Ralph’s fat-joke about Ginny Sacrimoni has almost ridiculous consequences. Carmela and Furio dance together at his housewarming party. Meadow begins to volunteer at the Law Center.
EPISODE 43 - ORIGINALLY AIRED OCTOBER 6, 2002 WRITTEN BY TERENCE WINTER DIRECTED BY JACK BENDER
The opening scene of the hour takes place at Benito One, the well-regarded restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Inside the restaurant, Johnny Sac and Joey Peeps converse while Donnie K., a goombah from Ralph Cifaretto’s crew, enjoys a drink and has a few laughs at the other end of the bar. When Donnie leaves the restaurant, John follows him outside and beats the crap out of him. As John empties his bladder on to his unconscious victim, Joey Peeps wonders out loud, “What the fuck?” Indeed, WTF John? What issue could be big enough to warrant such a horrible outburst of rage? The edit answers our question:
John (unreasonably) assumed that Donnie was chuckling over his wife’s weight. He is still infuriated by the silly joke Ralph made at her expense. Ginny’s weight is, as tvtropes.org calls it, John’s “berserk-button.” It drives him nuts to think that the other guys are making fun of the woman that he loves. At some level, John knows that he is irrationally oversensitive about the issue, at one point trying to convince Tony that his violence against Donnie was related to some business issues. But he eventually reveals the true reason for his outrage to both Tony and Carmine, who each struggle to keep a straight face as John recounts Ralph’s joke about a 98-pound mole on Ginny’s ass:
The camera holds on each of them as they try to hide their amusement and display managerial tact instead: “That’s deplorable” says Tony, while Carmine asserts, “It’s an off-color remark, it was highly inappropriate.” The two bosses of NJ and NY are surprised that such a usually reasonable and calm man can get so batshit crazy over this issue. Ralph’s personality may play a role in irritating John. Ralph has a prickly persona, he can get under anyone’s skin. He breezes back to New Jersey from Miami looking tanned and suave. He feels no remorse for offending John or Ginny, only irritation that John undervalues him even though his work produces a large amount of money for the Sacrimonis: “Who does he think is keeping that fat bitch in Devil Dogs anyway?” Tony tries to act as a go-between here, advising Ralph to not apologize as it would only be seen by John as an admission of guilt. (This is a new wrinkle in the relationship between the three men – last season, it was Johnny Sac who acted as a mediator between Tony and Ralph after the killing of Tracee.) Ralph makes the tense situation even worse by ignoring Tony’s advice. Terry Winter, who does a DVD commentary for this episode, calls Tony’s angry reaction a “Honeymooners moment.”
Johnny Sac wants Ralph dead, but Carmine cannot sanction the hit – Ralph is just too valuable to the mob. When John is unwilling to even sit with “that cute cocksucker” Ralph to discuss the problems with the paving contract at the Esplanade, he becomes a real burden to Carmine. Tony despises Ralph, but he has to protect his captain. However, Tony is willing to hand Ralph over if John reveals the guy in the New Jersey famiglia that is talking out of turn. Tony is far more interested in the real mole in his crew than the hypothetical mole on Ginny’s backside. Back at the Bing, the guys try to figure who it is that is talking too much. Chris believes the Feds may be getting info from a bug planted at Vesuvio and feeding it to John to “create a little dysentery among the ranks.” (The Sopranos has never been above including some good ol’ toilet humor or poking fun at characters through their malapropisms – this line does both.) Tony thinks Christopher’s theory is ridiculous, because at Vesuvio, “there’s a lot more interesting shit being talked about than Ginny Sac’s fat ass.” (As he mentions Ginny’s ass, ZZ Top’s “Tush” can be heard playing in the next room.) It is, of course, Paulie that fed news of the joke to Johnny Sac. (Paulie is creating havoc from prison. Writer Terry Winter recounts that the original script for this episode featured Paulie heavily, but the script was scrapped and rewritten due to Tony Sirico’s back problems. Although Sirico has barely appeared in the fourth season, his character is still having a substantial effect in SopranoLand.)
