The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti (1.08)

The threat of Federal indictments scares several of the NJ mobsters.
Christopher is disappointed that he doesn’t appear in the news as some of his colleagues do.

Episode 8 – Originally aired Feb 28, 1999
Written by David Chase and Frank Renzulli
Directed by Tim Van Patten


This episode is, in a way, the most important of the first season.  The hour portrays Chris Moltisanti’s existential struggle with what it means to be or not to be (as Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously put it), and in doing so, it articulates the series’ most fundamental philosophical idea.  I’ll come back to that later; first I want to look at how the episode explores what it means to be (or not to be) Italian-American.

Several episodes, including “Commendatori,” “Christopher” and “Marco Polo,” will explicitly explore various facets of being Italian-American, and the current episode pays particular attention to how the existence of the Mafia affects the ways in which Italian-Americans identify themselves.  The most strident criticism of The Sopranos in its early seasons came from those who believed that its focus on the Italian mob was detrimental to all Italians (and even possibly to society as a whole).  When The Sopranos first began airing, strongly-worded statements denouncing the series were issued by an assortment of Italian-American groups.  One group even filed a rather spurious lawsuit against HBO for its depiction of Ital-Americans.  Perhaps the most notorious scholarly criticism came from Italian-American English Professor Sandra Gilbert, who wrote that she was “exasperated by the bizarre American hang-up on what we might call Media Mafiosi…”  OK, she does have a point—we are enthralled by Coppola’s mobsters and Scorcese’s wiseguys and the Gotti kids and mob wives that appear on their very own reality shows.   But I don’t see why The Sopranos should be rejected if it is part of—and plays upon—this “hang-up.”  She gets snarky describing David Chase and this particular episode: “Like God or Santa Claus, the ultra-cool creator of The Sopranos always already anticipates our responses: he sees us when we’re sleeping, knows when we’re awake, and most important, predicts the complaints some of us may level against shows like his…”

Chase did anticipate these complaints and crafted a complex and elaborate response to them in this episode. (Chase quite literally responds—he has a writing credit).  I’ll focus on how he does this through his use of two characters, Richard LaPenna and Chris Moltisanti.

Richard, Dr. Melfi’s pompous ex-husband, gives voice to the complaints that some like Prof. Gilbert have of the Mafia and the media’s depiction of organized crime.  During a vigorous dinnertime discussion, Richard declares that there have been an estimated 5000 Mafiosi who have blackened the way that 20 million non-Mafia Italian-Americans are perceived.  Dr. Melfi, perhaps due in part to her close contact with Tony Soprano, does not feel so blackened.  The concept of identity, for her, is something personal and individual, it is not so dependent on identification with a group.  When Melfi’s father raises a toast to “We, the 20 million,” he differentiates his ethnic group from the organized crime group.  But Chase seems to take the position that such simple delineations are too shallow.  Tony Soprano and other Mafiosi cannot be separated so easily from 20 million Italian-Americans; in fact, they cannot even easily be distinguished from the 300 million people that make up America itself.  They are us and we are them.  This idea gets reinforced through the visuals and dialogue of two dinner scenes, one at Melfi’s home and the other at the Soprano house:

2 dinners - Sopranos Autopsy

The Soprano dinner is, if anything, more typically American: cans of Coke rather than bottles of wine, Chinese take-out instead of homemade Italian fare, eating in the kitchen instead of the formal dining room.  Both families are discussing what it means to be Italian in the United States, but the Sopranos sound more like the typical American family.  Their conversation is filled with malapropisms and mistaken facts and cursing, as opposed to the statistics, pertinent references and insightful responses that we hear at Melfi’s table.  The Soprano family, though very different from Melfi’s family, is as legitimate an example of The American Family as the Melfis are.  To believe that Mafioso—family menAmerican men—categorically tarnish all Italians simply through their existence (or their depiction on TV) is to engage in an oversensitive, pig-headed groupthink which, in effect, diminishes the richness with which we should be defining ourselves as Americans.  We are a motley, not monolithic, bunch.

