Anthony Jr gets expelled from school. Jackie Jr gets expelled from the world. Meadow drinks too many Cosmos after Jackie’s funeral
and flees from all the bullshit around her. Adriana’s attractive new friend has ulterior motives.
EPISODE 39 - ORIGINALLY AIRED MAY 20, 2001 WRITTEN BY DAVID CHASE AND LAWRENCE KONNER DIRECTED BY JOHN PATTERSON
Despite having several standout episodes, I didn’t find Season 3 to be particularly gripping when it originally aired in 2001. Perhaps it was because I didn’t think the ‘Jackie Jr.’ character was very compelling and I was disappointed that Chase had replaced Ralph Cifaretto—who is a very compelling character—with Jackie in the spotlight. (Of course, Ralph is “saved” for next season where he returns as a contentious antagonist for Tony.) I also was not very moved originally by this season’s Finale, maybe because it seemed anti-climactic, particularly after the one-two punch of “Pine Barrens” and “Amour Fou.” But subsequent viewings have proved to me that Season 3 is quite a powerful beast indeed, and “The Army of One” provides a resonating finish to this excellent season.
The episode title obviously comes from the slogan that the US Army used from 2001-2006. The “One” in the slogan was apparently an acronym for Officers, Non-Commissioned and Enlisted, the three types of Army soldiers. But “An Army of One” was probably also meant to appeal to the individualism of the generation reaching adulthood in the early 2000s, a generation more likely to balk at uniformity and conformity than any previous American generation. (Ok, maybe the Boomers, beatniks and bohemians of the 1960s were more non-conformist, but the military still had the draft to fill its ranks at the time.) The slogan was retired after only five years (the previous slogan, “Be All That You Can Be,” was in use for 20 years) supposedly because it undermined notions of teamwork within the military community. I’m providing this short history because the episode title deeply reflects ideas about individualism and community which reside at the heart of this hour.
In the previous episode, we saw Jackie try to force his way deeper into the community of the NJ mob, but he tried to do it in a selfish way – by robbing Eugene Pontecorvo’s card game. When the robbery goes sour, Jackie only looks out for himself – he doesn’t even slow his car down (“a quintessential Sopranos moment” according to David Chase) to pick up his buddy Dino, who ends up dead because of his selfishness. Now, the community that Jackie longed to be a part of is turning its back on him. Christopher wants Jackie dead, and wants to pull the trigger himself. Ralph is readying himself to do it. Jackie reaches out to Tony who gives him no aid or hope. In fact, Tony is annoyed by Jackie’s phone call and complains about it to Ralph, applying more pressure on Ralphie to kill the young man. Tony is clearly enjoying putting his troublesome captain in a difficult position (despite the fact that Ralph Cifaretto has just kicked up $300k from the Esplanade project to him).
Jackie is hiding out in the Boonton projects in RayRay’s apartment (“Omar” from that other great HBO series, The Wire). He plays chess with RayRay’s daughter Leena. Meadow’s Scrabble board had previously displayed Jackie’s foolishness; now more of Jackie’s personality gets revealed at the chessboard:
When Jackie tries to move his pawn more than two spaces, it almost seems like a reflection of his eagerness to get ahead in the Mafia without really understanding how the mob works. Like his lowly pawn, he tried to do too much too quickly. When RayRay observes, “You’re done for,” we understand that the observation applies to Jackie’s life as well as the chess match. Immature Jackie smashes the board out of frustration, unwilling to let the game play out so that he could learn from his mistakes. When he leaves the apartment to go meet his friend, Ralph’s man Vito Spatafore puts a bullet in the back of his head.
News of Jackie’s death comes to Ralph just as he’s arguing with Rosalie about some silly thing. He abruptly ends the phone call, and tells her that he won’t be coming home till late. When he reaches for a tube of toothpaste, we suspect he’s going to meet another woman.
In the next scene, Tony gets a call from Carmela. We, like Tony, figure that Carm is calling with the bad news about Jackie. But no…
The camera cuts to the Soprano home and circles around to reveal that the phone call was about AJ getting permanently expelled from school. The camera and editing are used to replace the viewer’s thoughts of Jackie with thoughts of AJ. The episode continuously equates Jackie and AJ (at times a bit heavy-handedly). Chase wants to make sure we get the point: if Tony and Carmela cannot set Anthony Jr. straight, he may end up dead like unfortunate son Jackie Jr.
