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. Todd VanDerWerff writes, regarding AJ’s juvenile misbehavior here, 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 a 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:
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 Paulie’s snakes, 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 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:
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:
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 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:
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!
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:
“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 a calm, banal domestic scene so common to The Sopranos:
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 never quit lurking in SopranoWorld.
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.