Richard is able to surmise that his ex-wife is counseling a mobster.  He has a severe opinion of her unnamed client: “After a while, you’re gonna get beyond psychotherapy, with its cheesy moral relativism.  Finally you’re going to get to Good and Evil.  And he’s evil.”  Strong words, which certainly have at least a grain of truth to them.  But Chase, being Chase, doesn’t countenance simplistic assessments of personality or identity.  Chase cuts from Richard’s statement to one of the most incredible shots of the season:

train sequence

It is virtuoso camerawork: the camera dollies across Tony, zooming into a closeup and then back out, synchronizing this movement with a train coming into the shot from one direction and Chris’ car coming in from the opposite direction.  It is similar to that circling shot that opened “College” (1.05), and manifests a similar intention: it prepares us to see Tony from another side, another perspective.  The roar of the train and Tony’s grim expression seem foreboding, and appear at first to confirm Richard’s sentiment—this is an evil man, with evil thoughts on his mind.  When he climbs into the Lexus and lashes out physically and verbally at Chris, it further supports Richard’s assertion.  But when Tony recognizes that Chris is seriously distressed, he softens.  He listens.  It’s a delicately honed scene.  Tony becomes supportive and sympathetic without being touchy-feely or discussing his own battle with depression.  Deeply concerned about Christopher’s mental state, he questions his nephew without using the word “suicide” (what manly man would?); he gestures a gunshot to the head instead.  The scene humanizes Tony, shows that even within the limits of his upbringing and station, he is still very capable of decency.  With this scene, Chase completely undercuts the simplistic, black-and-white assessment made by Richard LaPenna (who is kind of a jerkoff anyway).

Of course, we can’t gloss over the fact that Tony is a criminal and a murderer.  And I have no doubt that David Chase understands as a TV producer that evil and mischief can be used to seduce viewers.  Seducing viewers is an important part of running a show, particularly in its first season.  But the argument that Chase and HBO were exploiting “Tony Soprano” and the Mafia just for the sake of ratings and to feather their own nests, with no concern about any possible costs to Italian-Americans or society as a whole, is a glib and superficial argument.  The Sopranos deserves better than that.  

Through Chris’ storyline in this episode, Chase answers those who would criticize The Sopranos for glamorizing Organized Crime.  Chris has been itching the entire season to become a Made Man, convinced that being made would inject some excitement and meaning into his life.  He desperately tells Tony that “the fucking regularness of life is too fuckin’ hard for me.”  But his conversations with Paulie and Pussy reveal that even the lives of Made Men have the usual share of “regularness.”

The Sopranos is not the typical shoot-’em-up gangster drama—it doesn’t glorify violence the way some critics claim.  We see in this episode’s opening scene that Chris’ first murder has been taking a toll on his psyche—there is nothing glorious about the way Emil Kolar haunts his dreams.  There is no major violence in this episode; the only time a gun is fired is when Chris puts a bullet in the young man’s foot at the bakery.  Prof. Gilbert cites this shooting as an example of what is wrong with the show: connected guys simply resort to violence to get what they want, and we in the audience are enthralled and envious because we wish that we too could exact such simple and ferocious vengeance against anybody that has slighted us.  But Gilbert seems not to notice that Tony slams Chris for behaving in this way; it is not the way that grown men—even Mafia men—should solve their problems.  Tony blasts Christopher’s behavior as “cowboy-itis.”  Additionally, the violent outburst doesn’t actually solve Chris’ problems: he still feels unfulfilled when he arrives with the pastries at the Bing, where he is promptly sent into the bathroom to sweep for FBI bugs.  (More de-glamorization: the only scenes at the Bada Bing are in the non-titillating backroom and bathroom, and there are no sex scenes or nudity at all in this episode.)

Chris’ desire to get his button is, in the final analysis, a desire to assimilate.  He wants to be a fully made member of the Mafia, whose 5000 members share the same wish for upward mobility and security as 300 million Americans.  Martha Nochimson (Dying to Belong) notes that “the core films in the gangster genre manifest a wayward, tenacious desire to fight into the heart of the ever-beckoning, ever-elusive materialist social structure.”  Chase’s mobsters are not romanticized as outlaw heroes—they are profoundly flawed men pursuing the American Dream in their own profoundly flawed ways.

The episode title may also point to Christopher’s desire to fully assimilate into mainstream American culture.  Chris desperately wants recognition, and not necessarily only within the Mafia.  If he becomes a successful screenwriter, Chris will gain recognition from the broader American public.  By (humorously) comparing Chris to Tennessee Williams, an author who uses—of all things—an American state as his pen name, Chase underscores Chris’ desire to be accepted by an American public.  This idea might not have been conveyed so effectively if the episode title had been “The Legend of Christopher Hemingway” or “The Legend of F. Scott Moltisanti.”

