Pine Barrens (3.11)

Like a modern-day Hansel and Gretel, Paulie and Chris get lost in the woods.
Tony learns just how unbalanced Gloria Trillo really is,
and Meadow learns how much of a loser Jackie Jr really is.

Episode 38 – Originally aired March 6, 2001
Written by Tim Van Patten and Terence Winter
Directed by Steve Buscemi


I’ve been grinning and rubbing my hands together for the last few weeks, looking forward to the prospect of writing about “Pine Barrens.”  It is one of the most memorable hours of The Sopranos (and one of the most unforgettable hours in the history of television).  Now that the time for me to write about it has finally arrived, however, I feel a little overwhelmed.  I think it is an important and brilliantly constructed episode, and I am not sure that I’m equal to the task of deconstructing it.  Well, here goes nothing.

Chris and Paulie’s misadventures together make up the bulk of the episode.  The pair go to Valery the Russian’s home to collect a debt when his simple request—“Put remote on docking station”—leads to a violent brawl.  When the dust settles, Valery is dead.  (Or so it seems.)  Paulie makes the decision to dump Valery’s body in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.  A series of shots introduce us to the location, but also hints to viewers that the Pine Barrens is more than just a geographical area—it is a place of metaphor and symbolism:

As Paulie’s Cadillac veers onto an exit and heads down a deserted, tree-lined road, we get the sense that the fellas are getting far off the beaten track.  They’re entering some forsaken hinterland.  The camera tilts down from an overhead shot of trees to catch the Cadillac reaching the end of the line: the road ends, and with it, all connections to civilization.  Trees have been previously associated with death, decay and questions of mortality on the series.  Some examples: Tony thought he saw a rotting tree in Melfi’s “Korshack” painting; a shot of overhead trees preceded an assassination attempt against Tony; and the sight and sound of fallen trees closed out Season 1.

three trees

“Pine Barrens” builds upon these associations, and then takes them to new heights.  This is the forest primeval, a place of mythology and ancient archetypes.  In our global cultural imagination, forests have long combined the natural world with the supernatural, as we find in Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood from times past to Shrek and The Blair Witch Project in more recent times.  Sometimes, humans take on almost super-human qualities in the forest (think of Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter or John Rambo in First Blood).  Valery the Russian is an almost supernatural figure here, seemingly defying the laws of nature and logic—and thus fits right into Chase’s otherworldly Pine Barrens.  Just a few weeks after this episode aired, David Chase expressed surprise that some viewers didn’t recognize the symbolic/mythological dimension of the character of Valery:

‘I had no idea people would expect him to come back,’ Mr. Chase said.  ‘I just never thought about it.  It was a spectacularly different kind of episode, and the Russian guy was like something out of a fairy tale.  Well, not a fairy tale exactly.  He’s more like a spirit.’  [NY Times, July 16, 2001]

Valery seems to take a bullet to the head, but still somehow manages to escape.  Chris and Paulie think they are hot on his trail at first, but the trail—impossibly—goes cold.  Chase captures Chris and Paulie from above as they stare incredulously at the footsteps that lead them to nothing:

trail ends

Some viewers have read this camera angle to mean that Valery took to the trees to escape his killers.  While Valery may certainly have used this strategy, I think it is too literal an interpretation for such a metaphorical episode.  I think the overhead camera angle evokes God’s point-of-view.  God may have the answers that Chris and Paulie seek, but He ain’t sayin’ nothing.  The Pine Barrens becomes a place that represents the ultimate uncertainties of our existence as well as the universe’s utter disregard for any anxieties that these uncertainties produce within us.  Chris and Paulie are not just geographically lost in this forest—they’ve lost their metaphysical bearings as well.

Many commentators of the episode have likened Chris and Paulie to Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  The hour may indeed contain some outright allusions to Godot.  Beckett’s play begins with Estragon struggling with his boots, and the boots become an important element in the drama; similarly, Paulie’s lost shoe becomes an important element in “Pine Barrens,” and he continuously struggles to protect his exposed foot, even creating a makeshift shoe with wire and carpet:


Trees may make another formal connection between the two works.  I believe that trees (with their various associations) are important to “Pine Barrens”; in most productions of Godot, the only major piece of set decoration on its minimalist stage is a tree:

waiting-for-godot tree

Many readers have interpreted Vladimir and Estragon’s wait for the mysterious Godot to actually be an allegory of mankind’s wait for God.  (A futile, fruitless, absurd wait in which God, like Godot, never appears.)  Prof. Thomas Cousineau, in his book Waiting for Godot: Form in Movement, describes the role of Christianity in Beckett’s play:

The fundamental insight that informs all of Beckett’s work consists in the recognition that our relationship to the world is based on a misunderstanding: while we assume that our individual selves are the center of the universe, the truth of the matter is that the universe, having no need of us whatsoever, acts in accordance with principles that are completely indifferent to our individual needs and aspirations.  Christianity occupies an important position in Godot because it is one of the most potent and enduring myths through which the truth of this simple recognition has been obscured.  Beckett treats the hope of salvation as an illusion…

I argued in my previous write-up that Chase left the question “Who will save us from Satan’s power?” unanswered.  Jesus may be the answer but He may possibly just be an illusion.  In a sense, the previous episode functioned as a prelude to the current episode.  Like the previous hour, “Pine Barrens” refuses to provide definitive answers.  “Pine Barrens” is an allegory of existential dislocation and uncertainty.  When AJ grappled with existential questions last year, his grandmother bleakly told him that “It’s all a big nothing.”  The Pine Barrens in which Chris and Paulie have lost themselves is an elemental, physical incarnation of Livia’s “big nothing.”

