Corrado, released from prison, resumes his tense relationship with Tony.
Janice and Livia also have a tense relationship.
We learn that Big Pussy has divided loyalties.
Episode 15 – Originally aired Jan 23, 2000
Written by Green & Burgess and Frank Renzulli
Directed by Martin Bruestle
This episode confirms that Tony’s apprehensions about the people who have reinserted themselves into his life are justified. Pussy is a major threat to Tony and the NJ mob, and Parvati/Janice is not the West Coast peacenik that she has portrayed herself to be.
It turns out that Pussy has indeed flipped, but it looks like he’s trying his best to protect Tony. This may be part of the reason why his back pain is so bad; his burden is doubly heavy because he’s playing both sides against the middle. His handler, Skip Lipari, does not resemble Agent Mulder or any other FBI man that we’ve ever seen on television. In fact, he could pass for one of the mob guys: he’s overweight, wears track suits, and mocks Tony (calling him a “yuppie”) for getting psychotherapy. It is perhaps because Skip is such an identifiable character for Pussy that he will ally himself with the FBI more and more as the series progresses.
It is fitting that an episode that is about seeing characters more clearly would have a scene set in an ophthalmologist’s office. In the clip below, we see the cut from the ophthalmologist’s waiting room to Livia’s hospital room:
It is Janice who comes into focus as Livia’s blurry eyesight clears. Like Livia and the opthalmalogy patients, the viewer’s vision becomes clearer in this episode—we get our first good picture of who Janice really is. She has cloaked herself as an arts-minded hipster (“Lady Kerouac” she calls herself in her supposed video project) but the facade is wearing thin. We begin to see her true reason for coming to NJ: she wants control of Livia’s house. To gain this control, she must prevent her brother from selling the house and she must also restrengthen her relationship with her mother. Meadow reminds her that music is one of the few things that Livia enjoys, and Janice capitalizes on this. She buys CDs for Livia and reminisces on childhood memories of Mario Lanza. When a Pavarotti song softens Livia’s harshness, Janice quotes the first part of William Congreve’s line: “Music hath charms…” (wisely leaving off the second part: “…to soothe the savage breast”). Although Janice plays the warm and sweet daughter in this scene, the scorpion ring on her finger hints at her poisonous character:
Janice seems to have inherited her mother’s murderous inclinations. Livia has a filicidal impulse while Janice may have a matricidal impulse. Janice not only wants Tony to sign a D.N.R. for Livia, she may actually be thinking of killing her mother. Livia certainly believes this to be the case (although it’s difficult to know just how much of Livia’s fear of her daughter is produced by her pathological paranoia). Livia hints that she has riches hidden away somewhere, but she may be saying this just to help insure against her murder. She lets Janice know that she is on to her by making a reference to some Richard Widmark film; she is almost certainly alluding to Kiss of Death, the 1947 film in which Widmark’s character pushes an old Italian woman down a flight of stairs. Prompted by this reference or her own dark impulses, murder flashes through Janice’s mind.
We almost feel pity for Livia when she calls the Soprano home, apprehensive that her life is in danger. On the phone with Carmela, she describes Janice as “a snake in the grass.” (The previous episode made a reptilian comparison as well—we saw the pool cleaner take on a snake-like appearance when it shared a scene with Janice.) Carmela curtly hangs up the telephone—she does not want to resuscitate the relationship with her mother-in-law. But other factors are pulling Livia back into Tony and Carmela’s life. Corrado is insisting that Tony repair the relationship with his mother because the current situation is disgraceful and bad for business. People are talking. (Philly Parisi in the previous episode and Freddy Capuano in this episode are killed for their gossiping.) So far this season, Tony has refused to allow anyone to even mention Livia to him, but he seems to be softening his stance. He and Janice discuss their mother:
Janice: It’s not gonna be long before they release her.
Tony: How can she make “tremendous strides” when there’s nothing wrong with her in the first place?
Janice: It’s called Face-Saving Therapy. The patient has to believe that they’re getting therapy. Believe me, Medicare is not gonna pay for it if it’s not as necessary as real, would they?
Tony: (shaking his head) And the taxpayer foots the bill…
Tony’s last statement is profoundly ironic—he had no hesitation whatsoever crafting an HMO scam in the Pilot episode which could potentially bilk taxpayers and Medicare. But my larger point here is that Tony is at least willing now to have a conversation about his mother. A couple of scenes later, Tony (angered and frustrated by Janice’s BS) agrees not to sell Livia’s house so that mother and daughter can both live there together: “The two of you in that house deserve each other. It would be worth it just to watch.” Yes, it will be.
Corrado is also being pulled back into Tony’s life. He is more directly involved in the business now that he’s been granted house arrest (though Judge Greenspan demands he wear an ankle bracelet.) (The scene in which Jewish lawyer Melvoin tries to nix Corrado’s ankle bracelet by smoothing the riled feathers of the racially oversensitive Jewish judge is my favorite scene of the episode.) The death of old man Herman James, Sr., may also serve to warm Tony’s feelings toward Corrado: Herman Sr. and Corrado are both WWII veterans, they are part of the Greatest Generation—and as such, they should be cared for and respected. When Corrado proves his old age and vulnerability by slipping and hurting himself in the bathtub, Tony comes over to help. In the final shot of the episode, Ella Fitzgerald’s song “Goodbye My Love” starts up as Tony lifts and carries the ailing Corrado. It’s a tender moment (made a little humorous by that romantic love song) and it affirms that the two men will be able to bury the hatchet. Business and family obligations require that this relationship be resuscitated.