Late in the episode, a cheesy comedian at Green Grove says, “I have a few words for you.  They are ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.’  Imagine yourself on a boat at Ellis Island.”   He is trying to joke about immigration and ethnic assimilation, and feebly tries to build his joke upon the lyrics of a well-known Beatles song.  David Chase’s commentary on assimilation is much better constructed than the comedian’s.  Chase builds this episode upon well-established American film conventions.  Melfi’s son, Jason, says during the family dinner that “At this point in American history, mob movies are classic American cinema.  Like Westerns.”  The scene in which Chris shoots the bakery employee, which Prof. Gilbert so disapproves of, is actually an elaborate reference to both a western and a mob movie: Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider and Martin Scorcese’s GoodFellas.  Chris shoots the employee in the foot because he feels he is not being taken seriously, which is the same reason Tommy (Joe Pesci) shoots Spider in the foot in the mob movie.  Tommy makes his victim “dance” by shooting at his feet, a common Western convention that calls “the bullet dance” and describes as appearing in numerous Westerns—including the very first Western ever made, the 1903 film The Great Train Robbery.  Chase gives us an elegant allusion that I would ruin with an inelegant explanation, so I’ll just try to diagram how it works:

diagram black

(If you look closely at the screengrab for Pale Rider, you can see where the bullet has just entered Spider’s left boot.)

3 films

Chris speaks the truth when he replies, “It happens,” to his bleeding victim’s cries of disbelief—it happened to Imperioli’s character nine years earlier in GoodFellas.  Know-it-all Richard had said that anyone who tries to describe Italian-Americans nowadays will “invariably…reference The Godfather, GoodFellas”—Chase, with a wink, does indeed reference Scorcese’s movie with this scene.  When Tony criticizes quick-draw Chris for his “cowboy-itis,” Chase is doubling down on his allusion—we have seen onscreen cowboys behave in this way since 1903.  Constructed on long-understood conventions, The Sopranos becomes, in the truest sense of the word, “conventional.”  Chase’s series is (contrary to some detractors’ conception of it) a de-glorified, unromantic, conventional (though clever) look at the “fucking regularness” of mob life.

In my previous write-up, I argued that Chase’s inclusion of the banal elements around the Pulaski Skyway was an example of the realism of The Sopranos.  I claimed that it was part of an ethos of “regularness” that Chase is deeply committed to.  I believe that this ethos of regularness is Chase’s fundamental existential position in the series, an idea that our existence is marked by—more than anything else—a sort of boring normalcy that we cannot escape or deny.  We will see characters abandon momentous, life-changing decisions as they get wearied by the daily grind.  We’ll see compelling storylines simply unspool into nothing.  We’ll wait for conflicts, warfare, murder, and confrontations which end up never coming.  We will see characters piss and fart.  We’ll see The Sopranos tackle the Big Issues, such as despair and death, in decidedly un-theatrical, even mundane, ways.  One example from this hour: Christopher, this episode’s olive-skinned Hamlet, is nowhere near as eloquent as Shakespeare’s man when confronting death in the form of an exhumed body.  Hamlet’s words to Horatio—while holding the exhumed skull of court-jester Yorick—swell poetically in description of the vanity and transience of life:

Alas, poor Yorick!  I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it.  Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft.  Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar?

Christopher, standing before  Emil Kolar’s exhumed corpse, takes no lyrical measurement of life’s beguiling impermanence as Hamlet did.  Instead, he says:

Holy shit, look at that!
He was clean-shaven,
he’s got a fuckin’ beard now!

2 Hamlets - Sopranos Autopsy

When Chris and Georgie dig up Emil Kolar’s body beneath a graffiti’d Meadowlands overpass, they’re grossed out by the fact that Emil’s hair and nails continued to grow even after his death.  It’s a phenomenon that feels weird to us because we’re not normally exposed to it, but such growth is actually a normal part of the regularness of life (as well as the regularness of death).


