The Telltale Moozadell (3.09)

Christopher gains possession of a nightclub.
AJ and his friends throw stuff into the school pool.
Carmela is uneasy about Meadow and Jackie’s
growing relationship, while Dr. Melfi suspects that
something is going on between Tony and Gloria.

Episode 35 – Originally Aired April 22, 2001
Written by Mike Imperioli
Directed by Dan Attias

____________________________________

An old W.C. Fields movie, It’s A Gift, plays on the TV at the Soprano home in this episode.  The title of the movie underscores how important the idea of gifts are in “The Telltale Moozadell.”  People give each other gifts throughout the hour, but the gifts are self-serving, not bestowed with a true spirit of generosity.

For her birthday, Carmela gets a spa date from Meadow (who has also purchased one for herself—and charged both appointments to her parents’ credit card) and The Matrix from AJ (“Right up her alley,” smirks Tony).  The most questionable gift, though, is the Harry Winston sapphire from her husband.  Meadow seems to immediately suspect that her dad is using the expensive ring as a smokescreen for some guilty behavior.  (Nothing gets by her—Meadow understands that expensive jewelry is part of the “bullshit accomodational pretense” that props up her parents’ marriage.)  Carmela has misgivings about the ring too, but buys a pair of matching earrings to go with it.  Perhaps this is how Carm can justify (to herself) wearing the suspicious sapphire—she has to wear it now, it’s part of a matching set.

Adriana is the recipient of one helluva gift—she becomes owner/manager of the Lollipop nightclub.  But Chris hasn’t exactly purchased the place for her; he acquired it from Rocco DeTrollio in lieu of payment of his gambling debts.  Adriana renames it the Crazy Horse and has a grand opening attended by several familiar mob faces.  (It’s a nice bit of realism, how the characters can barely hear each other over the crowd noises and music at the club.)  Chris and Furio are trying to keep the place “clean”—they pummel petty drug dealer Matush for doing business inside the club.  Nevertheless, the Crazy Horse will increasingly become a location for mafia dirty business.  (And of course, in Season 5, the FBI will use certain ugly events at the club to leverage Adriana, pushing her into a corner from which she will not escape.)

But I guess we can’t blame Chris or AJ or Meadow or Tony too much for being so self-serving when even institutions like Verbum Dei (“The Word of God”) is looking out primarily for itself.  AJ and his friends vandalize the school, but AJ escapes expulsion.  Verbum Dei’s administrator and the football coach (who is also a priest) outline the various reasons why it is in AJ’s best interest not to be booted out of school, but everyone understands that they are really acting in the school’s best interest.  Everybody has got their bullshit accomodational pretenses.

“WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL…”
Upon first seeing the vandalism, the outraged school administrator wondered “What kind of animal…?”  It recalls Carmela’s question in “D-Girl” last season: “What kind of animal smokes marijuana at his own confirmation?”  But the answer to both of these questions—AJ—is no animal, he’s basically just a kid.  He does seem to have a careless, nihilistic streak (which he probably inherited form Tony’s side of the family and which reveals itself more clearly further down the road) but his misbehavior now is little more than youthful mischief.  The short scene in which the police track down the vandals is one of the funniest of the season, and underlines that AJ is no animalistic criminal mastermind.  The first episode of this season, “Mr. Ruggerio’s Neighborhood,” was a send-up of the typical police procedural, and now the scene here, in which the cops do their investigative work at the pizza parlor, is a pure parody of the police procedural:


I love how the camera and the sound editing are used to connect the custom pizza to AJ: the camera pulls in on the parlor owner as the cops put the screws to him, as it were, and then pulls out to reveal the guilty party.  Carmela’s voice bridges the edit, further connecting the pizza to AJ.  Regarding AJ’s juvenile misbehavior here, Todd VanDerWerff writes that…

AJ is just a kid who goes along with what’s happening. The other kids are the ringleaders…But AJ is weak-willed and willing to go with the flow…all he really wants to do is impress them, not take the initiative, for good or ill, with them.

Less than three months after this episode aired, real-life police officers saw Robert Iler (AJ) and three others accost and rob two teenage Brazilian tourists.  Iler was promptly arrested for possession of marijuana and armed robbery.  Iler, facing fifteen years if found guilty, made a plea deal for misdemeanor petty larceny and escaped with three years probation.  But the judge wanted an explanation of exactly what happened before accepting the plea.  Iler’s explanation to the judge sounds like something that could have come straight from AJ’s mouth:

Someone in my group said something to the effect of, “Let’s hassle these kids.”  One of our group demanded money from them.  One of the teenagers asked whether we were serious, and one of us answered yes.  Knowing that the others had demanded money, I intentionally aided them by being there and by intentionally blocking an avenue of escape for the victims.

