Tony preys upon Davey Scatino while Carmela gets
closer to Davey’s brother-in-law.
A witness to the Bevilaqua murder
Episode 23 – Originally Aired March 19, 2000
Written by Frank Renzulli and Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess
Directed by John Patterson
This is sort of a “worker bee” episode, it comes in and tells its story competently without all the heavy philosophical and mythological and religious stuff that we’ve seen in other episodes this season. The opening scene almost feels like something out of a classic police procedural show, like Dragnet or Law and Order: a good citizen identifies Tony to the police as the man he saw at the park where Matt Bevilaqua’s body is found. But the typical procedural rarely ever delves deeply into the emotional, private lives of its characters as this series often does.
In those classic TV shows, a clear line divides the good guys from the bad guys—and this can line can only be drawn if the bad guys are not shown in their full human dimension. And this is where The Sopranos most differs from those classic TV shows. In this episode, Tony is humanized from his very first scene: he wants to aid a child who is lost at the mall. The crying child reminds him of Matt Bevilaqua, who cried when he realized that Tony was going to kill him. Tony resolves to be a better father to AJ, who may make the same missteps as Matt—and become a lost child himself—if Tony doesn’t take a more active role in his life.
We also see a human dimension of Carmela that we’re not familiar with. She’s got the hots for Vic Musto (solidly played by Joe Penny). His sister, Christina Scatino, tries to get him to cool his jets, reminding him that Carm has a ring on her finger: “…especially that ring, probably came off a dead person’s finger.” (She may not be far off the mark—last season, we saw Tony stumble a little when Carmela asked if her wedding ring was legitimately purchased.) But Christina’s remark is also significant because of the edit it generates:
Chase cuts from her mention of a dead person’s finger to her suicidal husband, who may become a dead person himself with just a twitch of his finger. Davey seems to come very close to pulling the trigger but bails out when he is interrupted by his wife. This episode exposes the particular way that the mob performs a “bust out,” getting its claws into a business and consuming it from the inside out. More importantly, “Bust Out” shows how the mafia consumes its victims, like Davey Scatino, from the inside out.
The next scene also features a gun, albeit in a more humorous context. The camera slowly circles around to reveal the gun (and the joke):
Janice, despite her feminist posturing in previous episodes, is willing to indulge Richie’s gun fetish. Jan is willing to debase herself so that her man can get his kicks. In spite of her disturbing subservience to Richie here, we know that she wields great power in their relationship. She tries to goad him into making a power-grab against Tony, even though she knows it would probably lead to the death of her brother. This season, Janice and Richie represent the mortal threat to Tony that Livia and Corrado personified in Season 1. Just as we ponder the homicidal similarity between Janice and her mother, Livia makes a startling entrance into this episode:
Relying on the mechanical Stair Lift, Livia seems like an elderly, suburban Darth Vader in this scene—more mechanized monster than maternal matriarch. Up to this point in Season 2, we had only seen her at the hospital, “recovering” from her supposed stroke. Her reentry into the domestic space of the Soprano family here is both humorous and menacing.
Janice, Richie and Livia are certainly threats to Tony, but he is most worried right now about the eyewitness to the Bevilaqua murder. Melfi recognizes that he is genuinely scared, and justifiably so. His crew are doing all they can to identify the witness but are not making any leeway. (In one of those great Sopranos moments that inject humor into tense drama, Furio—still learning the idiom—suggests that Tony make an escape: “Maybe you should lamb chop it for a while.”) But Tony doesn’t have to worry, because the reputation of the Mafia protects him. When the eyewitness is told by his wife that Matt Bevilaqua was a mob associate, he decides to abruptly withdraw his involvement in the investigation. Several TV elements (wardrobe, set design, props, diagetic music) all come together to quickly give us a sense of the couple’s relationship, their marital history, their politics, their self-perceived role in society, and their fear of the mob. Writers Burgess and Green have always been adept, going back to their Northern Exposure days, at conveying personality with just a few lines of dialogue. I marvel at these 70 seconds of televisual efficiency:
The intellectual do-gooder suddenly loses his motivation to do good, and Tony finds himself safe from the Damocles sword that has been hanging over his head. There is, however, something else that has also been threatening Tony this hour, though he doesn’t quite realize it: his wife is developing a crush on Vic Musto…
The previous episode ended with a hot-and-heavy scene between Tony and Carmela, as the camera moved in close to capture their physical intimacy (in a scene that may have been a reference to From Here to Eternity). In “Bust Out,” however, the only physical contact between the two is when Carm attacks Tony, flailing her arms against his bulk. We should not have expected their newfound warmth and passion from the previous episode to last long, because we could be reasonably sure that Tony would continue his philandering. But surprisingly, it is Carmela here who seeks intimacy outside the marriage.