“The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” responds to some of the real-world criticisms that Chase knew would be directed at his series, and through this response, the hour essentially dilutes the boundary between our real world and the Sopranos’ fictional world.  Several episodes yet to come will have a similar self-conscious, meta-fictional post-modern playfulness.  As we will see, David Chase likes to utilize the character of Christopher Moltisanti (and/or the actor who plays him, Michael Imperioli) in these meta-fictional adventures.  Chase may have specifically chosen to use Christopher because of the ways in which he differs from the other New Jersey mobsters.  Chris is younger, a member of the hyper-self-aware generation that feels more at home in the post-modern world.  Also, Chris is movie-obsessed, which makes him a good cipher for Chase’s inter-textual manipulations and allusions to films within The Sopranos.

But Chase’s self-aware games only fully work if we recognize that they are being played.  The scene at the bakery is the perfect example.  If Prof. Gilbert didn’t recognize the shooting at the bakery to be a reference to the GoodFellas scene (which is itself a reference to countless Westerns including Pale Rider), then she would only see the shooting as an act of infantile violence rather than as any sort of deeper commentary about the gangster-genre.  As Carl Wilson points out in his essay, “Christopher Moltisanti and the Development of the Gangster Genre,” this scene “appears humorously ‘natural’ within the reality of the show, but it is also a replicated and contextually modified product that has additional layers of significance that are contingent upon the viewer’s genre awareness.”

Many of the early detractors of The Sopranos didn’t recognize the extent to which the series played with—and rebelled against—the clichés, tropes and expectations we have of mob-themed works.  I quoted from Glen Creeber’s essay “Television, Tarantino and the Intimate World of The Sopranos” in my write-up for episode 2, and I want to expand that quote here.  Mr. Creeber writes of The Sopranos that…

…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 reconstruct its own narrative dynamics.  By critiquing the very medium it both utilizes and exploits, the drama ironically produces a complex and sophisticated narrative structure that simultaneously denigrates and celebrates its own inherent potential and artistic possibilities.  Above all, then, The Sopranos can be seen as an investigation of genre…

The Sopranos is genius in how it utilizes and exploits its genre.  The mobster-genre is inherently primed to provide narratives of sex and violence and power.  Highly dramatic stuff.  Chase uses this inherent characteristic of the genre to meet certain basic requirements: propel the series forward and draw in viewers.  Once these requirements are met, he makes a 180-degree turn to focus on decidedly undramatic stuff: the banalities and disappointments—the regularness—of everyday life.  

The Sopranos is an investigation in how to transcend the limitations of genre.  Although this investigation occurs throughout the series, I think it is most conscientiously done in Seasons 1 and 2.  For example, the very next episode, “Boca,” subverts some of the expectations we have of traditional fictional mobsters: Corrado has certain unexpected tastes, and Tony—ack!—allows the police to deal with an unsavory soccer coach…


The dream sequence that opens the episode, like so many other dreams in The Sopranos, causes an initial confusion in the viewer—we don’t realize at first that it is a dream that we are watching.  The ethereal sounds and surreal imagery, however, soon make it clear that we are not witnessing something from waking life.  Clocking in at almost two minutes, I believe it’s the longest dream sequence that we’ve seen so far, and it functions to prime us for some of the longer sequences that will arrive later in the series.  But the greater importance of the dream may be that it strongly revisits the connection between food and violence that was established through the murder of Emil Kolar at the pork store in the Pilot episode.  Human body parts are just another of the market’s meat selection within the dream:

food and firearms - dream

The Food/Firearms connection is also emphasized in this hour by setting the only shooting of the episode at a bakery.  Chase is again playing with conventions and stereotypes; he plays the stereotypical Italian love of food against (some) viewers’ foregone conclusion of Italian mafia violence.



  • The song that plays during Christopher’s dream is “You” by the Aquatones.  The song will be put to use in a similar way in Season 4’s “Everybody Hurts.”
  • Agent Dwight Harris makes his first appearance here, and we already see that he is a pretty decent guy.
  • “Little Italy,” a Chase-produced episode of Northern Exposure, functions almost as a prototype for this Sopranos outing: it dealt with Italian-American assimilation and the vendetta-mentality.  Richard Romanus (who plays Richard LaPenna here) had a major role in that episode.  We see him at a sitdown with his fellow Alaskan Italian-Americans below:

NorEx Little Italy

  • Livia displays her usual cunning here.  She recognizes that her daughter-in-law’s visit to Green Grove is not as innocent as Carmela insists.  (Carmela is distracting Livia while Tony hides his weapons in her closet.)  More insidiously, Livia reveals to Corrado that Tony is attending psychotherapy.  When she insists to Corrado that “I don’t want there to be any repercussions” against her son, she is actually setting the cornerstone of a murderous conspiracy against him.
  • Some of you film buffs may notice that Tommy (Joe Pesci) actually references The Oklahoma Kid, not Pale Rider, in the GoodFellas scene I mentioned above.  I think Pesci only does this because GoodFellas is set from 1955 to 1980, so it would be nonsensical for his character to allude to Pale Rider, a movie that came out in 1985.
  • Wiseguy wise guy.  Pussy humorously puns to Chris (upset that his life has no arc) that Noah had an ark.  It may be noteworthy that in this episode’s final scene, Chris pulls up to the newspaper dispenser (containing the Star-Ledger which has finally mentioned him by name) by making a U-turn—he literally makes an arc.
  • Infinite jest.  Jeffrey Wernick appears in this hour as a mob expert.  Wernick contributed much information to HBO’s tie-in book The Sopranos: A Family History.  He made this literary contribution despite the fact that he doesn’t actually exist; “Jeffrey Wernick” is a fictional character, played by Timothy Nolen in this most self-reflexive episode of Season 1.

Jeffrey Wernick

  • Sam Coppola is laugh-out-loud funny as the Melfi family’s therapist.  (He revels in the fact that he has some ancestral ties to the ‘kosher nostra.’)  I can’t help but wonder if David Chase, TV’s supreme jester, included a “Coppola” in this episode’s cast as a meta-level nod to Richard LaPenna’s line that everyone who talks about Italian-Americans today will invariably reference GoodFellas and The Godfather.
  • In retrospective viewings, we can see that this episode contains some noticeable character-continuity “errors”: Joe Gannascoli appears as “Gino” but will later play “Vito Spatafore,” and some of the mob wives will later be played by different actresses.  In a weird way, though, these glitches work—they strengthen this episode’s presentation of itself as a self-aware work of fiction that wryly celebrates its own fictionality.
  • Cake’s “Frank Sinatra” plays over the final credits.  It’s a final jab at those critics that simplistically dismiss The Sopranos for its supposed glorification of the mob.  Sinatra was the most revered and mainstream of Italian-Americans, and even he had mob associations.
  • The episode unfolds in a far more fluid way than my write-up suggests.  My decision to split the analysis along Christopher and Richard’s storylines, for example, is not exactly warranted by the narrative, but I needed a way to slice the episode open in order to peer into it.  The power of The Sopranos arises from the graceful, overlapping flow of its imagery, dialogue, music, allusions.  I shudder to think that the artificial analytical grid that I place over the episodes might suppress a viewer’s own fluid engagement with the show.  But I (Word)press on…

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43 responses to “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti (1.08)

  1. I dont think you actually read sandra gilbert’s essay. Even Gandolfinis’ remarks on the Soprano’s relationship to/with american society mirror Gilbert’s sentiments.


    • I did read Dr. Gilbert’s essay. (But I’ll admit that I may have misread it – it might be a little bit over my head.) I don’t know which of Gandolfini’s remarks you’re referring to, but I’ve never heard him take the patronizing tone towards The Sopranos that Gilbert seems to take. (Prof. David Lavery, in Reading The Sopranos, describes her tone as “condescending” and “dismissive,” and characterizes her attack on Sopranos scholars as “unbecoming, admittedly ignorant and sometimes ad hominem.”)

      Perhaps it’s the tone of the essay that led me to suspect that Gilbert brought a previously established bias against all Mafia-related works to her viewing of The Sopranos. This suspicion was deepened when I read, in her final paragraph, that “I write this, I have to confess, without having seen a single frame of the third season…” The essay was published over a year after Season 3 originally aired; the fact that she was willing to submit such a critical piece without having watched a full third of the episodes that were available at the time seemed to confirm an unfair prejudice against the show. I don’t question that Prof. Gilbert is a brilliant and accomplished woman. I bring up her essay in this write-up because it seems to display the type of premature bias that Chase specifically targets in this hour.


  2. Ron, do you remember if Emil was Chris’ first kill?


  3. Great, just got another confirmation. Makes sense his first kill would haunt him so. I think he also confirmed it in the Season 5 episode where he and Tony Blundetto go to dig up bodies from Uncle I-don’t-remember-who’s farm.


  4. Good thoughts. Watching Season 1 for the third time. Just keeps getting better and better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brilliant deconstruction of a brilliant episode. Interestingly enough, Tennessee Williams and Michael Imperioli have the same birthday, March 26th, (different years of course).

