Richie and Janice’s marriage plans suddenly get scrapped. Tony’s goomar Irina
attempts suicide after he tries to end their relationship.
EPISODE 25 - ORIGINALLY AIRED APRIL 2, 2000 WRITTEN BY GREEN & BURGESS DIRECTED BY ALLEN COULTER
The episode starts off with a surprising scene, almost surreal in its grace and beauty. We rub and blink our eyes, unsure if we’re actually watching The Sopranos or if there’s been some weird mix-up.
Our disorientation is reduced when Tony and Janice enter the room, but we are still unsure who—or what—the dancers were. Ghosts? A hallucination? We soon learn that it is just Richie’s son and his dance partner. Reality trumps fantasy. Director Allen Coulter says that he instructed Gandolfini to come in “ass first” in order to give his entrance a humorous impact and undermine the scene’s surreal quality. The reality of Tony’s ass intrudes upon the fanciful moment.
This episode is all about the intrusion of reality upon the mythologies and fantasies of several characters. Even the centuries-old, romantic idea of “the knight in shining armor” is mocked and demythologized: first, by the malapropism of the title; and later, through Tony’s storyline. (He is this episode’s knight-errant.)
We first heard Russian goomar Irina mix and mangle cultural references to produce the phrase “knight in white satin armor” back in Season One’s “College.” (She is obviously combining the chivalric “knight in shining armor” with The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”) Irina has deluded herself into believing that Tony can be her hero and provide her with all the love and security she requires. She tries to evoke his jealousy, but in his emotional distance, he feels none. Tony bucks against the obligations that his needy mistress tries to saddle upon him. When he ends their relationship, she downs 20 sleeping pills in a suicide attempt.
Pussy has also deluded himself. He is suffering from something like Stockholm Syndrome, trying to bond himself with the FBI, even giving himself the handle “Fat Man.” He actually believes he can be employed by the Feds once he testifies against Tony. Reality comes crashing in while he is tailing Christopher and loses control of his car, smashing into a passing bicyclist. Of course, the delusion can potentially go both ways – FBI agents are vulnerable to improperly bonding themselves with mafioso. In several episodes, we see the Feds get chummy with Tony and the mobsters. Here, Agent Cubitoso warns Agent Lipari, “You can get too close,” while scarfing down tasty morsels from the gift basket Tony has sent him for his birthday:
Big Pussy uses Agent Lipari to unburden his frustrations regarding Tony Soprano. Pussy feels disrespected by Tony. He is still smarting over being treated like some errand boy, asked to find AJ’s teacher’s car last year (“46 Long”). Chase cuts from this scene, in which Pussy feels betrayed by Tony, to a scene in which another of Tony’s loved ones feels betrayed by him:
Carmela picks up the scent of her husband’s infidelity. Like Big Puss, Carmela is driven by her pain to counter-betray Tony. She seeks out Vic Musto under the pretense of wanting to thank him for his good judgment, but we get the sense that Carm may actually be trying to ignite a romance (or at least keep the option of a future romance open). The pounding of the paint machine at the store where Carm and Vic meet sounds a bit like an old-school Tommy Gun, and so the sound adds a threatening undertone to the two scenes which it connects: the paint mixer links the scene in which Richie enacts a plan that threatens Tony’s life to the scene in which Carmela enacts a plan that threatens Tony’s marriage:
Carmela has long been aware of her husband’s infidelity but she has tried not to let it infringe upon the dream of happy, comfortable domesticity that she lives in. Reality, however, comes calling – Irina calls Tony at the house with words of love and a tone of apology. This intrusion is more than Carmela can face, and she storms out of the room. She still thinks that some kind of relationship with Vic is possible but Gabrielle Dante clears up her delusion, saying that Vic didn’t stay away from her because of his good judgment, but because he’s scared of Tony: “Face it, Carmela. Use your head. He pissed his pants.”
Carmela tries to warn Janice that as a mob wife, she will soon have to accept Richie having a mistress. Janice is not worried about this, because she’s sure no goomar would be willing to allow Richie to hold a gun to her head during sex. There has been an interesting comparison made between Carmela and Janice over the course of this season. In the early episodes, Janice (though a moocher and a welfare queen) has a level of autonomy and independence that Carmela doesn’t have. As she gets closer to becoming a mob wife, she gives up much of her independent-mindedness (and jettisons her “Parvati” persona). Although she allows herself to be put in a demeaning, subservient position during sexplay (something we can’t imagine Carmela ever agreeing to), Janice still remains a willful and strong personality. She is an extremely complex and contradictory woman. The “mirror scene” here underscores her multi-dimensionality:
Allen Coulter says that he shot this scene through the mirror because of the cramped conditions of the location. This may be true, but the convention of using a mirror to express the dual nature of a character is one that goes back to the early days of film (and was used extensively in 1940s film noir).
