Whoever Did This (4.09)

 Both Pie-O-My and Ralph Cifaretto suffer a gruesome fate.
Tony sees a picture of Tracee at the Bing.


Episode 48 – Originally aired Nov 10, 2002
Written by Robin ‘GUILTY’ Green & Mitch ‘NOT GUILTY’ Burgess
Directed by Tim Van Patten


“Whoever Did This” is one of the gems of the series.  It has a little bit of everything that we’ve come to love (and some have come to hate) about The Sopranos.  Humor, action, subtlety, violence, connectivity, silence—it’s all here.  It is also this episode that really draws the battle lines in the war between certainty and ambiguity that so many Sopranos fans get pulled into; some viewers insist that Ralph is guilty of killing Pie-O-My, while others think the evidence is ambiguous at best.  (Any consistent reader of this website should already be able to guess which way I lean.)

I think the episode title is the first clue that Chase’s universe is ruled by ambiguity—there are several instances in this hour in which characters (or we viewers) wonder exactly who it was that caused or carried out some particular event.   The episode title is invoked, directly or indirectly, in each of the major stories of the hour:

  1. Ralph wonders who squealed to Johnny Sac about his Ginny-joke
  2. Ralph wonders if his son’s accident was just a random event, or an act of vengeance by God
  3. The guys wonder who made the prank call to Nucci
  4. We wonder if Ralph set fire to the horse stables
  5. We wonder if Corrado’s confusion is simply an act, or if the news media loosened some dormant dementia when they inadvertently knocked him down the courthouse steps

I’ll take a look at all of these questions in turn.


Ralph and his crew wonder who revealed his fat-joke to John Sacrimoni.  He guesses—correctly—that Lil Paulie told Paulie, who must have then forwarded it to John.  (We know Ralph has guessed correctly because Chase showed us these events onscreen earlier in the season.)  To get revenge, Ralph makes a horrendous (but hilarious) prank call to Nucci.  Ralph has always been a despicable character, and has even been compared to the Devil himself throughout the series:

Devilish Ralph Sopranos Autopsy

(In episode 3.06, Ralph is purposefully placed, according to Professor Franco Ricci, in front of “a painting that is a splatter of color, a swirl of emotions and turbulence that reflects his demoniacal character”; in 4.02, Janice is reading The Origin of Satan when she’s hit by Ralph’s toenail-clippings; and Ralph sits before a New Jersey Devils bumper sticker in 4.06.  Additionally, he himself says “I’m Satan to this kid” in reference to Jackie Jr’s dislike of him in 3.03.)

Episode writers Green & Burgess recorded a commentary track for this hour.  They say that it was very important to the show that they “rehabilitated” Ralph before they killed him.  When Ralph’s son Justin suffers a gruesome, disabling accident, Ralph decides he must turn over a new leaf and become a better person.  This is another example of how The Sopranos traffics in ambiguity: as demonic as Ralph can be, Chase wants to make it difficult for the viewer to see him as completely bad or evil.  SopranoWorld is gray, not black-and-white.  There have also been other instances on the series in which we were exposed to the brighter dimensions of some very dark characters just before they met their demise, perhaps most memorably Det. Vin Makazian in Season One.  In episode 1.11, we saw Makazian taking a shower—almost as though it were a spiritual ablution—before later commiting suicide.  Similarly, Ralph is also bathing when Chase begins the process of rehabilitating his character:

Ablutions Sopranos Autopsy

Housekeeper Inez shouts and bangs at the bathroom door, but Ralph is not alarmed at first—he has seen her get histrionic over petty things before.  But Ralph grows anxious when he hears Inez shout his son’s name.  Justin has been wounded by an arrow flung down from the heavens.  (It was his friend that shot the arrow into the air, but God’s role—if He had a role—in directing the arrow towards Justin’s artery is a significant question of the episode.)  The boy is rushed to the hospital where he lays in critical condition.

This is the episode that earned Joe Pantoliano an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor.  Just in the hospital scene alone, we can see that he fully deserved to win it.  He truly brings out the complexities of “Ralph Cifaretto.”  Ralph is desolate and pained and hopeful and seething with anger all at once.  He explodes at his ex-wife’s husband.  Tony has to practically throttle Ralph against the wall—a gesture that will get echoed later in the hour—to make him calm down:

foreshadow choke

Ralph has been a demonic character throughout the series, and Green & Burgess have a bit of fun evoking our sympathy for this devilish man—they incorporate lyrics from the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” into the episode’s dialogue:

  1. Ralph says “Please allow me to introduce myself” to Justin’s surgeon
  2. Ralph says “Pleased to meet you” to Father Phil
  3. Father Phil asks Ralph, “Were you there when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain?”

