Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood (3.01)

The water heater springs a leak in Tony’s basement.  Patsy Parisi takes a leak in Tony’s pool.
FBI agents manage to plant a wire in the Soprano home.

EPISODE 27 - ORIGINALLY AIRED MARCH 4, 2001
WRITTEN BY DAVID CHASE
DIRECTED BY ALLEN COULTER

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In the previous episode, David Chase transformed what should have been a “procedural” show into something unique and surreal – Tony learned about Pussy’s betrayal from his subconscious dreams rather than from an informant or a rogue cop or one of the other usual methods employed by the typical crime drama.  The Season 3 opener also plays with the procedural genre, more so than any other Sopranos episode.  Chase uses genre clichés and tropes throughout the episode, and he uses them earnestly at times and ironically at other times – and sometimes he completely subverts them.  It is all part of Chase’s continued interest in testing the conventions and boundaries of television.

“Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” opens quite conventionally, the same way the two previous Season Openers have begun – Tony comes out in his bathrobe to get the newspaper.  But very quickly, the episode steers into procedural territory.  The Feds are having a roundtable discussion about the Soprano family.  Throughout the hour, we see the FBI doing—or trying to do—its job.  Agents surreptitiously tail family members.  They utilize their government-issue binoculars and walkie-talkies and earpieces.  Chase gives us several close-up shots of their wristwatches, emphasizing how perfect the timing of the entry team must be in planting the bug.  The agents disguise themselves as pest control workers and electric company technicians.  Their clinical efforts are particularly highlighted in one scene:


Quantico is introduced with a flyover shot, a type of shot fairly commonplace in crime dramas and procedurals but rarely ever seen on The Sopranos.  (Chase just used stock footage for the shot.  The entire scene almost feels like stock footage, like it was transplanted from some other show.)  Despite all their compulsively clinical efforts, the Feds barely get the job done.  These are not your typical crime drama FBI, they are Chase’s FBI – and as such, they are humanized and shown in fuller dimension.  Right from the beginning, we see how imperfect their analysis is – they believe Livia would never testify against her son (in reality she’s willing to do much worse) and they think Richie was whacked by the cartel (he was actually killed by Janice).  They get a voyeuristic thrill out of seeing the contents of Tony’s basement.  (Agent Grasso, who has had a contentious relationship with Tony in the past, marvels that they both have the same power tool.)  Their voyeurism extends into the refrigerator and to family friends:

FBI voyeurs

The voyeur theme is underscored by the use of the ultimate stalker anthem, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”  (Although its repeating refrain “I’ll be watching you” is not heard here, we supply the line mentally.)   It seems that it was originally David Chase’s wife’s idea to blend this song with Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme.”  The mashup fits perfectly in this hour’s agenda, given Chase’s desire to rebel against the tropes of the police procedural here: over the last 50 years, the “Peter Gunn Theme” has become strongly associated with the traditional police drama, and Chase now subverts that mental association by intercutting the song with a track by a band that, despite their name, was more punk than police.

The FBI of this episode are not the impersonal, robot-like police (“Just the facts, ma’am”) of yesteryear.  They are emotional, barely competent, and indecisive.  Two agents struggle to reach a decision about moving a table in the Sopranos’ basement.  When Patsy Parisi wanders into the Sopranos’ backyard with gun in hand, two agents freeze like deer in headlights, completely unsure how to respond.  At times, the agents seem like Keystone Kops.  Tony certainly doesn’t show them a whole lot of respect after easily seeing through their guise:

the finger

The Sopranos does not elevate the FBI or place them on a pedestal like some predecessor shows did.  In his essay, “Tasting Brylcreem: Law, Disorder and the FBI in The Sopranos,” Douglas Howard explains that Chase recognized…

…that the real drama lies not with the “perfect, incorruptible hero” but with the imperfect villain who struggles with human choices and falls prey to human desires…Organized crime, as the series considers it, is simply too big, too involved, too complex, and the attempt to stop it and those who have futilely dedicated themselves to stopping it, like Cubitoso and Harris and the other Feds in the tradition of The Untouchables, must be viewed as absurd.

