Gloria Trillo gives Carmela a ride home, enraging Tony.
Jackie Jr shoots up a poker game, enraging Chris.
Patsy Parisi makes sure that Gloria will not cause any more problems,
while it’s up to Ralphie to make sure Jackie will not cause any more problems.
Episode 38 – Originally aired May 13, 2001
Written by David Chase & Frank Renzulli
Directed by Tim Van Patten
I think “Amour Fou,” is one of the great episodes of the series. Chase has said on more than one occasion that this episode is one of his favorites, mainly because of the way that it pulls disparate stories together into a unified whole. What I find most appealing about “Amour Fou” is that it is a powerful, well-muscled episode but still manages to be, in typical Sopranos’ fashion, quite limber—it is flexible enough to allow different interpretations, particularly regarding its use of painting, music and sculpture.
On the DVD commentary track for this episode, David Chase says that “The Sopranos is a slow build…we spend a lot of time setting things up which pay off later.” This is the episode in which the storylines of Gloria and Jackie Jr reach their payoff. I previously noted that Chase conscientiously paralleled these two characters in “The Telltale Moozadell” (3.09) by staging their back-to-back scenes in a similar manner:
The two seem to be following an impulse to fuck themselves, and Ralph and Tony are not doing anything to steer them away from self-destruction. I’ll break the episode down by looking primarily at these two doomed characters, starting with Gloria first.
Tony’s feelings for Gloria changed after she flung a side of beef at the back of his head. In episode 3.09, Tony was more than happy to help exhibitionist Gloria “fuck herself” at the Bronx Zoo, but when she stalks him now in the parking garage, his attitude has shifted—“Go fuck yourself,” he tells her.
Tony discusses Gloria with Dr. Melfi. The therapist cannot quite reveal everything she knows about the troubled woman and Tony remains intrigued by her. He compares her to a portrait by “Goyim,” obviously meaning Goya. I think it is a revealing malapropism. Goya was interested in dark subjects, and even created a series of murals referred to as “the Black paintings” due to their bleak, harrowing style and subject matter. The most famous of the Black paintings is Saturn Devouring His Son which depicts the Roman god committing filicide. Livia Soprano had filicidal impulses, and Gloria is the current manifestation of Livia in Tony’s life.
The Goya reference also made me think of one of his etchings entitled Nada (Nothing). A decomposing corpse climbs out of its grave to scribble the word nada onto a piece of paper, perhaps communicating that there is nothing after death:
Livia lived by a philosophy of nada—“It’s all a big nothing,” she told her grandson. Gloria Trillo seems to live by a similar philosophy. Within minutes of first meeting Tony, she told him that she murdered seven relationships. While we and Tony chuckled at her self-effacing joke, it belied a deep neurosis. She destroys romantic relationships, she is unable to forge lasting or meaningful connections. Melfi suggests that Gloria is drawn to Tony as a way to destroy herself, like a moth to a flame.
But Tony finds it hard to resist the dark beauty. He meets the deeply troubled, smoldering sexpot in a motel room. As Gloria complains about her relatives and her niece’s school, it is clear that there is something amiss in her coping mechanism. But as she sings and gyrates to Stevie Van Zandt’s “Affection” in her lingerie, it is easy to understand why Tony keeps returning to her.
Tony is willing to endure much of Gloria’s emotional volatility but he absolutely cannot tolerate her violation of his domestic space. Gloria drives Carmela home from the Mercedes-Benz dealership during which she pays Carm some left-handed compliments. Although Gloria subtly mocks Carmela, it is very likely that she envies Carm’s life and possessions. Tony quietly seethes when he learns that Gloria made such close contact with his wife. A bristling Tony comes to Gloria’s workplace to make it clear to her that it is over between them. She has managed to murder another relationship, sever another connection. Mercedes-Benz tristar emblems surround Gloria in her desperation, ironically underscoring that happiness isn’t found in material wealth or luxury goods, but in the connections we make with others. (Or as Chris Stevens from Northern Exposure once put it, “Happiness doesn’t come from having things but from being a part of things.”)