Ralph feels like a hypocrite turning to Father Phil now, but the priest assures him, “God understands.  That’s why at times like these, He’s the only one we can turn to.”  Outraged at the injustice of such a horrific accident occurring to his innocent son, Ralph snarls back, “God?!”  Ralph believes that Justin’s accident is some sort of cosmic vengeance for his own misdeeds.  In fact, it does seem that God may doling out vengeance—and doling it out with a heavy heaping of irony when we consider Ralph’s misdeed early in the episode: his prank phone call.  During the call, Ralph told Nucci her son had to be rushed to the emergency room, only to have to rush his own son to the E.R. later.  He also asked Nucci for her insurance information—and later tells Tony that his own insurance may not cover all the treatment that Justin will need.  (Perhaps God is angry at Ralph for pinning a wacky sexual practice—gerbiling—on Paulie during the prank call, when it is actually Ralph himself that has some pretty freaky sexual proclivities.)

Father Phil cannot explain why Justin is suffering, he can only tell Ralph that “it’s a great mystery why things happen as they do.”  But he is certain that the Lord is not punishing Justin as payback for Ralph’s misdeeds: “God has a plan for all of us…God is merciful.  He doesn’t punish people.”  With these contradictory statements, Father Phil demonstrates that he—like all of us—unconsciously switches from mystical ambiguity (“It’s a great mystery”) to certainty (“He doesn’t punish people”) depending on which viewpoint will best serve his prejudices and beliefs at a given moment.

Ralph’s curiosity about why such tragedy occurs is as old as the human race.  The theological problem of evil and suffering has been directly addressed on The Sopranos before.  As he sat beside cancer-stricken Jackie in episode 1.04, Tony wondered, “What type of God…?”  And he will ask the same question again in Melfi’s office next week.  Regardless of how many times this question is asked, in SopranoWorld or in the real world, we never get a satisfying answer.  In his essay “‘Funny about God and Fate and shit like that’: The Imminent Unexpected in The Sopranos,” Robert Piluso writes…

As in life, when watching The Sopranos, we often do not know why things happen, or when they will, or if God’s plan is at work, or if chaos reigns in a godless void.  Rather than expect Chase to eventually serve his Mafiosi their just desserts, we wait for death.  For misfortune.  For disaster.  Nothing is sacred.  No one is safe.  Chase presides over his universe as an anti-god…

Although Father Phil is trite and defensive at times during their conversation, he does provide Ralph with words of hope and comfort.  Ralph seems to make a legitimate effort to become a reformed man—but it doesn’t happen immediately.  He still smacks people around during his collections, and provides Tony with a fat stack of ill-gotten cash.  Our feelings for Ralph are conflicted through the episode.  Paulie, on the other hand, has no conflicting feelings—he loathes Ralph and describes him as a “piece of shit.”  Paulie is convinced—without any real evidence—that it was Ralph that made the prank call to his mother.  Paulie’s guess is correct, but it is only that—an educated guess.  Paulie was not privy, like the viewer was, to the scene in which Ralph made the prank call.  Christopher and Tony remind him that he doesn’t know for sure that Ralph is guilty, but Paulie nevertheless wants to whack him.  Tony lays down the law: Paulie is not to lay a finger on Ralph.

Tony is in bed with Ralph’s ex-girlfriend Valentina when he gets the call from horse-trainer Lois about Pie-O-My’s death.  (Some viewers see this as a clue by David Chase that Ralph killed Pie as payback against Tony for dating his ex-girlfriend.)  At the burned-out horse stables, Lois cites a blown-out light bulb as evidence for the fire being accidental.  But Tony seems to regard the light socket with suspicion.  He seems to already be suspecting arson.  (Tony knows something about arson—we might remember that he orchestrated one in the Pilot episode.)  Lois mentions the high insurance value of the dead animals.  Tony realizes that he and Ralph recently took out a valuable insurance policy on the horse, and surely remembers Ralph’s earlier complaint about Justin’s steep hospital bill.  It is certainly within Wreck-It Ralph’s temperament to commit such an atrocity.  The pieces are all starting to fit in Tony’s mind.

The scene at the stables closes with a shot of Pie-O-My’s companion, the goat.  Historically, since at least the Middle Ages, the goat has been associated with Satan.  If that is what Chase is signifying with this shot, then it becomes one more association between the Devil and Ralph—and points to his guilt in killing Pie.

goat baphomet Sopranos Autopsy

It is difficult to tell whether Tony is already convinced of Ralph’s guilt before reaching the Cifaretto house, or only becomes convinced of it after arriving there.  As Tony questions Ralph in his kitchen, Chase inserts a couple of beguiling shots, almost from Tony’s POV, of Ralph’s hands.  Are these the hands that destroyed Tony’s beloved horse, or are they simply hands that are cooking up some breakfast?  I’ll admit that when this episode originally aired, I was sure that Ralph was to blame for the fire.  It was so obvious to me, in fact, that I didn’t recognize his guilt was even up for question.  It was only the next day, as fans and the media buzzed—“Did he or didn’t he?”—that I realized the issue might not be so cut-and-dry.  A quick second viewing that evening confirmed that there is simply not enough evidence to find Ralph guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  (And now, after watching the series in its entirety a number of times, and coming to believe that ambiguity is the central thesis of The Sopranos, I feel confident that “uncertainty” is the whole point of the scene in Ralph’s kitchen.)

