Richie Aprile tries to win Tony’s respect with a leather jacket.
Sean and Matt try to earn some respect
with an attack on Chrissie.
Carmela puts the heat on Jean Cusamano’s sister Joan.
Episode 21 – Originally Aired March 5, 2000
Written by ‘BLUE BLOODS’ Robin Green & Mitch Burgess
Directed by Allen Coulter
“Full Leather Jacket” is a bulldog of an episode, short and intense. It is the shortest episode of the series, clocking in at just over 42 minutes. If the show had appeared on network TV, Chase would have been hamstrung by strict, uniform length guidelines. But since The Sopranos aired on HBO, Chase had much more latitude in deciding the length of each episode. The longest outing of the series comes in at about 70 minutes, which is a whopping 65 percent longer than the shortest episode. Chase was able to give each episode precisely the amount of time it needed to cohere and “feel right,” without worrying too much about commercial/front office concerns. As such, episode length becomes an important element in the viewer’s experience of The Sopranos.
The question of which colleges Meadow will get accepted into has been a recurring part of the Sopranos narrative over these first two seasons, and the issue comes to the forefront here. Carmela is obsessed, laying awake in bed thinking about it:
Prof. Maurice Yacowar notes that the “Profile Toner” commercial that plays on the TV foreshadows the drastic measures that Carmela takes to tone the profile of Meadow’s college application. Carm is a bulldog herself here, pressuring neighbor Jeannie Cusamano to get her twin-sister Joan, a Georgetown graduate, to write a recommendation letter for Meadow. When that doesn’t work, Carmela pays Joan a visit and—in her own unique way—makes her an offer she can’t refuse.
Chase usually renders his characters very realistically, and so Carmela’s behavior toward Joan might seem quite over-the-top—the type of stereotypical behavior we might find in a mafia-genre work of lesser quality. But I think the motivation here is that conservative Carmela absolutely does not want Meadow to go to the liberal hotbed of UC Berkeley, and is willing to do anything to get her daughter into a right-of-center school like Georgetown (the oldest Catholic university in the country). She even throws a letter from Berkeley into the trash before Meadow sees it (though she does later pull it out of the basket to give to Mead). Conservative Tony too is repulsed by the thought of his daughter moving out to Berkeley/San Francisco, where people get Nobel prizes, according to him, for “packing fudge.”
Prof. Yacowar writes that Richie Aprile is also trying to tone a profile here—his own. He makes a gift of a horrendously outdated jacket to Tony, taken off of tough guy Rocco DiMeo years ago. (Richie tells the story almost word-for-word every time he recounts it, indicating to us that he has replayed the event and rehearsed the story in his mind many times.) But Richie remains a cringeworthy, scary figure despite his attempts to be a nicer guy.
I think that Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte are driven by concerns about their profile too. The two have never been taken very seriously by the mobsters. They have dreams of becoming Made Men, but right now, they are barely seen as men at all. We first got a sense of the profound emasculation that they feel in “The Happy Wanderer.” Their emasculation continues here. In his essay “Fat Fuck,” Avi Santo notes that their lean, well-muscled bodies seem effeminate compared to the lumbering, overweight bodies of most of the Sopranos mobsters, and that they are feminized by the way they preen and primp before meeting Tony. There is also a homoerotic overtone to the scene in which the two guys lounge in their apartment in their underwear, Sean toking on a phallic bong in front of a reclining, near-nude Matt. When Furio arrives to collect Tony’s percentage, he picks up on this overtone and makes a crack in Italian about their perceived homosexuality—and rips them for $1000.
Back at the Bing, they realize they’re no different from all the other poor schlubs in there, and decide they need to differentiate themselves. Over the course of the series, other characters—Chris Moltisanti, Tony Blundetto and Vito Spatofore, for example—will have very similar realizations—and will decide that recommitting themselves to the Mob is the only way to differentiate themselves, escape the grind of being a “civilian.” Matt and Sean figure that committing an act of violence is the best way to assert themselves.
Tony Soprano had spent most of this episode in good humor. He was not upset by the doings of Richie or Carm or Meadow or anything else. In fact, he didn’t even have much to talk about when he visited Dr. Melfi. His serenity vanishes when Chris is shot. The shooting comes as a shock to the viewer too. This is where the short length of the episode proves its efficacy. Over the last twenty episodes, we have developed a feel for how long an episode should be. The shooting of Christopher ends this episode so abruptly and so early that our shock gets compounded. Adding to our surprise is that it is a major character that is now clinging to life. In the previous episode, Christopher’s dreams of Hollywood brought him to the verge of quitting his dangerous life in the mob. But he chose to rededicate himself to the Mafia—and now he’s on life support in a hospital room. No one on The Sopranos is safe, neither from death nor from the writers’ sense of irony.
Tony sits bedside by Chris and asks, “How could this happen?” Sometimes, when a question is asked on The Sopranos, the edit provides the answer. (Think of the carjacking victim in “Commendatori” who screeches, “Fucking niggers! Who else?” and then the cut to Tony.) Here, the question is partly answered within the shot itself. Standing behind Tony is Furio, whose humiliation of Matt and Sean must have contributed to their decision to hit Chris.
The sounds of hospital monitors and life support systems continue through to the very end of the hour, making this the only episode (other than the infamous Series Finale) not to have music over its final credits.
“IT’S THE JAAACKKETT“
It’s difficult to know if Richie Aprile is an out-and-out sociopath or if he’s just a fuckin’ prick. It seems more like the latter when he insults Paulie and Silvio and jokes about Christopher’s big nose and waffles on building a wheelchair ramp for Beansie. But he seems like a true mental case when he slinks out of the Soprano home after discovering that the housekeeper’s husband has ended up with the jacket he gave to Tony. Sure, no one ever likes to find that their gifts have been re-gifted, but Richie looks like he’s gonna respond with a killing spree.
Richie had earlier made a big show of presenting the coat to Tony: “It’s the jaackkett…the jacket I took off Rocco DiMeo…cocksucker had the toughest reputation in Essex County but he never came back after I got through with him.” The jacket’s provenance imbues it with an almost mythological significance for Richie. Chase generates the title of this episode from the combination of this leather jacket, the metal casings from Christopher’s shoot-out, and the name of Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 film:
Though Richie Aprile places much importance in the jacket, Tony Soprano doesn’t. David Chase demonstrates, once again, that what is significant to one person is not necessarily significant to someone else. Things don’t have an absolute value in SopranoWorld—it’s all relative.
The episode begins with the famous saxophone lick from Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” played against an exterior shot of the Soprano home. The song lyrics (unheard here) are about a guy who is a “rolling stone,” always wandering away from home. Perhaps a comment on Tony’s untamed nature?
- We see the address of the Soprano home on an envelope: 633 Stag Trail Road. “Stag” typically refers to a male deer, but it can also mean a castrated animal—perhaps a comment on the domestication of Tony Soprano?
- Sound cut: Tony tells AJ that if he wants to get into Harvard or West Point, he has to “crack the books.” Immediately, we hear a banging sound → Cut to Chris and Matt “cracking” a safe.
- More Fun With Sound: At their apartment, Sean tells Matt they need to get new speakers to “kick the fuckin’ bass up on this TV.” Immediately, a basslike pounding starts on their door. (It’s Furio.)
- Chris’ marriage proposal to Adriana must be one of the least romantic in history. He shoves Liz La Cerva out of the way (and rips a phone from her so she can’t call the police) and then blurts out “I wanna marry you” to Adriana. (Mr. Romantic later blames their rocky relationship on his inability to “communicate my needs.”)
- In an absurd world, some of Livia’s absurd theories are going to be proven right. In the previous episode, she advised AJ not to wear a seatbelt. Here, Sean is killed when he can’t unbuckle his seatbelt fast enough to escape Christopher’s bullets.
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© 2021 Ron Bernard