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Uncle Junior learning of Tony seeing a shrink is a major plot point. Funny to think this is all due to AJ being suspended from stealing the wine. A few things happen, people talk and suddenly Tony is in great danger- with AJ oblivious to his unintended role in his father’s near death experience. This may be a very important episode in the first season but I don’t have the enthusiasm as I feel for other episodes. The contrasts you discuss between the families at the dinner table are great- the Soprano’s really are much more American than Italian. And the regularness of life, something this show seems to drive home nearly every episode. Sometimes its right in front of us and it may dawn on us later how much this show hones into the regularness, and mundane things that happen to everyday ordinary people. That’s one attribute that makes this show so watchable over the last 19 years. After reading your comments about the “train scene” I now realize what an impressive shot that was. The entire part where Tony waits for Chris and what is said in the car after is just great. I asked myself throughout the series, “why does Tony keep Chris around, he is such a liability for him and the entire association. (I for sure thought he was done in Season 5 when he came into the Bing with a gun.) This scene shows how much Tony cares for Chris. He looks at him like a son. That being said and Chrissy is a major liability, but the bakery scene is downright hilarious. I remember it’s original airing, and laughed my ass off for a good 5 minutes. The whole thing was just absurd. It was definitely Chase “reflecting” on the Goodfellas scene.


    • You bring up a great point about watchability – I think most people would assume that a show inspires re-watches if its full of lots and lots of “action,” but The Sopranos proves that it is actually an honest depiction of the mundane realities of everyday life that keeps viewers returning to watch again. The regularness of life that Chase focuses on is so relatable, whether you’re seeing the series for the first time or doing a rewatch 15 years later…


  7. The scene with Larry & Paulie talking about the indictments, Larry mentions his guy’s goomar works at FBI headquarters as a word processor. Isn’t that another reference from Goodfellas? Jimmy & Henry beats up and almost fed that guy to the alligators, his sister was a typist for the FBI. Also, right after the scene where the married couple kiss at the table, the guy in white hair, isn’t that Vinny Vella? He later played Johnny Sac’s underboss Jimmy Petrile, in season 5. Him as Artie Piscano from Casino was hilariously classic.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Is that book available “Soprano’s a Family History?


    • Yes, but it’s basically a moneymaking tie-in. If you weren’t all that impressed by Sopranos Sessions, you’ll be totally underwhelmed by this book..


  9. This is indeed a The Legend of Tennesse Moltisanti’s autopsy, great job! That’s the reason why I have some doubts about what you say, cause your essay is full of relevant content we can discuss about, keeping the series alive and kicking; for this very same reason I said a autopsy and not the -ultimate- autopsy. For example, if I got it right, you argue that Chase answers (and I’m sure you mean he refutes, disagrees, disproves) the complaints about ital-american depiction through LaPenna and Moltisanti. Then you go on to claim implicitly -because you say one thing after another- in LaPenna’s section that the fact that the Soprano’s family is such a good example of an american family as the Melfi’s are (so they are similar to this extent) justifies that there’s no tarnishing going on. But I’d say the opposite. Families are alike and that’s the reason why the tarnishing happens. Let’s say I’m similar to you and you behave mischiveously. Then people will associate me with your mischiveous acts too. Bottom line is: I just don’t see how the “shallow delineations´´ you mention account for Chase’s answer that there’s no shadow blackening the 20 million. Yet again, thanks a bunch for such an overwhelming amount of details and grounded opinions in your essay that I can’t attain to tell ya how important this is for the series’ comprehension.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Iago. You’re right, the existence of the mafia can blacken Italian-Americans, maybe even blacken all of American society to some degree. But it is not fair or rational that this should happen—no one should ever be tarnishing you for my mischievous behavior. In any case, I think Chase’s larger point is that we shouldn’t be making simple and shallow delineations between who “the good guys” are and who “the bad guys” are—the issue is too complicated to approach so simplistically…


      • I’m a first generation Italian American, raised in Italy until age 12. While abroad, I encountered far more anti-American animosity from Italians
        than anti-Italian animosity in the US. Granted, this was in the early 1950s, and millions of Italians still hated Americans for ‘invading’ their country. Anywho, I have never been indignant regarding the entertainment world’s portrayals of the Italian mafia. So much of it is fiction that I can’t believe that it should be interpreted as demeaning. And I don’t hear much from indignant Jews, Blacks, Russians, or Puerto Ricans (etc.), who have also been portrayed as mobsters! I hereby pooh-pooh elitist critics. 😝

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Even Christopher’s dreams sound like a bad movie script.