In a 2007 Vanity Fair article, “An American Family,” Peter Biskind recounts that “Chase wouldn’t tell Pantoliano if Ralphie had set the fire or not.  Pantoliano decided to play the scene as if he hadn’t, as if he were innocent.”  On the commentary track, Green & Burgess confirm that this is how Joey Pants decided to play the scene.  As for the writers themselves: Green believes that Ralphie is guilty of the crime, while Burgess says he always felt Ralph is not guilty (although he is coming around to his partner’s way of thinking).  The fact that there are such differing interpretations of Ralph’s behavior even among those involved in the production of the episode points to an important fact: in film and television, and particularly in The Sopranos, it is in the editing room where the final product is ultimately fashioned.  Regardless of how the actor acted it, or the writers wrote it, or the director directed it, Chase and his editors ultimately stitched the episode together in such a way that we cannot say that Ralph is guilty with any reasonable certainty.

Of course, we shouldn’t expect Tony to be reasonable when it comes to his cherished horse.  When Ralph insists that it was a stroke of luck, and nothing more, that killed Pie-O-My, Tony skeptically responds, “It’s funny about God and fate and shit like that.”  Tony thinks it can’t be a coincidence that the horse would die just after he and Ralph took out an insurance policy on it.  He convinces himself that Ralph committed arson.  And this leads to the second way that we can read the ambiguous shot of the goat which closed the scene at the stables; the goat may represent not Ralph the Devil, but Ralph the Scapegoat.  The third book of the Hebrew Bible, Leviticus, recounts the story of the goat that was heaped with the sins of the people and then sent into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

goat scapegoat

Regardless of whether Ralph is in fact guilty of arson or just the scapegoat for an unfortunate accident, Tony wreaks his vengeance.  There hasn’t been much violence so far in Season 4.  Dectective Haydu was killed in the season opener.  After that, Death made only glancing appearances: Tony learns of Gloria Trillo’s suicide; Karen Baccalieri dies in a car accident; Furio’s father dies of cancer.  The “hits-and-tits” crowd have been sitting on their hands all season long, waiting for some action.  It finally comes now—big time.  The fight between Tony and Ralph is a brutal scene, full of sound and fury.  A violent man meets a violent end at the hands of another violent man.  Tony had drawn a line in the sand, telling Paulie he must not cross it when it comes to Ralph—but then he gives in to rage and kills Ralph himself.  As he bashes the life out of Ralph, Tony growls a line that could refer to either Pie-O-My or Tracee the stripper: “She was a beautiful innocent creature, what did she ever do to you?”  The tensions between the two men had not abated since Ralph brutally killed the young girl in “University.”  Alan Sepinwall of The Star-Ledger calls this episode “the unspoken sequel” of that previous hour.  And as many have noted, Ralph’s “Joisey” pronunciation of “whore” and “horse” sound so similar as to conflate Tracee and Pie-O-My even further.

I don’t know if Chase and the writers had planned to link Tracee and the horse when “University” aired last season.  If they hadn’t, then it really is quite a coincidence that there were so many horse references in “University”:

Tony joked with another stripper about a horse just as Tracee walked into the frame:

4.9 3

Silvio referred to Tracee as a “thoroughbred” (and—this may be a stretch—her “chompers”  are comparable to horse teeth):


Additionally, Caitlyn—Meadow’s maladjusted, distressed roommate who was compared to Tracee at various points in the episode—said that she is going to a horse farm to regain some balance in her troubled life.

Perhaps no Sopranos episode moves through as many tone- and tempo-shifts as does “Whoever Did This.”  The hour begins with quite a bit of humor, particularly at the expense of poor Corrado (who takes a tumble down the courthouse steps), then shifts to the dark pathos of Justin’s accident and Pie-O-My’s death.  After the brutally violent fight between Tony and Ralph, the episode creeps down to a petty pace in its second half.  It almost becomes a procedural, as Tony and Chris give a D.I.Y. lesson in how to dispose of a body.  They separate Ralphie’s head and hands from his torso.  (Ralph was in the bathtub when he first heard the news that put him—potentially—on a road to reformation; it is in this same bathtub [which we now see in a reverse angle] that his corpse spends its last moments on Earth in one piece.)

