No-Show (4.02)

Chris is bumped up to “acting Capo” while Paulie is away.  Adriana learns that her friend “Danielle” is not
really a friend.  A depressed Meadow contemplates going to Europe; after a heated battle with her
parents, she returns to Columbia University instead.

EPISODE 47 - ORIGINALLY AIRED SEPT 21 2002
WRITTEN BY TERENCE WINTER AND DAVID CHASE
DIRECTED BY JOHN PATTERSON

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Underwear.  That’s what “No-Show” starts out with.  But the peepshow doesn’t come courtesy of the Bada Bing girls prancing around on stage in their skimpy dancewear:

Daniella and Adriana

I think Chase may have a couple of reason for shooting these two characters in their undies, but a desire to gratuitously display actresses Lola Glaudini and Drea de Matteo is not one of them.  He may be using the scene to make some subtle commentary about the similarity between an FBI agent and a mob girlfriend – you know, something like “underneath it all, everybody is basically the same.”  But I think, slightly less abstractly, Chase connects the two with costuming in order to underscore the burgeoning connection between Danielle and Adriana.  Of course, each woman gives significance to their burgeoning relationship for different reasons: for Danielle, it is a professional responsibility, while Adriana believes she has found a true-blue friend.  Adriana feels such a strong link that she is willing to tell Danielle about her abortion and possible infertility (subjects that even Chris and her own mother don’t know about).  Maurice Yacowar notes that as Adriana shares her secrets, the artwork hanging on the walls of the Crazy Horse point to the success of the FBI mole:

Eyes on Crazy horse

Danielle functions as the FBI’s “eyes” in the club, as well as in Chris’ apartment, and even—for a moment—in Tony Soprano’s home.  Danielle’s penetration into Moltisanti’s affairs couldn’t have come at a better time.  Tony has just bumped Chris up to acting-capo of Paulie Walnuts’ crew while Paulie awaits trial in Ohio.  Christopher’s ascendency ruffles a few feathers.  Patsy Parisi, understandably, is unhappy with the new pecking order.  Things get heated between the two.  Chris misremembers Patsy as the guy who sniffed Adriana’s panties last year.  Violence is avoided when Chris holsters his gun and Patsy puts away his iron pipe (but not before bashing a bystander who had threatened to call the police).  Christopher’s rise may be a part of the plan that Tony expressed in the previous episode – to eventually hand control of day-to-day operations to Chris.  Christopher believes he’s well on his way up.  He buys Adriana a Harry Winston bracelet, telling her, “Carmela ain’t gonna be first lady forever.”  (It was Harry Winston jewelry, we remember, that Tony also gave to his wife last season.)  Maurice Yacower observes that Chris mimics Tony’s leadership by recycling some of the phrases that the boss spits out at him: “Think!” “Use your head!” “The big picture.”  Chris is moving up in his world, and it looks the “Danielle” strategy is going to be a mother lode for the FBI.  But the strategy falls apart very suddenly.

And this brings us to the most obvious reading of the hour’s opening scene.  By shooting the two women in their underthings, Chase foreshadows the reason why the FBI plant eventually fails: the women are obviously very beautiful, and Chris finds them both attractive.  When he tries to precipitate a threesome, Adriana is revolted and ends her friendship with Danielle.  The problem, Agent Harris tells Agent Cubitoso, is that Danielle “gave Moltisanti a hard-on.”  With the FBI’s original strategy now limp, they try a new tack.  The Feds bring Adriana in and threaten to charge her with felony drug possession and intent to distribute – unless she cooperates.  They provide a very convincing list of reasons why she should cooperate, not the least of which is Tony’s probable reaction when he learns that she brought a Federal agent into his home.  Agent Deborah Ciccerone maintains an extremely icy demeanor throughout the meeting, possibly as part of the effort to amp up the pressure on Adriana.  It works.  In her anxiety, Adriana spews out the full contents of her stomach.  Deborah looks at the Harry Winston bracelet on Adriana’s wrist, its luster now diminished:

Adriana LaCerva - it ain't pretty

All that glitters is not gold in SopranoWorld.  Chris may not have paid the full retail price for the beautiful jewelry, but its cost is nevertheless immense.  Adriana is going to pay a huge price for the lifestyle that she has enjoyed till now.

