Toodle-fucking-oo (2.03)

Richie Aprile immediately starts making waves in SopranoWorld, crippling Beansie and trying to get into
Janice’s yoga-pants.  Meadow and her friends make a mess at Livia’s house.

EPISODE 19 - ORIGINALLY AIRED JAN 30, 2000
WRITTEN BY FRANK RENZULLI
DIRECTED BY LEE TAMAHORI

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Richie Aprile, just released from prison, muscles his way into SopranoWorld.  His very first lines of the episode, when Adriana asks him if he needs a ride, is, “I wanna walk.  I want to see if I run into any of the old crowd.”  And he literally does this later – he runs his car into Beansie Gaeta.  But before doing this, in his first scene of the series, he gives Beansie a ferocious beating.  At Beansie’s pizzeria, the camera first shoots Richie from a very high angle, compressing the already diminutive man.  Then the camera captures him from a very low angle, magnifying his intensity and savagery as he beats Beansie.

Hi -n- Lo

The varied angles here emphasize both his shortness and his toughness.  In confrontations with Tony later in the episode, Rich stands defiant though Tony tries to use his height to intimidate him:

tony and richie

All of this imagery places Richie squarely in the tradition of the classic Tough Guy, like one of those short, brutish characters played by James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson.  Chase had originally wanted actor David Proval to play “Tony Soprano” but later felt that he looked “too right” for the role.  I think Chase’s instinct was correct.  Proval certainly would have excelled at playing the classic mobster, but The Sopranos is not the classic mob story.  Proval might not have been able to key into the American everyman dimension of Tony’s character the way that James Gandolfini was able to.  Proval shines here instead as the villain.  Season One did not have a quintessential bad guy – Livia and Corrado definitely do not fit the classic “bad guy” mold.  Richie Aprile fits the mold to a much larger degree, and he becomes the prototype for later villains like Ralph Cifaretto and Phil Leotardo.

Richie is a multiple threat to Tony Soprano.  He is establishing alliances with several family members who give Tony stress: Corrado, Janice and Livia.  He insinuates to Corrado that he would be more than willing to extinguish Tony if Corrado wishes it.  And he is reigniting an old romance with Janice.  The two first run into each other at a yoga class, and although Janice was not very warm to him, Richie is interested in her.  Being a villain himself, he may not mind Janice’s beastly personality.  In previous episodes, various images and references alluded to Janice’s poisonous, reptilian character, and at the yoga class in this hour, the instructor says “Lifting up into cobra” just as the camera pans to capture Janice in the cobra position:

janice cobra

Richie brings flowers to Livia at the hospital, but he may really have made the visit hoping to find Janice there.  There’s a funny little moment when Richie enters Livia’s room, and the other patient thinks that he is a nurse.  Perhaps she mistook his shirt for a nurse’s scrubs:

nurse richie

It is an odd shirt, with a plunging neckline and curiously placed pockets.  From his very first scene, in which he sports a Members Only jacket, we understand that Richie is no style maven.  I am not picking on his fashion sense here.  I bring it up because his sense of fashion will become a sticking point later in the season.  He will give Tony a peculiar leather jacket which becomes a major source of tension between the two men.

There is an inverse mirroring between Richie and Tony at this hospital.  Richie visits Livia after sending Beansie to the hospital with spinal injuries, whereas Tony visits Beansie without stopping by his mother’s room upstairs.  With his faux scrubs, Richie is a false nurse, while Tony attends to Beansie with a nurse’s care:

2 nurses

This is a scene that could have descended into gushy tenderness.  Poor brutalised Beans may never walk again, and he worries he may not even be able to wipe his own ass anymore.  Tony responds, “Your nose is as far as I’m willin’ to go,” and the two men share a laugh.  As we’ve seen him do before, Tony is able to deflect sentimentality without losing his compassion, and it is an ability that endears him to us.  Tony Soprano is that relatively rare character in American art – the Villain Protagonist.  Tony can be a monster, no doubt, but by positing him against bigger monsters like Richie, it becomes easier for viewers to root for this imperfect protagonist.