Carmine calls Tony and asks him—without actually asking him—to whack John. When Corrado learns of this latest twist, he says of Carmine, “That one’s a slippery fuck. Him and those big fish lips of his.” (Perhaps there is a pun hidden in this line – Carmine is played by actor Tony Lip.) Corrado advises Tony to hire outsiders to hit John, and points him to a ruthless clan that lives up in Rhode Island. Terry Winter describes the scene in which Silvio and Chris visit the contract killers as an homage to both The Addams Family and David Lynch. It is a strange scene with some strange characters. We should not, however, find the Christian paraphernalia that stocks the home of this murderous clan very strange, because The Sopranos has been linking Faith and Firearms for years now:
The most interesting thing about this scene for me is what it says about Corrado. There may have been a day when this was a clan of ferocious killers, but they’re just a bunch of old geezers now, suffering from glaucoma and chromosomal disorders. Corrado is so old now that his memory of this killer family has no bearing on what the family actually looks like at present. Actor Richard Bright is here playing one of the aging hitmen. Bright, we may remember, played “Al Neri” (Michael Corleone’s bodyguard) in the Godfather movies. (And if we don’t remember, the dialogue about a “Frank Neri” may trigger our memory of “Al Neri.”) Bright is no longer the young killer who famously whacked Fredo Corleone in The Godfather II:
Bright’s advanced age underscores just how elderly Corrado has become as well. Dominic Chianese has also aged quite a bit since his appearance in The Godfather II as “Johnny Ola”:
Corrado’s memories and advice have become outdated. He is becoming less and less fit to be Boss—even if only the titular Boss—of New Jersey. He’s out-of-the-loop and two steps behind.
Johnny Sac has become a target, but he himself has called a hit out on Ralph. So we’re expecting quite a bit of violence here – but it never comes. It is, rather absurdly, a sweater that saves both men’s lives. John is headed to Boston (where he ostensibly will be whacked) but turns around to get a sweater for his father. When he enters his house, he finds Ginny stuffing herself with junk food. The pathetic sight pulls John back into clarity, and he has a change of heart. He tells Tony that he will accept Ralph’s apology – but sternly demands, “No more weight remarks.” The irony of John’s outrage was that he himself put a spotlight on his wife’s obesity far more than any joke ever could have. Ralph’s quip became a far weightier issue than it needed to be. The episode title highlights this characteristic of The Sopranos: in SopranoWorld—unlike in most fictional TV worlds—insubstantial events often gain weight and develop into major plot points (and conversely, significant storylines sometimes dwindle into nothing). The episode title also activates a clever pun. At the risk of stating the obvious, “The Weight” is a song made famous by The Band, with a well-known chorus that starts, “Take a load off, Fanny.” Ralph’s joke, of course, was about a mole being taken off Ginny’s fanny.
The episode title also refers to the burdens that are weighing upon Carmela. Her infatuation with Furio grows, as do her worries about money. Tony humors Carmela by meeting with her cousin Brian, but he is ultimately more interested in the cake in front of him than in Brian’s financial advice. We see people eat very often on the series, but this hour makes a special point of showing Tony stuff fatty foods into his mouth:
This episode hints at the double-standard between men and women regarding their weight. Tony can eat unlimited amounts of anything he wants, but Ginny cannot. Each are held to a different cultural standard. But more than that, the episode speaks to the phenomenon of overconsumption, a tendency shared by many Americans both male and female. This idea became highlighted for me one morning when I caught a rerun of this episode on A&E. I generally avoided the syndicated reruns because I think A&E committed desecration by trimming the episodes to fit into their timeslot, but this is the one episode that was perhaps made somewhat more interesting by syndication: several of the commercials that interrupted “The Weight” were, ironically, for weight-loss products. This coincidence pointed to how truly the culture of consumption on The Sopranos is a reflection of our actual American culture. We really are a bunch of fatties. Here are some of the product advertisements I saw during three commercial breaks that morning:
- 1st break: Weightwatchers.com (coincidentally, when the episode resumed, John mentioned Weight Watchers to Tony)
- 2nd break: the Realize Band [surgical gastric band]; Bowflex home gym; and Nutrisystem (coincidentally, John mentioned Nutrisystem to Ginny when the episode resumed)
- 3rd break: Mega-T Green Tea which “burns belly fat” although “these statements have not been evaluated by the FDA”; and another Nutrisystem ad, different from the one that aired minutes earlier
While fat American Tony shovels unhealthy processed foods down his throat, trim-and-fit European Furio grows healthy vegetables at his new home. Carmela makes a visit to Furio, with AJ in tow, to inform him of a zoning exception (she’s working on her real estate license) and later dances with Furio at his housewarming party. Tony is too preoccupied with business to notice the growing warmth between his wife and his soldier.