Gloria’s cup of crazy overfloweth. A hysterical phone call to Tony pulls him back to her house. In a tender moment, Tony puts his hand to her cheek, recalling the imagery of the Giuseppe di Ribera painting we saw in the episode’s first scene:
But this tender moment is short-lived. Tony finally recognizes just how similar to Livia his goomar really is. “I’ve known you my whole fuckin’ life,” he realizes. Janice Soprano has functioned as a Livia-substitute within the series after the passing of Nancy Marchand, but Janice has been largely absent for the past few episodes. Gloria, with her neediness, aggression and nihilism, has taken Livia’s mantle in this latter half of Season 3. Gloria threatens to reveal the affair to his family which drives Tony into a fury. His response is difficult to watch. Even after half-a-dozen viewings, I still grimace as Tony slams Gloria into the floor. (It is a violent scene, one that recalls Ralph’s brutal beating of Tracee in “University.”) Tony closes his hands around Gloria’s throat to choke the life out of her—as she wants him to—but his realization of how disturbed she is prevents him from doing it.
Gloria hoped Tony would provide a dramatic end to her life, but he is not willing to oblige. Tony sends Patsy to finish her off, so to speak. Patsy assures her that death by his hand “won’t be cinematic.” Perhaps Tony sends Patsy—as opposed to one of his other goons—because he has an “uncinematic” look about him. Patsy could pass for an accountant or an optometrist, he doesn’t have Paulie’s dramatic “wings” or Silvio’s pompadour or Christopher’s dark intensity. (We might remember that David Chase used Patsy to provide an undramatic, uncinematic climax—if “climax” is the right word—in episode 3.01 when he showed up at the Soprano home drunk and ready to kill Tony, but ended up just pissing in the swimming pool instead.) Patsy’s promise to Gloria that “it won’t be cinematic” is one more expression of Chase’s commitment to portraying the fuckin’ regularness of life. There are no fireworks here to close the Gloria-storyline. The “hits-and-tits” fans who tuned in every week looking for violence and nudity would be just as disappointed as Gloria to find not frenzied drama at the end of this line, but only the face of Patsy Parisi.
After calmly threatening Gloria’s life, Patsy picks up some groceries and returns home to his wife as Bob Dylan’s “Return to Me” plays.
While Gloria’s story ended with a whimper, Jackie is set up to go out with a bang. He has the opportunity, like Meadow, to get a good education and make a legitimate living for himself. But he has instead been long trying to worm his way into mob-life, hoping to bank on his last name. He and buddy Dino go to Ralph’s office (where Dean Martin’s “Return to Me” is playing) to kick up to him and seek his protection. When Christopher approaches the boys with a job, they decline, hoping that keeping their loyalty to Ralph will curry his favor. But Ralph does Jackie no favors in this episode. Ralph’s story about Jackie Sr’s takedown of a card game many years ago plants a dangerous idea in Jackie’s head. And Ralph’s treatment of him as a child (“Make sure you rinse those plates before you put them in the dishwasher”) only spurs Jackie to make a big move that will prove his manhood.
Like Matt Bevilaqua and Sean Gismonte in 2.08, Jackie and Dino decide that the only way they can be taken seriously by the New Jersey Mob is through a dramatic, over-the-top act:
In “Full Leather Jacket,” Matt and Sean decided to hit Chris as a way to make themselves better known to the Jersey mobsters. They succeeded in becoming well-known, but they also succeeded in becoming dead. Jackie and Dino don’t have as murderous a plan as their precursors Matt and Sean—they decide to rob a card game instead. But motor-mouth dealer Sunshine annoys one of boys with his incessant commentary, and ends up taking a couple of bullets to the chest. This is arguably the most intense shootout of the entire series. Furio gets shot in the thigh. Like his precursor Sean, Dino is killed immediately. And like Matt before him, Jackie manages to escape, but only for the time being.