We further empathize with Tony when we see what he has to go through with his little monster at home – Meadow.  She and her friends wrecked her grandmother’s house, and now she’s manipulated her way out of any serious punishment.  Tony perhaps has less power to deal with his kids than with crazy mobsters like Richie.  All of the kids demonstrate here that they can be manipulative little demons.  AJ reveals he pretended to like Janice’s soymilk only because she was giving him a ride to the video store.  Hunter says she uses her bulimia to get out of punishments, and suggests Meadow start purging when she gets in trouble.  Meadow brags that she got her parents to “punish” her by taking away her Discover card for 3 weeks.  Meadow asks Hunter how long it will take for their parents to “realize that we’re practically adults responsible for ourselves?”  This conversation takes place while the two girls make an all-out mess cooking French toast and singing along with TLC: “I don’t want no scrub.”   A scrub, of course, “is a guy that can’t get no love from me / hangin’ out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride / tryin’ to holler at me.”  But here, “scrub” functions as a hidden pun – the girls don’t want to scrub up their mess, neither after making the French toast nor after fouling Livia’s house.  Despite Meadow’s claim that they are “practically adults responsible for ourselves,” they seem like little girls trying to avoid any kind of accountability for their actions.

scrub1

When Janice first heard about the damage to Livia’s home, she advised Mother and Father Soprano to go easy on Meadow by quoting a Zuni saying: “For every 20 wrongs a child does, ignore 19.”  After seeing the mess at the house that she plans to move into, Janice apparently figured this must be the one wrong out of 20 that should not be ignored.  She storms into the Soprano home, calling the parents out for allowing Meadow’s bullshit.  Meadow overhears the ensuing blowup, and whether prompted by this argument or by her own feeling of guilt/self-preservation, she goes to clean the fouled house.  She may not want to scrub, but that is what Tony finds her doing at the end of the episode.

scrub2

Tony seems dumbfounded at finding her here.  He may not be sure what exactly prompted Meadow to come clean the house.  Or he may be wondering, duh, why he didn’t think to include cleaning the house as part of her punishment.  I guess the answer is that he is not exactly a man who is used to being held accountable, and a man who spends his life avoiding deserved punishments might not know how to mete out a just punishment.

THE DOCTOR IS (STILL) OUT
A chance encounter between Tony and Dr. Melfi at a restaurant gets the good doctor thinking about him again.  She discusses this former client with her own psychoanalyst, Dr. Eliot Kupferberg.  “Toodle-fucking-oo,” she grumbles to her therapist, wondering why she chose to say such a childish farewell at the restaurant.  Further analysis leads her to the conclusion that, “Young girls are not accountable for their behavior.  I think ‘Toodle-oo’ was the action of a ditsy young girl.  I regressed into the girl thing to escape responsibility for abandoning a patient.”  Through this epiphany, Melfi is contrasted to Meadow.  Meadow acts like the “ditsy young girl” for most of this episode, shirking responsibility and accountability.  When Melfi eventually resumes therapy with Tony in a later episode, the viewer can better understand the reason why she does so because of the contrast that is made to young Meadow here: as an adult, as a doctor, Melfi feels she cannot shirk her responsibility to Tony Soprano.

The scene in Kupferberg’s office shares a formula with the scenes that occur in Melfi’s office.  The camera stays taut and the editing is unobtrusive, allowing us to focus on the dynamic dialogue.  Visual dynamism is achieved in both offices through the artwork/statuary and through staging.  In both offices, the chairs are not placed flat against walls but are situated more centrally, creating background space behind the characters.  This background space allows for depth of composition, correlating with the idea that the therapist’s office is a place to pull yourself away from the flat background of daily life – it is a place to put yourself in the center of focus for in-depth explorations of the psyche.

eliot's office

I think there may be a deep cleverness in casting Peter Bogdanovich to play Dr. Kupferberg.  Bogdanovich is the director of notable films such as Paper Moon and The Last Picture Show.  But before becoming a film director, he was a film analyst, writing articles for Esquire, publishing a book on Orson Welles and working as the film curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  By placing this real-life film analyst in the role of a psychoanalyst on the series, Chase may be giving a nod to the large body of analysis and critical commentary of The Sopranos that was already developing by Season Two.  When Melfi and Kupferberg explore the significance of her adieu, “toodle-oo,” they mirror the extensive study that has been done of episode “Toodle-fucking-oo” (and the series as a whole).  Viewed as a stand-in for critics and analysts, the Kupferberg-character legitimizes the in-depth analysis of the show that I and others have attempted.  On the other hand, Chase may be mocking our simplistic or wrong-headed or arrogant attempts at analysis.  (The latter possibility seems greater when we see how pompous or clueless Kupferberg can be at times.)  Andrew Anthony, in a 2002 article for The Observer, “Deconstructing Tony,” writes that many Sopranos critics and academics have gone completely overboard:

It’s no wonder Gandolfini stoops, carrying that weight of symbolism around his shoulders.  That Tony also visits a shrink, and that shrink in turn visits another shrink to discuss the problems of seeing Tony, makes him even more a target for intellectuals than he is for rival gangsters or the Feds.  Not only does he face imminent destruction but also endless deconstruction.  North American academics…are determined individuals who will not waste two words when a chapter will do…Phrases like ‘referencing the new narrative spaces’ and ‘circumscribed marginality’ can knock the sense out of you, having already had the sense knocked out of themselves, and whole paragraphs brazenly make no concession to comprehension.

