Tony takes greater responsibility for Ralph’s horse. Adriana meets her new FBI handler. Janice pursues widower Bobby.
EPISODE 44 - ORIGINALLY AIRED OCT 14, 2002 WRITTEN BY ROBIN GREEN AND MITCH 'IOWA' BURGESS DIRECTED BY HENRY BRONCHTEIN
We see several different horses in this episode. The first one is a nightclub – Adriana’s Crazy Horse. Ade has always been interested in music (remember her foray into music production in 1.10?) and now she has her very own venue to feature some of the hottest local bands in New Jersey. But she is coming to understand that Chris procured the club not so much for her but as an additional place of business for la famiglia. The song that the band performs in the opening scene says it all: “It’s all about you.” This lyric gives voice to a main component of the episode (really, of the entire series): selfishness. Adriana thought the club was all for her but the mob has their own selfish reasons for getting it. And when Tony comes into the place, Adriana thinks his conversations are all about her – she imagines he is talking about her being a rat. The Dutch angle of the camera reflects her destabilized state-of-mind:
The FBI are also selfish, they care very little for their new mole. Agent Deborah Ciccerone coldly passes Ade off to her new handler, Robyn Sanseverino. We see immediately how much of a sarcastic bitch agent Robyn can be, as she mocks Adriana’s naïve beliefs regarding the fate of former mob associates. She gives Adriana a reality check. This scene in the bakery points to The Sopranos’ preoccupation with Food, Faith & Firearms:
Sitting amidst pastries and desserts, with a jeweled cross hanging from her neck, Adriana realizes that Big Pussy and her uncle Richie met violent ends. She has to excuse herself to go to the bathroom (she will be afflicted with Irritable Bowl Syndrome over the coming year). To his credit, agent Dwight Harris seems to find Robyn’s callous attitude distasteful. But, like the other agents, he does not hesitate to apply pressure to Adriana in order to get information from her. They stalk her, call her unexpectedly, arrange secret meetings. When they question her about Giovanni, she lies to them. She had seen Chris and the guys beat Giovanni with a phonebook but she doesn’t want to implicate her boyfriend, so she sends the Feds down a different trail. The double-life is already taking a toll on Adriana. She takes comfort in “horse” of a different kind – Christopher’s heroin.
Janice has a hardier personality than young Adriana. While the younger woman is being manipulated by the mob and the FBI, Janice does some manipulating of her own. From her window, she sees Jojo Palmice make a visit to Bobby’s house. Just as Bobby comes into frame, we hear a voice on Janice’s TV say, “Let’s bring out your lover.” (I think it is Jerry Springer’s voice, effectively launching this tabloid storyline.) Janice rushes over to Bobby’s home so that she can squeeze her rival Jojo out. Throughout the hour, Janice presents herself as a matronly type, someone who will make a good wife and mother:
She passes Jojo’s chicken marsala off as her own at Corrado’s house, and passes Carmela’s lasagna off as her own at Bobby’s. I particularly love how she opens Bobby’s dishwasher only to kick it closed as soon as Jojo leaves, without having rinsed a single dish. Janice is selfishly grabbing at security and power with both hands here. As she tries to seduce Bobby, she simultaneously tries to raise his standing with Boss Corrado (which would be a boon to her if she does land Bobby). She gets Bobby to do the job Corrado had asked him to do. When Bobby corners the union shop steward and intimidates him, we understand that: 1) there’s more to Bobby than we had previously recognized, and 2) Janice is the woman who will pull him out of his funk and help him realize his full mobster potential.
The star of the hour is Ralph’s horse Pie-O-My (although technically she is owned by Inez, Ralph’s housekeeper). The racehorse is a perpetual underperformer so Tony suggests a new tactic for the upcoming race. The jockey doesn’t take Tony’s advice, but the race plays out in such a way that Tony’s strategy sounds golden. Ralph gives Tony credit – and a cut of his substantial winnings. After the next successful race, Tony demands, with outstretched hand, another substantial cut. And Tony has more (expensive) advice for Ralph – the horse should be fitted with titanium shoes. Ralph felt no great love for Pie-O-My to begin with, and now these additional expenses pollute his feelings for the horse even further. When Inez frantically calls Ralph to ask him to pay the veterinarian, Ralphie directs her to Tony instead.