2 bathtubs

Stephen Peacock, in his essay “Silence and The Sopranos,” analyzes the overpowering silence that characterizes the second half-hour as Tony and Chris dispose of Ralph.  (Tony and Chris almost go completely mute, but our interest is nevertheless held powerfully to the screen.)  Peacock finds something Dickensian in the way the sounds of chains and a bowling ball rolling down the stairs punctuate the quiet.  (The spooky sound of chains chimed in some of Dickens’ more haunting scenes, such as the appearance of Marley’s chainbound ghost in A Christmas Carol.)  Other viewers have found the chilling back-half of the episode to be Poe-like.  (Something about Tony lumbering up the stairs with chains evokes for me the “The Cask of Amontillado,” with its dungeon and chains.)  Strangely enough, it was in an episode whose title alluded to Poe—“The Telltale Moozadell”—that we earlier saw a bowling ball roll down a staircase:

Tony and Chris fling Ralph’s body off a cliff and bury his extremities at Mikey Palmice’s father’s farm.  The duo come back to the Bada Bing to relax and get cleaned up.  When Tony wakes up, Chris has already left the strip joint.  Tony peers at himself in the mirror.  As you all know by now, I love mirror shots:

Tracee Sopranos Autopsy

This mirror shot underscores Tony’s double-sided personality as we have seen it this hour.  On the one hand, Tony is a sympathetic colleague, a lover of animals, a good manager of men (adroitly calming hot-headed Paulie down), and a loving father (tenderly roughhousing with his beloved son).  On the other hand, he is a rule-breaking, self-indulgent murderer that often cares more about animals than he does human beings.  His attention is diverted by a picture of Tracee (fully-clothed, unlike the girls in all the other photographs), the beautiful, vulnerable creature that Ralph Cifaretto undeniably, unquestionably destroyed.

Tony turns away from the photo of Tracee and walks out of the dressing room.  He pauses before the Bing stage, completely empty—except for a spotlight that shines down upon it.  As he stops and stares, he may be thinking of Tracee, who once strut her hour upon this stage but was later wiped off the face of the earth.  I think it may be enormously significant that that previous hour, “University,” opened with a shot of an overhead spotlight and then panned down to the same empty stage that Tony now looks at.  Here is a clip that combines footage of the empty stage from both episodes:

The overhead spotlight, in both “University” and “Whoever Did This,” literally highlights nothing—or more accurately, nothingness.  The empty stage embodies the philosophy of nothingness that threatens to overwhelm characters throughout the series.  For me, the imagery of the empty stage recalls Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, which also contains some stage imagery:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.  Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.  It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Livia’s “It’s all a big nothing” speech to her grandson in “D-Girl” was a contemporary version of this Shakespearean soliloquy.  By demonstrating that our certainties are often actually uncertainties, and challenging Father Phil’s idea that all events are made meaningful through God’s loving grace, “Whoever Did This” bleakly suggests that Livia’s philosophy of nothingness is the ultimate truth.  The empty stage is a powerful symbol of this dark philosophy.  It may seem like I’m making much ado about nothing, ascribing way too much metaphorical importance to a shabby stage in a north Jersey strip joint.  But this same stage will significantly be the location of Paulie’s otherworldly vision in Season 6.  And this stage will be recalled again in the memorable Series Finale.  (And Johnny Sac will directly quote from the above Macbeth passage four episodes from now.)


Even the question of Corrado’s dementia is left unresolved.  Does he go to the neighbor’s house to ask for ice cream because he recognizes the Feds are watching him, or is it because he is genuinely disoriented?  When his nurse escorts him back into his living room, Chase does not keep the camera on him long enough for the viewer to be able to say with certainty that “Corrado is confused” or, alternately, “Corrado is faking it.”  Of course, we do recognize over the course of the series that Corrado is indeed slipping into dementia.  But it’s left uncertain for now.


William Siska, who attended film school with David Chase in the early ’70s, traces the similarities between Chase’s television series and European cinema in his essay, “‘If all this is for nothing’: The Sopranos as Art Cinema.”  Siska notes a parallel between Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna and “Whoever Did This”—they both feature dead horses.

The Passion of Anna - Sopranos Autopsy

Siska’s interpretation of the burned horse in Bergman’s film could, in some sense, apply to Pie-O-My’s death in this episode:

The burning of horses, which occurs after the suspect in earlier incidents of violence to animals has committed suicide, proves that evil haunts the landscape, and turns the act into a metaphor for a universal corrosion in existence itself.

