Tony has a dream about Dr. Melfi. Carmela feels some jealousy. Corrado settles into his position as
top dog, and immediately upsets his captains—and Hesh.
Episode 6 – Originally aired Feb 14, 1999
Written by Frank “Crash” Renzulli
Directed by Alan Taylor
Detective Vin Makazian didn’t appear in the previous episode “College” (which was a standalone episode with a very narrow focus), so “Pax Soprana” reaches back to the earlier episode “Meadowlands” to pick up Vin Makazian’s story: the Detective has been spying on Dr. Melfi for Tony. In the first scene of this episode, Vin updates Tony on Dr. Melfi’s personal life and habits. I noted in my “Meadowlands” entry that Makazian was often presented to us against grungy and industrial backdrops. That practice continues here. In the opening shot, we see Vin sitting on his dusty car at a lumberyard and we hear the mechanical noises of building materials being moved and processed. This scene ends with Vin foregrounded against a trio of aging iron bridges.
Another bridge makes an important appearance in this episode: the Paterson Falls bridge from which drug dealer Rusty Irish is tossed to his death. This bridge had made an earlier appearance on the series—Mahaffey’s life was threatened here in that memorable scene from the Pilot episode:
The Sopranos is very good at clustering related or repeated images (and music) in such a way that they accumulate—almost subliminally—around certain ideas or notions inside our heads. We’re often not even consciously aware that it is occurring. For example, the cluster of “bridge” imagery from this hour and “Meadowlands” seems to accumulate around our idea of “Det. Makazian.” (Makazian ↔ bridges.) I think an argument can be made that “bridges” are also becoming associated with “death.” (Mahaffey life is threatened on a bridge, Rusty Irish is thrown off a bridge, the song “Look on Down from the Bridge” scored Jackie’s funeral scene two episodes back, etc. So: bridges ↔ death.) These two clusters will become joined (Makazian ↔ bridges ↔ death) when Vin Makazian leaps to his death from a bridge in “Nobody Knows Anything” (1.11).
Dreams are also a recurring element of the series, adding crucial material to the Sopranos fabric. Like most of the dreams that appear in the series, this episode’s dream-sequence initially causes confusion in the viewer—we think Tony is having sex with his goomar Irina, but then we realize he is dreaming of sex with Dr. Melfi. Tony believes he’s falling in love with his therapist, confessing as much to her during a session. Savvy Carmela is able to intuit that Tony’s feelings for his doctor are not strictly professional. In the previous episode, Carmela unreasonably assumed that Tony was involved in a romantic relationship with his therapist when she inadvertently discovered that Dr. Melfi is a woman. But now we see that Carmela’s mistaken assumption was not all that unreasonable. Although Tony doesn’t have a physical relationship with his doctor, he does have very strong sexual feelings for her. Carmela cries through their anniversary dinner and cuts the night short to go home. But it is not exactly “home sweet home” that they return to. I want to take a closer look at this scene as an example of how Chase utilizes sound editing. Immediately after Carmela says the word “home,” we hear a harsh clanging sound; the unidentified noise perplexes us for a moment, until the image “catches up” with the sound—the scene cuts to the Soprano house and we understand that the noise is the clatter of the garage door.
Just as the mechanical noises of the lumberyard in the opening scene help characterize Vin Makazian as a rough and unpolished man, the justaposition of the word “home” with the abrasive rattle of the garage door helps characterize the Soprano home as a place of tension and hostility. We’ve known since the Pilot episode that Carmela harbors some anger over the existence of Tony’s mistress(es), but her suspicions over Dr. Melfi are turning her truly bitter. But instead of putting her house in order by engaging Tony in a serious conversation about her jealousy, Carmela literally tries to put her house in order:
She goes on a home shopping spree. Carmela is the quintessential American housewife, trying to fix her problems by buying expensive furnishings. In the video clip above, Carmela declares that her self-esteem is being destroyed. One of the primary tenets of American consumerist ideology is that self-esteem and happiness can be bolstered by making purchases. Who can blame Carmela, at a low point in her life, for being unable to resist the ideology? Its propaganda is everywhere. This is a billboard that stands halfway between my house and a local Mercedes dealership:
Tony is not pleased with her furniture spree but he does not demand that the goods be returned. Like Mikey Palmice, who buys the silence of the young men who witnessed him pitching Rusty Irish off the bridge, Tony is (essentially) buying Carmela’s complacence. Before the episode is over, however, Tony gives Carmela some of the emotional security that she craves (and which a French side-table cannot supply): “You’re not just in my life, you are my life,” he assures her. Carmela softens, finally recognizing that her jealousy over Melfi was not rationally justified. Of course, the viewer knows—and one gets a sense that Carmela also grasps—the hypocrisy of Tony’s assurance: the only reason Tony and Melfi did not get physical was because she rejected his advances. Besides, Tony’s affair with Irina continues unabated.
