He is Risen (3.08)

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 Pippen 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:

ginny and john

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).  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 Ralph 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.

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:

2 legs

gloria's legs

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.

DOUBLE-SCHEDULED
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 CAPTAIN
The final shot of the episode is one of the most impressive of the season:

i'm the captaiin

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.

___________________________________

ADDITIONAL POINTS:

  • Aaron Arkaway sleeps through most of his scenes in this episode, but in real life, actor Turk Pippin 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:

wrong way

20 responses to “He is Risen (3.08)

  1. I also found it interesting, that when Jackie Jr came into the kitchen to pour himself a bowl of cereal and begins talking with Ralpie. The cereal he is partaking in is clearly shown to be Trix. First thing that came to my mind seeing that was the cereals slogan “…Trix are for kids” Take from that what you will haha

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also love the song choice of the captain, I wrote an essay chronicling my admiration for the song. I hope you like it.

    http://markmanson.net/forum/Thread-The-Captain?highlight=Captain

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dick Cheney for President.. of the fuckin Universe

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Spare us the politics, man. “Dick Cheney sucked” isn’t criticism.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jackie Jr. peaking down Meadow’s blouse when passed out makes me think of season 2 when Tony brings up to Richie the antics he’d pulled on Janice when they were teenagers. Those Apriles. Jackie Jr. and the Jewish friend slinging ecstasy at the party makes me think of Tony and Hesh in the wonder years.

    Like

  6. Also as part of Chase’s more direct criticism of the Christian Right in season 6, as someone pointed out at the Sopranos usenet group years ago, he has Aaron Arkaway wearing a shirt that says “You Go Girl” when visiting Tony at the hospital, a reference to Terri Schiavo. Arkaway was at the hospital as part of a protest over the termination of a pharmacist for refusing to fill a birth control order. Yes, by this point in the Bush presidency, the Christian Right renaissance was well beyond spreading the mere “good news” that Christ has risen.

    Speaking of Tony botching “Matchabelli”, how about that he also tells Melfi he had Carmela get him the book’s Cliffnotes?

    The bright neon colors of the frat party with the rave techno music that opened the episode cuts to the dark, mid 20th century decor of an underground mob casino, scored with Frankie Valli’s “Rag Doll”

    “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?)”

    Somewhat disturbing, yet somehow titillating at the same time. One of the trademarks of this show.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am from Australia and I actually played Australian Rules Football with the guy who the song was written about (he was Captain of a team in Alice Springs and was Chambers boyfriend when she wrote it). It’s a great song but unfortunately I crack up everytime I hear it now.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As I watched this episode today, it seemed like Melfi’s reaction to Tony talking about Ralph was far more casual than it should have been. Tony says, “normally, I’d put him out to pasture” – clearly a euphemism for murder, and Melfi listens as if he’s just describing another dysfunctional family issue. Tony also says that Ralph “caused an early retirement” – also an obvious reference to murder. To her credit, Melfi does stop to ask if Tony is in any danger, but she refrains from commenting critically on Tony’s actions. If I remember correctly, Melfi was a lot more cautious in the first two seasons. In this episode she seems more passive. Now normally I just skip “Employee of the Month” because it’s such a brutal episode, so I’m not exactly caught up on how that dynamic plays out in further episodes. I wonder if she’s too shocked to notice Tony’s brutality anymore. She also explicitly tells Kupferberg that she views Tony as a protector.

    One of my favorite aspects of the show is how Tony and Melfi influence each other – taking on each others’ language or behavior from time to time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I love how Tony and Melfi “recycle” each others words. In “46 Long,” Melfi mentions Cap d’Antibes and Tony later tells his mother about a “Captain Teebs…”

      Like

  9. Maybe you should start another blog for your worthless political whining and fedora tipping. Otherwise you might want to send your daughter and your wife’s son to volunteer at a refugee camp instead.

    Like

    • “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.”

      I guess you didn’t make it past the second paragraph…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Jesus, got enough -isms there Rob? You write like this is your first Psych 101 paper.

    I think you forgot to add racist, too.

    Like

  11. One moment I found interesting in the episode was one of colors and framing:go to about the 20 minute mark of the episode. Tony gets up from the couch, uninterested in the game. He walks in front of the dining room table. He is wearing black, and there is a paper turkey decoration in orange. It’s eye catching and round. Cut to Tony’s POV: Carmela with the turkey, moves aside revealing Meadow, wearing another eye-catching orange, and showing off her own rounded curves. Combined with Meadow’s preparing of some kind of bread, Tony is cued in to a memory of Tracee. As already established in “University”, Tony associates Tracee with Meadow in a way that Tony now becomes entirely conscious of. He has that moment when, as a father, he realizes that his daughter is now a woman; he realizes she is vulnerable to the same sorts of predator that destroyed Tracee. Like a turkey, she would be nothing but a piece of meat to a man like Ralphie.

    And the episode actually plays with our expectations about Jackie as well – living in Ralphie’s shadow, we are made to wonder in this episode if he harbors the same capacity for brutality to women. Early in the episode, Jackie is clearly tempted to go too far with a helpless Meadow in a defenseless stupor. He creepily ogles her body, then clearly thinks better of it and leaves her in peace. We can’t tell in that moment whether it’s because he truly respects her, or if he’s merely afraid of retribution by her father if he were to rape her. Several other scenes with Jackie in the episode add to our uncertainty: his ecstasy connection to Ralphie (X being the drug that rendered Meadow defenseless, and Ralphie being a misogynistic killer; the links are clear), and his second attempt to get fresh with her in his car, which (unlike Tony’s automotive dalliance) goes nowhere to his frustration. All this is set up for the final scene with her wrecking Jackie’s car: we are primed to expect Jackie to emulate Ralphie. Indeed, if a woman had defied Ralphie, refused him repeatedly, and then stolen AND wrecked his car, we can guess what Ralphie would do. And it would not be to display tender concern for her well-being. Ralphie would probably have beaten her up, boss’s daughter or no. By responding differently, Jackie defies the expectation that the entire episode has been building in us and shows that he’s not under Ralphie’s influence.

