Meadowlands (1.04)

After Boss Jackie Aprile succumbs to cancer, war over his succession is averted when Tony allows Corrado to take the position.  AJ gets a better understanding of the type of man his father is after talking to Meadow.

Episode 4 – Originally aired Jan 31, 1999

Written by Jason Cahill
Directed by John Patterson


Dream sequences are an important part of The Sopranos, and they function in a variety of ways within the series.  This episode begins with a dream sequence that does several things: it establishes the Sopranos’ convention of projecting characters’ dreams directly onto our TV screens; it continues the Sopranos’ practice of creating viewer confusion (just as it took some time for us to understand that Tony was in a psychiatrist’s office at the beginning of the Pilot episode, it takes some time for us to understand that Tony is dreaming here); it shows the weird ways in which dreams can connect various concerns and desires.  In this particular case, Tony’s issues with his mother, his growing fondness for Melfi, and his apprehension that the Mob will discover that he is a therapy patient all intersect in surreal ways within his dream.

The episode itself progresses in a dreamlike way.  Wistful, half-understood nautical connections stitch together various scenes.  For example: we see The Love Boat playing (and hear its boat-horn) on Brendan’s TV; a later shot presents an image of a bridge while a boat-horn sounds in the distance;  the Sit Tite Loungenette sits on Ocean and Seaview streets; Jackie, in his delirium, nonsensically says “the fish is in my pocket.”  It is difficult to know what—if anything—these nautical/water references represent.  Perhaps the water references are playing off the episode title “Meadowlands.”  The Meadowlands are a wetland, and its gentle name evokes images of a beautiful natural landscape.  In actuality, the area is infamous for its industrial pollution and environmental degradation.  It is also, reportedly, a favorite dumping ground for dead mobsters and mob victims, possibly including Jimmy Hoffa.  (Emil Kolar, the series’ first victim, is buried there.)  Instead of being a nurtured, relatively clean travel-destination like some other wetlands (like the Florida Everglades or the Louisiana Swamps, for example), the Meadowlands are mostly a place to steer clear of.  It reflects the sordid and industrial side of New Jersey.

I’m a big fan of John Heard’s portrayal of “Vin Makazian,” the washed out cop on-the-take.  Makazian fits right into the grungy, criminal underside of NJ.  Chase uses a variety of methods to signal what a sordid character Vin Makazian is.  When we first meet him, he’s peeing by the Green Grove parking lot, right in front of some elderly women out for a stroll.  Makazian is often filmed against grungy, industrial backdrops and cityscapes.  One of his scenes in this hour begins with the image of a darkly-lit industrial bridge, and another shows him disheveled against a backdrop of rusty machinery.  The street where he beats up Randall, Dr. Melfi’s date, is dark and deserted enough to have a certain film noir quality.  (Note how the camera tilts—a typical film noir convention—as Makazian attacks Randall, underscoring that he is not an upright man: Vin Makazian is not “on the level.”)

Vin Makazian, John Heard - Sopranos

Makazian’s brutal beating of Randall is a primal example of how those who come into Tony Soprano’s orbit, even marginally, are vulnerable to horrendous abuse.  Ordinary citizens are not safe.  Dr. Melfi is also a victim here because her personal relationship with Randall gets damaged after he is traumatized by an encounter with a crooked cop that Tony put in motion.  (Ironically, just before Makazian pulls them over, Melfi and Randall are discussing the type of man she is interested in.  She giggles gleefully when Randall suggests she is looking for a man “who’s sensitive to your needs but still decisive enough for the occasional grope in the closet.”  I’m not sure what type of guy Randall was before the attack, but afterwards, he is little more than an emasculated, pathetic shell of a man.)

This episode sets up the strong possibility of a gangland bloodbath occurring.  Boss Jackie Aprile succumbs to cancer and the ensuing power struggle between Tony and Corrado has the potential to be very bloody.  The NJ captains support Tony, but Corrado has the backing of New York.  Christopher is thirsty for blood too.  Chris was angry to find Brendan Filone’s body in the bathtub, but he goes completely over the edge when he learns that Corrado has infiltrated his drug corners.  He rushes into the Bada Bing in a fury: “This ain’t negotiation time.  This is Scarface, final scene, fucking bazookas under each arm.  ‘Say hello to my little friend.'”  In his essay “Tony Soprano as Ethical Manager,” Ronald Green notes that…

Christopher’s acting out of a scene from (a remake of) one of the most famous gangster movies entirely suits his personality.  Raised on a diet of television and movies, he often models his behavior on Hollywood formulas, leaving little time for more patient and careful deliberation.