Siska argues that the burned horses in Bergman’s film have a metaphorical dimension, and I think that Pie-O-My’s death here has a similar metaphorical significance—her death exemplifies the progressive darkening of the SopranoWorld landscape over time.  With each passing season of the series, we watch the “universal corrosion” of its characters get worse and worse.

(Just for the record, though, let me add that Siska seems pretty convinced that Ralph did indeed set the fire.  There may be a universal corrosion in SopranoWorld, but there is not necessarily a universal consensus about the events that unfold there.)



  • Tony gives Chris a running commentary on his drug use, setting up the intervention of the next episode.
  • It’s interesting that Corrado’s dementia may have been triggered by a fall down some steps, given the long history of shitty thing happening on steps and staircases in SopranoWorld.  (See my 4.03 write-up for a documentation of incidents.  Also see 6.02 for another connection between “tumbling down steps” and “dementia.”)
  • Like many film geeks, I believe that editing is the most fundamental and important element of filmmaking.  William Stich, A.C.E., gets credit for cutting this episode, and he can be praised (or blamed, I guess, depending on your point-of-view) for turning Joe Pantoliano’s straightforward performance in ‘the kitchen scene’ into something ambiguous.  Veteran A.C.E. guys Sidney Wolinsky and Conrad Gonzalez round up the stellar team of Sopranos editors.
  • “Whoever Did This” finally provides a showdown between Tony and Ralph.  It had been brewing since Tracee was killed in 3.06 but was “formally” set-up in “He is Risen” (3.08), when Tony and Ralph confronted each other in a scene that evoked an old-timey Western, particularly through its use of the song “(Ghost)Riders in the Sky.”  Tony defeats Ralph now, but unlike John Wayne or Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood after a showdown, Tony is not presented afterwards as some square-jawed conquering hero (as we shall further see in the next episode, “The Strong, Silent Type”).

  • The old western mythology is also evoked by the track that closes “Whoever Did This.”  It is Apollo 440’s cover of Ennio Morricone’s “The Man With the Harmonica” from the 1968 film Once Upon A Time in the West.  Note how absolutely brilliant the song choice is: this episode features a showdown between contemporary Italian-American outlaws Ralph and Tony, and it ends with a contemporary version of a song that originally appeared in an Italian-made “spaghetti western” which also featured a showdown between American outlaws.


Guernica original - Deconstructed

Instagram sopranos.autopsy
Email: Ron@SopranosAutopsy.com
If you’d like to help support this site, please visit my Venmo or PayPal
© 2020 Ron Bernard

119 responses to “Whoever Did This (4.09)

  1. I love this from top to bottom, LITERALLY from top to bottom as I love Guernica haha 😉 Thanks for all the research you put into it, instea of just giving us your opinion. For example, I always figured Ralph was guilty so its surprising to learn that the actor that plays Ralph thought he was innocent. Just goes to show ya I guess..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m on my third rewatch of the series and have been reading your write ups after each episode and really love how much effort you’ve put into this. You always give good insight into the episodes. Not to sound ungrateful, but can we Sopranos connoisseurs expect you to add more in the future?


  3. Nice observations about the goat, who we should also recall took a liking to Tony when he visited a sick Pie-O-My at the stables on a dark & dreary night. What’s that quote about the ‘Devil you know’…

    I had never considered the comparison between Tracee & Pie-O-My, both used & abused by Ralph –

    Tracee’s sexual humiliation by Ralph in the back rooms at the Bing, his refusal to come to her aid when Sylvio came to ‘collect’ her for work (something which Ralph must have know as going to happen) & of course her brutal killing.

    Pie-O-My’s prolonged suffering when Ralph refused to pay the vet bill until Tony stepped to the rescue, something Tony never managed to do for poor Tracee despite her reaching out more than once. Even Ralph’s comments about Pie such as ‘Run you fucking nag!’ & “She’s going to be a bottle of LePage if she don’t win this race’ reveal his true feelings toward the animal. Ralph was one devious mobster so I have no trouble believing that Pie was doomed once he took ownership – the insurance was getting collected, it was just a matter of when.

    Keep ‘em coming Ron, good stuff.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you Dave


    • You know it kinda is funny that Tony didn’t expect Ralph to kill the horse and get the insurance after they had just put out the claim. Orrrrr he did expect it and waited so he could have an excuse to hurt him? No prob not that, Tony loved that horse. His love for the animal blinded him from the obvious likes events to occurs from his mobster pals.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an excellent analysis, perhaps even your best thus far. The sheer amount of research you put into this one is jaw dropping.

    Another detail I found interesting is that in 4.08, much of Paulie’s storyline revolved around (and compared him to) a stunted high school bully (as you noted in your analysis as well). In this episode, Ralph deduces that it was Paulie who told Johnny about the joke by realizing it was like a “high school game of telephone.” Who else but Paulie would fit that bill?