Chris and Paulie are in a serious predicament.  All of the worldly concerns that normally occupy them are falling away in the Pine Barrens.  Their sole concern now becomes survival.  They are reduced to worrying about the bare essentials: an abandoned van becomes their only shelter and packets of ketchup their only sustenance.  The Pine Barrens are particularly tough on Paulie.  We know Paulie to be a man of simple convictions (he believes all his sins can be paid off with a 6000 year stint in Purgatory) and simple rules (“As of the wedding day, anything that touches her pussy is off-limits”).  These strange woods in which the rules of navigation, logic and physics don’t seem to apply completely throw him for a loop.  At the beginning of the hour, Paulie Walnuts is his usual confident and well-coiffed self, even taking time out to get a manicure.  But by the episode’s midpoint, he is coming undone:


Paulie and Chris come very close to starving and/or freezing to death in the forest.  They are fortunate to have just enough cell phone reception to request Tony’s help.  It might be a bit of luck that ultimately saves their lives: Paulie fires a gun at his makeshift shoe out of frustration, which alerts rescuers Tony and Bobby to the lost men’s location.  Back in the warm safety of Tony’s Suburban, Paulie seems to reflect upon his absurd experience in the Pine Barrens:


As he looks out the window, perhaps Paulie is coming to the realization that the universe is not as neatly packaged with cut-and-dry answers as he had always believed.  The image of Paulie deep in thought, surrounded by trees as an Italian aria begins to play softly, signals that this may be a transcendent moment in Paul’s life.  But his reverie is momentarily interrupted by Tony, who is annoyed by the dollop of mayonnaise on Paulie’s chin.  In The Sopranos, the sublimity of life and the fuckin’ regularness of life continually coexist side-by-side.

“Pine Barrens” obviously leaves a big question unanswered: Whatever happened to Valery?  It is a question that has followed David Chase, to his great annoyance, ever since the episode aired.  He addressed the issue in a February 2007 Entertainment Weekly interview:

Who knows where he went?  Who cares about some Russian?  This is what Hollywood has done to America.  Do you have to have closure on every little thing?  Isn’t there any mystery in the world?  It’s a murky world out there.  It’s a murky life these guys lead.  And by the way, I do know where the Russian is.  But I’ll never say because so many people get so pissy about it.

Terence Winter, one of the co-writers of the episode, is one of the people that got pissy about it.  He believed strongly that the mystery of Valery needed to be solved and hounded David to revisit the issue in Season 6.  Chase relented, and a scene was written in which we learn that Valery survived the gunshot but suffered such massive brain trauma that he was unable to finger Paulie or Chris as his attackers.  But Chase changed his mind and the scene never appeared in any episode.  This phantom scene is probably what Chase referred to on Sam Roberts’ show 5 years after the series ended:

The “closure-junkies” (to borrow Prof. Paul Levinson’s term) who constantly insist that they know Valery’s fate are sidestepping the importance that David Chase gives to ambiguity.  Some questions may be better left unanswered.  If this hour tells us anything, it is that SopranoWorld is a murky place where events can be unexplained and meaning can be oblique.  The closure-junkies that insist otherwise miss the forest for the trees.

Chase spells out for us (literally) that the world can be an oblique place—Meadow plays the word during a Scrabble game with Jackie.  I find it interesting that Chase makes a cut from Tony’s bullshit comment in Melfi’s office, “We’re learning how to communicate,” to the image of “oblique” on the Scrabble board:

oblique communication

Communication on The Sopranos is often oblique and muddled—rarely does meaningful, clear communication take place.  The difficulties with the cellphones are the most obvious examples of this in “Pine Barrens.”  The cellular static and interference that lead to Tony’s frustrations and Paulie’s misunderstandings (“He killed 16 Czechoslovakians. The guy was an interior decorator”) might make us laugh, but it underscores just how hindered communication and connection can be in SopranoWorld.

And it’s not just the communication between characters that is cloudy and oblique; the communication between the show and viewers themselves is marked by ambiguity and obstruction.  The reason why we cannot know for certain whether Valery died or not is because the episode doesn’t clearly communicate this to us.  Chase doesn’t believe in a world where every little thing is clearly communicated.  He (like the Universe itself) throws hurdles at us as we try to make meaning of what see and hear.  We may remember one notable example of this from “D-Girl” (2.07):

obstructed communication

Pussy tries to share a philosophy of love and connection, contrary to Livia’s nihilistic philosophy, with his godchild AJ, but his words come to us in bits and pieces, marred by the static and interference of his FBI wire.  As affirming as Pussy’s words might have been, it is Livia’s philosophy that has been the dark beacon guiding most of the events in SopranoWorldThe Pine Barrens is a geographical incarnation of Livia’s nihilism, a place—as its name suggests—that is barren of love or connection or logic or meaning.  Livia manages to live on in the series through another incarnation as well…

The episode begins to the sound of Van Morrison singing “Glooooria, G-L-O-R-I-A.”  No matter how Morrison sings it, Gloria spells trouble.  Tony gets a taste of her bipolar, passive-aggressive personality right in the opening scene, when she tosses his gift into the bay.  Later, when Paulie and Chris are struggling to find their way out of the forest, Tony himself gets lost in the crags of Gloria’s rocky emotional landscape.  After various distressing events (Paulie and Chris missing-in-action, Hugh’s glaucoma diagnosis) cause Tony to arrive late for dinner at Gloria’s place, she throws a heavy London broil at him.  (In a series that continuously ties food and violence together, this is certainly one of the more unexpected connections.)  If Tony has not realized by now that his relationship with Gloria is essentially a variation of his relationship with his mother, he definitely understands it with Dr. Melfi’s help by the end of the episode.