Christopher knows that Jackie is the man who got away, and insists that Tony give him permission to get vengeance. But Tony refuses, perhaps because he is considering giving Jackie a pass, or perhaps because of his promise to Jackie Sr. that he would protect his son, or perhaps because he wants to farm the hit out to someone outside the family. The reason for Tony’s refusal is as ambiguous as the painting in front of which he and Chris argue:
Franco Ricci, in his essay Aesthetics and Ammunition, writes that the splatters of paint on the canvas look may like a storm at first glance, but…
A brewing storm is an apt but facile analogy. Closer examination of the cloud formations, however, reveals two sneering tigers, nose to nose, eye to eye, chin to chin, revolving around a turbulent celestial vortex. One of the tigers is larger…he looms over the smaller tiger. As in the scene in which the frothing behemoth has just collared his younger nephew, here, too, further explosive action is anticipated.
I’m not convinced that the two masses of color represent tigers. (It’s more believable if I squint real hard.) But that’s the beauty of it—it’s open to interpretation. While it is difficult to know exactly why Tony prevents Chris from hitting Jackie, his intentions becomes clearer when he meets with Ralph later. In a textbook example of mobster management, Tony lets Ralph know that he needs to pop Jackie without ever saying out loud that he needs to pop Jackie. By obligating his captain Ralph to carry out this abhorrent job, Tony is able to get a little sweetness out of his distasteful (but necessary) decision to make Ralph a captain. By never telling Ralph outright that the boy must be whacked, Tony also—technically—does not break his promise to Jackie Sr. to protect Jackie Jr.
Dylan’s “Return to Me” becomes a lament as it scores Rosalie’s wait for her doomed son. But it is Ralph that returns to her, not Jackie. Ralphie knows what the future holds for her son, and feeds Rosalie some bullshit story about Jackie’s dalliance in drug-dealing in order to prime her for his upcoming death.
The third major storyline of the episode centers around Carmela—or more specifically, Carmela’s Harry Winston ring. The Sopranos can sometimes be guilty of too enthusiastically hammering home some idea or image, and Carm’s ring fits the criticism here. It is displayed prominently throughout the episode:
In fact, the hour begins on a close-up of the ring as Carmela walks into the Rodin exhibit at the Brooklyn museum. Carmela and Meadow, standing amidst the sculptures, almost look like museum pieces themselves:
Rodin’s sculptures, according to Helen Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, express “the existential situation of modern man, his inability to communicate, his despair.” Rodin’s figures do not look like the heroic characters of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture; they seem to have been shaped by the tensions of real life which push and pull at them mercilessly. The greatest tension pulling at Carmela is represented by her ring. She despairs that her luxurious lifestyle is funded by crime and violence, and that her criminal husband lavishes her with expensive gifts partly out of guilt for his philandering. As the pair walk into the next exhibit, Meadow denigrates one of the portraits hanging on the wall: “She’s just the wife of a rich merchant.” Carmela takes the characterization as a personal insult and lashes back at Mead’s sagging grades. In a sensitive state, Carmela starts weeping in front of Giuseppe di Ribera’s The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine.
Carmela feels that she too has married a baby. But in reality, Tony is nothing like the baby Jesus depicted in the painting, nor is Carmela a saint like Catherine. Carmela is an accomplice to crime, as Dr. Krakower told her, and she knows it. She goes to her new priest, Fr. Obosi, for advice. Obosi couldn’t be more different from Krakower. He tells her that Carmela must not leave Tony but must instead “learn to live on the good part. Forgo those things that lie without it.” David Chase says that they got this from a priest who once did say something very similar, but added that other religious leaders have found this advice to be morally questionable. I don’t think Chase is criticizing Catholicism here as much as he is giving Carmela a way to rationalize staying in her marriage. Chase, like Father Obosi’s God, “understands that we live in the middle of tensions.” At the end of the episode, as Dylan’s “Return to Me” plays, we understand that Carmela and Tony have returned to each other: Carmela by taking off her expensive sapphire and rededicating herself to her marriage; and Tony by ending his affair with Gloria. If Gloria represented amour fou, a crazy, passionate love, then Carmela represents a solid, stable domestic love. Although Carmela removes her expensive ring here, she will increasingly stray from Obosi’s advice to “live off the good part” as the series continues. She will, like Hillary Clinton (who the mob wives discuss), take all the shit in her life and spin it into gold. Literally spin it into gold—the future holds more jewelry and clothes and houses and a Porsche for Carmela.
