Tensions grow between Tony and Ralph Cifaretto. Meadow is smitten with Jackie Jr. while Tony grows
interested in a Mercedes Benz saleswoman.
EPISODE 34 - ORIGINALLY AIRED APRIL 15, 2001 WRITTEN BY ROBIN GREEN, MITCH BURGESS AND TODD KESSLER DIRECTED BY ALLEN COULTER
“He is risen,” says Aaron Arkaway, Janice’s new Christian boyfriend, during Thanksgiving dinner at the Soprano home. This is an adage commonly heard on Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. The joke here comes from the fact that this episode originally aired on Easter Sunday, 2001.
In the previous episode, Dr. Krakower made an implicit critique of Catholicism because the faith required Carmela to turn a blind eye to her husband’s criminality. “He is Risen” may be continuing a criticism of Christianity: Aaron Arkaway does worse than turn a blind eye to his dinner host, he can’t even keep his eyes open. Narcoleptic Arkaway is perhaps a good representative of the Christian Right that was surging to power in the early 21st century: well-intentioned, good-hearted, earnestly faithful, but pretty frickin’ clueless. George W. Bush took office only months before this episode aired, winning the White House with the support of Evangelicals. If Arkaway is meant to embody the Christian Right (and I’m not certain that he is, at least as he appears in this season), it is understandable that Chase would play the character for laughs, as the far Right had not yet fully exhibited its darker side. (Actor/comedian Turk Pipkin injects the perfect amount of goofiness into the character.) When this episode first aired in pre-9/11 2001, many moderate Americans were not taking the Right seriously enough to recognize the major influence that neo-conservatives would soon have on American culture. (The neo-conservatives’ tabloid interest in Bill Clinton’s sex life just a few years earlier, and the Legislature’s circus-like proceedings to impeach the President, squandered much of the Right’s reputation for sobriety and serious-mindedness.) However, when Aaron Arkaway reappeared in Season 6, which ran during Bush’s second term, there is little doubt that he was meant to embody the Christian Right – and he was not played for laughs this time. There was nothing funny in 2006 about the far Right’s homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, anti-environmentalism, “creationism,” imperialism, Machiavellianism, and unilateral militarism. Dick Cheney sucked too.
TONY IS RISEN
This episode is not about the risen Christ, but about the rise of various characters in SopranoWorld. We can start with Tony, who is taking a more active role as Boss while Corrado fights cancer. Like many legitimate business executives, Tony is reading The Art of War. (I don’t know why Melfi would recommend Sun Tzu’s book to him – does she want him to be a more effective mobster?) Tony prefers this work to Machiavelli’s The Prince (which he mangles, in the greatest malapropism of the season, into “Prince Matchabelli”). Tony’s issues with Ralph is putting his leadership skills to the test. When Ralph reluctantly pays due respect to Tony at the gambling den, the old cowboy song “(Ghost)Riders in the Sky” plays in the background, giving the scene the feel of an Old West showdown:
Consigliere Silvio suggests to Tony that he must apologize to Ralph. Tracee was not his goomar nor his blood-relative, so he had no right to smack Ralphie after the woman’s murder. The idea of apologizing to Ralph Cifaretto doesn’t sit well with Tony. On top of everything, Ralph’s continual disrespect to capo Gigi might lead to a full-scale mutiny in Gigi’s crew. Tony seeks advice from Corrado. The wily old goat has some good advice for his nephew:
Tony: So what’s the fuckin’ answer?
Corrado: Who says there is one? That’s what being a boss is. You steer the ship the best way you know. Sometimes it’s smooth, sometimes it’s rough. In the meantime, you find your pleasures where you can.
Sage advice, particularly because his words reflect one of the most fundamental characteristics of the series: uncertainty. Corrado almost functions as the mouthpiece for David Chase here. As the “boss” of The Sopranos, Chase fashioned SopranoWorld to be a place where cut-and-dry answers are not always available.
RALPH IS RISEN
Meanwhile, Ralph is being advised by old goat Johnny Sac. John had assured Tony that he would not stick his beak in New Jersey affairs, but he tries to act as a mediator between Tony and Ralph here. Ralph meets with John in his backyard as Ginny stops by on her way out to physical therapy:
In my screengrab, Ralph is completely eclipsed by overweight Ginny – you can’t even see him back there. John insinuates that it was Ginny’s vocation as a dancer when she was younger that necessitates her need for therapy now, but we (and Ralph) can guess that her obesity is the true cause of her aching joints. In later episodes, John will feel an uncontrollable rage toward Ralph because of his fat-joke about Ginny, but right now, John wants to smooth things out between Ralph and Tony. Unfortunately, John may actually be making the situation worse by giving Ralph a false picture of how Tony feels. The tension mounts between the two men, and each one is seriously thinking of killing the other.
A death does occur to relieve some of the tension – but it’s not Tony or Ralph that dies. Gigi Cestone dies sitting on the toilet (the most banal death imaginable – especially for a gangster). A camera-pan confirms that the other guys in Gigi’s crew (Eugene, Vito, Donny K.) are not fit to replace him, and so Tony must give the vacant spot to Ralph. Cifaretto rises to the position of Captain. But this does not mean that all is now well in SopranoLand. Tony hates that he had to promote Cifaretto, and is suspicious that he received a promotion not because he merited it but because Gigi “blew a gasket.”