Organized crime is so involved and complex, in fact, that Chase does not spend much time dealing with it.  The Sopranos does not give much screen-time to portraying the ins and outs of Mob activities and enterprises.  Occasionally, an episode like “Bust Out” will come along that explores some specific machinations of the mafia.  But for the most part, Chase is more concerned with the complexities of characters than the complexities of organized crime.  His scale is smaller, more personal.  I think this is the reason why that flyover shot of FBI Headquarters at Quantico is so interesting here: it effectively highlights how different The Sopranos is from the typical crime drama.  Birds-eye flyover shots give us a larger, more global view; Chase’s flyover shot sticks out like a sore thumb because we have become accustomed to his more intimate scale.  There is a birds-eye view of Manhattan elsewhere in this episode that also feels strangely out of place.  By including these blatant global shots that are so unusual for the show, Chase helps us to become aware that the usual perspective of his series is far more intimate.

The title of this episode underscores that Chase prefers the smaller scale.  The series is not eager to explore crime as a social phenomenon as it exists on the national level, but rather as how criminals exist at the neighborhood level.  Tony Soprano could live next door to you or me.  Fittingly, Tony’s neighbor—almost as a surrogate for you or me—makes an appearance here:

jeannie

“The Neighbor” is actually a stock character in procedurals – the Good Guys do often get actionable information from the neighbors.  But Jeannie Cusamano doesn’t provide any valuable info to the disguised agents; she only reveals her own voyeuristic, whisper-in-your-ear fascination with the family next door:

Jeannie: They’re in the Maf-
FBI: What?
Jeannie: Nothing.  They’re different.  For this neighborhood, they’re different, that’s all.

Of course, they’re not actually all that different.  (Jeannie’s husband himself said as much back in Season 1: “Sometimes I think the only thing separating American business from the mob is fuckin’ whacking somebody.”)  Jeannie may want to think of her neighbors as “different,” but when she stops herself midsentence from revealing too much about them (whether out of a sense of propriety or a sense of self-preservation), she must have realized that little more than a fence separates her from the Sopranos.

FUCKIN’ REGULARNESS
The Sopranos has always been, more than anything else, about the fuckin’ regularness of life.  The series has always focused on how regular people go through their real lives with their real issues.  Paulie gives a long germophobia-driven statement on cleanliness.  The Sopranos’ housekeeper commits petty theft.  Her boyfriend, Stasiu, is bitter about being underemployed in this country.  Meadow’s new roommate is overwhelmed by New York.  (The sounds and sirens of the city come ceaselessly through their dorm room window).  Eric Scatino, we learn, is burning out on acid, unhappy at state university.  In the typical procedural, these types of personal and real details of characters’ lives are rarely explored.  Victims are usually generic avatars who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.  The Law (whether police or lawyers or the Special Victims Unit) are professional and competent.  The rest of the cast is usually made up of some combination of the Witness, the Informant, the Employer, the Victim’s Relative, the Perp’s Relative and a couple of other stock figures.  While Sopranos’ storylines twist and meander in multiple ways (sometimes compellingly, sometimes less so, and sometimes wallowing in moments of numbing banality), procedural plots always rush forward – the Good Guys are always Hot On The Trail of the Bad Guys.  There was a moment in this episode when it seemed the plot was going to be launched thunderously forward: Patsy Parisi, seeking vengeance for the killing of his twin brother, comes to Tony’s home with murderous intent.  But this potentially fateful moment gets pissed away into nothing:

Pissed away

In his book The Sopranos, Prof. Dana Polan notes that Patsy Parisi represents the “evil twin” trope, a trope commonly found in soap operas and other forms of drama.  But there’s nothing “evil” about Patsy’s revenge here, only an act too banal to even properly be called “vengeance.”