    Liked by 3 people

  5. The goat and the Rolling Stones lyrics are both such interesting, subtle catches that you’ve found. I never would have noticed those, no matter how many times I rewatch this classic episode. What I find extremely memorable is that this episode takes on such a darker tone compared to anything seen previously in the show. In my mind, this episode is more like a horror movie, with its abrupt shift in tone halfway through the runtime. Like you’ve noted, we’re being led to reconsider Ralph’s humanity, through seeing sympathetic sides of his personality. The first half is relatively easy-going, compared to what happens later. Of course calling it horror-like is not to diminish the artistic impact, I just always remember the overpowering MOOD of this episode. It’s impossible to watch without being completely absorbed by the power of the narrative. When Tony contacts Christopher for help with you-know-what, it becomes obvious how unique this hour is among anything else we’ve ever seen in TV. It’s truly groundbreaking and influential. I think Breaking Bad is directly linked with “Whoever Did This”

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I think Junior’s dementia is shown to be real as he continues with the ‘act’ even when back inside, away from the prying eyes of the agents in the car. I found that to be very deliberate.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. These write ups are amazing, I have seen the series 7 or 8 times and never realized how deep they actually went until I started reading your blog. Now that I have a very basic understanding of the way David Chase constructs his episodes and the series as a whole I find myself trying to make the same sort of connections that you’ve do an amazing job of illuminating. I wanted to make a couple of very small points. When Lois calls Tony to inform him of the fire at the stables, he hangs up as soon as she tells him that Pie o My had to be destroyed, and I noticed that the pendent on his gold chain is askew, possibly indicating that his world has been turned on its side from the news he just heard about his beloved horses’ death.

    This seems quite obvious to me at least, and maybe thats why you didn’t include it but during the scene where Chris is chopping up Ralphs body he says something to effect of “what the fuck you think happened over there… tragic”, referring to the fire at the stables. It shows Chris handing Ralph’s severed head to Tony and pans to Tony with a sort of pondering look on his face as if he still unsure if Ralph did indeed set the fire that killed their horse, but its obviously too late to do anything about it now. Also the simple irony of Chris saying how tragic it was of Tony to lose his horse, while he is handing him a severed human head.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Junior walks out of his house, and an owner corrects his dog Nips, the same Nips who lunged at Mikey in season 1.


  9. Due to it being outside of the scope of the main focus of this episode, a seemingly innocuous malapropism uttered by Tony that initially escaped my attention may very well have a significant meaning. I, of course, only came to this realization after watching the entire series over again and knowing how and where(the important part here)it ends. The misnomer I am referring to is from Tony’s hospital visit conversation with Junior wherein he mistakenly refers to the Folstein mental acuity test as the “Holstein” to which Junior replies “you get hit in the head and see how well you do”.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. I love your writing/analysis! I have Sopranos on in the background as I read through your site.

    I have a contribution to make: Ralph’s obsession with the film “Gladiator” is revealed in this episode to be a lengthy and intermittent bit of foreshadowing. Ralph dies locked in mortal, mano a mano combat like the gladiators of ancient Rome. As Joey Pants commented in an interview regarding the fight between Ralph and Tony: “Poor Ralphie never had a chance. He was giving away too much weight.”

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Been doing another run at watching this series and today something caught my attention in this episode. Tony mentions that he got to Ralph’s house and Tony says “Listen. About this fucking guy. I came over. He was still moaning. He died almost right away. The ambulance wouldn’t have helped him anyway.” This moment is literally what later happens to Tony and Chris upon Chris’ demise.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I’m 100% positive that Ralph didn’t burn the horse. Here’s what supports my view:

    1. The very title of the episode suggests nothing is certain, “Whoever did this?”

    2. It’s made clear to us that it was Ralph who called Paulies mother yet he’s given a pass because “it’s a business” and Tony could barely contain his laughter when Paulie was telling him

    3. In the previous episode and this episode there’s references to Tracee, who Ralph beat to death in season 3 – and this is why he’s killed. The point being he had to pay for his previous reasons regardless of whether he burned the horse, which negates Father Tortilla’s advice that he’ll be shown mercy by God. Satan is damned no matter how repented he is. Ralph also puts off confessing just as Satan refused to ask for repentance.