Janice’s dress of “white satin” plays into the episode title – Janice is no pushover or doormat, she can be as forceful as a knight when she wants to be. Richie expects her to play the part of the traditional New Jersey mob wife, but it is not certain that Janice is willing to play this role. Janice Soprano’s real role in Season 2 is to represent a mortal threat to Tony. She shares her mother’s murderous impulses. She nudges her fiancé, who is still stinging over the debacle with the leather jacket, towards committing murder. Richie goes to Corrado with the homicidal plan and gets some traction – Corrado, needing cash for the cost of his legal defense, is bitter that Tony is not letting him deal cocaine on company time.
Richie and Corrado conspire to put a hit on Tony. But Richie is not able to sell the idea to the other capos. Richie is not respected enough for them to buy into his plan. When he approaches Albert Barese with the idea, Barese—almost mockingly—parrots everything Richie says to him. It may simply be that Barese has a nutty verbal tic, similar to the one Jimmy ‘Two-Times’ had in GoodFellas. (Jimmy would constantly repeat his last sentence twice.) But we suspect—and Richie also seems to recognize—that Barese simply doesn’t have much respect for him. In Richie’s introductory episode, “Toodle-fucking-oo,” the camera was used to emphasize his “short but tough” persona. He was shown as a man who could fill the television frame with his presence despite his small size:
But now, after failing to bring the captains on board in the assassination plot, Richie is presented differently. Chase films him through the kitchen pass-through window, and this frame-within-a-frame shot isolates and diminishes him. In the reverse shot, naïve Bobby expresses his admiration for Richie’s toughness, but wily Corrado has moved past his admiration for the diminutive man. Corrado decides to turn his back on Richie and ally himself with Tony instead.
Corrado cements himself to Tony by revealing Richie’s assassination plot to him. (By pinning the plot entirely on Richie, Corrado essentially frames him, perhaps allowing a new reading of the frame-within-a-frame shot.) Upon learning of Richie’s betrayal, it doesn’t take consigliore Silvio very long to reach the conclusion that he must die:
Five seconds is all Silvio needs. There is something tragic, and yet funny, in how these characters find human life so disposable. Of course, the Universe can be tragic and funny in this regard too: Fate steps in and disposes of Richie before Tony even gets the chance. In his essay, “Mangia Mafia!” Michael Grynbaum explores the tension between Janice and Richie that leads to his death. Janice is a “masculinized woman” – this is established in her first scene of the episode, when she hauls a couch into the house and reveals she once worked as a mover. Grynbaum analyzes how this “masculinized woman” violates the feminine norm in the moments leading up to her shooting of Richie:
- She complains about spending all day “in this house cooking your fucking dinner…” A true mob wife would never gripe about spending time in the kitchen.
- She slips her mother a couple of sleeping pills so that she and Richie could perhaps have sex. “In initiating sex, Janice plays the aggressor, a traditionally male role. Richie becomes irate as the gender roles in his household are further subverted…”
- Janice is slow to serve Richie dinner, prompting him to go into the kitchen and serve himself.
- Janice expresses her belief that it would be perfectly acceptable for Richie’s son—his namesake—to be gay.
This final transgression earns Janice a punch in the mouth. We know that Richie believes he has the right to beat his woman – in 2.03, he told Chris it was ok for him to hit Adriana as long as he put a ring on her finger first. But this is not something Janice can abide. She had deluded herself into believing that prison had transformed Richie into a thoughtful man, but reality smashes her in the face. Janice returns to the dining room with a gun and puts a bullet in Richie’s chest. He crawles backwards into the kitchen (the same kitchen where we first saw them as a couple in episode 2.05 and Tony mocked their relationship as “Ozzie and fuckin’ Harriet over here”). Janice squeezes the trigger once more and finishes him off.
I think there is an important point that needs to be emphasized about Richie Aprile: he was an asshole. Sure, he was a sociopath and a murderer and a misogynist and a homophobe, but his most salient characteristic was his assholery. It is primarily because of this characteristic that he couldn’t get the other mobsters to join him in a plot against Tony, and why Silvio is so quick to agree that he must be whacked, and why Janice doesn’t hesitate to destroy him. In a sense, Richie’s ugly personality is part of Chase’s commitment to portraying “the fuckin’ regularness of life” – people like Richie are simply an inescapable part of everyday life. There is not one person among us that hasn’t had to deal with an asshole at work or an asshole in the family or an asshole around the neighborhood. Asshole Richie is the prototype for future SopranoWorld assholes Ralph Cifaretto, Feech La Manna and Phil Leotardo.
In the aftermath of Richie’s murder, needy Janice is conspicuously paralleled with needy Irina. In this episode, both Irina and Janice call Tony in their moments of desperation, despite having felt the utmost anger towards him earlier. Both of them have scenes in which they physically cling to Tony—their knight in white cotton undershirt—as they beg him not to leave.
Tony does truly come to Janice’s rescue here, not only in cleaning up her murderous mess, but also defending her against Livia’s cruel words. Sitting in the staircase (a place of menace and callousness in SopranoWorld), Livia hurls pointed insults at her daughter. Tony comes to believe that Livia genuinely doesn’t know how hurtful she can be: “You don’t know, do you? You don’t have a fucking clue.” (In the previous episode, Corrado told her in a similar context, “What you don’t know could fill a book.”) Moments later, when Tony stumbles off the front steps, Livia cannot contain her laughter. She laughs at him just as she laughed at Tony’s father when he fell off some steps many years ago.