To be fair, Iler has stayed out of trouble since this early foolishness, and by all accounts he is not like the weak-willed and callous character that he plays.  While I think that AJ’s hijinks here are little more than youthful indiscretion, his later misbehaviors seem to signify a nihilistic and almost pathological personality.

WHAT KIND OF ANIMAL? (PART II)
AJ is no animal, but Gloria might be.  Throughout the episode, she is compared to snakes in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  The first comparison comes courtesy of an edit:

snake edit

Chase cuts from a shot of Gloria to a conversation that Paulie and Tony have about snakes while watching a nature program.  Paulie says that snakes are both male and female simultaneously, and can therefore “fuck themselves.”  (He’s wrong.  This is a myth originating out of the fact that a snake’s gender cannot be discerned just by looking at it.)  The key analogy here is that Gloria, like the snakes that Paulie talks of, is intent on fucking herself.  We learn in this episode (via Melfi) that Gloria tried to kill herself after her last relationship failed, and we will learn in an upcoming episode that Gloria has embarked on this new relationship with Tony specifically because she wants to die by his hand.  At the Bronx Zoo’s Reptile House, she quite literally uses Tony’s hand to fuck herself:

snake

Gloria knows exactly who Tony Soprano is—and what he is capable of.  In an episode full of self-serving actions, Gloria’s entering into a relationship with Tony is the most selfish of all—she wants him to end her life.  Although her morbid goal is not articulated outright here, we get a presentiment of the dangerous dynamic between Gloria and Tony when she fondles his gun in a hotel room.

Chase is beginning to draw a parallel between two sets of relationships here.  Jackie and Gloria are each headed down a path of self-destruction, and Tony and Ralph will inadvertently aid each of them down this path.  Chase juxtaposes two scenes in order to underscore the congruent geometry of these two relationships:

gun juxtaposition

As Jackie holds Ralph’s gun and Gloria holds Tony’s gun in these back-to-back scenes, we get a premonition that Jackie and Gloria will fuck themselves by season’s end.  Jackie’s misconduct thus far has been fairly minor: dealing some X, cutting classes, getting Meadow to write his essay on Poe.  But he wants to be more of a player in the world of the Mafia, despite Tony’s objections.  Jackie is, in a sense, mob royalty (as the son of a former Boss) but this doesn’t guarantee him any power.  And it certainly doesn’t justify his sense of self-importance: he attempts to channel “Michael Corleone” when trying to impress Matush, but he comes off more like “Fredo,” the son that got passed over.  His desire to move up in the mob will lead him to make some self-destructive choices.

GLORIA TRILLO as a SUBSTITUTE FOR LIVIA and JANICE
One of the long-running ideas in The Sopranos is that characters fall into patterns that they will not or cannot escape.  Tony can never escape having a destructive, nihilistic person in his life.  First it was Livia, and when she died, it became Janice.  But Janice has been largely absent in the last few episodes, and she barely appears here other than a small scene in which she brushes some cocaine off her nose.  Gloria essentially functions as a reiteration of Livia and Janice in Tony’s life.  Her similarity to Livia is conveyed directly, when she says “Poor you” to Tony the same way his mother used to.  She has similarities to Janice as well.  Both women use Eastern philosophy and Christianity as crutches.  (“I pray a little bit, and I meditate in the morning,” says Gloria).  And Gloria is associated to snakes here while Janice was repeatedly likened to reptiles in Season 2:

janice the snake

(Janice was juxtaposed to the reptilian motion of the pool cleaner in 2.01; she wore a scorpion ring (and her mother described her as “a snake in the grass”) in 2.02; and the camera panned to catch her just as she rose into Cobra position in 2.03.)

FOOD & FIREARMS
This is a recurring topic that I haven’t written much about this season, but this episode (whose title replaces Poe’s “Heart” with a food item) gives us a striking scene connecting food and firearms:

gun1

Ralph teaches Jackie how to make the perfect spaghetti while simultaneously advising him on what type of gun he should have.  Then he lets Jackie keep his .38-caliber.  That Ralph, what a guy!  Hold on to him Rosalie!