Jackie’s contributions to the Scrabble board (ASS, POO, THE) spell out to Meadow how much of an idiot he can be.  She starts to suspect that he is avoiding her, and then with her friend Ambujam’s help, she catches him cheating.  Meadow storms away from him, but we will see that she does not become seriously distraught (despite some temporary sadness) over their breakup.  Their breakup will be a much more consequential thing for Jackie.



  • This is the first of four episodes that Steve Buscemi directs.  As incredible as his direction is, his greatest contribution to the series, of course, is as the character “Tony Blundetto” in Season 5.
  • Time magazine’s James Poniewozik puts “Pine Barrens” second (after “College”) in his list of the greatest Sopranos episodes.
  • Writers Terry Winter and Tim Van Patten won a Writers Guild of America award for this episode.
  • The Italian aria “Sposa son Disprezzata” is heard twice in this hour, and will be used to great effect in the next episode.
  • Dana Polan, in his book The Sopranos, describes this hour as a “meat locker episode.”  The “trapped in a meat-locker” trope has been used in many TV shows, including The Brady Bunch, I Love Lucy, MacGyver, Three’s Company and the old campy Batman series.  (Fortunately for the Caped Crusader, he happened to be wearing his Thermal Bat-Underwear.)
  • Bobby Bacala shows some of his experience as a hunter here.  (This thread is picked up again in Season Six’s “Soprano Home Movies.”)  Tony, unaccustomed to seeing Bobby in his hunting attire, bursts out laughing when Bobby appears in full hunting regalia.  Actor Steve Schirripa recounted to Entertainment Weekly that he was able to get this true reaction from James Gandolfini by walking into the scene with a 30-inch dildo swinging from his pants.  It remains unclear why the props department had such a large dildo in their possession.  Some questions are definitely better left unanswered.

laughing at bobby bacala
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81 responses to “Pine Barrens (3.11)

  1. Mitchell Chialtas

    Good job. On my part, this may be a stretch, but I think there’s a connection between Pine Barrens and The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti in Season One, Episode 8. Christopher has a nightmare about his first murder victim, Emil Kolar. Emil visits Satriale’s and asks for Christopher to make him a sandwich and to “hold the mayonnaise”. Here, Tony sees mayonnaise on Paulie’s face. I know it sounds weird, but there could be a connection between the two episodes, especially since Chris was hugely focused on in this episode beside Paulie.

    Also to mention the Season 1 Finale. When Chris and Paulie kill Mikey Palmice, they chase him into the woods, catch up with him, and kill him. In both the chase for Valery in this episode and the chase for Mikey in Season 1, both events take place in the woods, both events have Chris and Paulie firing their guns, and in both cases, Paulie screams, “motherfucker!” However, this episode is different in that in season 1, Chris raced ahead of Paulie and was shown to be much faster, eventually wounding Mikey long enough for Paulie to catch up. Here, Chris lumbers behind, and it is Paulie who races ahead and wounds Valery. It’s possible that this was shown to emphasize the drug use in Christopher’s life. Whatever it is, I doubt it is a coincidence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • To piggyback on the Emil Kolar theory (“Taste the wares, E-mail” Chris coolly invites, so great), in Chris’ dream sequence, dead Emil does ask Chris to “hold the mayo”. He also says, “change my meat to Black Forest”, as in ham. But he doesn’t say “ham”! His “meat” i.e. “body” has changed to “Black Forest” which, in Sopranoworld sounds akin to Hades. So E-Mail had his meat changed to Black Forest and Pine Barrens is Chris’ trip thru a “Black Forest”, concussed and starving, having shot yet another man in the head and again not feeling as if the matter is closed after the deed is done. Hmmmm… I may be spending far to much free time re-watching Sopranos and surfing this site. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Plus Tony tells Pauline Valery killed 16 Czechoslovakians when Chrissy only killed 1
        It’s an unrelated show but them finding the truck in the forest is so like Jake Mccandles spending an Alaskan winter in a school bus

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think I read somewhere where Michael hurt his knee or leg during the scene, and may be trailing Tony for that real injury,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How about that shot of the DeAngelis family together staring at Tony when he’s about to leave, shortly after learning Hugh has glaucoma? They were stone cold. Tony couldn’t bear the guilt and ended up staying a little longer. This might play in to what you talked about, the unmovable moral stance, like with the cop who pulls him over, and the tough love shrink Carmela sees.

    At this point of the season Meadow’s friend Kaitlin seems to have finally found her wings to enjoy college life and life in the city. The shot of Meadow rather hysterically crying over Jackie Jr. at the hospital as Kaitlin sits over her is quite the contrast to the many shots earlier in the season of Kaitlin losing it while Meadow looks on with unsympathetic disgust.

    Two scenes which cut back to the pine barrens have Paulie and Chrissy moaning almost as if they’re having sex. Can we put it past David Chase, the protestant outsider to the socially conservative and often times homophobic Catholic culture, having a little fun with such sound effects? I say of course not.

    All that could have made this episode better is Tony and Bobby getting lost with Paulie and Chrissy and the foursome not being able to find their way back.

    Also, there is no doubt Paulie was looking to kill Christopher to avoid the real story of what happened with Valery getting back to Tony. The mob life is attractive but to really digest the treachery, and the fact that in that life you literally can not trust anyone, is quite sobering. Hours earlier the two wiseguys were making plans to go to AC after dumping Valery in the woods, and play some black jack, get steaks at Morton’s. Next thing you know they’re in an abandoned van like two homeless junkies, fighting over ketchup packets and tic tacs, both considering killing the other to make sure they get to tell their version of events to the boss.