    The links between cars and romance, or lust, in this episode are interesting to me as well. While Jackie’s car is intact, he seems more interested in Meadow’s body. He sighs with frustration when she makes him stop, and offensively chides her for having gone farther with a black guy than with him. Later, when his car is wrecked, he finally shows all the concern for her that was absent in the earlier scene. Conversely, Tony’s interest in Gloria Trillo is unapologetically shallow and is returned enthusiastically in kind. The sparks fly the moment their eyes meet in the waiting room and it is clear she is receptive. Later, when he sees the Mercedes ad on TV, it’s seconds after Carm trudges into the bedroom in a frumpy bathrobe; the advertisement is glitzy, full of CGI and special effects, the sort of ad that whispers to men around middle age that a new, sexy car will revitalize their flagging vitality. Tony’s decision to “get a new car” is of course a front from the start. Right there in the bedroom is the moment when he has already decided to make Gloria his new mistress. And unlike Jackie his doesn’t get wrecked, so the fling is consummated. In the motel room with Gloria, Tony is like a kid in a candy shop, grinning and jumping on the bed. Compare this to his glum and morose expressions throughout the episode. His scenes with Gloria are some of the only truly sincere smiles we see on him all episode.

    I think I tend to agree with the theory that Dr. Melfi may have, at least unconsciously, set the two of them up. But the immediate result, at least in the short term, is to put a big smile on Tony’s face. Perhaps this was a self-protective move on Melfi’s part? She spoke to her own psychiatrist about how she is having difficulty bearing up under the stress of coping with her own trauma in addition to her patients’ problems. Could she be throwing Gloria into Tony’s lap as a way of making Tony’s stress and depression easier, not for him, but for Melfi herself to bear dealing with?

    Final thought on the episode: I can’t get over Tony’s stupidity in continuing to antagonize Ralphie to no purpose. Of course, Ralphie is a shit and I can’t imagine any viewer not wanting him dead after “University”. But as we have seen time and again, Tony stays on top because he remembers *this is business*. For Pete’s sake, he personally killed Big Pussy, who was “like a brother to [him]”. It wouldn’t kill him to swallow his feelings and have a polite drink with a new capo. But instead he throws yet another insult in Ralphie’s face, to no purpose. Despite all his boasting about the strategies of Sun Tzu, this is one of those moments when Tony allows his pride and ego to lead him into a boneheaded move. It’s doubtful whether he could truly have made an ally of Ralphie no matter what he did, but this final insult guaranteed that the beef with Ralphie would continue to simmer. Tony makes his own unhappiness; in fact, I think he’s one of those depressives who unconsciously behave in self-destructive ways. By undermining his own working relationship with a new capo, Tony is setting himself up for failure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Although I agree with your observation that Tony often exhibits self-destructive behaviors, I disagree with your opinion that he is being “boneheaded” or that his ego drives his decision to continue to treat Ralphie with disdain. I believe that, even for some mobsters (like Tony), what Ralphie did is simply too much to stomach. Shooting a FBI informant, best friend or no, can be viewed as “business”. Being chummy and having a friendly drink with a guy who literally bashed a young woman’s head in until she died- who was also pregnant with his child- goes way beyond what Tony can shrug off & set aside for the sake of “business”. It’s not his ego. It’s not pride. It’s certainly not stupidity. It is the part of Tony Soprano that makes a part of us love him: his humanity.
      And quite frankly, I think there is something intrinsically wrong with a person who cannot grasp the utter disgust Tony feels & his near incapacity to even look at Ralphie without punching him again. I can’t believe you tried to compare Ralphie’s actions with Pussy’s.
      Seriously?

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  12. I don’t believe Melfi made a mistake with apointment schedule. Gloria knew Tony would be there all along. Tony mentions her to his uncle and their grandfather’s knew each other back in the day and did business. When they’re at the zoo it cut’s to Tony and Paulie talking about snakes and theirs mention of Eve and the apple. Whether she knew it or not, Gloria gravitates towards what’s destructive. When she tells Tony at the zoo, “poor you” he falters and his expression changes to utter dread, she probably reminded him of Livia. He compares her to Livia in Pine Barrens. So, no…I think Gloria showed up at Tonys appointment to meet him, the revealing sexy legs and the way she turns around after he gives her the gift, she looks cunning. She’s a snake that wants to consume and be consumed. Notice how Tony mistakes Elton John’s concert for, “he eats her” and Paulies talk about snakes fucking themselves. Later in Pine Barrens she says to Tony whiles he’s choking her, “kill me kill me….” I think she’s one of the most tragic figures on the show

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  13. Halfway through this one- Just thinking about the scheduling mistake (having never really thought about it before). In terms of psychoanalysis, there isn’t really a question of either reading too much into something and there is (generally) always a reason behind every ‘accident’. The read on the scheduling ‘error’ is really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. straight outta iowa

    Ron — this is an absolutely brilliant “post mortem” of an absolutely brilliant show. I have also been so impressed by the quality of the writebacks. Unfortunately, it is diminished by your rather gratuitous political screed at the top, so lacking in your typical nuance. It is very difficult in contemporary America to escape this stuff, and heretofore I thought I had found it in your site. I write this as a conservative who thought AT THE TIME, contrary to the daily beating of the war drums by the New York Times, that invading Iraq was possibly the dumbest, most un-conservative thing this country has ever done. My advice: Stick to what you do best. Respectfully.

    Liked by 1 person

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