The Strong, Silent Type (4.10)

After Chris Moltisanti screws the pooch (Cosette), his family/famiglia decide to intervene.  Paulie rescues a painting of Pie-O-My
from a fire.  Carmela pursues Italian stud Furio while Tony cozies up to Russian caretaker Svetlana.

EPISODE 49 - ORIGINALLY AIRED NOV 17, 2002
WRITTEN BY TERRY WINTER, ROBIN GREEN & MITCHELL BURGESS
STORY BY DAVID CHASE
DIRECTED BY ALAN TAYLOR

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We’ve known Tony Soprano to believe in the mythology of the “strong, silent type” as long as we’ve known Tony Soprano – we first heard him use this phrase in the Pilot episode.  The Sopranos has been playing with this myth throughout Season 4, particularly through various references to old cowboy movies.  For example, the previous episode (in which Tony vanquished Ralphie after a long-expected showdown) ended with music that recalled the 1968 film Once Upon A Time in the West (in which Charles Bronson filled the role of ‘the strong, silent type.’)  There have also been overt references this season to High Noon and Rio Bravo.

high noon vs rio bravo

Although Gary Cooper (“Sheriff Kane”) seems to be the embodiment of the myth in High Noon, John Wayne and Howard Hawks felt the need to make Rio Bravo in response because they felt that Cooper was not strong or silent enough in the earlier film.  Wayne and Hawks interpreted Sheriff Kane going to the townspeople in High Noon to ask for help as an act of weakness.  So: the rugged, thick-skinned, lone hero is such a revered figure in American folklore that even Gary Cooper can’t live up to the myth sometimes.  Throughout this episode, we see Tony, Chris and Paulie struggle to live up to the American myth.  Ironically, it is a couple of European characters who are more successful in displaying strength and true grit this hour.

Tony is upset by the arrival of the painting of Pie-O-My which he had commissioned back when the horse was still alive.  (Its arrival at the Bing, of all places, may add to Tony’s distress because it may lead him to further conflate the dead horse with dead stripper Tracee.) Tony feels lost.  He cries in Dr. Melfi’s office, describing the world as a “toilet-world” and asks “What kind of God does this shit?”  With a typical lack of self-awareness, Tony tells Melfi that he plays the role of the “sad clown,” smiling on the outside while miserable inside.  Melfi has not had much screentime this season, but it’s good to see her back.  She calls Tony on his bullshit, pointedly observing that he does not usually display a smile when he’s feeing miserable but rage.  We clearly saw this rage, sparked by his misery over Pie’s death, in the previous episode.  Tony may adopt the pose of the “sad clown” or “the strong, silent type,” but he does not actually have the strength or fortitude that is needed to deal with life’s bumps and twists in a mature (or legal) way.

Christopher also lacks some necessary internal fortitude.  We see Chris’ weakness for drugs in the opening scene of the hour.  His addiction is affecting his life.  He inadvertently kills little Cosette (and tries to blame the dog: “She must have crawled under there for warmth”).  Then he misses an appointment to deliver TVs to Paulie and Sil when he goes into the ‘hood to score some scag.  I don’t want to characterize Chris as weak for not being able to resist heroin, because anyone can become a slave to that needle once it has tapped the vein.  (And he certainly doesn’t show weakness to the street dealers who carjack him, cussing and thrashing at them even as they point a gun at him.)  But it is a lack of some inner strength that allows Chris to unleash vicious blows on to poor Adriana as she tries to help him, and perhaps this same lack of strength that led him to heroin in the first place.

The famiglia cannot ignore Christopher’s addiction any more.  Corrado believes a bullet to the head is the best cure, but they try a more contemporary strategy.  The intervention of Chris is one of the most darkly comedic scenes of the series, stocked with nasty insults, personal attacks, and finally a free-for-all assault on the young addict.  At the hospital where Chris gets treatment for a hairline skull fracture, Tony tells Chris—in no uncertain terms—of the gravity of his situation: the only reason the famiglia has allowed him to live is because of his close connection to Tony.  Chris checks into Eleuthera House (“Eleuthera” meaning “freedom”) for treatment.

The hour is bracketed by images of American men who don’t quite live up to the fictional representations of strength that surround them.  In the opening scene, Chris shot up while a powerful bear hulked around on his television:

Chris Strong Silent Type

It looks more like a gorilla to me, but the Lil Rascals are referring to it as a bear.  Although Tony will be associated with a bear in Season 5, I can’t say for sure that this bear on television is meant to represent the mob boss.  A representation of Tony certainly does appear in the final scene of the hour, however.  Paulie gets flustered by the painting in which Tony has been retouched to appear as a Napoleon-like figure.  Paulie sits right in-between this idealized image of Tony and a television that projects the sport heroes whom we idolize – our modern-day Gary Coopers.  Though encompassed by these images of idealized strength, Paulie is not exactly a strong, silent type himself:

Paulie Strong Silent Type

He certainly has not been silent around Johnny Sac.  Insecure about his status and role within the New Jersey Mob, Paulie has been running his mouth to New York underboss John Sacrimoni all season long.  Paulie’s lack of emotional and professional fortitude makes his famiglia vulnerable to its rivals across the river.

In contrast to these neither-strong-nor-silent Americans, Furio is cast in an admirable light.  His European-ness is apparent the moment he comes back from Italy, as he gazes at our vulgar, advertisement-lined American streets with distaste.  In Italy, he complained to his uncle that he no longer feels at home in the country of his birth, but he doesn’t seem quite fully at home in America either.

Furio comes to the Soprano house bearing gifts.  The gobbo that he brings for AJ is a popular good luck charm in Italy.  This particular gobbo may be doubly good luck because its bottom half (difficult to see in screengrabs) is in the shape of another lucky charm – the cornicello, or little horn:

Gobetto + horn

In some parts of Italy, the “little horn” is linked to the “horned hand,” the hand-gesture made to indicate that a man has been cuckolded.  I don’t want to make too much of Furio’s little trinket, but it may possibly underscore the question we’ve been asking all season: will Carmela cuckold Tony with this handsome Italian?

Carmela goes to Furio’s home with some phony interior decorating tip to justify her arrival (with AJ, as always, in tow).  There is clearly (perhaps too clearly – I’ve always felt this scene in Furio’s kitchen to be a little overdone, at least by Sopranos standards) a powerful mutual attraction between housewife and goombah.  But we get the sense here that Furio has already begun the process of thwarting his desire, of resigning himself to the impossibility of a romance.  (Furio will later flee the country rather than indulge in his illicit desire.)  As Carmela leaves his kitchen now, Furio turns down the heat on the whistling coffeepot, just as he resolutely turns down the heat on his dangerous passion.

While the European man exercises self-restraint, the American man does not.  Tony does not hesitate to slip into Svetlana’s open arms.  This difference between Furio and Tony is stressed through the juxtaposition of scenes:

Furio and Svetlana - Sopranos Autopsy

Furio turns down the heat while Carmela leaves his kitchen; CUT TO Tony entering his uncle’s kitchen to turn up the heat on his next conquest.  But the comparison between the two men is made most clearly later in the hour, as Chase cross-cuts between Furio and Tony as they each prepare dinner.  Tony microwaves some leftover rigatoni and pours himself a glass of milk while Furio carefully prepares his meal and enjoys a glass of wine.  Todd VanDerWerff finds the comparison to be a bit trite:

…this simple compare-contrast feels a little too simple. Are we meant to believe that Carmela and Furio really do have some sort of elemental connection, that he’s the sensitive man in hiding she’s always been wanting? Similarly, are we meant to believe that the differences between Tony and Furio are that easy to point out, that they can be accomplished in a series of matching cuts?

It’s a valid criticism.  After all, Tony and Furio are not all that different: Furio is a cold-hearted thug just as Tony is, and Tony is often thoughtful and sensitive towards Carmela.  However, I think the scene works better when we look at it not so much as a simple comparison of men, but rather as a comparison of competing cultural ideologies.  Furio is instructed by a European self-restraint, while Tony is shaped by American self-indulgence.  Of course, Europeans can also be guilty of overindulging, but I think the point here is that in America, overindulgence is simply a matter of course – it seems to have become our defining characteristic.  The theory that there is a battle of European vs. American ideologies going on in this episode is also supported by the appearance of that other European this hour: Svetlana Kirilenko.

Svetlana comes down hard on our softness: “That’s the trouble with you Americans.  You expect nothing bad ever to happen when the rest of the world expects only bad to happen – and they are not disappointed.”  Svetlana is a vodka-swigging, hard-working, self-possessed gal who doesn’t let her disability slow her in any significant way.  She is an embodiment of the Russian soul, that hard-boiled mentality in which toughness, physicality, spirituality, skepticism and pragmatism all flow together to form a unique worldview.  One of Tony’s comments to Svetlana underscores her “silent” personality, further attesting that it is she that is most genuinely this episode’s strong, silent type:

Strong silent Svetlana Sopranos Autopsy

After their lovemaking, Tony underplays the possibility of any future dalliance between them, not out of prudence or self-restraint, but because feigning indifference is one way that he acts out his idea of tough masculinity.  But Svetlana actually dismisses the possibility of a future relationship, because she recognizes the fragility beneath Tony’s tough-guy exterior, and she doesn’t want to deal with this emotionally brittle man clinging to her.  As an American, Tony worships the imagery and mythology of strength that is stockpiled throughout our culture, but ironically, this diminutive one-legged Russian chick is more “Gary Cooper” than Tony will ever be.

MULTIPLE THREATS
I suppose it is easier for me to make the argument that Furio is exercising self-restraint here because I know how this storyline ultimately plays out.  A first-time viewer would more likely see this storyline’s tension as going up – and the military snare drum that closes the episode contributes to the feeling that a battle is brewing between Tony and Furio.  The threat of violence against Tony also escalates as the capos figure out that Tony killed Ralph over Pie’s death.  (Albert Baresi even calculates that Silvio should be the one to whack Tony, if it comes to that.)  Another threat comes from the New York famiglia, unhappy that Tony is not sharing the profits of the HUD scam.  (Tony tries to insinuate to his men that Ralph’s sudden disappearance has something to do with NY’s unhappiness.)  These multiple threats—from Furio, NY and possibly Tony’s own capos—signal that we are in the endgame of Season 4.  It is traditional practice for a dramatic series to intensify tensions at the end of a season – but The Sopranos turns traditional dramatic practices on its ear.  After establishing these multiple, mortal threats to protagonist Tony Soprano, the season’s climax will finally come—steady yourself now—via a W-4 tax form (as we will see in episode 4.13).

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ADDITONAL NOTES:

  • The series excels at fleshing out very minor characters who appear only once, never to be seen again.  Even though we’ve never seen interventionist Dominic before, we get a good sense of who he was before he cleaned himself up because of the way other characters rag on him and have difficulty taking him seriously.
  • Some viewers have noted the callback: Pie-O-My died in a fire in the previous episode, and Paulie steps in to rescue the painting of Pie-O-My from a fire here.
  • Disappointed and angered by Christopher’s drug use, Tony tells him, “I ought to suffocate you, you little prick” – an idea that Tony will carry out years from now.

18 responses to “The Strong, Silent Type (4.10)

  1. Can’t help but cringe when Chris tells Tony he’s gonna die of a heart attack at 50

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is random, but I always wondered about a certain shot in this episode. It’s a brief bit of what appears to be stock footage an Italian plane landing — followed by the scene of Furio gazing out at Burger King signs and American flags thru his limo window, etc. But what’s so weird is that this stock footage shot is incredibly grainy, hazy, of poor quality — it looks like it could be from the 70s or 80s. It’s very jarring and I’m surprised that they couldn’t get a better-looking clip of simply a plane landing. So while it’s unlikely, I wonder if there could be any possible intentional meaning here?

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    • That shot was always seemed out of place to me as well. I’ve always read that shot as a reference to the stock footage of a plane landing in The Godfather (when Tom Hagen goes out to California), but I doubt that was actually Chase’s intention.

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  3. Good for Svetlana! I don’t think any of the other women in Tony’s life (family doesn’t count) realized right away what a fragile man he really was. And even people like Melfi tended to idealize or exaggerate that side of him by playing him up as a poor vulnerable kid. We needed more Easter Europeans like her and Carmela’s one-time psychiatrist. They were the only people capable/willing to see through the bullshit.

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  4. And of course I had to ruin a fine comment by writing “Easter” instead of “Eastern.”

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  5. I just want to say what a joy it has been to reading through this website thus far. As great as Alan Sepinwall or Scott Keith are, this is even better. I hope you haven’t lost interest in finishing the rest of the series, because I think once this is finished, you will have something that rivals the work of David Lavery on this show.

    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i cant stop reading your work….im a sopranos obsessive fan…i watch the series over at least 2 times a year……thank you…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Speaking of that opening scene with Chris “watching” The Little Rascals, I really liked the bit of connectivity to 4.02, where Patsy disrespectfully refers to Chris as “Alfalfa.”

    Also loved how back in 4.08, Furio complains to his uncle about hamburger wrappers left around the cathedral, then after getting back to the States in this episode, the first thing he sees is a sign for Burger King.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. First of all, I’ve only recently discovered these writings, but have made them my companion pieces for my yearly re-watch of the whole series. Well done, and looking forward to write-ups on the remaining episodes!
    A couple of stray observations: Tony compares Svetlana to Greta Garbo, whom she actually doesn’t physically resemble at all. But the two share some defining traits. They both believe in leaving ’em wanting more: Greta Garbo famously retired early from films, bewildering many fans. Similarly, Svetlana wisely nips her relationship with Tony in the bud, bewildering him as well. Also, a possible reference to this episode’s title: Garbo started in silent films, and had grown up in poverty and hardship. Another strong, silent type.
    I also thought one could draw up parallels between Justin and Christopher, both seen in the hospital during this episode, and who both have a long, hard road to recovery ahead of them.The difference, of course, is that Justin is pierced by the arrow in a freak accident, whereas Christopher pierces himself voluntarily with the needle. But admittedly this might be stretching the point.

    Thank you for providing such wonderful and thoughtful insights into this great series!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s a cut early in this episode I’ve always enjoyed: Tony walks out of his house to where Furio is waiting with the car. He sees Furio is upset and asks him why. It’s likely Furio is upset because he feels he must pull back from getting close to Carmela, but instead he tells Tony it’s because his father has just died. Tony has little sympathy, telling Furio, in effect, to “get over it.” We then cut to Tony at Dr. Melfi’s, getting all weepy about Pie-O-My’s death. The sad clown cares little about the pain of others, but his own miseries are always of supreme importance.

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  10. Another note about the good luck charm Furio brought home from Italy: Furio is often seen wearing a cornicello necklace of his own. I could be reading too much into this, but perhaps the gift was meant to serve as a subtle reminder of himself to Carmela?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This might not be intentional so much as a bit of accidental subtext that enriches the scene, but it’s interesting that Chris would be shooting up while watching the old Little Rascals/”Our Gang” series on TV. Most of that cast of child actors ended up leading a troubled life, with several of the main cast succumbing to heroin and other drugs at one point (one of these was the infamous Robert Blake).

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Going off an observation by one of the commenters in the previous episode, I think this episode almost confirms that Paulie was the one that started the fire in the horse stables. When Tony is seen walking out after receiving the painting, the camera shows Paulie watching Tony walking out the door for a while, before turning around and cracking a joke. I think in that moment, Paulie realises that Ralph was missing because Tony thought he was the one that burnt down the stable and disposed of him. I think Paulie had meant to burn the stable as a way of revenge against Ralph but did not realise that it would affect Tony, meaning that Ralph was genuinely attempting to redeem himself in the last episode. It’s interesting though because the viewer, initially, or most obviously, will assume Ralph was killed because he undoubtedly burnt the stables, either for the insurance money or as a way at getting back at Tony for seeing his ex-girlfriend. It’s interesting because viewing the episode this way, is seeing it exactly as how Tony sees the situation. Because Tony did a similar thing over an ex-girl, with Zellman, he sees Ralph below him, and assumes he would definitely swoop down to those lows, which, going off the theory that Paulie was the one that was responsible for the arson, shows the hypocrisy of Tony and how he could not justify the fact that Ralph would not swoop down to the same level as himself.

    Throughout the episode, the camera always emphasises on Tony’s eyes, of the painting, looking right at Paulie, almost making Paulie think ‘what if he knew?’. This may be why he changes Tony into a Napoleon-like figure, because he knew he got away with the arson, but also knows that Tony is running a military-like regime and had Ralph murdered over the horse. The final shot again reinforces this idea, and Paulie still looks into his eyes thinking the same question.

    What someone else mentioned is how Paulie is saving the painting from the fire, maybe as a way to redeem himself or simply keep it as a trophy for his own survival. I think Paulie is one of the smartest characters of the show, and is given less credit than he is due most probably because of his style and personality. I’ve been rewatching the series with the theory that it was Paulie that will call the eventual hit that will end the series, and Paulie’s grievances continue to brew more and more over the series, especially in this season.

    Liked by 1 person

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