This episode demonstrates how far removed The Sopranos is from “Hollywood formulas.”  There is no bloody climax to the NJ power struggle; Tony concedes the top spot to Corrado—and gets the Bloomfield casino and control of the unions in return.  (Not to mention that the FBI will now be focused more on his uncle than on him.)  The manner in which Tony reaches this agreement is also a major departure from standard gangster-genre fare: he took the advice of his psychiatrist.  Dr. Melfi could not have known that this is how Tony would take her suggestion to give Livia and Corrado “the illusion of being in control.”  Tony was ready to drop therapy after suffering another panic attack, but once he recognizes that Dr. Melfi’s advice is helping him become a better mobster, he decides to stick around.  He tells Melfi that he appreciates therapy because he “got a lotta good ideas here…” (“…on how to cope,” he artfully adds). 

David Chase conscientiously displaces the tropes and conventions of traditional gangster narratives throughout his series.  In this hour, we expect mob warfare to erupt but it never comes.  Larry Barese says that “No one goes to the mattresses these days”—using an idiom for Mafia combat that entered popular culture through The Godfather—to point out that the contemporary mob is less violent than in the past.  Though we expect warfare, “Meadowlands” is in fact the first episode in which no one is killed.  (The only death this hour comes via cancer: Jackie Aprile.)  At one point, we think that perhaps Mikey Palmice is gonna get whacked, but he only gets literally “clipped”—Tony staple-guns him.  (And in a gesture straight out of The Godfather, Tony lets the staple-gun fall to the floor much like Michael Corleone dropped his gun after killing Sollozzo and the corrupt police captain.)

“Meadowlands” gives us our first real understanding of AJ.  He is a problem child, undisciplined and prone to fight.  AJ’s troubles are a recurring issue, and will be present even in the last episode of the series.  AJ antagonizes Jeremy Piacosta throughout this hour, and the two kids plan to duke it out at the baseball field—but it doesn’t happen.  There is a direct parallel here between AJ and Tony: the episode builds up to a fight between AJ and Jeremy as well as a bloody duel between Tony and Corrado, but neither confrontation takes place.

AJ learns here that his father is a mobster.  We can imagine how difficult it would be for AJ to reconcile that fact into his mental picture of his beloved dad.  We too, as viewers, are conflicted in how to think about Tony Soprano.  We shudder as Tony utilizes his therapist’s advice to manipulate his uncle (and strengthen his own position, to boot), but we can appreciate how this manipulation avoids a bloody showdown.  We see how Tony’s actions victimize civilians, but we also understand that he himself has been victimized by his mother’s deficiencies.  (Livia is so bitter about being put in Green Grove by her son that she won’t even accept her favorite macaroons from Tony.  [But we chuckle when she insists, while practically licking her chops, that he “leave some out for the lunatics.”])  We’re bound to have mixed feelings about this complicated man with the complicated life.  Ben Macintyre describes the knotty, naughty hero:

Tony Soprano was the grinning, charming sociopath, who could smile and smile and be a villain: a Shakespearean hero, impossible to like but also hard not to love, conflicted and elemental and awe-inspiring: Coriolanus with a knuckleduster and a paunch.  (“The Sopranos: Every Inch A Shakespearean Drama”)



  • Livia’s recounting of “mothers throwing babies out of skyscraper windows” here is an early example of her filicidal preoccupation, and foreshadows her attempt on her son’s life later in the season.
  • While he sits tight at the Sit Tite, Corrado quotes from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “…sitting here like patience on a monument.”  As many have noted, Corrado has a propensity to make literary or obscure references.
  • When Tony sits with Jackie at the hospital, he wonders “What kind of a God…”  This is a key existential question, one that haunts the series throughout its run.


  • When Jackie says, “The fish is in my pocket,” there is a quick cut to Big Pussy.  It’s impossible to say with certainty that this was done conscientiously, but the Season 2 Finale does strongly associate Pussy Bonpensiero with fish.
  • Eliot Kupferberg, Melfi’s therapist, is mentioned by Makazian but we do not see him until a later episode.
  • We learn here that Ray Curto’s boy suffers from M.S.  Later in the series, we will learn that Ray is an FBI informant, and the story will suggest that Ray may have flipped so that he could avoid jail-time and take care of his son.
  • Jeremy Piacosta’s dad, who runs in fear from Tony here, will sit amicably with him in “Fortunate Son” (3.03).
  • Corrado repeats his Shakespearean line (“…patience on a monument”) in “Pie-O-My” (4.05).
  • The slow, haunting song that plays over Jackie’s funeral and closes the hour, “Look On Down From the Bridge,” connects bridges with death in this episode that introduces Vin Makazian; this may be notable because Makazian’s last episode, later this season, will strongly associate bridges with death.
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32 responses to “Meadowlands (1.04)

  1. Pingback: The Sopranos – “Meadowlands” Review (Part V) | A Pair of Tools

  2. I thought ‘fish’ was another name for a gun.
    This term was used by Corky Caporale when he met the Italian hitmen at the beginning of ‘Luxury Lounge’.

    What I don’t understand is what triggered the panic attack Tony had when he returned from shopping at the garden center.


    • I don’t remember if there was a specific trigger…Chase seemed to give Tony random attacks in the early episodes (and the early seasons) as a way to ensure that Tony would not quit therapy, as the therapy sessions were central to the series.


  3. Pingback: The Sopranos Storytelling: "Meadowlands" (Part 1) - One Dodgy Dude

  4. Pingback: The Sopranos Storytelling: "Meadowlands" (Part 2) - One Dodgy Dude

  5. I absolutely have to agree: John Beard’s performance as Makazian is incredible. One of the show’s best performances, and hands down the best of his long career. Great casting!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Correction: John HEARD… Gotta love spell check


  7. Ron and seventhmuse, I love John Heard on this show too. So unfortuneate, they found oxycodone and other painkillers in his system after he died two days after back surgery.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ron, you again brought out aspects of the show I have never once considered. John Heard played his role excellently- It’s a shame we only have him for 4-5 episodes. This character could have been played out for quite some time as he was very interesting (and I’m a fan of his work). Based off what you wrote, its the environments we usually see him around, his overall disheveled appearance and being flustered that adds an extra element to this crooked cop. This is a man who was most likely once on the right track and somehow got led astray. At the point of getting himself involved with the mob, it was the beginning of the end for Vin. Another “poor prick” in Sopranoland. I also find quite a few similarities between Vin and Tony, especially when we see Vin in action beating up Melfi’s date. We see Vin totally comfortable and in control of this guy, kind of how Tony would be in a similar situation. The industrial backdrops and bridges observation is a good one, and I look at this character and episode a bit different now.
    The potential for some serious violence to take place was in place. When this was first aired, I remember being really drawn into this episode waiting for the shit to hit the fan, however, it never does. In this “contemporary mob story,” nothing really happens besides some savy tactics Tony employs, possibly all coming from Melfi’s line of letting them have “the illusion of being in control.” What makes this show stand out was usually the viewer would be like, what the fuck, nothing happened??!! I didn’t feel that way after viewing, and I still don’t. Goes to show a well written and acted show doesn’t need to be a bloodbath to be good.
    I’m a fan of the little things of this show, such as Tony telling Vin to “buy and iron,” presumably due to looking like hell in literally every scene. Looks like poor Vin sleeps in his car. Another one is Tony telling Mikey “free alterations” while stapling his suit to his chest. Up until now, we possibly didn’t know how to take the Mikey character in respect to Tony. Even being a made guy, we see Tony has very little respect for Mikey nor does he take him seriously.
    RIP John Heard

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, this was the first of the “nothing happens” episodes that some viewers came to hate and some came to love. (Of course, things DO happen during this hour, just not AS MUCH as some viewers hoped for.) Seinfeld was my favorite show before The Sopranos came along, and so I was already a fan of the whole “nothing happens” concept coming in…


    • David, I could see Jimmy McNulty from the Wire swinging into Makazian territory, given the right/wrong personal decision or two.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. People who think nothing happens in these episodes are only looking for killing and sex. SO MUCH happens in every episode. The fact that the cop is a degenerate gambler is how he got involved with the mob. Tony is not always the villain in this series. He exploits the weaknesses of men, like all criminals do, but he doesn’t force anyone to gamble or do illegal things. As we will see later, Vin has a lot of issues that he deals with, alcoholism as well as gambling, and childhood issues. Nobody in this show is black or white…like real life it’s gray.


    • I think there were a lot more complaints that “nothing happens” during these early episodes because the series had not yet weeded out those viewers that were strictly about the hits-and-tits, blood-and-boobs…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This series has so much more to offer than just hit & tits & sex & killing. Interesting how you stated “weeded out” but that’s probably a pretty accurate statement. I believe its the “so much” that happens in some of these “nothing happens” episodes that makes this program stand out in its own unique way.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Rewatching and noticed the bells in the song the Bing girls are dancing to when Tony gets the call about Jackie Aprile. First association between bells and death in the series, and meaningful that the next boss of this family might have also met his end as the bells tolled.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. One little note: AJ bought and used the M-80s “to blow up the frogs.” Young people who hurt and kill animals usually wind up as sociopaths as adults. There is also a mention of AJ possibly hurting a cat in “An army of one.” Chase was grooming AJ to be a loser from the very first season.


    • That’s probably true, although some of it may also be that Robert Iler proved he can play the “loser” well but might not be able to stretch AJ’s character into anything very dynamically different…


  13. This being the first season, it’s unsurprising yet always interesting how the show is still figuring out character dynamics. Take the captain dinner here, Larry (goes to jail for four seasons), Tony, Jimmy (dies), and Ray (very peripheral, like the later Carlo). We see a lot of Tony with the other captains in S1; once he becomes boss, Tony isn’t one of the guys anymore, and his S2-onward scenes with the captains are rhetorically very different. The Soprano crew members, all our favorites, are barely fleshed out so far, with the exception of Chris. Maybe Paulie but honestly Artie gets more time than Paulie in the first season. Nobody Knows Anything is probably the first episode that really starts to feel like the rest of the series to me, particularly the scene with the title phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I wonder if you can explain why Tony lives in the best house of all of them even before he is boss. Jackie’s house that we see in later episodes is modest compared to Tony’s.Unless Ro down grades after his death and that is just not mentioned. But none of the “family” live in a home that even compares to his and he had that when he was just a CAPO. Just a thought. Thanks for your insight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good question. I suppose Tony was a better earner than the other guys, and he may also have inherited some good sources of income (as well as a good stash of cash) from Johnny Boy…


      • Very good point about his Dad👍! Love this blog! Love the show! My all time favorite! Rewatching it again this summer❤️!


      • We don’t receive this info until much later in the series when Carmela is getting involved in real estate, but it was her father (acting as general contractor) that built the house. Also, given the Cousin Brian storyline, we can assume corners were cut. This may in part explain how Tony’s family can afford this home.
        It also brings to mind the The Douglas Fir Grade v Pine controversy of later seasons. With the concept of connectivity in mind, we could draw links to the metaphor of interior rot in season one: tree in the painting “all rotted out on the inside,” Jackie dying of cancer, degradation of mafia “ideals”).
        Chase et al, spend time detailing Carmela’s worries that Cousin Brian’s house will collapse…perhaps a projection of her own worry about the rot in her own home (structural and metaphorical) as well as a concern that Cousin Brian will be another “poor prick,” destroyed by his contact with Tony…the rot is constantly spreading.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Tony was a capo at a very young age (taking over his late father’s crew) compared to the rest of the characters, which probably put him on the McMansion trajectory much earlier.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. A Mafia leader has died. A topless dancer with enormous unnatural breasts hears the news. She stops dancing and says, “I’ll never forget where I was this day,” and crosses herself.

    – Very good indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Does the title Meadowland have anything at all to do with Meadow Soprano?

    Liked by 1 person

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