LEGS
The news of Charmaine and Artie Bucco’s imminent divorce gets Carmela pondering her own road not taken.  In Dr. Krakower’s office two episodes ago, it seemed that she might indeed take the road to divorce, but she ultimately decided to keep her marriage intact.  Now she senses that Tony has got some new goomar hiding in the woodworks.  Chase cuts from her contemplating her own unhappiness to a shot of Gloria’s gams:

suspicious Carm

“Legs” again.  Just as in the previous episode, the imagery of Gloria’s legs represent the trap that is Carmela’s faithless marriage.

THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
This episode functions mainly to set the stage for later fireworks surrounding Gloria and Jackie; there’s not much heart-pounding drama within the hour itself.  In fact, things are running quite smoothly as the episode draws to a close: Carmela is impressed by Jackie’s maturity and help around the Soprano house; Tony and Gloria are getting along nicely; AJ escapes expulsion and learns how to clean the gutters.  Tony is so satisfied with the way things are going that he gives Dr. Melfi a cash tip.  The episode ends with another calm, banal domestic scene that is so common to The Sopranos:

domestic scene

But the denuded trees outside the window and the dead leaves that fall from the gutter remind us that we are approaching the dead of winter.  Cold days are up ahead.  Winter Storm Gloria is headed right for Tony and he doesn’t know it yet.  The chorus of Ben E. King’s closing song—“I who have nothing, who have no one, love and adore you”—recalls the emptiness and neediness found in the chorus of the previous episode’s closing song: “You be the Captain, and I’ll be no one.”  Tony may feel that everything is running along smoothly, but we know that pain, emptiness and despair are always lurking nearby in SopranoWorld.

_________________________________

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • Note the long-term connectivity between Matush & the Crazy Horse: Matush is first introduced in this episode in which Adriana acquires the Crazy Horse, and his last appearance will be in “Long Term Parking,” which will also be Adriana’s final episode (due to—that’s right!—Matush’s actions at the Crazy Horse).
  • In this episode, Adriana renames the Lollipop club as the Crazy Horse.  The club’s names might be meta-references to Vincent Pastore, who ran a place called the Lollipop Club and a café called the Crazy Horse prior to playing Big Pussy on the series.  It’s almost as though Pussy is haunting SopranoWorld through these meta-references.  Pussy will more clearly haunt the guys in the next episode, when he returns as a sort of Ghost of Christmas Past.

42 responses to “The Telltale Moozadell (3.09)

  1. wow I’ve seen this show like three times and I never made the connection between Gloria and snakes. Nice work!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. As you’ve pointed out a lot of the show is about the nature of power.

    I like the little scene where Tony shows up at Gloria’s work and convinces her to go to some motel with him. She’s helping a guy who buys a new 600 from her every year. He looks pretty important or successful in his own right. You get the idea that his annual trek to score a few hours around Ms Trillo’s fishnet stockings is the highlight of his year, something he looks forward to for months while he drones away at his desk job dealing with the f—–g regularness of life. And maybe he even goes home to his unappreciative wife, later fantasizing about Gloria in the shower. That’s his station in life.

    But then Tony shows up, and takes home the real thing, and actually goes to bed with her … while our other successful gentleman is alone in the shower wishing he could do the same.

    Mr 600-buyer is a successful guy, but he only has enough brass to taste real power just for a moment. To Gloria he’s just a new watch. But Tony lives his life in a way he achieves the authentic real thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • By season’s end, Tony had wished he’d done nothing more than bought a car from Gloria and gazed at her legs.

      Liked by 3 people

    • For all we know, Gloria’s annual 600 buyer might actually have more money than Tony. It’s definitely about more than money. In the scene at Melfi’s waiting room when Tony and Gloria first meet, she looks at him first. At this point, she has no idea he’s rich or that he’s in the mob. He’s sharply dressed but he’s not necessarily rich guy dressed. Large men, even obese men in some cases, that exude confidence can be found very attractive to women that you think would be out of their league. It’s no accident that most leading men in Hollywood are tall. The ones that aren’t typically either look very tough, or they’re “pretty boys”. Being large can either be an asset or a curse to a man. If he doesn’t have the right personality, he may as well be Frankenstien. Think Bobby Bacala in the following episode where he plays Santa and a kid cusses him out. “Shyness, it’s a curse”, Bobby says to Tony. For large men, it really is. I think this is where shorter men have the advantage. Shorter men can be shy. It doesn’t seem to bring as much attention to them. A large man that looks unpleasant alarms the village. Tony wears his size well, both as a mafia don and as a regular old mid-life crisis dude-bro cheating on his wife. I watched Get Shorty a few days ago. Gandolfini is in his mid thirties at the time of this movie, his character looks like a hippy slacker, with long braided hair and a beard. Yet,. even looking like a slacker, Gandolfini had alpha male qualities, and had a chemistry with the women he shared screen time with. Gandolfini was one of the great male leads of our time, if not the greatest.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Gloria to Tony at the zoo: “I’m crazy about you”.