    Finally, “Let’s go with the satin finish” – Paulie. How about A Night in White Satin finish?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think another reason viewers were so critical of the loose end with Valery is that it’s really hard to buy Slava, the Russian mob boss, not figuring out that Chris and Paulie killed Valery. The previous episodes establish that Slava is no fool. He knows the last people to have seen Valery were Chris and Paulie. I’m sure Paulie’s harassment and bigoted slurs toward Valery weren’t the first, and therefore Valery had probably told Slava in the past that Paulie was hot headed and didn’t like Russians, etc. Not hard for a seemingly wise businessman and gangster like Slava to put one and one together, in that either Paulie or a drunken Valery started mouthing off to the other, and things escalated. Imagine that being the plot in season 6 instead of the war with Phil. Slava finally figuring out what happened to Valery, who he would do “anything for”, and not being satisfied with Tony offering up Paulie as compensation. Oh well. Imagine a world without hypothetical situations…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Through out this season we’ve seen how full of cheap sentimentality all the gangsters are. Remember how Janice wanted go mil
      Kill her brother. Tony and Ralphie kept telling Jackie Junior how much they value him because if has lineage but it meant nothing.
      Much as Slavo might care he might not be sorry to see Valery dissapear with his drinking priblem. Though I’m if Slavo got proof of what Paul he and Chrissy did he would be able to let it go.
      I am sure Slack is also looking.for clarity where all he sees is ambiguity.


  4. Just a note on much The Sopranos came to increasingly delve into comedy (we get more and more malapropisms with each season, for example). In Pine Barrens, Tony visits Slava, trying to find out how much Valery means to the mob boss, obviously hoping Slava could care less about his employee (thus meaning Valery’s death would not affect Tony and Slava’s relationship that much), and instead Slava starts weeping at how close he feels to Valery, who is “more than a brother” to him. Classic vaudeville.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I was going to leave a similar comment. The part with Slava always makes me laugh. You said it’s “classic vaudeville” and I suppose you’re right. It always reminded me of something out of Seinfeld, so there you go. (“I had a pony!”) In fact there are a number of funny/awkward Sopranos moments where I can hear the Seinfeld bass line play in my head…Richie seeing the housekeeper’s husband wearing the jacket he gave to Tony comes to mind.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I can say pretty confidently that was not the intent of the scene. So I guess this comes down to whether it’s on the viewer or the show (writing, acting, directing, etc) when such a disconnect occurs. I didn’t see it as comedy, but that’s just me.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Many characters in this episode wrap themselves in something (Tony and his Moroccan robe that Gloria gave him; Paulie and Chris using the carpet from the van to keep warm; Paulie and Chris wrapping Valery in his own wall hanging when they think he is dead; and even Meadow is wrapped up because she is not well). Am I looking too much into things or is there a connection between them; do they symbolise something?

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Jackie Jr’s three 3-letter scrabble responses come from the title of the show, “THE SOPrAnOS.” the – poo – ass

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Even though Paulie and Chris were freezing to death in the middle of nowhere, I find it interesting that Paulie still tries to pull rank on Chris. To which comes my favourite comeback ever, “Capo or no Capo, right now we’re just two assholes lost in the woods”

    I think in some way, Paulie tries to assert some control in a situation that is completely foreign to him. Shootouts? No problem. Being lost in a middle of a forest? Maybe not the way they envisaged their death.

    Paulie takes pride in the fact that he survived the 70’s when everyone else around him were dropping like flies, and Moltisanti essentially wants to be immortalised by his pursuits as a gangster or famous script writer. Considering what they’ve been through, I’m thinking that there is something so unglamorous and undramatic about dying in that van compared to all of the other deaths on that show.

    Also, given that they have been stripped of all the bare essentials for survival, one of Paulie’s priorities was to undercut Chris by trying to shift the blame onto him when talking to Tony.

    I don’t know if anyone else got this impression or if I’m reading too much into this, but I also thought that throughout the entire episode, Paulie and Chris were just one big inconvenience to Tony. Silvio would never have gotten himself into a situation like this, and I got the impression that Tony was taking his time getting to Chris and Paulie when they were already in the woods for hours.

    Also, what about Paulie’s car being missing when they finally get out? I’m one of those people who think that the Russian climbed the tree, and then took off in their car. Given his job history, it seems that he would be a pretty resourceful guy.

    I’m sorry if I’ve already repeated what others have said, there’s so much here that I’ve never considered before!

    Cheers everyone! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    • I also felt like Tony was taking it (at least at first) as nothing more than an inconvenience, and I think this speaks to how thoroughly suburban these guys really are – it’s hard for them to conceive how dangerous the woods can be. Bobby Bacala seems to have a sense of how dangerous this primeval forest is and takes necessary precautions, but Tony just dismisses him with laughter…

      Liked by 4 people

      • Excellent analysis as always. Never saw the oblique and phone interference link before. Thank you. I know im being somewhat selfish, and Im hoping youre in good health to finish the rest of the series