Livia is not happy at Green Grove. I suppose she wouldn’t be happy anywhere, but she is particularly miserable at the nursing home—ahem, retirement community. She is angry at Tony for installing her there, even taking her anger out on his friend Herman “Hesh” Rabkin; in another display of her influence on her brother-in-law, she gets Corrado to tax Hesh. Tony and Hesh feel trapped by Corrado’s commands, and the imagery expresses their frustrations. The walls seem to compress Tony and Hesh as they discuss Corrado. Filmmaker Elia Kazan was a master of blocking, and he blocked his sets very dramatically in order to express the claustrophobic, frustrating nature of the familial relationships in his film East of Eden. This example from The Sopranos is just as dramatic, and is done to convey the same mood:
Tony is no pushover. He schemes with Hesh to outwit Corrado. In a sidewalk negotiation in front of Satriale’s, Corrado acquiesces to Hesh’s requests—but we get the sense that Corrado knows that Tony and Hesh have been maneuvering behind his back. There may be a parallel between Corrado and Carmela in this episode—they both reconcile with Tony, but we suspect that they do so despite seeing through Tony’s ploys. (Since both Corrado and Carmela reconcile with Tony, the episode title “Pax Soprana” refers to the peace that has been made on both the Mafia and domestic fronts.)
Tony needs to reconcile Corrado to the other captains as well. The capos believe that their new Boss is being too tight-fisted and severe. Ray Curto says that Corrado is, idiomatically, eating alone:
Tony tries to advise his uncle of this problem, couching his advice in an historical reference to the Pax Romana, the period in which the entire known world enjoyed years of peace under the benevolent (and unchallenged) rule of Rome. The reference goes completely over Corrado’s head. Tony redelivers his point, this time making a coarser analogy—he tells the story about an old bull and his son that saunter down the mountain to fuck all the cows. This analogy Corrado can understand. The newfound peace between Corrado and the capos results in good-feeling and cheerfulness at the dinner held for him, celebrating his new position as Boss of the famiglia. Corrado (literally) does not “eat alone” now.
Unbeknownst to the mobsters, the FBI has infiltrated this dinner. As an FBI agent’s hidden camera clicks away, rapper Xhibit’s “Paparazzi” begins to play. This particular song was chosen, obviously, to play off the idea that the FBI is taking pictures of these men without their approval, much as a paparazzo would do. But digging deeper, we find the song has an even stronger relevance to the scene. The melody of the song is taken from Gabriel Faure’s 1887 composition Pavane in F-Sharp Minor (Opus 50). Professor Thomas Fahy explains the significance of this in his essay “‘You don’t have to eat every dish of rigatoni’: Food, Music and Identity in the Works of David Chase”:
Faure’s original composition has been corrupted by this synthesized, pop-rap version. This modern incarnation is not the real thing—just as this dinner celebrating Uncle Junior is a farce: he is “de facto” Boss only. Tony is really running the mob…
In the closing scene of the hour, a Federal agent raises a picture of Corrado above the rest of the capos to replace Jackie’s picture on the FBI corkboard, and then in the final shot of the hour, the camera pans up from a photo of Tony to the photo of Corrado, underscoring that Tony has been overtaken by his uncle within the mob’s ranks. But we know that the famiglia‘s power structure is not as cut-and-dry as the Feds would believe. The corkboard is too schematic to accurately document the intricacies and ambiguities that characterize this crime family, and it completely leaves out other important, influential power players (like Livia). The Feds are concerned with figuring out the hierarchy of power. But “hierarchy” is no longer the stable thing that it once was. The Sopranos has been reiterating this idea since Christopher told Brendan in “46 Long” (1.02) that nobody knows who’s kicking up to who anymore.