There is an interesting parallel being made between Pie-O-My and Carmela here. We know that Tony has a tendency to subconsciously equate his family with animals, going all the way back to the ducks in the Pilot episode. Here, Tony acts as a provider to the horse as well as to his family. Carmela has been hounding him for weeks to let Cousin Brian set up some legit investments for the family. Tony finally agrees – but he will not sign the irrevocable insurance trust because Ginsberg has warned him that it could bite him in the event of a divorce. Tony draws Carmela’s ire by not giving her the trust (in both senses of the word). Nor is Tony willing to invest in Carm’s stock tip. He is, however, willing to provide for her the way that he always has, doling out a weekly allowance. In mirrored scenes, we see how Tony supports those he cares about, dishing out cash to Carmela just as he does to Pie’s vet:
In the episode’s final scene, Tony sits with the ailing horse. Pie-O-My’s companion, a goat, joins them in the stable. The hour closes to the sound of Dean Martin’s “My Rifle, My Pony and Me.” Obviously, Chase must have chosen the song because of its reference to a horse. But perhaps there is more to this particular song selection.
We first heard this song as Tony watched Rio Bravo in the season opener, “For All Debts Public and Private.” Two episodes later, in “Christopher,” Tony referenced High Noon. It’s a well-known fact of American film history that these two films have a strong connection to each other. Kate Kulzick at sightonsound.org writes that Rio Bravo was made “as a direct rebuttal to High Noon.” The political and ideological arguments made by the two films are complicated and difficult to disentangle, but the differences in the stories of each film’s main character are more easy to understand, and more relevant for my purposes here. Sheriff Kane (played by Gary Cooper) in High Noon is a man who must find the strength to persevere after he is betrayed and abandoned by everyone around him. Sheriff John Chance (played by John Wayne) in Rio Bravo is in the opposite situation: Kate Kulzick continues, “This film centers on affirmation, as friend after friend pops up to help…” So: Sheriff Kane must face his mortal threat alone while Sheriff Chance finds strength and comfort in the community that has formed around him.
The Sopranos, like both of these films, deals with various notions of community, including the lack or loss of community. Tony is part of a community, both through his family and his famiglia. But his relationships with his family and his famiglia are too flawed to provide him with any strong sense of community, and that weakens his bonds with them. He continues to philander and pursue a mobster lifestyle thought it perpetually puts his family at risk. And he knows that the mafia community would turn on him in an instant—as he himself has done to colleagues—if business demanded it. To make matters even worse for him, Tony may have inherited from his mother some distrust of the very notion of community. Livia Soprano was never able to meaningfully connect with anyone – neither with her family nor her neighbors nor her fellow residents at Green Grove. When her grandson struggled with Nietzsche’s decree that “God is dead” in episode 2.07, Livia could only instruct AJ with her nihilism: “People let you down…In the end, you die in your own arms…It’s all a big nothing.”
A dark philosophy of nihilism prowls its way through this hour. Some examples: As Tony lays in bed, he is disturbed by the loud music of Deicide (a band whose name announces the death of god) coming from AJ’s bedroom; Corrado, disappointed that Bobby has not yet done a job that he asked him to do, complains “Each of us is alone in the fucking universe”; and when Vito, and later Adriana, crash to the floor because of a faulty chair, they incite peals of laughter rather than concern or sympathy.
We should note that “My Rifle, My Pony and Me” appears in Rio Bravo as Sheriff Chance’s posse takes refuge from an increasingly hostile town inside a jailhouse. The moment is one of lightness and camaraderie, as the four friends come together to form a strong community of their own:
Chase plays this song from Rio Bravo just as Tony Soprano forms a community of sorts with Pie-O-My and the goat. The stable has, at least temporarily, become a place where Tony finds refuge not only from his domestic and professional troubles, but from the poisonous nihilism of SopranoWorld.
The episode is bookended by a pair of “horses”: the opening shot is of the Crazy Horse nightclub, and the closing shot features Pie-O-My. These two “horses” couldn’t be more different. While the Crazy Horse will become an increasingly hostile place for Adriana (eventually playing a major role in her demise), Tony’s love for Pie-O-My will grow over the next few episodes.
- Title significance: Maurice Yacowar writes that the horse’s name reflects Tony wanting his (or “my”) piece of the pie, as when he keeps his hand extended for a bigger cut of the race payout. If so, the name is a clever pun. But I seem to remember reading somewhere that the horse used for filming was actually named “Pie-O-My.” If this is the case, the episode title takes on a certain earnestness, perhaps underscoring the earnest connection that Tony feels to the horse (a connection that will drive his murderous rage in “Whoever Did This” later this season).
Hmm, just a coincidence?: I just realized upon re-watching that there is a lot of talk about the irrevocable insurance trust that Carmela wants in this episode, an episode which obviously features Pie-O-My. It is because of the horse’s insurance that Tony will suspect Ralph killed her in “Whoever Did This.”
- Corrado reworks a line from Twelfth Night (“I’m waiting like patience on a monument”) just as he did in episode 1.04.
- Although an ugly nihilism persistently skulks around SopranoWorld, there is evidence of love and concern in Chase’s universe: the food and Tupperware stacked in Bobby’s kitchen are signs of community – his friends and relatives are giving him support after the death of his wife.