It is in the final scene of the episode that the intrinsic, banal “regularness” of The Sopranos completely and utterly trumps the clichés of the procedural.  It’s a long clip but it’s worth every second:


This is one of my favorite scenes of Season 3.  Chase essentially gives the middle finger to crime-drama conventions here.  The FBI’s interest gets piqued when they hear Tony talking about “messy…wet work.”  (“Wet work” is a euphemism for assassination, coined by the Russian KGB and now used by the mob: the spilling of blood = wet work.)  Of course, Tony isn’t talking about whacking someone but about plumbing.  The conversation only grows more mundane when Carmela comes down.  She and Tony discuss dinner, laundry, exercise, dental floss and roughage.  (Adding “roughage” to your diet—and your dialogue—is a great way to promote regularness.)  This scene of banality, so characteristic of The Sopranos, checkmates the exciting, driven plots of the typical procedural.

Or does it?  In the final shot, the camera moves in on the bugged lamp.  Although the agents were not able to record any damning evidence this time around, the FBI have penetrated Tony’s domestic sanctuary.  The desk lamp represents a major threat to Tony Soprano.  Elvis Costello’s “High Fidelity” starts up and continues over the credits, highlighting that there is now a hi-fi listening device planted in the Soprano basement.  The tragic death of Nancy Marchand soon after the Season 2 finale meant that Chase could no longer utilize Livia as a direct threat to Tony Soprano.  Although Livia is an irreplaceable character, the wired desk lamp is (at least for now) able to bring some new tension to the drama.

R.I.P. NANCY MARCHAND
Nancy Marchand succumbed to cancer on the day before her 72nd birthday, just after Season Two completed airing.  She was  an accomplished stage and screen actress with a long career, but she will probably be best remembered as “Livia Soprano.”  The loss of Marchand was a major blow to the series.  (If we didn’t already know it about the Universe, this was just one more example of the ultimate lesson: Everyone Will Die.)  Livia was not only the beguiling matriarch of the Soprano family, she was the embodiment of the philosophy of nothingness which the series continually explored.  Critics and viewers wondered how the series could proceed without her.  I think by opening this season with a clever and entertaining pseudo-procedural (which does not address Marchand’s death at all), Chase effectively deflected some concerns about The Sopranos post-Marchand.  He demonstrated that the show is still full of tricks, and can thrive even after suffering such an immense loss.  Of course, the death of Marchand still had to be addressed without much delay, and this perhaps played into the decision to air “Proshai, Livushka” directly after “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood” on the same day.

TONY SOPRANO, MANAGER
We have caught glimpses of Tony’s competence as a business manager in the past.  (One example was his stern refusal to allow Corrado or Richie to deal cocaine on their garbage routes because it was a shortsighted thing to do.)  As the seasons progress, Tony will become more sure of himself as a leader.  And Corrado’s mental degeneration will cement Tony’s position at the top.  Tony will excel not only as a manager of a business, but also as a manager of men.  Like any good boss (syndicate or otherwise), Tony has an intuitive understanding of personalities and how to deal with them.  Very early in this episode, he recognizes Patsy’s sadness over the death of his twin brother, and his bitterness at now having to be part of the same crew that killed Philly.  Tony sits with Patsy in the backroom of the pork store and, with understated power and grace, straightens Patsy out.  In a very short and efficient conversation, Tony convinces Pat that being part of the Soprano crew is a very good thing for him, and that what is past has passed.  Maurice Yacowar notes that the Satriale’s sign behind Tony advertises hamburger patties, underscoring the very real possibility that if Pat doesn’t straighten out, he will be turned into hamburger meat:

Tony the manager

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ADDITIONAL POINTS:

  • This episode which references roughage also introduces John Fiore (“Gigi Cestone”) as more of a featured player.  Gigi will have major (and I mean major) issues with roughage & constipation later in the season.
  • The song scored over the opening scene is “Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlife” by A3 (the same band that composed the track used for the opening credits).
  • Hidden pun?  One FBI agent tells the other lockpicking agent to “Pick it, Wilson.”  Perhaps a reference to Wilson Pickett.
  • Little moments: As he shares his drink with a buddy, AJ warns the friend not to “backwash.”  We saw AJ have this same concern all the way back in 1.07.
  • On the language test, Stasiu interprets “Stop: Men at Work” as “Stop all men who are working” perhaps because he is preoccupied with his inability to work as an engineer with a grant for autonomous research.
  • We may remember that in 2.12, Furio seemed more upset at having to dispose of Richie’s Cadillac than having to dispose of Richie’s corpse.  In this episode, we see that Furio has become the proud owner of a Caddy himself.
  • Tony’s philandering: When Carmela asks Tony where he found the new caretaker for Livia, he answers that it was through “a Russian agency.”  In the next episode, we’ll discover that the caretaker is Svetlana, who Tony actually met through his Russian goomar Irina.
  • Tony’s philandering: The song lyrics over the final credits include “He’ll never know about high fidelity.”  It is a very fitting line, because Tony will never learn about the bug planted in his home, but also because Tony will never learn how to have fidelity to his wife.
  • Cultural barometer: Although this episode originally aired six months before 9/11, one FBI agent here says that he’ll run Stasiu’s name through Anti-Terror, and another goes to Denver to investigate a mosque.  Jihadist terrorism was not yet on the minds of most Americans, but Chase seems to have picked up on a consequential socio-political undercurrent of the time.
  • The episode title is obviously a play on PBS’ Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Mr. Rogers plays with a small-scale toy neighborhood on his program, while Chase plays with the idea of the small-scale on his series.  This episode refocuses the typical crime procedural’s generic social perspective into a more specific, local, neighborhood perspective.Fred Rogers with the Neighborhood Seen on his show. ONE TIME USE

7 responses to “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood (3.01)

  1. I’m curious to hear what you thought of the aggressive cuts every time the FBI scenes ended.

    Like

    • Not sure what you mean…”aggressive” as in sudden and unexpected? This episode has a tone and style that’s unusual for The Sopranos, and some of that may be coming from the editing.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighbourhood: Won’t you bug my neighbour? | I Soprano:A Sopranos blog

  3. I always thought of the close ups of the FBI agents’ watches as emphasizing that they are wearing simple Timex brand watches, whereas the Soprano crew generally sticks to Rolex.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shiloh Johnston

    Okay this is something that has been bothering me for quite a while. In the last couple episodes of season 2, Tony gives Livia the stolen plane tickets because he is fed up with dealing with her and wants her to go live with her sister. It is only after Tony kills Pussy that he’s sitting in his living room when Livia calls to tell him she has been detained at the airport. But in S03E01, the FBI listens to a tape of Pussy talking to Tony about ‘rin’s cousin taking care of Livia. It wouldn’t bother me if the rest of the show had jaw-dropping continuity problems, but it eats away at me because the rest of the show does such a good job of managing multifaceted subplots throughout entire seasons

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  5. I don’t believe for a minute that Patsy was persuaded to put his grief behind him by one bullying conversation with Tony. He’s just knuckling down because a. he knows he’s beaten and b. he knows he’ll be next if he’s not careful.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The supernatural incidents are a nice touch. Are ghosts real? Does the Virgin Mary really visit the Bing and show herself to Paulie? Did Christopher pop into Hell – or was it Purgatory, my friend – and come back to warn Tony of the dangers of three o’clock?

    Also, the Mafia are apparently generally superstitious (as those in precarious occupations usually are) and so prone to belief in ghosts and whatnot. There are many discussions of personal beliefs and good/bad luck charms.

    Does it matter whether these things are true? Probably not, because incidents like these occur all the time. We hear about them from friends and read about them in magazines. Whether the supernatural really exists or not, and whether or not anyone believes in it, it’s part of everyday life and has a place in realistic drama.

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