This points to a postmodern phenomenon: the destabilization of hierarchy. In previous eras, societies were made up of strong institutional and social hierarchies. This is not so true in contemporary times. The Sopranos, like many postmodern works, subverts traditional notions of hierarchy. The use of Xhibit’s song is one example. Professor Fahy continues: “…as the Xhibit/Faure example suggests, the high class and elitist associations with classical music tend to be leveled in The Sopranos…” In other words, classical music is not given a privileged position over rap. Tony’s coarse story about the bulls is another example. One might have expected an historical story about ancient Rome to take prominence in this episode (especially considering that the hour’s title is derived from it), but the historical anecdote is undermined, effectively “trumped” by a joke about a pair of horny bulls.
(The story about the pair of bulls also comments on the changing dynamic between Corrado and Tony when we consider how the story was used in Dennis Hopper’s 1988 film Colors. In this movie, the young rookie cop McGavin is told the story by his veteran partner. By the end of the movie, the veteran has been killed and McGavin tells the story to another rookie, signaling McGavin’s growing power and experience. In this episode, we learn that Corrado told the story to Tony when he was younger; his repeating it back to his uncle now marks that he is growing in power and experience. Tony is not a rookie anymore.)
When Rusty Irish is flung off the bridge at Paterson Falls, it becomes the second time in Season 1 that David Chase gives us a dramatic scene at this particular location. In his essay, “From Troy to 95 Lincoln Place, Irvington, NJ: A Virgilian Reading of The Sopranos Underworld,” Dr. Michael Calabrese writes that these falls are the…
…the locus of the great modern, neo-Virgilian epic poem Paterson, the greatest achievement of New Jersey’s greatest poet, William Carlos Williams…the falls at Paterson are the literal and metaphorical center of that story of empire, emotion, work, nature and pollution…
Paterson won the first-ever National Book Award for Poetry (in 1950). The Sopranos is an epic poem in its own right, a contemporary, televised story of “empire, emotion, work, nature and pollution…”
Of course, not everyone buys into American consumerist ideology. Some people understand that you can drive something other than a German luxury car and still be happy. They know that to yield to the constant propaganda is just bananas:
Funny poker line: Pussy says, “I’ve eaten more Queens than Lancelot.”
- Funny cut: Corrado sarcastically says, “I’m playing shortstop for the Mets.” CUT TO Tony warning frisky Irina, “All right, watch the balls!” (This is exactly what a shortstop must do.)
- Funny cut: Corrado says, “Hold on to your cock when you negotiate with these desert people.” CUT TO Tony holding himself at a men’s toilet.
- More toilet humor: Livia refers to her toilet-flushing neighbor at Green Grove as “Gunga Din,” Kipling’s water-carrier.
- Tony and Hesh enjoy a friendship that lasts the run of the series. Here, Hesh calls Tony tatelah, an endearment meaning “little man.” Tony returns the endearing term to Hesh in “Remember When” (6.15). Actor Jerry Adler worked for Chase previously in Northern Exposure, in which his character “Rabbi Schulman” acted as an advisor to that series’ main character.
- John Sacrimoni makes his first appearance here, as Tony enlists his help in smoothing things over in the famiglia. Tony and John will have a fruitful—but complicated—friendship over the years.
- Initially, it seems quite strange that Tony’s sex-with-Melfi dream would be scored to The Jive Five’s “What Time Is It?” The joke only snaps into place later when Dr. Melfi asks him whether he gets nightly erections and he responds, “You could set a clock to it.”
- The website tvtropes.org uses a frame from North by Northwest as an example of the “Traitor Shot”—a shot that purposely makes the viewer suspect a particular character to be the eventual betrayer of the story’s hero/main character. In this episode, Corrado reconciles with Tony and the other capos, but the final image of the hour functions as a Traitor Shot. We can guess that things are going to get a little hairy between Tony and his uncle before the season is over.