The title most probably refers to the ’60s sitcom starring Barbara Eden, which itself derived its name from the first line of a popular Stephen Foster song: “I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair.”  Is Chase, in his typical way, building upon layers of cultural history with this title?  If so, to what end?  I don’t see the significance of it, particularly because Jean Cusamano never appears in the episode, in dream or otherwise (although she is fleetingly mentioned in Melfi’s office).

Perhaps it is one final flourish of ambiguity.  As with all things ambiguous, the title begins to take on nebulous, chimerical associations.  When I think of Barbara Eden’s show, I also think of her co-star Larry Hagman.  Hagman later played JR Ewing on the ’80s primetime soap Dallas.  Dallas was notorious for its season ending cliffhangers.  The Sopranos is—in terms of its season finale—the anti-Dallas.  No heartstopping cliffhangers here.  Tony’s toast in the candle-lit restaurant is about as anti-climactic an ending as you will find in a primetime season finale.  The Sopranos certainly utilizes elements of the soap opera – more than one clever commentator has called the series The Soap-ranos.  But this series never hesitates to break from the conventions of primetime drama and soap while pursuing its unique aesthetic.

Although this first season broke many molds, it is probably the most conventional season of The Sopranos.  Season One had a certain compactness: a limited number of characters; easily followed storylines and arcs; a mainly traditional buildup of tension, with larger and larger dramatic thrusts escalating to a climax of sorts, and then quick denouement.  Later seasons will take many of the conventions of television and destroy them.

___________________________________

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • Fr. Phil shows up at the Soprano house with the Renee Zellweger film, One True Thing.  The “true thing” in the title refers to Zellweger’s character’s mother.  In The Sopranos, Livia is the furthest thing imaginable from a “true” mother.
  • Dr. Glen Gabbard, in The Psychology of The Sopranos, argues that Dr. Melfi’s diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder for Livia is charitable.  He thinks she is close to being a true psychopath, certainly closer to true psychopathy than Tony.  I don’t know anything about Borderline Personality or psychopathy, but Livia does seem to smile when the EMTs wheel her away from Tony (and his wrath) – and it puts a chill down my spine every time I see it.
  • After being arrested, Corrado refuses to cut a deal with the Feds and testify that it is Tony who is actually Boss.  It’s difficult to know how much of this refusal is due to Corrado’s oath of omerta, and how much of it is because he doesn’t want to be upstaged by his young nephew.
  • The hazardous “oral” behaviors which the episode title “Boca” punningly referred to a few episodes back are recognized here by Tony, who says with complete seriousness, “Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this.”
  • The song “Inside of Me,” heard at the beginning of the episode, is by Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt).
  • An entire website could be devoted just to the study of the music on The Sopranos.  David Chase collaborated with Kathryn Dayak and Martin Bruestle (and sometimes Steve Van Zandt) for music selection throughout the series, and their choices add a powerful dimension to the show.  Each piece seems selected for the lyrical or tonal or sonic or narrational contributions that it can make to each episode.  The songs that close out each season, in particular, seem just perfect, and The Boss’ “State Trooper” here is no exception.

13 responses to “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano (1.13)

  1. The episode 3.01 “Meadowlands” begins with a dream. Tony dreams with Jackie and Livia in strange attitudes. In Melfi’s office, he sees Jackie Aprile on a stretcher, “wired” and smoking. When Tony asks what was going on, Jackie just answer “storms.” As the heartbeat of Jackie alters, he adds “You smell it? That’s rain.” Tony is more lost than ever and tries to get an answer from the mysterious Melfi, who turns only to become Livia, amalgamated in the hairstyle and dress of Jennifer. Then Tony gets scared and tries to leave … and wakes up from his nightmare.
    Is there a premonition here? Could Jackie be – then the family’s boss – a representation of Tony – the “future” head of the family? Jackie is foreshadowing the “storms” of the final – both literal and metaphorically speaking. Jackie is “wired” to a monitoring team and for me that refers to the (future) Pussy’s betrayal and FBI recordings of Livia and Corrado listed here. The menacing figure of Livia at the end of the dream, amalgamated with Melfi… May also tell us about of Tony’s process-of-truth induced by Melfi’s words to discover the betrayal of Livia?

    Like

  2. One more point:
    En the dream, that Jackie (for me, a representation of Tony) is smoking could mean that he is relaxed or ignoring the dangers looming over him, which clearly are Livia (appeared intentionally at the end of the dream, and “surprisingly”) and ‘wires’ around his body (alluding to the FBI microphones & recordings). Tony feels that something bad will happen (storms?) but makes an effort to deny his reality (represented throughout the episode “Isabella”, where he creates a fantasy world; but also for his endless sleep) even though reality suddenly overflowing with the attempt to hit. From there, he awakes and takes action (a pulse of life over a pulse of death).

    Errata: Meadowlands is episode 4.01.

    Regards Ron !

    Like

    • That’s an interesting interpretation Chris – I never noted those connections between the dream-sequence in “Meadowlands” and this Season Finale. I didn’t even remember that Jackie says “thunderstorms” in that dream-sequence, but you were able to connect it to the storm that closes out this episode and the metaphorical “storms” in Tony’s life. This is a good example of how David Chase fills The Sopranos with interconnected imagery and dialogue, much of it often very ambiguous, inviting us to come up with our own interpretations of what it all means.