Yowsers.  But yeah, he gives an accurate description of much of the Sopranos scholarship.  He also writes, however, that “any program that features a U.S. marshal called McLuhan is worthy of close textual reading.”  So: academic jargon and intellectual bombast have made much of the Sopranos analysis unattractive and inaccessible, but the series itself is deserving of the attention it receives.

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COUPLA MORE POINTS:

  • Kupferberg says that Melfi cannot blame Tony for the patient that killed herself because she was out of her office; the patient might have offed herself if Melfi had been on vacation.  It is a salient point which probably helps lead Dr. Melfi back to Tony Soprano.
  • We learn that Janice/Parvati has a son named Harpo, but he has changed his name to Hal.  This solidifies the parallel between her and Livia, as Livia also has a child that has tried to abandon her given name.
  • “Feech” and his cardgame are referenced here.   He and the cardgame are mentioned again next season by Ralph Cifaretto.  We will finally meet Feech LaManna in Season 5.
  • Los Lobos’ “Viking,” the closing song, is about a short tough guy, probably chosen to underscore diminutive Richie’s forceful entrance into Season Two.

11 responses to “Toodle-fucking-oo (2.03)

  1. The Savvy Svengali

    I’d like to add there’s another undercurrent to Tony’s inability to mete out punishment. Deep down, he probably fears that if he tries too hard to be just and righteous, Meadow will resent him even more for being a hypocrite (she must know Tony is a man who does far wore things and never gets his just deserts), deepening the gap in their relationship.

    That must be in his subconscious when he tells Carmela, “if she finds out we’re powerless, we’re fucked.” Part of him must know that he simply doesn’t have the moral authority to punish his children.

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    • Well said, Svengali. The only authority that Tony has is what he has claimed for himself with gun in hand – but he can’t wield a gun at Meadow, so he truly has no authority over her.

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  2. thedalitrauma

    Is the scene in the restaurant the first time Paulie makes a wisecrack and then repeats it again to Tony? “Did you hear what I just said?” That joke never gets old.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Juan Valdez's Donkey

    The parallels of the Richie/Meadow storylines are also mirrored in an interesting, true Sopranos fashion. I would say it starts with “if she finds out were powerless, we’re fucked” line. As Svengali pointed out, Tony does not have the moral authority to punish Meadow, but similarly Beansie finds out that he is powerless, and in turn gets turned into “a shopping cart”, as Richie wields his mob-code made guy authority; Meadow seemingly acquiesces, but manipulates her punishment down to nothing, whereas Beansie stands his ground, powerless, and is utterly fucked.

    As Hunter suggests to Meadow to “start purging”, as in spilling your guts out, as in being a “rat fuck”, she reaffirms the lack of authority in families, in contrast to famigilias, where purging is the fast lane to the grave.

    Later, when Tony visits Beansie in the hospital, and he brings up the possibility of being a rat, Tony says the mob washes their own dirty laundry. This will amount to some money being thrown around, but little else punishment for Richie in direct connection to Beansie. For Meadow, she owns up to her mistake, takes responsibility and literally washes up her own mess.

    In terms of growing up, family values forces Meadow to, while Richie and his famiglia values condones his barbarous behavior and allows it to continue unabated, which ultimately will lead to his death.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Carmela has a sister? Tony mentions in her in this episode, when they’re in bed arguing about how to punish Meadow for the party. Do we ever meet Carmela’s sister?

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  5. Richie lectures Christopher about raising his hand towards Adrianna. Isn’t this how Richie ultimately meets his demise.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah Richie lectures Christopher about raising his hand at Ade but he suggests to him that once he has put a ring on her finger he is free to do so. Richie marries Janice so I guess feels he can now hit her?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m not sure Richie & Janice were quite married yet, but I’d be surprised if Richie was an exception from “Do as I say, not as I do”. I got the impression when he lectured Christopher, that it was more of a power play, than concern for Adrianna since he did it in front of Tony.

    He struck Janice because she goading him about his gay son. So many interrelated themes here, but this was the culmination of Janice’s many veiled references to the inadequacy of Richie’s manhood. He thought he could slap her back into line, but he underestimated her. Tracee wasn’t so lucky when she went after Ralph’s manhood. Funny that Ralph later had his own run-in with Janice, and took a tumble that could easily have landed him next to the remains of Tracee & Richie.

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