HELLO CORRADO And LIVIA, GOODBYE RICHIE And JANICE
I noted previously that Richie and Janice seemed to be “substitutes” for the indisposed Corrado (incarcerated) and Livia (recovering from a stroke) in Season 2. Now that Corrado is out of prison and Livia is back to form, Richie and Janice have outlived their narrative/dramatic function. To remove Janice from the narrative, Chase avails himself of the “Put on a bus” trope, a convention commonly used to get rid of unnecessary characters. At the bus station, we realize how delusional Janice can be: she actually believes Tony’s idyllic description of Richie’s final resting place on a hill among sweet scented pines. (We know the reality: Richie’s funeral preparations were made at Satriale’s Pork Store, and he’ll spend eternity in a Hefty trash bag.) Janice is not gone for long, however – she returns early in the next season. Her return was probably hastened by the death of Nancy Marchand (Livia) two months after Season 2 ended. Livia’s death in SopranoWorld occurs in episode 3.02, from which point Janice takes a permanent place on the series.
FOOD AND FIREARMS
In this episode, Richie provides two of the most explicit links that The Sopranos has made thus far between food, garbage and violence. The first is found in some of Richie’s dialogue. Angry at Tony for ruling against him on a business bid, Richie says, “He don’t give a shit about anybody but himself. This country is goin’ through boom times, there’s more garbage than there ever was – and he won’t let me eat.” There is arguably no Sopranos line that so “poetically” tethers our country’s wealth and consumer culture with garbage and food as this one does. Richie provides the second link in death: his bullet-laden body is sliced into little pieces with the food processing equipment at Satriale’s, then stuffed into a garbage bag.
THE DARK KNIGHT
Tony is something of a hero here, albeit a deeply flawed one. He does what he can for the women in his life. He not only throws Janice an engagement party, he protects her after she commits murder, and then shields her from their mother’s insults. He rushes to the hospital to comfort suicidal Irina, uses his connections to help her find work, and generously gives her $75,000 to end their relationship. The $75k leads us to believe that he has very definitively said goodbye to Irina, which Carmela would be very glad to hear. But of course, he can’t actually tell Carm this. Carmela uses Tony’s infidelity to essentially leverage a trip for herself to Rome with Rosalie. Tony silently assents – what else can he do but agree? The camera holds on Tony as The Eurythmics “I Saved the World Today” starts up and continues over the credits. Tony may have heroically saved his world—and the women he shares it with—from breaking to pieces, but everyone still feels hurt, betrayed and angry in the end.
There is a bit of a contrast made here between mobster sons Richie Jr and Jackie Jr. Lorena Russell points out in her essay, “Defense-of-Family Acts: Queering Famiglia in The Sopranos,” that in this episode’s opening scene, Tony is…
…quick to mock Richie Jr’s gender expression and sexuality, which contrast with the more acceptable forms of male behavior modeled by Jackie and his gang of cigar-smoking, football-watching friends. From the beginning, the episode establishes that there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” of being a man…
Richie Aprile smacks Janice in the mouth because she essentially blurs the line between the “right” and “wrong” ways of being masculine by suggesting it would be okay for Rick to be gay. Richie’s excessive response comes out of the “gay panic” that characterizes SopranoWorld. (A similar gay panic prompted Corrado to smash a pie in Bobbi Sanfilippo’s face last season, and homophobia becomes the central concern of a few episodes in Season 6.)
- Furio seems more upset at the loss of Richie’s Cadillac, which must be junked, than he is at the loss of Richie’s life.
- Chris tells Pussy about his new criminal venture: “I got something hard-edge…Pokémon cards.”
- Tony’s phrase, “flying down to Rio,” is used as a euphemism for homosexuality, but it is also a reference to a 1933 film of the same name (the first to feature Fred and Ginger as dancing partners).
- In the very short moment that Jackie and Meadow have some screen time together, we get a sense that Meadow may have a crush on him. This becomes a major part of the story next season.
- At one point, Irina tells Tony, “You’re not the boss of me.” Richie feels the same way about Tony – he feels Corrado is the true, legitimate Boss of the family.
- Irina’s suicide attempt here is the latest in a long line of suicide attempts, references and ideations on The Sopranos. (Nembutal—the stuff that Janice uses to knock Livia out—is the same drug that George Sanders, whose suicide was referenced last episode, used to kill himself.)
- The “Passages” that Silvio alludes to is Gail Sheehy’s book, Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life.
- Janice inadvertently is Tony’s “knight in white satin,” as she kills her fiancé who has made a move against Tony’s life.
- Carmela and Rosalie’s planned trip to Rome never materializes, as we will learn in “Cold Stones” (6.11).
- And thank you E.I.C., for leading me as only you could to an invaluable insight about The Sopranos.