        Liked by 2 people

    • In an episode chock-full of them, one of my favorite lines is from Chris: “I’ll leave you here, you one-shoe cocksucker. You know how fast I can run; I’ll leave you in the fucking dust.”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant recap. To play a little with your ideas about the forest, I wonder if the snow ties back to the Robert Frost poem that AJ is reading in one of the earlier episodes, where snow symbolizes death. I’ve always loved Pine Barrens for its comedy, but re-watching it again yesterday I realized how dark the episode is. In some respects, it’s almost as if Chris and Paulie are trapped in something close to purgatory, if not hell, surrounded by all the death they have caused. As a bit of stretch, when they find they’ve been walking in a circle, it almost reminded me of the circles of hell. In some respects, given the Sopranos preoccupation with the supernatural, and its pretty clear POV that there is an afterlife of some type, it made me wonder if Chris and Paulie were being given a foreshadowing of what awaits for them in death. Not sure how Tony/Bobby saving them fits into this, other than some connection to Tony being a representation of the devil/antichrist who has helped lead them down this road, and is now their only protector on earth.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Kinda feel for Paulie at episode end. He is suspicious that guys he killed can haunt him. But at least he knows for sure that they are dead. In this episode he don’t even know Valery’s condition. Russian became a ‘superghost’ for him.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Always gotta have someone to point out the one insignificant typo/flaw in everything (gotta love the internet), so, I must say that, while Paulie/Chris may have come close to freezing to death in the woods, they were never close to starving to death. They were obviously very hungry, though – Chris wanted to get something to eat before they went to the woods, but Paulie didn’t allow it. They go almost a day without food, and it’s so traumatic for them both that they’re willing to eat out of frozen condiment packages that night. I believe this further shows the crumbling of the perceptions they have created – eating regular meals is something neither of them could ever imagine would (even temporarily) ever end, so after just a day, they become completely bewildered that somehow this a regular meal might not simply be a guaranteed part of life.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Good point. I guess I’m so used to having easy access to food myself that the thought of being forced to skip two meals seems like imminent starvation to me…

      Liked by 2 people

    • In his endless quest to remind the hits & tits audience that this Cosa Nostra is ultimately an unglamorous, wicked life, Chase takes two hypermasculine mooks, places them in a sylvan nightmare, and they are exposed as completely incompetent and useless when removed from their element. Yes, ANYONE can be incapable within an alien environment, but as ololo3 pointed out, they weren’t at any real point of starvation. Paulie sounds like AJ when he demands Tony “Come fuckin’ get us!”, a desperate, angry kid. Paulie also marvels at the idea of even being lost in New Jersey at all, though Chris is quick to remind him this is not the Jersey with which they are familiar.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I thought that the mayonnaise on Paulie’s chin could be seen as having “egg on his face,” as he may be a little embarrassed at causing this whole situation.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. The historian John McPhee wrote an interesting book about the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Here are a few stray observations about it:
    (1) The legend of the Jersey Devil originates from the area–a monster birthed in a nearby home that attached everyone, flew up the chimney and disappeared into the Pine Barrens. Valery is clearly like the elusive creature.

    (2) The soil is incredibly acidic; nothing can be cultivated there and only the pines would survive if it weren’t for forest fires that provide some nutrients to the soil. Not much to say on that point, except that this ecological feature gives the area a deathly character.

    (3) The region–associated with “Pineys” and its own culture–is basically separate from the rest of New Jersey, even though plenty of folks pass through on their way down the shore from different cities. Chris and Paulie are foreigners in their own state; out of their depths.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. oops, I meant “attacked everyone”


    • I thumbed through McPhee’s book before doing a short hike in the Barrens two years ago. The lore surrounding the Pineys gives them an almost mythological dimension. The Pine Barrens themselves are a mythic place – no doubt David Chase, a New Jerseyan since childhood, was thinking of this when he decided to locate the episode there.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. David J Noone

    Excellent analysis and one of my favorite top 5 episodes for sure. This is one I could watch repeatedly. Seeing Chris and Paulie out of their element was very interesting. I always took notice of how polished they guys were in the beginning (especially Paulie) and watching them deteriorate by the end. Funny how they can handle the mean streets but not a little time in the woods. The Russian and everyone questioning what ever happened to him was inevitable. We spent the entire episode wondering when he will reappear. At the end when Paulie’s car is gone, I assumed the Russian escaped in the car. The way Valery’s back story is told to us at Tony’s meeting with Slava was done well. We quickly learned that both Chris and Paulie are no match for a man of his background. We know a bit about him yet he is still a mystery. The fact we never see or hear of him again is brilliant. A few comments touched on the topic of him reappearing or Slava putting it all together. These are pretty good talking points and no doubt would have made some interesting television. Especially since Tony told Paulie (not Chris) that if he appears, it’s his problem. I suspect Tony knew what happened as he knows how Paulie can be. I cant think of another episode quite like this one. I definitely appreciated the scenes with poor cell phone reception. Also how Tony is yelling at Paulie asking him if the package “could survive” with AJ right there. Wow.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. God’s point of view? You stretched so hard, you lost a reader. Leave that piece of shit out of it.


      • He’s pissed caused you said god’s point of view. First of all how dare you have an opinion/interpretation of the scene like that. Secondly, now Jim’s not gonna be reading your analysis anymore. I hope you feel proud of yourself. Now that Jim’s gone I think you should just quit because without him, these posts are meaningless.. I mean seriously what are we gonna do without him? I’m personally considering putting my badge on and jumping off a bridge like Vin Makazian, I think you should consider the same option

        Liked by 2 people

    • ballinacorriga

      So long Jim!

      Liked by 3 people

  16. Pingback: The Sopranos S3E11: “Pine Barrens” – Colin's Review

  17. A classic episode, easily in my top five. Of course all true New Jerseyans (New Jerseyites???) immediately realized that wasn’t “really” the Pine Barrens, as there aren’t any mountains or even large hills down there. And when Paulie stops for gas…we don’t pump our own gas here. Although he is an outlaw and all.
    The Paulie character really starts coming into its own during season three. I love how angry he gets over having to run Sil’s errands, all because he was supposed to take his Ma to Social Security.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I guess Pauly’s car disappearance adds to the question when you watch it whether the Russian survived or not. Did they ever revisit the Cadillac being gone, does he report it stolen. Not only was his car stolen the money he got from the Russian was inside the Cadillac making the whole thing worse.
    Just a great episode definitely in the top 5.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I’m with Paul here. I thought the biggest mystery wasn’t what happened to the Russian, but what happened to the car.