      • I recently rewatched The Sopranos starting from season 3 (seen 1 & 2 too many times) but then, after looking at 1 & 2 again, many episodes seem to have this strange ‘sitcommy’ feel compared to all later seasons.
        I think the show make a jump in quality with Season 3, that’s where the show truly comes into its own. Am I alone in thinking 3 & 4 were the best seasons of the show?

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Just re-watched it myself. Notice how in the dream sequence, Email’s Satriale’s number is 34 and in the bakery, Chris’s number is…34?!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Three good moments in this episode.
    – – – –
    Tony and Carmela are urgently collecting the incriminating material in their home. They bring down some guns and cash hidden in the ceiling.
    Tony: Where’s the rest of the money?
    Carmela: It’s everywhere.
    – – – –
    Christopher says he loves “that smell in Blockbuster, that candy and carpet smell . . .” If he were alive today, he would be nostalgic. Blockbuster has disappeared.
    It’s interesting, by the way, to think of other things that have appeared and disappeared in one’s lifetime. Audio cassette tapes, faxes, Polaroid cameras, Nokia . . .
    – – – –
    The psychiatrist consulted by Dr Melfi, her son, and her ex-husband, reminisces about the “dark sheep” in his family.
    “My mother’s uncle was Lepke’s wheel man, his driver. Those were some tough Jews.”
    Jennifer, Jason, and Richard listen to him, gaze at him, spellbound.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I got the impression they were upset. There is real fear Melfi’s famliy is dealing with and they are also having deep disagreements about how they and their culture re being perceived. And their counselor uses this time not to really listen and help them get to what’s really going on but to make jokes and brag about family associated with murder. None of the Melfi’s had any ties to criminality but it has affected how they are viewed. I also notice how her Husband and therapist never seem to take Dr Melfi seriously enough to just liten to her and tease out what is going on with her like she does for Tony. The way they discuss her patient and her professionalism always seems patronizing.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Does anyone know the English translation of the insult Tony hurled at Agent Rosso?


    • Soft Drinks of Choice

      Ti faccio culo cossi. Literally: I’ll make you an ass like this. That’s why Grasso says “YOUR ass!” Combined with the hand gesture I guess its the Italian equivalent of the English idiom “I’ll tear you a new asshole.”

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Another thing to note is the wedding band is playing “Turn the Beat around” while they’re talking about going on the lam and part of the lyrics are “turn it upside down”, which is what they’re about to do with their houses by stashing their weapons and other things elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Chris shooting the baker in the foot, only for it to become a problem for him, lives up to the phrase “shot yourself in the foot”.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Great blog, Ron. I’m re-watching the series for the first time since it originally aired. I just want to add to the discussion of the good/evil statement by Richard LaPenna that ‘begins with moral relativism and ends with categorical good/evil and ultimately evil.’ The immediately foreshadowed scene with Tony by the fence and then in the car effectively undercuts Richard’s statement, but it also *reverses the progression* described by Richard’s statement. It begins with the categorical good/evil dichotomy (camera shot) and Tony’s behavior in the car is initially evil. But then the behavior evolves into grey area and moral relativism. An exact reversal of the evolution (devolution) described by Richard L’s statement.

    I’m enjoying reading your blog posts after viewing the episodes! Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Christopher is a textbook case of a manic depressive (bipolar); he’s prone to high/extreme levels of rage/loss of control (mania) and extreme ‘lows’ (depression), all of which become highly exacerbated by his addictions to cocaine, alcohol and heroin. He is also developmentally ‘stuck` – or developmentally arrested, given his immaturity, inability to cope with everyday stressors and acting-out behaviors. Given his father’s early demise and his mother’s shameful neglect/alcoholism, Chris turns to Tony for not only nurturing and guidance, but also for money and respect. When Tony disappoints him (which happens many times), Chris lashes out in adolescent (childish) ways. Their relationship is a symbiotic one in that they both benefit from, and/or derive nothing from one another. Additionally, they are both very passive-aggressive (the love-hate syndrome), with devastating consequences. Ultimately, my initial ‘like’ of Christopher turned into extreme ‘dislike’ as his whininess (highly reminiscent of AJ), erratic behaviors and addictions increased.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. So, Chris illegally carries a concealed weapon into a pastry shop, shoots a kid in the foot, is identified in a newspaper article … and never gets arrested? Chase has a real bad habit of letting ‘things’ slide by. Vagueness is unworthy of respect.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know, that’s not too unrealistic. People get away with small crimes every day. Going after Christopher specifically would have repercussions on all the other investigations