    4. As Ron points out ambiguity runs through the entire series and Simon refuses to pander to mainstream audiences and provide answers. Life is ambiguous and none of us really have yes and no answers to most events. This is the beauty of the show. We can form our own ideas as to what happened. I was always convinced Ralph cooked the horse, now 10 years later I’m pretty certain he didn’t. This could change on repeated viewings and why The Sopranos never gets old or stale. My age, my experience and views will always influence how I interpret episodes. This is why I will always rate The Sopranos better than either The Wire or Breaking Bad. For all of Breaking Bads attempts, which I found corny, pretentius and heavy handed, to be symbolic and The Wires social commentary they were ultimately TV shows with set storyline that went from point A to point B, with no room for misinterpretation. It’s Simons insistence on being true to how events unfold in real life and refusing to feed us answers that makes The Sopranos infinitely rewatchable. And some people just don’t get this and call him arrogant or stubborn for leaving things open ended. I call him brave and a genius. Not one single episode can be watched and said, “Simon wanted us to see it a certain way or he imprinted his own views in this episode”. Can you imagine how pretentious or preachy The Sopranos would be if The Wire or Breaking Bad creators were in charge. Anyone who puts them in the same league as The Sopranos just doesn’t get the show and only watched it casually for the mafia angle. Goodfellas and the Godfather and other mafia movies it’s often lumped with are nowhere near as intricate as The Sopranos and it bugs the hell out of me when people think it’s just a show about gangsters. Rant over sorry.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. This is, I submit, the greatest episode of The Sopranos (perhaps any show?) I’ve never had a problem with the slower pace of Season 4, but the way the tumultuous events of this episode suddenly disrupt that (relative) calm is pretty amazing. Maybe it’s not as remarkable today because it’s been copied by so many shows, but the out-of-left-field violent death of a major character in the 9th episode of a 13 episode season (instead of the penultimate ep or finale as expected)… it really packs quite a punch. I’m sure back in 2002 it was especially effective (I didn’t watch the show until after it finished).

    There’s so much to discuss about this episode, really — too much. I generally agree with your view, Ron, that ambiguity rules the day on this show and that the question of Ralph’s innocence here is no exception. At the same time, though, we can keep that ambiguity — the acknowledgment that there’s no certain truth — but still lean towards one side, appreciate the implications of a certain outcome. That is to say, I personally find it much more compelling, original, and interesting if we are to guess that Ralph DID NOT kill Pie, that he’s actually innocent. It goes so well with the arc of the episode and Ralph’s character: this is a repugnant guy, who’s killed an innocent woman (carrying his own child), who has virtually no redeeming qualities…. and yet, in this episode, he really starts to seem to repent, to become a better person somehow. We can’t say if it would have lasted, but from what we see it seems genuine.

    So imagine, Ralph is finally getting on a better path (which of course Tony can’t stand, just as he couldn’t stand Janice bettering herself in Cold Cuts) — and then he is immediately murdered for something he didn’t actually do! Tony then has blood on his hands and has hit a new low in terms of morality and being a poor mob boss with poor impulse control. It was not a rightful, good killing, even if we are to take it as vengeance for Tracee. It’s messy, crude, unnecessary, caused by a leap to judgment that no one can confirm. OTOH, if Ralph did do it, things get much more conventional and less interesting — it just turns things into a messy but rightful revenge killing, basically. I don’t think Chase would be interested in that. I think the idea that Ralph actually was finally in the right on this and got killed for it anyway is oddly tragic and compelling. It will always be ambiguous and was meant that way, but there’s still things which point to the idea of Ralph’s murder being a kind of grave mistake. (And, following this line, why do we get those odd close-ups on Paulie’s worried face in The Strong Silent Type as he looks, scared, at Tony “eyeing” him from the man-and-his-horse painting, if we’re not meant to think that Paulie killed Pie? The otherwise rather unnecessary nature of those brief scenes argues for the possibility of Paulie killing Pie, thinking it would hurt Ralph but not yet knowing what she meant to Tony. Not to mention the very suggestive infomercial on Paulie’s TV, for some type of George Forman grill IIRC, which goes something like “just set the timer and walk away!”)

    And consider also what we soon see in Calling All Cars: Tony dreams of Ralph “changing,” as Melfi interprets, with a caterpillar turning into a butterfly on his bald forehead (obviously the baldness signifying him being dead). This dream, and then the later one of Ralph leading Tony to a house that may represent death itself, is very telling — it’s basically showing us that Tony may have second thoughts about Ralph’s culpability in Pie’s death, that Tony’s haunted by his murder of Ralph because he recognizes the real change that Ralph was going through before he was killed, that maybe he didn’t deserve to be killed. I think the show could’ve delved even more into the questionable aspects of Tony’s murder of Ralph, but we get enough hints I think that it’s depicted as a very, very morally shaky action; just as Tony B. after him and Pussy before, this is a murder that stays with Tony, that marks him and changes him in a certain way (if not as much as Pussy, say).