Vic Musto has Tony’s mass and broad shoulders, but the similarities end there. He is a hard-working man in a legitimate business, and he is bonded and state-certified—a far cry from Tony’s employment status. Vic is a Wallpaper Man, someone who can redo and revitalize Carmela’s domicile, while Tony constantly jeopardizes the household with his criminal and extramarital activities. Maurice Yacowar notes an important way that Vic is the Anti-Tony: Tony’s exploitation of Davey Scatino’s gambling addiction has depleted Eric’s college fund, and it is Uncle Vic who decides to step in and pay Eric’s tuition himself. (“Uncle Vic” is the answer to the question that was asked on the soap opera that Corrado was watching: “What about little Eric?”) Once Vic learns that it is Tony Soprano who is behind Davey’s latest (and largest) blunder, he squashes the burgeoning relationship with Carmela.
“…SUCH A DEAL…”
While Christina is telling Carmela, during lunch at Vesuvio, just how bad her husband’s gambling problem is, Artie happily arrives at their table with some bottled water. It is not the brand that they asked for, but Artie says, “I got such a deal on this Ramlosa.” We know, of course, that he got “such a deal” from the bust-out of Scatino’s store. By drinking the water, Christina is inadvertently filling her belly through the destruction of her family’s livelihood. Tony and the Mob’s activities have, in a sense, pushed Christina into cannibalizing her own family.
In the following scene, Tony presents AJ with an upmarket rod-and-reel while parroting Artie’s words: “I got a great deal on it.” It’s safe to assume that “the great deal” consisted of little more than swiping it off a rack at the bust-out store. The Soprano family profits at the expense of others. Now that the eyewitness has back-pedaled out of the Matt Bevilaqua investigation, society must bear the cost of Tony’s crime. Similarly, when Tony gives $50,000 to mob victim Beansie, he buys peace-of-mind for himself but the violent criminal who crippled Beans is left free to wreak havoc upon society. The idea that the rest of us have to pay for the Mob’s actions is a fundamental truth of The Sopranos, and the final scene of the episode wryly rephrases it when Tony and AJ (finally spending some quality time together to put the appropriated rod-and-reel to use) obliviously flip a smaller boat with the Stugots’ wake.
The stair thing: Perhaps Livia had a Stair Lift installed to allay her fear that Janice would toss her down the staircase [a fear we learned of in “Do Not Resuscitate” (2.02)]. Stairs on The Sopranos are often places of menace, callousness and pain, going all the way back to 1.02 when Tony told Melfi of Livia’s laughter when his father fell off some steps.
- The suicide thing: Suicide and suicidal ideation are somewhat common occurrences in SopranoWorld. Davey comes close to ending it all here. Previously on The Sopranos: depressed Chris discusses suicide in 1.08; Ally cuts her wrists in 1.09; Makazian takes a header off the Goodkind Bridge in 1.11; depressed Tony ponders suicide in 1.12; and Melfi is upset over her patient’s suicide in 2.03.
Faith & Firearms: We see in Janice and Richie’s sex scene that he’s got a gun in his right hand and a large tattoo of the crucifixion on his left arm.
- Tipsy with alcohol and worry, Tony shares a sweet moment with his daughter. He admires how sharp she is. He is correct in saying that nothing gets by Meadow—she seems to suspect Carmela’s extramarital desires when she overhears her mother on the phone with Vic.
- I think the scenes in Melfi’s office are particularly good in this hour. I especially love how Tony now defends the statement Annalisa Zucca made to him in Italy—“You’re your own worst enemy”—against Melfi’s charge that it’s a cliché, although Tony himself told Annalisa it was a cliché back in “Commendatori.” Melfi has to finally concede that the point of psychotherapy is to get patients to understand that “you are your own worst enemy.”
- Tony essentially dodges two bullets in this episode: he isn’t prosecuted for the murder of Matt Bevilaqua, and he doesn’t get cuckolded by Carmela. (In both cases, his status as a mobster protects him.) Maurice Yacowar notes that the powder room in the Soprano house ties these two plot-points together: Tony breathes relief in the powder room when he learns that the eyewitness has reneged, and it is in this same room that Carmela and Vic shared their one—and only—kiss.