  19. Pingback: The Soprano Onceover: #43. “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” (S1E8) | janiojala

  20. R.I.P. Sam Coppola (the Melfi’s family therapist), 2012


  21. Please "Bear" With Us

    This is an excellent write-up that I remember reading a long time ago. The regularness of life, the “College”-inflected train shot of Tony’s face, etc. And your putting Christopher’s observations on Kolar’s body into iambic verse is hilarious. The episode itself is extremely good and also very funny. That dude… Dr. Sam Reis cracking himself up about “Mafia depression” etc. is just so bizarre and HILARIOUS.
    What can I put in for my own two cents… ummm… well. I dunno. The episode is about representation like you said, I would argue even down to the level of Carmela trying to look like the loving daughter-in-law to Livia. And (I’m getting desperate now) AJ hoping to appear to the FBI as if he doesn’t look up porn sites. And Tony trying to come off like he’s the type of fiance who actually BOUGHT Carmela’s engagement ring. These examples are trivial and a bit of stretch. I do have more similarly granular items, listed below.
    1. Tony’s shirt is bright and blue like an empty swimming pool as he tells Melfi, in coded language, that there’s a strong possibility that he could be indicted. I don’t notice clothes very much at all, but this shirt stood out like crazy.
    2. So Chris is the counter boy in the dream; later he shoots the real-life counter boy in the foot, who himself is a conscious callback to himself getting shot in GoodFellas. Seems like something akin to a wish for self-destruction, both within the show and on a meta level. Well, that’s a reach, let’s try another one.
    3. When they find Emil’s body, the one thing that grosses them out the most is not the rotting corpse itself, but the fact that Kolar’s fingernails have continued to grow, and now look “like a woman’s.” Only then does Georgie run off and puke. This toxic masculinity is a really deep-seated theme and likely meets its apex in “University.”
    4. The muddy urban landscape where Kolar was buried is immediately followed by the verdant property that Jennifer and Richard once purchased. He saw it as an investment; she as a potential place to raise a family. The two landscapes comment on each other in a strange way; the waste and decay of the one seems to amount to the unrealized dreams of the other.
    I have not done my customary reading of Yacowar and Sopranos Sessions for this episode yet (or listened to the corresponding In at the End podcast episode), so if any of those sources said any of the above, I didn’t copy them, but I’ll feel smart if they said any of the same things.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Notes:
    • The Melfi’s therapist briefly mentioned Louis Lepke. Actually, Lepke was the head of Murder Inc., a group of vicious men who carried out ‘hits’ for the mob. Lepke was the only mobster to be executed in America.
    • At the wedding, Corrado seemed somewhat ‘disconnected’ – the guidance he provided to the crew was minimal at best. Tony was certainly right to suggest that ‘spring cleaning’ needed to be done (even though he probably made Corrado look like a fool/incompetent).
    • I was rather surprised by a comment made by Dr. Melfi’s ex-husband. He mentioned selling their property in order to support Jason (their son) AFTER he graduates? Why? Maybe they don’t expect Jason to be competent enough to support himself? Good grief!
    • AJ thinks that he can permanently delete his porn sites? Haha.
    • Of all the dream sequences in this series, I think Christopher’s is the best!
    • Tony was justifiably right to get upset at Dr. Melfi for charging him for his missed appointment! He had let her know in – advance, mind you – that he might have to, given his ‘legal issues’.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Although it seems like any of these wiseguys could have made the Noah’s ark wisecrack, I love that it’s Pussy who delivers this line. He is, after all, the one who is the “bulwark against the Big Nothing” in D-Girl, even if his advice falls into that do as I say, not as I do variety. Pussy, out of all the men in Tony’s crew, seems most likely to believe the only arc in our lives is the one God has planned for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Just writing to say I’m watching the show for the first time (wasn’t born when it aired) and this is the best companion piece. There’s so much depth in this series and these reviews are the only place to give it the analysis it deserves

    Liked by 1 person

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