Tony and Carmela have two very different ideas of how to deal with their boy. In an illuminating essay with a super-long title, “Whackos in the Wilderness vs. Getting Whacked in Newark: Dueling Family Models in Northern Exposure and The Sopranos,” Mardia Bishop compares the different ideas of parenting—and different worldviews—that are found in two of David Chase’s TV series. She uses models that are found in George Lakoff’s book, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, to analyze the differences. Lakoff argued that liberals follow what he calls a “Nurturant Parent” model, while conservatives follow a “Strict Father” model. The Sopranos is an investigation into this latter model. Strict Father is characterized by patriarchy, adherence to a rigid hierarchy, belief in only the “traditional” definition of the family, and an emphasis on the moral virtues of strength and discipline. Tony Soprano believes in this model (and his exclamation in 1.11 that “in this house, it’s 1954” reflects this belief). The Strict Father model, conservatives hope, prompts a good society in which individuals are strong and self-reliant but know their place. They neither expect charity nor feel obligated to the welfare of strangers. Tony’s other family certainly follows this model: the mob’s well-defined hierarchy and emphasis on strength, respect and masculine power fit neatly into the Strict Father paradigm. An analog can be found between the conservative notion of “family values” and the values of la famiglia.
Northern Exposure, in contrast, reflected the Nurturant Parent model: children benefit more from parental love than patriarchal power, and the emphasis is on the moral virtues of empathy and nurturance. Airing during the Clinton administration, Northern Exposure reflected a Clintonian vision of society: a caring, diverse society in which tolerance and understanding motivate individuals to give high priority to community needs. In one episode, for example, we see an abandoned infant be cared for by the entire town of Cicely. Another episode has the entire town take part in the birth of Miranda, the baby born to unmarried partners Holling and Shelley. When Miranda is baptized in a later episode, the priest quotes an African saying: “The village raises the child.” This is the same proverb which was the inspiration for the title of Hillary Clinton’s book It Takes A Village.
Carmela is socially conservative but she doesn’t buy into the Strict Father concept to the extent that her husband does. She wants to send AJ to Burnwood Day, a school for troubled kids with a psychologist on staff. She tries to be empathetic towards her son, believing that his hijinks may be a form of “acting out” and that he is, at heart, not very different from most boys his age. But Tony is sick of Carmela’s soft approach. He doesn’t want to send AJ to schools that “coddle” him any longer. He mocks pediatrician/author Berry Brazelton, who Carmela is a fan of. Interestingly, the vision statement of a Brazelton organization reads like an advertisement for the Nurturant Parent model:
The vision of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center® is that all children grow up to be adults who can cope with adversity, strengthen their communities, constructively participate in civic life and nurture the next generation to be prepared to do the same.
I don’t think Tony could care less whether AJ is taught to “constructively participate in civic life” or “nurture the next generation.” He wants AJ to act like a man, or at least conform more to his conception of what a man is. Tony insists on taking AJ to visit Hudson Military Institute. While Major Zwingli’s description of an academy that forms disciplined young men impresses Carmela, she still wonders if HMI would stamp out “creativity and independent thought.” Tony and Carm remain at loggerheads after the visit to the school. Much of this episode’s power comes from James Gandolfini and Edie Falco’s ability to intensely capture the anger and frustration that married people experience as they lock horns over opposing worldviews.
While attending Jackie’s funeral, Carmela recognizes that the stakes are very high for AJ. She changes her mind: “Let’s try it your way,” Carmela quietly tells Tony. (We can find a national parallel to Carmela’s change-of-heart: our culture shifted more to a Strict Father mentality after 9/11 made us aware of threats to our existence. Conservatives like George W. Bush emphasized—and benefitted from—the resurging popularity of the Strict Father model. Conservative Senator Rick Santorum, in a direct rebuff to Hillary Clinton’s idea that “it takes a village to raise a child,” wrote a book entitled It Takes A Family.)
Hudson Military Institute has institutionalized the Strict Father virtues of strength, discipline and competition. This is not to say the military school doesn’t also believe in community. But it is a relatively narrow conception of community that Major Zwingli’s describes to AJ:
Zwingli: At your school…there’s too much emphasis on what’s good for you, what’s good for Johnny, what’s good for Janey. Here, the higher good is the good of the Corps. As General MacArthur said in his farewell address at the Point: “The Corps, the Corps, the Corps.”
The community of the Corps is quite different from the liberal vision of community represented by Northern Exposure’s town of Cicely or the Clintons’ idea of the global village. The community of the military Corps is regimented, competitive, still patriarchal, and extremely hierarchical – and part of a machine that literally destroys rival communities. The military community and the mafia community are, in a sense, mirror reflections of one other. (We remember that various mobsters have even described themselves as “soldiers” in other episodes.)
When AJ descends the stairs in uniform, his parents feel a sense of pride. But AJ rejects the silly looking outfit and the loss of freedom it represents: “I look like a total jerkoff.”