    Kids probably took it, Bobby guesses. Really? Kids? At the end of a trail, in freezing conditions, in a location chosen by Pauline and Chris for its isolation? Maybe but it seems like a stretch.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I may be one of the only fans who prefers Amour Fou to Pine Barrens. This is a great episode but the connective tissue between the Pine Barrens story and the episode’s other subplots seems… dare I say… thinner than usual? Though it may just be a blind spot I’ve got.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. God, what a great piece of television.
    It’s one of those rare episodes in which Chris is portrayed as the relatively reasonable one. Most of his showcase episodes end up highlighting his limited intelligence, and every scene with Adriana brings out his worst qualities. All the same, Michael Imperioli always imbued Chrissie with some sort of…I wouldn’t call it charm…charisma? Here, he’s about as useful as Paulie is, but Paulie is the more ridiculous of the two, causing the whole situation with his needless hostility toward Valery. Paulie complains far more than Chris does, pointlessly tries to pull rank, tries to blame Chris in Tony’s eyes, and even eats all the goddam tic tacs. And he didn’t even get hit in the head. Chris may become a captain much later (don’t actually remember when, but he is by 6B, right?), but in terms of efficacy and potential, he peaks in this season. In three episodes, his drug habit will already be way out of hand.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Ron: Great insights, I really enjoy this site and all the work you do. Third time through the series for me… first was real-time, second was nearly 10 years ago. I remember being frustrated all those years ago that Valery never came back to haunt Paulie. I wanted resolution, damnit! Your explanations (and Chase’s, too) have helped me understand what the Valery character is all about.

    This time around, I was struck by the continual and various failures of communication. It came in the form of lies (Tony, Jackie Jr., Paulie), disruptions (cell phone issues), and even the subconscious (Mead’s Scrabble game).
    Other observations:

    – With the connection between food & violence so well-documented, is it any surprise that Paulie & Christopher fail to kill Valery after foregoing breakfast?
    – Gloria takes a very keen interest in the golden tassel that Tony removes from his gift box. She oddly plays with it in around her neck and head. Foreshadowing much?
    – Same scene w/ Tony & Gloria in the hotel room – the exact same picture hangs above each bed, yet one is inverted. Are Tony and Gloria mirror images of each other? Or perhaps on opposite trajectories?
    – Shoutout to the malapropisms in this one. My favorite was Paulie: “Guy was an interior decorator” Christopher (shrugging): “His house looked like shit”

    Final thoughts on the mysticism of the episode: Slava drinks Grey Goose at his meeting with Tony as he laments Valery’s fall into alcohol and drugs. A few seconds later we get a rhyming shot of geese flying against a gray sky in the Barrens. It reminded me of Pussy “sleeping with the fishes” but this time Valery is “flying with the birds” perhaps? Pauli even says “fucking Rasputin this guy” just after that. Creepy.

    Keep up the fantastic work.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Enlightening analysis both in the write up and the comments. As I go through this rewatch I am reading both this site and the Todd VanDerWerff writeups you have mentioned. His writeups are also very good, but for whatever reason his commenters mostly drop the ball. Go figure.

    Not a lot to add in this one, though we probably should cut the guys a bit of slack in their reaction to their predicament. The risk of frostbite is very real for Paulie and Chris did get brained with the shovel (he still has stitches in the next episode). Doesn’t change any of the analysis or symbolism, and certainly they have only themselves to blame, but they truly are in a very real pickle.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I enjoy reading this site a great deal and am impressed with so many of the nuances of the show that folks here pick up on, “good catch” I will say to myself. Anyway, here is one I noticed, the box that the robe came in had decorative rope wrapped around it. When Tony removes the rope he tosses it to Gloria and she sorta plays with it, at one point almost wrapping it around her neck. We all know how things end between them and how Gloria ends up, this seems like a hint or foreshadowing of things to come; as if saying Tony is giving her everything she needs to hang herself.

    Liked by 3 people

      • Just discovered this site, already a big fan of your work. Love the episode breakdowns as I am a huge fan of the show. I have recently listened to the sopranos show podcast and enjoyed their breakdowns of the entire series on my daily commutes. But what you have done here is the next level. I have personally had many late night conversations with friends about the symbolism and brilliance of this masterpiece. It is wonderful to find someone who has put so much effort into a show that truly deserves such a thorough “autopsy”. I have seen the entire series from start to finish so many times, I thought I had nothing left to learn. However, I will be rewatching again and referencing this information as I go. Bravo to you my friend!
        ….and on it goes, this thing of ours.

        Liked by 1 person

  25. Great write-up of this excellent episode. Thank you very much for that. I have one additional observation on Gloria Trillo, though. Of course her function in Tony’s psyche is that of a substitue for his late mother. She is mentally unstable, manipulative and her death instinct is right up there with Livia’s. However, she is unlike all the other women in Tony’s life (bar Melfi) in one respect: She does not depend on Tony for livelihood. Not only does she work for a living, she is independent enough to go on holiday all by herself (Sil and Paulie wouldn’t believe it), plus she has the audacity of getting Tony presents when he has nothing to return the favour. Normally, it’s him playing Santa to his loved ones as became pretty much clear by the end of last episode. Gloria’s independence may indeed justify a fleeting remark of Tony’s from “The Telltale Moozadell” (3.09): “I never met anybody like you”, he says shortly before she literally “fucks herself” in the Reptile House. I read that Annabella Sciorra, the actor who played Gloria Trillo, said that she was congratulated by some female viewers on throwing that famous steak: “When you threw that steak at Tony, you threw that steak for all womankind.” Those careful observers may have guessed right that, in addition to being one more depressing mother figure from Tony’s point of view, Gloria Trillo can also be seen as one of the few characters in the Sopranos who manage to stand up to him and subvert the traditional, patriarchal values he lives by.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. There is an early scene outside Valery’s apartment when Paulie and Chris talk briefly about modern history. To be exact, Paulie talks about the Cuban missile crisis and Chris says, “That was real? I saw that movie. I thought it was bullshit.”