OPEN TO INTERPRETATION
On the DVD Scene Selection menu for this episode, the first chapter is titled “Open to Interpretation.” It is in this first chapter that Carm and Meadow visit the Brooklyn Museum. I’ve already given my own interpretations of how some of the sculpture and paintings are used in this episode. Also open to interpretation is the way that some of the music is used. “Amour Fou” makes use of repeated music more than any other episode. The Italian aria that opens the hour as Carmela walks through the museum is “Spoza so dispprezzata” (“I am the scorned wife”). Its lyrics about a woman who is cheated on but remains faithful to her husband can clearly refer to Carmela:
I am a scorned wife,
faithful, yet insulted.
Heavens, what did I do?
Yet he is my love,
My husband, my beloved,
But the aria is also interesting for the way it bridges this episode with the previous one—the musical piece played during a short scene in Tony’s car and then again over the final credits in “Pine Barrens.” It’s almost as though the music is being used to carry the ambiguousness that remained at the end of “Pine Barrens” into “Amour Fou.” Another song that is repeated here is Van Zandt’s “Affection” which Gloria dances to in the hotel room and is then heard again over the final credits. Chase may have recycled the song just because it’s a kick-ass track, but he may also have replayed it as a sort of final farewell to Gloria. (Especially because its chorus, “Give me some affection / Why’s it so hard?” sounds like something Gloria would say.) The third song to repeat is “Return to Me.” Bob Dylan approached David Chase wanting to do a Dean Martin song specifically for The Sopranos, and his cover of “Return to Me” was the result. Dean Martin’s version plays in Ralph’s office while Bob Dylan’s version closes the episode. Kevin Fellezs, in his essay “Wiseguy Opera: Music for Sopranos” makes several points about this:
The older Dean Martin version was recorded during the golden days of the mob and ironically “reinforces the way in which the old rules, and the context in which they were formed, have changed.”
- “Dylan and Dean represent an antagonistic generational difference nearly forty years ago” and our understanding of this reflects our understanding of the popular culture in which The Sopranos exists.
- The newer Dylan version is heard loud and clear and its lyrics seems to mirror the onscreen action at times. In contrast, the older Martin version is barely heard, “but is almost subliminally inserted into the background of the soundtrack, reflecting the failure of ‘the old way of doing things’ in the present moment.”
- The sacred and the propane, er, profane: Carmela weeps before di Ribera’s 1648 religious painting, but she also cries watching a frickin’ dog food commercial.
- Carmela must be moved by the dog food commercial because dogs are known for their loyalty and protectiveness, and these are characteristics that Tony is not demonstrating to her right now. (Tony does have these characteristics, however, and perhaps this is why Dr. Melfi interpreted the dog in her dream after she was raped to be a representation of Tony.)
- David Chase says the episode title may have been influenced by Jacques Rivette’s 1969 film, L’amour fou, about the dissolution of a marriage. But he undercuts the highbrow episode title by allowing Tony to mispronounce the French phrase as “mo-fo.”
- As Dr. Fried removes the bullet from Furio’s leg, Tony jokes, “Doc, see if you can remove this ladies’ underwear.” Furio’s blue nut-huggers are probably a byproduct of his European heritage. Most of the New Jersey-born tough guys probably prefer boxers. (In reality, actor Federico Castelluccio moved to NJ from Italy when he was eight years old. It is unknown what type of underwear he prefers when not playing “Furio Giunta.”)
- I think Annabella Sciorra’s portrayal of “Gloria Trillo” is one of the highlights of her career. As much as a whackadoo Gloria was, I regretted not being able to see Annabella play her after this episode (though she does appear again in a quick dream-sequence in Season 4).
- This penultimate episode of Season 3 originally aired about four months before the terror attacks of 9/11. In one shot taken from near Newark Bay, we can see the World Trade Center towers standing on the eastern horizon.