AJ has an anxiety attack and passes out cold. This precludes him from going to HMI or any other military academy. Verbum Dei knew about AJ’s attacks but never told his parents about it. Viewers knew about his attacks because we saw AJ suffer from one in “Fortunate Son” (the first episode in which AJ and Jackie were strongly paralleled to each other). Tony conveys serious worry in Melfi’s office, he believes AJ has inherited “that putrid, rotten fuckin’ Soprano gene.” He wonders how he can save AJ without the aid of military school. He is less worried about Meadow. He poignantly expresses his fervent hope that she is able to get far away from him; her moving to New York for college indicates that she has taken the first steps in distancing herself from Tony and the mob.
When Meadow returns home for Jackie’s funeral, she correctly surmises that there is more to Jackie’s death than the official mob story of “a drug deal gone bad.” (By hiding out in the projects where he was ultimately killed, Jackie inadvertently made Ralph and Tony’s bullshit story more believable.) Carmela defends Tony, but it is a case of the lady doth protest too much. Carm knows there is a real possibility that Tony, or at least the mob, had a hand in Jackie’s death. Meadow herself takes her mother’s position in a later discussion with Jackie’s sister. (Kelli Aprile nails the immediate cause of her brother’s death: “He was killed by some fatfuck in see-through socks.”) Though Meadow may not be fully certain just how complicit the mob was in Jackie’s murder, she does have a strong sense that neither Jackie’s family nor his famiglia did all they could for him. Regarding the Aprile parents, Meadow says, “Jackie’s family were never there for him…they let him do whatever he wanted.” Regarding the mob famiglia, she says, “Look at who he grew up with. Look at who his father was. Look at everybody we know,” insinuating that his death should not be very surprising given the community he grew up in. Jackie’s parents did not follow the Nurturant Parent model, and neither did the Mafia community in which he lived. The Strict Father model here has led to the formation of a community of selfish, careless individuals. The mob community doesn’t even care enough to show up for Jackie’s funeral because it is playoff season in the NFL.
The two previous Sopranos seasons ended with scenes of social gathering. Season 1 ended at Vesuvio and Season 2 closed with Meadow’s graduation party. Season 3 is no different; it ends at Vesuvio again. Corrado is singing to himself at the restaurant when his community of friends and family persuade him to sing for them. He goes into a rendition of “Core ‘ngrato” (“Ungrateful Heart”). Meadow, drunk on wine and Cosmopolitans, starts tossing bread (gasp! carbohydrates are venerated in Italian culture and should never be used as projectiles) at her uncle while humming Britney Spears’ “Oops…I Did It Again.” She runs out of the restaurant, stopping only to yell “This is such bullshit!” at her father. She can’t escape the bullshit fast enough, rushing headlong into oncoming traffic as she makes her way back to Columbia University.
Tony returns to his wife and son while Corrado continues his song. The episode closes with one of the most experimental, difficult-to-decipher moments in the entire series: Corrado’s voice gets “replaced” by the voices of three foreign singers, one after the other:
Several commentators have given a shot at interpreting this unconventional ending. Maurice Yacowar writes:
At the end, other singers and three other songs are overlaid, as if to broaden the cultural context…By this abstraction we are pushed out of the scene. In the last shot we are above and behind Tony, Carmela and AJ. After all its complex identification, the season ends by detaching us from the family and returning us to a perspective of objective judgment.
Todd VanDerWerff takes a stab at it: “…the final medley of songs that drown out Junior’s voice? I want to say the show is trying to say something about certain emotions being universal, but, really, I’m just bullshitting you. I have no idea.”
Soon after first watching this scene, I came to believe that David Chase was making a connection between Corrado and Major Zwingli by playing on the words “core” [the “heart” in Corrado’s “Core ‘ngrato”] and the similar sounding “corps” [the subject of Zwingli’s speech to AJ]. Corrado’s mobster community and Zwingli’s military community share several characteristics. They are insulated and parochial, and both are shaped by the Strict Father model. By injecting foreign voices into the final scene, Chase criticizes and undermines the insularity of the mob community. The three worldly, foreign voices (French, Chinese and Spanish) also serve as a direct rebuke to Zwingli’s three narrow priorities (“the Corps, the Corps, the Corps”). The foreign voices point to the liberal, Clintonian vision of a multi-cultural, tolerant, true world community – a “global village.”
Meadow recognizes that the communal values of the mafia are counterfeit (“This is such bullshit!”) and runs to the more cosmopolitan, multi-cultural community of Columbia University (and New York City). By distancing herself—something that Tony had earlier told Dr. Melfi he hoped his daughter would do—Meadow is able to protect herself. Her brother, on the other hand, is never able to escape Tony or the false community of the mob.