Tony plays both sides against the middle in this episode, pitting black laborers against the Italian-owned construction firm. He pays Rev. Herman James, Jr., to instigate a strike by the black workers, and then accepts money from Jack Massarone to send in his henchmen to break up the strike. One of the black protesters holds up a sign that puns on the old slave term for “master”:
“No More Massarone,” the sign proclaims. While the frustration of the protesters may be real, the rally itself was falsely initiated. Herman Jr. engineered it as part of a scheme to line his pockets, not as a way to right racial wrongs. The real “massa” is greed, a master that very few in SopranoLand seem to be able to escape. The senior Herman certainly would not approve of this scheme, nor of his son’s collusion with Tony Soprano. But Herman Sr. dies of old age by the end of the episode, leaving Herman Jr. free to look forward to his next scam with Tony. (An asbestos removal job looks promising and profitable to them.)
The Sopranos is a heavyweight show—perhaps no TV cast in history has topped, in pounds as well as talent, the group that appears here. This episode alone, with the introduction of Skip Lipari and Bobby “Bacala” Baccalieri, adds several hundred pounds to the cast’s overall tonnage. This is certainly by design. Tony continuously insults Bobby’s because of his weight in this episode. Poor Steve Schirripa, who plays Bobby, had to take the insults even though he not that obese—David Chase asked him to wear a fat-suit to play the role of Bobby. Avi Santo, in his fine essay, “‘Fat fuck! Why don’t you take a look in the mirror?’: Weight, Body Image and Masculinity in The Sopranos,” explains why it is so important for the Bobby-character to be so obese:
Even though he is a made guy, Bacala is primarily Junior’s nursemaid, a role that clearly feminizes him…Bacala’s body manages to house many of the disempowering features of fatness—from his domesticated, feminized, peripheral, and servile role in the Soprano family to his laziness and his repeated objectification and ridicule…
There will be many jokes made at Bobby Bacala’s expense. Of course, Tony has a considerable girth as well, but he carries his weight, and himself, in a more masculine way. He is weighty, larger-than-life, a man to be reckoned with. And, as Santo also points out, Tony is protected from ridicule in a way that Bobby is not, because of their different positions within the Mob. Bobby does not have Tony’s standing, and Tony does not hesitate to remind him of this. We can’t help but chuckle when hangdog Bobby, trying to add a little dramatic flair to his exit, proclaims, “To the victor belong the spoils,” and Tony—ever the pragmatist—responds, “Why don’t you get outta here before I shove your quotations book up your fat fuckin’ ass!”
Earlier in this scene, before he dismisses Bobby from Satriale’s, Tony seriously threatens Bobby. Against a background of the pork store’s products (which magnify his porcine characteristics), Bobby is told that if he doesn’t use discretion, “They’re gonna find pieces of you in eight different dumpsters.” With this background imagery, violence is equated with food—just as the image of the meat locker behind Chris at the same pork store did in the Pilot. Satriale’s will become further associated with violence in shocking and grotesque ways in later episodes.
By Season 6, there will be an interesting reversal, weight-wise, between Tony and Bobby. After years of overindulgence (of every sort), Tony becomes a slovenly, lumbering beast whereas Bobby seems to “grow” into his girth—he becomes a more substantial character with a meatier role in the business and the family.
- Corrado thinks about getting new eyeglass frames here but thank God he doesn’t. Those frames are an instantly recognizable emblem of Corrado Soprano.
- The series often shows us how characters make mental associations that ignite some thought or idea. We see Corrado, for example, remember the old joke about “Cadillacs” after he hears a man speak of “cataracts” at the ophthalmologist’s office. Similarly, AJ remembers a joke—“What did one prick say to the other prick?”—just after hearing his dad cuss at the dinner table. And the next time we see them at the dinner table, Tony associates pricks with Italian sausage, in an allusion to Janice’s penchant for giving blowjobs.
- Speaking of the ophthalmologist’s office: Corrado may meet Masserone at the eye doctor’s office because: 1) under the conditions of his house arrest, doctor appointments are one the few legitimate reasons for which he can leave his house; 2) patients in this particular waiting room, with their various eye ailments, might have difficulty seeing the payoff be made.
- Speaking of Janice’s blowjobs: Tony will allude to this again in “Soprano Home Movies” (6.13).
- The stair thing: In episode 1.02, Tony recounts to Melfi how his mother laughed when his father tripped and fell down some stairs. Here, Livia worries (perhaps justifiably) that her daughter will toss her down a staircase.
- Meadow tells Janice that her dad used to bring the music of “that Mario Lasagna guy” to Livia. We might remember that Tony brought his mother a Mario Lanza CD in episode 1.11.
Skip tells Pussy, “Jimmy Altieri ate the pill for you,” which could perhaps mean that Jimmy was not actually an informant—he may have been killed because Tony had a mistaken intuition.
The song that Janice listens to while driving, just after she and Livia share a sentimental moment, is Paul Simon’s “A Mother and Child Reunion.” Simon has said that the song title is actually the name of a chicken-and-egg dish that he once saw in a Chinese restaurant menu.
- At one point, Tony tells Pussy how hard it is to find good workers: “They’re either on drugs or compromised with the law or young, they don’t listen to orders.” He has just inadvertantly described, respectively, Chris Moltisanti, Pussy himself, and Matt Bevilacqua & Sean Gismonte.
- At family dinner, Meadow says that she got her driver’s license despite having trouble with parallel parking. She still will not have acquired this skill by the series’ conclusion, she will struggle with it as the family waits for her at Holsten’s Diner.