      Like

  3. Only one more humble contribution, I would not to become annoying: Father Phil pays for his food with a gift certificate given him by “Dellacroce” Family. Here is a wink of David Chase because Aniello Dellacroce was an awful mobster who became underboss of the Gambinos (he was the mentor of John Gotti). This is another way of linking the Catholic Church with the Mafia. Additionally, he doesn´t handle money, but influential relationships – a balanced way to demonstrate power without flaunting that power (a watch in his wistle is another example of this, because he shows his influence (his “friends”) but is covered with a cloak of piety and religiosity, since the watch is an inherited object and not directly obtained by his particular actions.)

    Like

    • Good observation, that may indeed be a further link between the Church and the mafia as you say. (Don’t worry about becoming “annoying” – I am always happy to see “Autopsy” readers contribute their various interpretations and insights about The Sopranos.)

      Like

  4. Hi Ron, because of you and (and Alan Sepinwall) I’ve gone back to watching The Sopranos, from start to finish for the third time. Although I’ve seen episodes piecemeal through the years in reruns and on A&E (what a travesty that was).

    While definitely not as deep as what Chris (and you) have both illuminated in this episode, I found myself feeling a tinge of nostalgia as I watched the last episode here, with Tony’s toast at the table. This is the toast and what he says that AJ will eventually reference in the final scene at Holsten’s, although not word for word. AJ’s frustrated at his “entry level job” and Tony tells him to buck up. AJ has that Soprano stare but quickly snaps out of it.

    Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano, Jr.: You’re right. Focus on the good times.
    Tony Soprano: Don’t be sarcastic.
    Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano, Jr.: Isn’t that what you said one time? Try to remember the times that were good?
    Tony Soprano: I did?
    Anthony ‘A.J.’ Soprano, Jr.: Yeah.
    Tony Soprano: Well, it’s true, I guess.
    [the waitress arrives with a bowl of onion rings]
    Tony Soprano: I ordered something for the table.

    And I love the irony of how Tony doesn’t even recall saying this, meaning he forgot the actual conversation and toast. Although in the final season, he does recall to Artie in “Luxury Lounge” about taking refuge at Nuovo Vesuvio during the storm.

    Just two examples of Chase’s interconnected dialogue and references.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “The pair of fallen trees (one seen and the other heard) that close out this season remind us that, despite the warm, serene ambiance of the final scene, something is rotten in Sopranoville. Death and sadness and conflict are never far away in The Sopranos.”

    This is essential to my interpretation of the cut-to-black finale. Maybe Tony died, maybe he didn´t. We don´t know. But does it matter? We´ve seen him get out of some really tough situations, but of course he´s gonna die at some point. If it´s not now it’ll be later, so why do we care so much?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great analysis. Regarding the dream he has of Mrs. Cusamano, it’s possible that while Tony was asleep he was remembering his humiliation a few episodes back as a result of Dr. Cusamano’s invitation to play golf at his club, and is getting dream revenge now by having sex with Cusamano’s wife; and with specific regard to this episode’s title, I Dream of Jeannie was of course a sitcom about a genie who could grant her master any wish he wants, whereas here we have Tony in a crisis situation where there is no one magical enough who can solve all his problems for him, he has to find solutions himself, and often those solutions don’t pan out (his inability to kill his uncle or his mother.)

    I’ve noticed you haven’t posted any new entries in a while Ron, and I don’t know if that’s because of other things going on in your life or just burn-out trying to analyze every episode of this long-running series, but I hope you do someday pick up your pen again. These really are some of the best analyses of the show on the Internet. Whatever you eventually decide to do, thank you so much for all the work you’ve put into this. It’s a joy to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Noticed the continued connection between water and death here. Chucky is killed on a boat and thrown into the ocean, and Mikey almost escapes through the forrest, but trips up in a puddle of water and gets shot. The final scene has the Sopranos taking refuge in food and family inside Vesuvio, as outside rain (death) pours down all around them, and trees (family trees) crumble.

    To John’s reference of the show’s final scene above, AJ’s repeating of Tony’s own words back to him mirror’s Tony retelling Jun’s story about the bulls that Jun didn’t remember earlier this season. The insistence on remembering the good times in the final family dinner scene also contrasts to Melfi asking Tony about the good times in Livia’s house (one time dad fell down the stairs and mom laughed at him :\ ).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think the title “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano” simply plays as an indicator of Tony’s transition, as compared to not long ago where “he dreamt of Isabella” (The Madonna), in which he seeks for a mother’s nursery, but not sexually (suppressed by castration anxiety); which is not the case in this episode, wherein we witnessed his transition from a painful being who’s emotionally manipulated by his own mother, to one finally confronts to his mother’s pathology. And the dream about Jean is the revelation of him breaking through (at least in this episode*) the net his mother cast upon him, in reality or subconsciously: since for now he was no longer disrupted by his mother in his dreams.

    *I’m still quite new to the show (just finished this episode/season) so I’m not too sure how this complex between Tony and Livia will go on..however this is my observation so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. can you give interpretation if chris was upset or not about finding out tony was in therapy when he sat down with him, silvio, and paulie

    Like

    • I think Chris may be upset that Tony is attending therapy sessions because it would have seem weak or unmanly, according to Chris’ way of thinking.

      Like

      • i can concur only thing i would say it is more so because Chris without a doubt looks at Tony like a father figure. Because let’s face it there have plenty of incidents where Chris has been seemingly unmanly like in this season. then of course throughout the series we’ve seen Chris act somewhat childish and selfish to the point where he becomes an addict unable to cope with his condition.
        i have a pessimistic view of the world mind you, when i say this i include myself. the world is a thing of hypocrisy it always becomes more evident throughout the series.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s