AJ never moves away from home, he doesn’t mature or become independent, and his troubles only worsen. In Season 6, he himself decides that military service would be the solution for his lack of discipline and strength. But at that time, the U.S. will be embroiled in a bloody war on terror on multiple fronts, prompting Tony to find a less dangerous job for AJ in a mob side-business. Like Jackie, AJ is never able to branch away from this selfish, insulated mob community that doesn’t really care very much about him.
I was so proud of myself for figuring out that Chase was using the music of three foreign singers as a device to counter the provincial values of the mob and the military. And then I found a 2005 interview (Dying to Belong) in which David Chase gives Martha Nochimson his take on the foreign singers:
That singing thing is about how all over the world people engage in pure sentimentality. Everyone loves a good cry. And I don’t mean to denigrate funerals or death. It also has something to do with entertainment, filmed entertainment. Music can be used so manipulatively. And Junior, who is the most selfish character in the cast, is pouring his heart out. Didn’t mean a thing. Just to wallow in the moment…Pop music is so abused and overused, manipulated and employed in the service of the devil. It was to give the audience a laugh about how they are being manipulated everyday.
Oh well, c’est la vie. You think you know, but you really don’t.
Season 3, like its predecessors, does not end with a cliffhanger. However, there are plenty of threats setup here to drive the narrative in upcoming seasons. Agent Deborah Ciccerone poses as Jersey-girl “Danielle” and easily befriends Adriana (who discusses Tony within minutes of meeting her new friend). Paulie is under some financial pressure after enrolling his mother at Green Grove, and believes Tony made an unfair ruling against him, costing him tens of thousands of dollars. New York mobster Johnny Sac seems to be interested in exploiting Paulie Walnuts’ frustrations with Tony. And Ralph is still around. We suspected Ralph was tidying himself up for a date when we saw him reach for his toothpaste earlier, but we are surprised to find out who his new woman is:
Janice has been quiet for the last couple of episodes. But now that Gloria Trillo has been banished from the story, Chase brings Janice back to reclaim her position within the narrative as the Livia-replacement. And coupling Janice with madman Ralph?! Madonn’, Tony would surely prefer to battle federal prosecutors or the New York mob than deal with this destructive duo.
An instrumental version of “Core n’grato” was heard in Season 2’s “Commendatori.” Dominic Chianese, an accomplished singer, released an album in 2003 named “Ungrateful Heart.”
- “2 – 5 / 7 – 9” is listed again in the credits but she is not mentioned in the episode. She shows up at mob funerals throughout the series.
- Ralph makes a reference to a flying saucer sighting over East Rutherford. There were actually reports of a UFO in this area the previous year.
- RayRay gives Jackie the pseudonym “Mr. X.” This is fitting, because X is what Jackie had been dealing, not crack cocaine like Ralph and Tony try to make everyone believe.
- Smoker #1: Major Zwingli’s spiel about the importance of discipline is undermined by his smoking. He mocks the “substance recovery industry” – and then takes a long drag on his substance of choice, nicotine.
- Smoker #2: Johnny Sac steps away from his wife to sneak a cigarette because “she can get heavy.” The cigarettes will get the better of him in Season 6.
- Janice dumps a copy of her Contemporary Christian Music demo CD on to Mr. Cozarelli who gives it its proper due, setting it on a heap of other things he doesn’t want to deal with right now.
- The Long Pause: When Paulie brings his mother to Green Grove, Nucci says, “My son lets me live in a place like this…(long pause)…such a good boy!” We were half-expecting Nucci to condemn her son, the way Livia did Tony when he brought her to Green Grove.
- At Vesuvio restaurant, we hear Ralph say the punchline to the famous joke about a guy who doesn’t want to be healed by Jesus because he doesn’t want to lose his disability payments. Everyone laughs and Janice climbs onto his lap – which is somewhat ironic, as we know that Janice has gotten paid from false disability claims in the past.
- David Chase and Lawrence Konner teamed up to write this episode. The two had previously co-created the critically acclaimed but short-lived CBS series Almost Grown. Konner gets credit for writing episodes 3.07 and 4.08 of The Sopranos as well.
- Some viewers may remember that Fairuza Balk appeared as the FBI agent that befriends Adriana in the episode’s original airing in 2001. Balk was a big fan of the show and jumped at the chance to play a character in it – but she had no desire to make a long-term commitment to a television series. So Chase reshot her scenes with replacement Lola Glaudini playing “Danielle” for the DVD and all subsequent airings of the episode.