    Rather cheap foreshadowing, but foreshadowing, no less.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sure that you, along with most Sopranos fans have long known this bit of trivia, but for posterity’s sake, that’s a young, pre-fame Lady Gaga as one of AJ’s friends who trash the school pool.

    Along with Perez Hilton’s appearance in 3.03, the shows writers seemed to (unknowingly) have their fingers on the pulse of the next decade in American pop culture.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Why do you include so many little spoilers in your analyses? Is this more geared towards readers who have already finished the series once?

    Like

    • Yup, that’s what it says on the homepage…

      Liked by 2 people

      • Smandrew Smollenstein

        Boo

        Like

      • I just re-watched this episode and I noticed something that I didn’t before. When Tony and Gloria are at the zoo, she asks if he has ever taken his family to the Bronx zoo, and when he says “See Ya” to someone, she asks who’s that? And he said “I’m just saying goodbye to my hard on.” Then she says “Poor you” and he gets that look on his face like when he is getting a panic attack…I believe he thought of his mother’s favorite term…and because she is so seductive, he lets the red flag go by. Amazing that I can watch these so many times and still see new stuff!! It was probably obvious, but I didn’t catch it until then. I wondered why he got that expression…but I didn’t put it together until now. There was a lot of foreshadowing in this episode.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Reading through these for the first time while rewatching the show for the 4th or 5th time and not only do you warn them on the homepage that it’s for rewatchers, but I’ve seen you explicitly warn them in the comments multiple times as well. And they still bitch about it 3 seasons in. It’s getting annoying for me and I’m just a casual reader and huge admirer of your stuff. You could walk on water and there’d be guys saying “You see? He can’t swim”

        Keep up the good work Ron

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Just as a small, additional piece of information to your always excellent analysis: The specific TV police procedural Chase is parodying in the “cops interrogate the pizza place owner” scene is Dragnet (1951-1959), with its staccato back and forth dialog.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Have you noticed the similarity between Jackie Aprile’s “meeting” and “The Godfather” first scene?
    The way Jackie Jr. has his finger on his cheek and how he plays gangster reminds me Don Corleones posture.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Notice that when Gloria is showing Tony the watch, she is giving Tony the “Italian Middle Finger”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I never thought that Gloria intentionally or even consciously wanted Tony to kill her and that’s why she went after him. Although, her actions are rather reckless, I think she’s just mentally unstable. She certainly got scared when Patsy Parisi pointed the gun at her…she was scared witless. She could have gotten him to kill her if she wanted to die by someone else’s hand. I think Tony is powerful and attractive, and that’s what she liked. The other stuff is just who she is. Destructive and depressed. How is he supposed to know that by just looking at her?

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Interesting episode- good write up. Everyone seems to give AJ a pass leading to him become the whiney depressed screwball we see in season 6. I agree that his actions are a bit beyond a “normal” teenager. We seen time and time again how AJ just goes with what’s going on don’t we (particularly with the two Jasons). Funny how Chase spent a good deal of time last season on the Ramsey Sports bustout but not much of a backstory on the Lollipop club. Could have been some interesting scenes there. Chris brining Adrianna into the club is basically making her an accomplice, which as you stated led her to her demise. This is one of those episodes I find myself laughing through; Ralphie’s lesson on making macaroni, Matush thinking Jackie’s father was a professional golfer, and the whole snakes conversation. Paulie, as usual is way off on the facts but it’s still very entertaining. Then Tony with Gloria out of nowhere, “you know snakes can fuck themselves?” LOL. I am “tickled pink” you even added that in this write up with the text! HA. We also get to see how Ralphie leads the lost soul Jackie down the wrong path. To think Jackie could become a doctor is just absurd. Hell Chrissy could have been a doctor to! Any reasonable person would have to agree Meadow would have been better off with dick-bag Noah than Jackie. He is another example of someone trying to cash in on his family name to get ahead. He seems to feel since his father was boss he should be given automatic respect and be accepted into the organization. The sit down with Matush was just ridiculous. Ive never seen Gloria as someone who really wants to die, but as a person who has severe mental issues and naturally drives people away. She seems to be everything Tony wants (at least physically) but even he cant deal with her after what she end up doing in a few episodes. And we are shown just how crazy she is. Excellent character.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha I made sure to grab that screenshot with the subtitle visible because I think it is one of Chase’s greatest “visual puns” of the series – Tony says snakes can fuck themselves and moments later, we see Gloria use T’s hand to “fuck” herself… The visuals of that entire scene are incredible, with the image of that snake coiled around a branch while Gloria coils herself around her victim…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Another reference to food in this episode is when Carmella and Rosalie are dining in Artie’s restaurant and he brings out an appetizer to them. Rosalie mistakes it for mozzarella and string beans when Artie corrects her that “It’s not mozzarella, this is called buratta. It’s a lot more smooth and subtle than mozzarella , with an almost nut like flavor.” Rosalie responds that shes “not that big on nuts.” Carmella later proceeds to tell her what a find that “nut” Ralphie is and that she should hang onto him. Meanwhile, Carm’s own husband has become involved with perhaps the biggest “nut” in the series.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Emmanual Kreisman