    This scene seems to echo a scene in Pulp Fiction when two hitmen stand in an identical situation, in a hallway, and have, in their case, a long discussion about modern history and politics, before entering, or breaking into, an apartment.

    It may be coincidence. Anyway, I’ve checked the Wikipedia article on the film. The two hitmen were Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta).

    Liked by 1 person

  27. I’m one of the few Sopranos fans who isn’t fond of “Pine Barrens,” though I appreciate it more than I used to after reading your analysis, Ron. There are too many little things about it that niggle at me. For instance, why does Tony seem to be seeing Dr. Melfi every day or so instead of once a week? He’s in her office with Carmela one day and seemingly back there alone the next day. Why was Paulie in such a big hurry that they couldn’t spend 10 minutes at Roy Rogers? Between the time it was going to take them to drive to the Pine Barrens and the time it was going to take them to dig a hole and bury the Russian, they weren’t going to get to Morton’s for hours, and even Paulie would have been hungry. Why couldn’t even two urban/suburban guys like Paulie and Christopher not follow their own footprints back the way they came, considering that they were the only ones out there and the footprints would have been fresh and obvious? Too many things required suspension of disbelief for me. And I’m one of those who couldn’t let it go about what happened to the Russian. The sort of mystical idea presented here does make me feel more accepting of his disappearance, but I don’t think David Chase should have been so surprised that people kept bugging him about it. The whole thing with Slava and how important Valery was to him suggested to me that Valery’s disappearance would be a big deal to him.I think it’s a tribute to Chase and the writing on the show that even the minor characters seemed real enough that people expected their stories to make sense. And then there’s Paulie’s missing car. The idea that some kids stole it seems silly to me. It was out in the middle of nowhere. Would kids be likely to have found it? Occam’s razor says it was the Russian, but in that case, he would have gone back to Slava about the Italians, and the whole thing would have blow up, which we know it didn’t. So I remain somewhat unsatisfied with the episode, which seemed more constructed and less organic than some of the others.

    But the theme of failure of communication mostly redeems it. Thank you for that, Ron/

    I didn’t know about the 30-inch dildo. I had to go back with that in mind and watch the scene in which Bobby comes into Junior’s kitchen so I could watch Tony/Gandolfini cracking up and know why it was that funny. Also, there’s Bobby’s joke (“Bear left”) in the car that falls completely flat with Tony. Poor Bobby!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re probably in larger company than you think. Although I personally do love this episode, quite a few people I’ve spoken to have said this episode is overrated, to say the least…


      • It’s a good episode for sure, but I never understand why many (some?) see it as the best episode when there are so many other amazing episodes across the whole series. I can still enjoy it, but more for the non-Chrissy/Paulie elements, and the development of the Tony/Gloria relationship in particular.

        Liked by 1 person

    • They did follow their tracks. It’s quite likely they had made multiple tracks and already started going round in circles. Also other people might have made tracks apart from Chrissy, Paulie, and Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  28. There were things about this episode that I did like a lot, even if it isn’t one of my top ten. One of my favorite shots of Paulie ever is the one of him scowling and wild-haired in the back seat of Tony’s car, seen from outside the window. I compare it with the image of Paulie in the back of Pussy’s car on the way back from the airport after the trip to Naples in Season 2. In “Commendatore,” the expression on Paulie’s face iin the car was of quiet contentment. He was glad to be back in New Jersey after the strangeness of “the old country.” He might have told Pussy he had a great time, but we know he found Naples much too alien. But in “Pine Barrens,” Paulie is cold, hungry, exhausted, embarrassed at having to be rescued, and uncharacteristically unkempt, even having to be told that he has mayonnaise on his chin. (What a contrast from the dapper Paulie who complacently chose the satin finish during a manicure at the beginning of the episode.) He is also not happy that after — in his view — ordering him to be an errand boy for Silvio, Tony is now blaming Paulie for the whole thing going south (pun intended) even though Paulie doesn’t accept that he did anything wrong. An old-fashioned bigot, he considers the Russians barbarians and doesn’t think Tony should be doing business with non-Italians. This comes out in his jibes and behavior at Valery’s apartment and his complaints to Christopher later. He shouldn’t have “had to” kill Valery, because Valery was supposed to know his place as an inferior being and degenerate gambler. It’s not Paulie’s fault (in his mind) that Valery knew no such thing. Now here, in the car after the Pine Barrens ordeal, first Tony forces Paulie to be the one to decide whether to pursue the missing Valery and then telis Paulie that if Slava finds out, Paulie will have to bear the consequences. This must feel to Paulie like Tony is choosing the Russians over his own. So as they ride toward home and away from an alien environment, this time Paulie isn’t feeling good. He’s full of resentment about Ralph (as he also complained to Christopher and as we know from his complaint to Tony in the preceding episode) and the Russians, adding to his resentment at having to work under younger guys (some mention of that in the preceding episode too–Jackie Aprile, who used to bring him coffee, is now his boss). So the roots of Paulie’s arc in Season 4 have been planted in these episodes that are ostensibly about other things. Well done, David Chase!
    Another thing I didn’t like, thinking through the interaction with Valery again: The idea of Valery being in debt to Slivio seems another of those things that’s shoehorned into the story without being particularly plausible, just to provide an excuse for the Paulie/Christopher storyline. But I’ve already had my bitchfest about this episode, so I’ll let that one go. It’s just that so much of the plotting of the series, especially the first few seasons is genius that the clunky parts really stand out. I do appreciate this episode more than I did the first two or three times I saw it, and that alone is part of what makes The Sopranos so great. BTW, I think “Waiting for Godot” is genius, and I appreciate the connection you made, Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I have to admit, I don’t really get the hype.

    So the idea of the mysticism didn’t really reach me, maybe because even with my limited knowledge of outdoorsmanship, I’m aware of things like humans’ natural bias in our walks that leads us to walk in circles when we don’t have landmarks. Everything felt logical, rather than supernatural. Honestly, considering that this is a show that has had characters talking to fish and even an actual God-damned ghost, if it wanted us to feel lost in mysticism, it really needed to do more.

    As for Valery being some kind of spirit, maybe they shouldn’t have made a point of associating him with modern technology?

    And as for the comedy, the previous episode was funnier. Harrumph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Also, this is going to sound weird, but do Americans not say please? Valery didn’t say it when he asked Paul to put the remote down, and people never seem to say it on American television. Do people not say it over there or is it just a thing like people not saying ‘bye’ when they hang up on TV?

      Liked by 1 person

      • They aren’t not saying please because they are Americans. That is a bit of a strange leap in logic. They are not saying please because they are sociopath mobsters who are assholes to everybody they meet and associate with.
        If the show spent more time following normal people like Finn or Dr. Melfi and her friends around, you’d probably hear the word “please” more.

        Liked by 1 person

  30. I’m glad someone brought up the fact that NJ’s Pine Barrens look nothing like the geography represented in the episode. There were more picnic benches here than conifers! The area’s acidic soil (pointed out in a previous comment) is the reason why Jersey tomatoes are so supreme. Also find it hard to believe a Russian would be drinking French vodka. Seems sacrilegious to me, though maybe that’s to set up Slava somehow being ok with Tony’s guys killing someone so close to him. Slava does point out that Valery’s addictions break his heart and that’s probably why (at some point off-screen) he gives Tony a pass for killing a loved one who is actually becoming something of a burden. We’ve seen – and will see – powerful men kill loved ones who threaten their personal security and bottom line. Final tidbit, pretty sure “Slava” means “glory” in Russian, as in G-L-O-R-I-A!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wait, what?! “Slava” is Russian for “glory”?? “Gloria” of course is Italian for “glory.” What an interesting connection between Slava and Gloria, two people that cause Tony a lot of stress in this hour…


  31. Gean Florentino

    I’d like to comment on a observation of mine:
    It’s mentioned on the autopsy or “The Telltale Moozadell” (s03e09) how Gloria is associated with snakes by the zoo scene. Now in Pine Barrens there’s a scene where she’s in bed talking with Tony, and she has just one leg out of the sheets, with the other completely covered, which resembles the image of a snake. I don’t know if I’m being clear enough in describing it, it’s one of those things that is better to see to get it. (Also english isn’t my native language).


  32. Paulie is as bipolar as Gloria here.Not that Jackie jr could spell it, pre-med student ?! If the guys kick off like this when the creditors HAVE the money they will go broke fast. Tony is surrounded by devils and douchebags.Again. That’s why I feel for the guy.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Perhaps it has been thought of hundreds of times by other fans, but, this episode always gave me great agita. And it’s quiet simple, really: it has a plot hole the size of Ralphie’s asshole. Tony S. keeps ALL of his money with Slava, the russian, illegaly on offshore accounts, that only Tony and Slava know of. Tony’s goons try to kill Valery, his right hand, drunk right hand, but, best friend none the less. They fail, Valery lives to tell the tale to Slava, so, what does Slava do? He takes all of Tony’s money, and leaves him and Carmela on the street, end of season 3, end of series. If you know of russian mobsters, that’s how they go. They don’t negotiate, they don’t fuck around, they don’t plead, they don’t tax you, they don’t talk to you once you try to kill one of their own. I mean, how can this even be repaired, once Slava finds out that Tony is responsible? It’s unfixable, and Tony’s left with that 50k in the bird food box and goes back to live with his uncle Pat, I don’t even know. 50k is yearly taxes on all the shit he owns, it’s nothing. He’s fucked. Also, now the russian fucking mob is gunning for him, Valery leading the operation. They are going all over Jersey, decorating. He’s on the uncle Pat’s farm, hiding, but they talk to Johnny Sack and he rats him out. Ginny dies from a heart attack, and uncle Jun ok’s the hit on Tony because he want’s to be the Boss again. It’s a fucking nightmare. Uncle Pat dies defending their position, gets barried on his own farm next to Email Kolar and Tony dies a shot in the back of his head. They say he didn’t even feel it. Screen went to black for 6 minutes, but the fans were actually quite content.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The story can go on without Tony, though. Meadow and Finn actually agree on their future: Finn is going to avenge her father. Seasons 4, 5 and 6 are basicly Finn blasting through the ranks all the way to the top, where he takes Paulie as his consiglieri. Moltisanti goes with Ade to the FBI, so he’s not a problem for Shaggy. Finn hits the russians. Turns out, Finn should’ve went to the dental school, instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  34. Trivia: when Meadow and Jackie are playing Scrabble, there’s a picture of the rock band Scout on her wall. That’s the band that played at the Crazy Horse opening, only they were called Visiting Relatives for the show.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Even though Paulie and Christopher are great at tracking down ‘enemies, their supposed ‘real world’ skills really suck! If you or I saw footprints that suddenly ended, we’d instinctively look UP, right? Instead, these two bozos look ‘around’. Definitely one of the silliest and funniest Sopranos episodes!
    Given Carmela’s ingrained habit of sniffing Tony’s shirts, what would she have thought or done if she smelled steak on his shirt? LOL

    Liked by 1 person

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