JACKIE IS RISEN
Jackie Jr. has been hanging around the periphery of the episodes all season long, we’ve caught snippets of him here and there. Now that he and Meadow are embarking on a relationship, his arc within the overall narrative is rising. Jackie gives Meadow Ecstasy and tries to get more involved with her, but she’s not very receptive at first. Jackie is nothing like smarty-pants Ivy-Leaguer Noah, he’s essentially a goombah from the old neighborhood. This is probably the reason why Carmela is so put-off by the idea of her daughter having a relationship with him. Carmela has been doing all she can to give her daughter every advantage, even choosing to remain married to a criminal who can finance Meadow’s college education, but Mead may undermine all her efforts by hooking up with a wannabe mobster. (Carmela may also be worried by what happened the last time a Soprano and an Aprile got together – one of them (Richie) ended up in a garbage bag.) Jackie and Meadow are finally, unequivocally, brought together by a car accident, when she crashes his beloved Chevy Z24 and he reacts with a surprising amount of sensitivity and concern.
Chase cuts from this scene to the next with a graphic match, shooting the characters through their car windows.
Like Meadow and Jackie, Tony too is embarking on a new relationship. And like his daughter’s new romance, it is, ostensibly, a car that precipitates Tony’s new affair – he arrives at the Mercedes dealership seemingly interested in an SL coupe, though it is really saleswoman Gloria Trillo that he is after. Gloria oozed sexuality when he first met her in Melfi’s waiting room, her long beautiful legs flowing out from her sleek and sexy black outfit. Previously, the most dramatic shots of legs in this room were those of Melfi’s sculpture which had graphically “trapped” Tony in the first episode and then Carmela in last week’s episode:
Gloria uses those luscious legs to trap Tony in a wild, tumultuous affair. Gloria represents a trap to Carmela as well – Carm is trapped in a marriage with a chronic adulterer. In the previous episode, Carmela made the decision to stay with her criminal/philanderer husband despite Dr. Krakower’s advice to leave him. Now, just one episode later, her husband is embarking on a new infidelity. Chris Moltisanti suffered a similar irony in Season Two. In 2.07, Tony gave Chris an opportunity to leave the mob. Chris chose to stay, and in the following episode, he was shot multiple times. Like Chris, Carmela cannot escape the writers’ sense of irony.
In The Psychology of The Sopranos, psychiatrist Glen Gabbard wonders if it is more than a coincidence that Tony and Gloria Trillo meet each other at Dr. Melfi’s office:
Double-scheduling patients is relatively rare for therapists who are reasonably organized. Placing Mr. Womanizer and Ms. Slutola in the same waiting room at precisely the same moment could hardly be an accident. How do we understand this “scheduling error”? What is Jennifer up to?…Might Jennifer be acting out her own sexual wishes through her patient?
Dr. Gabbard points out that Jennifer Melfi might still be in a fragile state after being raped a few weeks ago and might still long for Tony to be her big, strong protector. Rather than cross a professional boundary directly, she is (subconsciously) using Gloria Trillo to fulfill her own wishes. Dr. Gabbard may be on to something, or he may be reading way too much into a simple scheduling mistake. (But who am I to criticize someone for reading way too much into The Sopranos?)
The final shot of the episode is one of the most impressive of the season:
This final shot, scored to Kasey Chambers’ “The Captain,” pulls together several of the hour’s storylines. The phallically named boat (The Stugots) and the sleek, sexy black coupe, so neatly aligned with one another, seem to somehow represent Tony and Gloria in their new relationship. The image of the boat, aboard which Tony has taken control of this new romance, recalls Corrado’s earlier advice to “steer the ship” and “find your pleasures where you can.” Chambers’s song is most obviously used to refer to Ralph’s rise to Captain, but it also reinforces the idea of Tony as a “Captain” who is gaining control of his life both on and off his yacht. The song lyrics also sound like they could be sung by Gloria Trillo, particularly its chorus: “You be the Captain, and I’ll be no one.” Despite her nicely assembled exterior, Gloria suffers from a profound emptiness and lack of identity at her core. Tony will discover later that a philosophy of nothingness rules her life.
- Aaron Arkaway sleeps through most of his scenes in this episode, but in real life, actor Turk Pipkin is a very active guy; he’s a TV writer, author, filmmaker, activist and comedian.
- Chase is an equal-opportunity offender. Aaron Arkaway may represent Chase’s criticism of the Right, but in the previous episode, Chase seemed to utilize Dr. Krakower to criticize the feel-good psychology and relativist ethics so often found on the Left.
- Actor John Fiore (“Gigi Cestone”) hosted a corny documentary called The Sopranos Unauthorized. He says of his character’s death on the toilet, “Hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go.“
- Silvio says that “Don ‘Something,’ producer of The Simpsons” died on the toilet too. He’s thinking of Don Simpson, producer of several hit movies including Top Gun and Flashdance.
- Christ may have risen 2000 years ago but he hasn’t appeared since. I guess Reverend James (from 2.02 and 3.02) has gotten tired of waiting and turns to Tony, instead of the Lord, to provide: he shows up at the Bing to get a share of stolen turkeys.
Todd VanDerWerff provides a very thoughtful, almost poetic, write-up for this episode over at avclub.com. I won’t get into it here other than to note his observation that when Tony and Gloria exit Globe Motors, they drive against the road sign. Right from its inception, this relationship is headed in the wrong direction: