After Chris screws the pooch (Cosette), his family/famiglia 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
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 mythical role of ‘the strong, silent type.’) There have also been overt references this season to High Noon and Rio Bravo.
In the 1952 film High Noon, Gary Cooper, playing square-jawed squinty-eyed “Sheriff Kane,” seems to be the very embodiment of the mythical American hero. However, John Wayne and Howard Hawks felt the need to make Rio Bravo in 1959 in response to High Noon 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. And so we realize the irony: the rugged, thick-skinned, lone hero is such a revered figure in American folklore that even Gary Cooper himself 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 is 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 after she suggests rehab to him, and perhaps it is 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 the family decide to try a more enlightened strategy first. There is of course something ironic in the fact that Christopher’s intervention should occur in this particular episode: a therapeutic technique such as this certainly does not fit into the mob’s traditional notion of a “strong, silent type” of solution. This incongruity between the old and the new says of handling addiction turns the intervention into one of the most darkly comedic scenes of the series. The scene is stocked with nasty insults, personal attacks, Silvio’s memorable description of Christopher with his head in the toilet, 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:
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:
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:
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 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 as Furio is. 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:
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.
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).
- 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”—a line that seems like a portent of things to come.