Tony realizes he hasn’t been the perfect husband lately, and tries to make up for it with a little black dress from Saks Fifth Avenue. He is not sure what size the dress is when Carmela asks him – he can only answer that it is “small,” which underscores that “small” Carmela conforms to the cultural standard in a way that “big” Ginny does not. Ginny Sac could never pull off wearing a LBD. (And the fact that the dress is from Saks puns on Ginny Sac’s last name.)
The final sequence of the hour is a wonder of craftsmanship. Carmela slips into the dress, and Tony starts to kiss and caress her tenderly. But Carmela is distressed by the sound of Spaccanapoli’s “Vesuvio,” which she and Furio had danced to earlier, coming form Meadow’s room. She asks Mead to turn the music off and then returns to bed with Tony. Moments later, Meadow calls out, “I’m going out,” and we therefore know that when the music comes on again that it is non-diagetic – it has no “source.” It is something conjured entirely within Carmela’s head. Big, hulking Tony climbs on top of his wife. (The chorus of the episode’s namesake song “The Weight” insists “Take a load off,” but here beleaguered Carmela is taking her husband’s bulky weight on.) The footage slows down, almost imperceptibly, while the tribal-sounding music continues to play, giving the whole scene a dream-like quality. Carmela may be with her husband physically, but emotionally she is far, far away.
THE LAW CENTER
Meadow did not appear at all in the previous episode “Christopher.” The last time we saw her was two episodes back, when she returned to Columbia University after having an epic argument with her parents:
Meadow Soprano was a bratty little girl throughout most of Seasons 1 and 2, but she has been developing into a mature, thoughtful young woman as of late. At the end of Season 3, her own sense of decency and honesty drove her away from the hypocrisy she saw at Jackie Jr’s funeral. Two episodes ago, she summoned the courage to address her father’s criminality and dishonesty. In a sense, I think the title of this episode can refer to Meadow’s internal struggle – she must figure out how to live a decent, honest life while managing “the weight” of being a mob daughter. One way to learn to manage this burden is by registering for classes like “Morality, Self and Society.” Another way is by volunteering at the Law Center. Meadow begins to advocate for the needy and disenfranchised in this hour, and her moral conscience will continue to grow over time. In Season 6, brimming with idealism and confidence in her ability to better the world, she will make the decision to go to law school. A general theme of The Sopranos is that people often lack the courage and discipline to break out of self-defeating patterns of behavior or the constraints placed upon them by their environment. If there is anyone in SopranoWorld who can buck this trend, it might be Meadow Soprano.
Terence Winter points out the chance encounters that pepper the hour: Eliot Kupferberg has a run-in with Tony in the Columbia parking garage, Meadow meets Kupferberg’s daughter at school, Ralph shares an elevator with the man hired to kill him. For a show that has always been guided by verisimilitude, it feels quite unrealistic to have all these coincidental meetings occur in one episode. But as I’ve argued all season, Chase is intensifying his use of connectivity on the series. These unlikely encounters are one more way that connections occur in SopranoWorld.
Perhaps the most interesting connection is how “The Weight” is linked to that very memorable episode, “Employee of the Month” (3.04). We see here that Melfi and her family are still troubled by her rape last year. Melfi still has regrets about going down into the garage that day when she was brutally attacked. Kupferberg, thinking about his run-in with “a big Bluto-sort of guy” at Columbia, reassures her she has nothing to regret: “Parking garages are not inherently dangerous places.” (Nice little parallel this hour: Tony intimidates Kupferberg in one garage while AJ locks little Bobby in another.) By revisiting Melfi’s attack, Chase shows the long-term effects of such a violation. Additionally, as Nancy Roche points out, “Employee of the Month” was the episode in which Ginny Sacrimoni was first introduced – and first ridiculed for her size. The subtextual commentary about the female body which undergirded “Employee of the Month” is now given a more explicit treatment in “The Weight.”
- I think Vince Curatola does a remarkable job on The Sopranos. “John Sacrimoni” is a complicated character and Curatola makes each one of his dimensions believable. I think Chase recognized Curatola’s excellence and that is why Johnny Sac appears in over a third of the episodes even though he is not a member of the Soprano family or the New Jersey famiglia.
- Tony figures that if Johnny Sac is whacked, Carmine will replace him with his son, “Fuckin’ Brainless the Second.” We’ll get a sense that Little Carmine really isn’t a very bright guy right from his first appearance, later this season in “Calling All Cars.”
- Unfamiliar with Muslim names, Tony mistakenly refers to Rahimah (Meadow’s “indigenous” friend) as “Rahoomy.” We’ll hear Tony make the exact same mistake with another unfamiliar name years from now.