      I love Rosalie. She has no time for BS or for Artie’s flown-in-by-Fed Ex Buratta. She wanted the hot antipasto, why is he giving her string beans and cheese?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I was just rereading your excellent write-up on this episode, and I wanted to mention that I’ve been trying the “Cifaretto Method” with my spaghetti and it’s actually been doing wonders for the flavor! Even a “nut” like Ralphie can have some great ideas 🙂 Also, I think the Matrix was another of Chase’s little meta-jokes, since it prominently features Joey Pants!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Rocco says “Goddamn Vikings! Nobody misses the extra point.” Whoever wrote that line knew his NFL well…that is just seems so very Minnesota Vikings to either blow their own good fortune or someone else’s on football’s easiest play. (This was when XP’s were a gimme.)
    Out of curiosity I checked and in the preceding season (2000) Minnesota hit 100% of its tries. In fact the team hadn’t missed a regular season point after touchdown since 1997.
    However, and this may interest only me but maybe it demonstrates just how much power this show and David Chase had…in the season after this episode aired, the Minnesota Vikings went and missed an extra point…in their very first game of 2001. I think David Chase got in their heads.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The pizza parlor, Dragnet homage seemed forced and crowbarred in.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Another great write up!

    Just something I noticed this time around. Jackie walks through the emergency exit…. He is literally setting off an alarm. Warning of things to come if he doesn’t “smarten up”

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Tony fools himself into thinking that Jackie is “Special” and shouldn’t be in the mob because of his affection for Jackie Sr. But realistically, he’s a dumbass. Both Ralph and Richie tried to school Jackie Jr. in the way of their world, but like all the other privileged boys on this show, they just don’t have the balls. Only an movie idea of what a gangster is. I think Meadow went for him because he is familiar to her, and part of her world. Noah was an elitist douche. He wasn’t right for her either. I couldn’t even stand the sound of his voice. She realizes what how stupid Jackie is soon enough. For all of Carmela’s faults..her mother instinct was screaming at her that this relationship can only be bad for Meadow because it will be a repeat of her own relationship. Carmela’s reasoning for staying in this marriage has a lot to do with the kids and the opportunities the money can provide so they don’t end up an unhappy mob wife, and a low-level mob guy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your comment about Jackie Jr suddenly made me think of Matt Dillon’s line in Drugstore Cowboy about “TV babies,” how some young folks get their whole sense of reality from television. I don’t remember the exact line, it’s been more than 20 years since I saw the movie…

      Liked by 1 person

    • There is a poignant moment in the previous episode when Jackie says to Meadow (quoting from memory): “You know what I really like? Men’s fashion. Not the faggy stuff . . .” He says he would like to be a Hugo Boss. His family have pushed him into a university course for which he is unfitted. Other pressures, including his own, are pushing him into a mobster life for which he is unfitted. If only he had been able to go the natural way . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  17. “All these kids, they’re all TV babies. Watching people killing and f***ing each other on the boob tube for so long it’s all they know. Hell, they think it’s legal. They think it’s the right thing to do.”

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I recently had the chance to view “Kiss the Blood Off My Hands,” a 1948 noir directed by Norman Foster, in which a zoo scene plays a pivotal role (the lead character, an unstable, violent former POW played by Burt Lancaster, has a PTSD episode while watching the apes in the company of a woman who has protected him).
    While nothing overtly traumatic happened to Tony at the zoo, I am now convinced that David Chase was making an explicit reference to “Kiss the Blood Off My Hands.” (This film is almost impossible to view these days — it’s nowhere online and has not, to my knowledge, ever been released on DVD or VHS.)
    BTW I am watching The Sopranos for the third time and am finding this site an INVALUABLE resource. Thank you, Ron!

    Liked by 1 person

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