___________________________________

Our introduction to Meadow in this hour comes via a close-up of her flip-flops.  Down here in Miami, where I live, flip-flops are common footwear.  I wore them to a wedding once.  (Ok, the wedding was on the beach.)  But up north, flip-flops have a different connotation.  They represent Meadow’s loss of direction and ambition.  She’s vegging out at home by the pool, gossiping with her friends, wasting time on genre fiction, and totally sponging off her parents.  She counters all of her parents’ criticisms with excuses and intellectual terminology.  She is, almost certainly, engaging in some bratty manipulation, but she is also, almost certainly, genuinely depressed.  She constantly cites Jackie’s death as the reason for her malaise, and while Jackie’s murder could definitely have had a profound impact on her, her cries of “Jackie” here function more as a euphemism for the confusion and unhappiness she feels as the daughter of a mob boss.  She (literally) ran from the mob community after Jackie’s funeral last year, and she is looking to distance herself even further now: she wants to ditch school for a year and head to Europe.  Alarmed, Tony and Carmela send her to see Dr. Wendi Kobler, a psychiatrist that Melfi has recommended.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Dr. Kobler.  She seemed sort of unprofessional to me, but I thought perhaps her laid-back, congenial demeanor was a tactic to gain Meadow’s trust.  But several real-life psychiatrists found Kobler’s method to be questionable, including Dr. Joel Whitebook, who criticizes her on Slate.com: “Totally devoid of therapeutic skepticism and humility, she postures as if she has all the answers.  Kobler immediately tells Meadow what to do about Columbia and Europe, despite the fact she hardly knows her.”  Carmela knows that Dr. Kobler is “an educational consultant” and thus might convince Meadow to stay at Columbia, but Kobler clarifies her qualifications to Meadow: “I could write you a letter to the University of Barcelona…I’m on a consultancy there.”  Bolstered by Kobler’s words, Meadow is more set than ever to make the Euro-trip.  Outraged to find her daughter in an unchanged frame-of-mind after visiting the therapist, Carmela calls Tony into Meadow’s bedroom.  The ensuing sequence is one of the most powerful in the entire series…

[One night, probably in 2008, I was watching The Wire on DVD.  Gripped by David Simon’s gritty Baltimore drama, an almost blasphemous thought ran through my mind: “Hey, this thing might be better than The Sopranos.” The Wire was so unlike anything we had ever seen on TV: uncompromising in its depiction of inner-city Baltimore, with complex, interweaving storylines and a brilliant cast whose size kept expanding each season.  The series never won a major award, but that may have only added to its appeal – The Wire was too busy keepin’ it real to win some bullshit Emmy.  When I shut off the DVD player that night, years ago, my television just happened to be tuned to HBO which was airing a repeat of “No-Show.”  I watched it until the end, and the episode—particularly because of its scene in Meadow’s bedroom—simply flattened me with its raw power, just as it did the first time I saw it in 2002.  My apostasy was short-lived.  I quickly remembered why, for me personally, The Sopranos is the greatest TV show ever.  As phenomenal as The Wire is, it just does not have the same ability to move me.]

…Carmela and Tony cannot believe that Dr. Kobler approved of Meadow’s plan to go to Europe.  They grow more concerned when learning Kobler recommended Prozac for their daughter.  (Manipulative Meadow surely understands that she can abate some of her parents’ anger by mentioning Prozac.)  The frustration level in Meadow’s room reaches an all-time high.  In her exasperation, Meadow purposefully crosses a line that she has never previously crossed, calling Tony “Mr. Mob Boss.”  The next moment is staged with ballet-like precision: Tony closes in on his daughter while snapping at Carmela—“Shut up”—who is caught off-guard by his sudden anger.  Terence Winter and David Chase, the two writers who get credit for this episode, breathe life into the scene.  Winter has always excelled at capturing the subtle dynamics between people, and Chase understands the torments that afflict an unhappy family.  For two minutes, our eyes are glued to the three family members as they experience misinterpretations, misunderstandings, innuendo, accusations, imagined accusations, damage, pain, guilt, love, sadness, insight, concern.  Tony goes into a rage while Meadow becomes hysterical, but Carmela stands mute –  she understands too well that this is what her complicity has wrought.  Dr. Krakower’s advice from last season must be weighing heavily upon her: “Take only the children, what’s left of them, and go.”  If Meadow were to direct one word of blame at her mother right now, Carmela would shatter into a thousand pieces.

dynamic Tonydynamic Meadowdynamic Carmela

Meadow disappears.  Her parents suspect that she has gone to Europe.  When Silvio arrives to discuss business, a haggard Carmela comes out of the bedroom for a moment before re-burrowing herself.  Tony is also distraught, but he must turn his attention to a business issue.  Jack Massarone (who we remember from 2.02 “Do Not Resuscitate”) has informed Tony that tiles were stolen from the Esplanade project – and this is after Tony  had given his men instructions not to loot the construction site.  Silvio shows more managerial savvy in this episode then we perhaps have ever seen from him.  He gave the ok to Patsy to steal the tiles (effectively appeasing Patsy, who had a legitimate beef), and he now takes responsibility in a cunning way that deflects blame from himself or Patsy.  Tony asserts his strength but does not punish Silvio.  Perhaps the fight with Meadow has sapped him of some of his usual ire.

The Soprano parents need not worry – Meadow hasn’t gone to Europe.  (Wikipedia notes that  “No Show” is airline-code for a passenger who never checks in for their flight.)  Instead, Meadow has returned to Columbia University.  She registers for “Morality, Self and Society,” and a close-up of her signature affirms her commitment to find a way to live with herself and society, even as a Mafia daughter.

In the episode’s final scene, Tony and Carmela manifest the exhaustion and silence that often settle upon family members after a ferocious clash.  The wide, tableau shot displays some of the signifiers of Carmela’s deal with the devil: a spacious bathroom, many lavish accessories – and an unbridgeable distance between her and her husband.

Sopranos tableau

Their conversation here only proves the distance between them.  Tony doesn’t understand that Carmela is hounded by deep feelings of guilt:

Tony:  I’ve been thinking, and if you want, we can talk to your cousin Brian about the estate planning.
Carmela:  Listen to him now.  What, do you feel guilty?  You have nothing to feel guilty about.  It’s me she blames.
Tony:  What for?
Carmela:  (Sighs)

The credits start to roll as Radiohead’s “Kid A” plays.  Kid A, of course, is a term that refers to the first-born child – in this case, Meadow.  Chase uses a section of the song that is devoid of vocals, effectively allowing Carmela’s sigh to be the last “word” of the hour.  Carmela cannot tell Tony that she has failed her children by remaining in this marriage.  She can’t even say it to herself.  It is a thing that must remain unspoken.

___________________________________

ADDITIONAL POINTS:

  • The tension between Ralph and Paulie is bleeding over from last season.  Paulie is outraged, absolutely outraged, to hear that Ralph made a fat-joke about Ginny Sacrimoni (but we’ve heard Paulie himself make such jokes about Ginny).
  • Meadow’s friend Misty mentions Furio’s arrival at the house, then greets Carmela: “Hi Mrs. Sope’.”  Carmela fixes herself up in the powder room before opening the door for Furio.  Maurice Yacowar notes Misty’s casual greeting puns on the “soap”-like drama that is developing between Carm and Furio.
  • Linda Lavin, who I think was pretty much out of the public consciousness when this episode aired, is great as Dr. Wendi Kobler.
  • We see Silvio try to fix some little trinket in the backroom of the Bing, as we often see him do.  (We can all relate to his frustration with dried-out Crazy Glue.)  But in this episode, there is an added dimension to his handiness: he is able to “fix” the problem with Patsy before it mushrooms into something unmanageable.
  • Agent Deborah’s husband, also an agent, mentions the “reorganization of the Bureau” almost certainly in reference to the post 9/11 shakeup of the agency.  (G.O.B. was once F.B.I.?!  Come on!)
  • Tony warns Janice about embarking on a relationship with Ralph but she obviously ignores his advice.  We should note that she is reading The Origin of Satan while Ralph clips his toenails in bed, because this is neither the first nor last time that he is associated with the Devil.
  • Christopher mocks the No-Work guys by singing “If I Were A Carpenter” as he arrives at the Esplanade construction site.  Chase uses this song to great effect in Season 5’s “Unidentified Black Males.”
  • Simmer down, Wire fans: I think it’s apples-and-hammers comparing The Wire with The Sopranos – they are two completely different creatures.  The Wire has a more activist stance that reflects David Simon’s progressive politics.  (Simon, a former newspaperman, is impassioned and articulate when speaking about issues close to his heart; he is a veritable professor of history and civics.)  The Sopranos, on the other hand, reflects the priorities of David Chase’s cinephile aesthetic: character-driven, rather than plot-driven; realism over activism; artistic truth over social justice.  I will go deeper into a Wire/Sopranos comparison in later write-ups, when it is more warranted (i.e. when Chase gets more political and enlists his series to fight in the “culture wars” of the period).

16 responses to “No-Show (4.02)

  1. Chris remembers Patsy as the one who sniffed Ade’s panties, but wasn’t it actually Paulie?

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  2. Watching the series again from scratch, we can feel that the events of this episode herald the start of the end for Adriana. And in the same way that we start to feel her impending doom, so too do we feel a loss coming of our own … looking at the site nav reveals that there are only 2 more episodes before the S.A. commentary runs out. (As of Feb 2015). After that, S.A. will be as silent as the moment after that final sharp cut to black after “Don’t Stop.”

    S.A. has been a great friend watching the series again from scratch. Brilliant commentary on a brilliant series. I notice so much more after reading these posts, and I feel like I “get it” a whole lot more. Thank you for writing these.

    I hope that more come soon … otherwise I’m going to have a choice in two episodes: stop watching and wait, or go on watching, but do so as alone as Ade was scrambling through those woods.

    Like

  3. Well, according to the Coen brothers, flip flops are slacker gear in LA, too. Wasn’t The Lebowski wearing them? lol

    I too had forgotten how powerful the scene in Meadow’s room was. It was well written. Instead of taking the bait on the mob boss stuff, Tony gets right to Jackie Jr., and how Meadow blames him for it. Meadow appears to break down at this point. Meadow in fact uses the same tactic to avoid the mobster accusation at Jackie Junior’s wake when Jackie’s sister invokes it in front of a mob outsider relative during a fit of rage. In each respective instance, Tony and Meadow never confirm nor deny the existence of the organization. They instead put it on the victim and how they asked for their own demise, and it sells, because it’s partly true.

    You have to wonder if “Mrs. Sope” is one of the writers protesting the rather un-Soprano like Furio/Carmela plot line. Maybe HBO pressured Chase to add something steamy between Tony’s wife and one of the mobsters. I’ve always felt this way about Bobby Junior saying to Tony Blundetto at his coming home party, “Who are you? How come I never heard of you?”. Is he speaking for the viewers, or what? lol. I think there may be a few scenes throughout the series where characters are acting as representatives for dissatisfied fans. Then, of course, there’s AJ’s epic rant in Made in America, where he rips American tv audiences for caring more about their “stupid shows” than the frightening global conditions threatening all of civilization. Is that you, David Chase?

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    • I agree, I think Chase often anticipates how viewers are going to respond to certain things and beats them to the punch by putting those responses right on the show. That Bobby Junior line that you reference is a perfect example. And “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” is basically another hour-long example, anticipating the response that many Italian-Americans were bound to have towards The Sopranos.

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  4. I always wondered something about this episode. The ‘educational consultant’ seems almost intent on discovering that Meadow had been molested by her father. The first time asked, Meadow unequivocally says no but the second time she says “I dont think so” and then when asked about her mother she says “God no!”

    Ambiguity I guess? But I would think something like this would be a flat NO. (I never got that impression about Tony ever in any episode from him or Meadow. So why that little slice of ambiguity? Any thoughts?)

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    • To me, it seemed to underscore Meadow’s intellectual honesty – she’s smart and honest enough to recognize that it’s possible that some sort of molestation occurred that pre-dates her memories, despite the fact that Tony has never seemed like the type of man that would hurt her—or anyone—in that way. I don’t know if it’s standard procedure for a therapist to ask such questions so soon after meeting a new client, and if it isn’t, it may point to Dr. Kobler’s amateurishness as a counselor.

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      • It isn’t! And it sounded like a really absurd question, in my opinion. I lost respect for her as soon as she asked that. What the hell gave her that idea??

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        • It helps to underscore how off-the-mark she is as one supposed to be a neutral counselor, and inadequate as a responsible adult figure. It’s also written comedically. Lots of things in this scene contribute to these characterizations:

          *Calling Jackie “Jack,” and Meadow’s eventual protestation, shows how clueless Kobler is. She lacks real empathy for, and understanding of Meadow, her concerns, and what the solution might be.
          *Telling Meadow it is “ok” to angrily storm out of a family gathering, drinking, and smoking marijuana, but “not ok” to deliberately purge, shows hypocrisy and partiality in moral concerns. Meadow picks up on how lacking she is of true responsibility as an adult figure with her subsequent look.
          *Her eventual stab at what the mystery of Meadow’s parents might be, being completely off-base, despite her probing, investigative questions, and Meadow’s all-but admission of the truth, shows how utterly clueless she is, so she can’t be of real help to Meadow.

          Meadow doesn’t take any of Kobler’s advice.

          Additional thought for Ron: Meadow channels Caitlin at 28:00 when she complains of seeing “images” of Jackie laying “in a pool of his own blood.”

          Liked by 1 person

  5. I also find it interesting that immediately following the opening scene with Adriana and Danielle talking on the phone in their underthings, the very next shot is of Meadow. It starts with a closeup of her “flip flop” shoes, then pans up to show us that she is dressed in revealing swimwear. She also uses a telephone in the scene. With a lot of Meadow’s storyline in this episode focused on her regression, it’s almost as if Chase is underlining that this is not the Meadow we’re used to seeing (literally, in a revealing outfit and figuratively, in her regressive behavior), and that she’s at something of a crossroads… she could go either way (flip flop) – ending up like either Adriana or Danielle depending on what path she takes from here. By the end of the hour, we get our answer, as she’s signing up for “Morality, Self and Society.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “I think it’s apples-and-hammers comparing The Wire with The Sopranos”. Or maybe even apples and bowling balls?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Perhaps the abnormal psychology book clearly visible behind Meadow actually refers to Dr. Kobler’s unprofessional style.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. i still don’t understand why silvio directly disobeyed tony’s order

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    • I figured it was because Sil was unhappy about bone-headed Christopher taking his pal Paulie’s place. Wanted to cause some intentional beef between him and Patsy?

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    • I think Silvio saw that there was potential beef between Tony and Patsy. Silvio told Tony that Patsy felt “marginalized”, and after all, Tony did order the murder of Patsy’s twin brother, which led to Patsy almost shooting at Tony from his swimming pool (though only Patsy and the feds know that).
      So in order to try to prevent tensions from getting worse, Silvio lets Patsy steal it, takes the blame himself, but defuses it in a way (miscommunication, bad timeline)

      Liked by 1 person

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