    Anyway, more broadly, the thing that this ep does so wonderfully is change tones. It’s easy to forget that we spend basically half the episode with Junior and his dementia plot, with Paulie and Ralph’s feud and Tony and Carm and AJ in the kitchen and everyone at Vesuvio’s gabbing about Justin, etc. Everything is FAIRLY normal, for Sopranos anyway, until the kitchen fight. And I’m just repeating what others have said, but the way it changes so suddenly into a one-story, dark, heavily quiet and atmospheric piece about the disposal of a body… it’s just fascinating and oddly hypnotic to watch. There’s a mood to the second half of the episode that’s quite unique; the ordinary mixed with the gruesome and the eerie. The eating-peanut-butter-out-of-the-jar mixed with the putting the decapitated head in the bowling bag, if you will. There’s something almost horror-movie about those scenes after Ralph’s death, even though no one’s in imminent danger and Ralph is obviously just a corpse… but it’s as if the show’s penchant for supernatural sights (Pussy in the mirror, et al) primes us to expect something to jump out at us. And this holds true even after watching the episode dozens of times. It’s something few shows could do like The Sopranos: give the viewer a sense of MORAL unease. It’s really personified well when we see Christopher, seemingly uncharacteristically, make the sign of the cross just as he puts Ralph’s head into the ground. Chris, Tony and the viewer all know that something not quite right has taken place, and Chase leaves us, staggering out into daylight, adjusting our eyes and our brains, trying to gain some sense of moral balance once again…

    I find it really fascinating how the show manages to get so much creepy mileage out of such simplicity: e.g. the scene at the Bing at the end, the empty stage. There is indeed an almost nihilistic sense of emptiness we are left with at the end of this hour: by not only killing off a major character, one who was beginning to show signs of redemption, but also SEVERELY paring down the narrative to just virtually one story, we get the subconscious feeling while viewing the episode that we’re spiraling into the abyss, or something. Things just don’t feel right, or normal, and that sense stays there until the very end. No other episode of the show achieves the specific atmosphere that WDT does: even Kennedy and Heidi, which is almost a companion episode in terms of plot/narrative structure, still feels totally different.

    Really, so much more I could say, but I’ll stop before I write a book. In its horror and hilarity, its mixture of realism and heightened cinematic tone, this one represents all that is great about The Sopranos.

    Liked by 6 people

    • oticed a few episodes earlier Johnny S screams at Ralph over the phone ‘ I should have let Tony chop your head when he had the chance’

      Liked by 1 person

    • Matthew Robertson

      It’s closer to 5 than 1 for me, I think. A great episode through and through, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s even the best episode of what I find to be, BY FAR, the least of the Sopranos 6 (or 7, if you want to say 6 should be separated) seasons. It feels weird to have two of the best 5 or 6 episodes of the entire series in the season I like the least but maybe that just further adds to the brilliance of the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Very thorough and enjoyable analysis of this hour Ron.
    Personally, I adored the opening scene where Junior stumbles from the courthouse steps. The reporter Allison is first pictured as very keen on getting a reaction from Junior. Then, after Junior fell, she seems completely disinterested and steers her attention straight to presenting the fall of Junior on the broadcast. Showing no interest in Junior’s condition whatever. A clear sneer at certain television reporters, IMO.
    As to the goat, when Tony visits Pie with Carmela, he explicitly refers to the goat as Pie’s friend. And that mere fact seems to earn the goat some status. Then, when Tony returns after the fire, he has no attention whatever for the goat. As if the goat only had status through Pie and, even if a living creature in it’s own right, lost all significance once Pie was gone. That always struck me as underlying that, at the root, Tony can be really heartless. The complete lack of empathy for the goat’s grief over losing her “friend”.
    I adore this hour, and particularly the second half. The atmosphere reminds me of long nights out when I was still in college, dwelling bars and pubs. No conventions whatever to respect. Convinced to empty the glass of the night at hand till the very last drop. Often ending up having a last beer or GT when night had long shifted back to day, in a pub where other people where having a cup of coffee before going to work. The feeling of being profoundly connected to the world around, yet at the same time living in an entirely different universe.
    That kind of ambiguity is reflected throughout the entire Sopranos, but particularly so in this episode. Tony as the caring family man in the first half, then a ruthless brute unaffected by any convention whatsoever. The promise of being able to combine both these worlds, to me, is the true seduction of the Sopranos.
    Again, thanks for sharing your insights into this episode Ron.


    Liked by 2 people

  15. Ron- I’ve nearly finished reading every autopsy and I am amazed at some of the stuff I missed after many many views. One thing I wanted to mention with regards to devils and Ralph – in the pic of Ralph and Tracee above- is she giving him the Malochio? The evil eye? Look at her hand!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Agree with David above here. Tony just couldn’t stand Ralph turning into a better guy (or as david above puts it ‘Ralph is finally getting on a better path’). I find the painting of Ralph as the bad here as a bit concocted. What really pushed Tony over the edge is Ralph goading him and exposing Tony’s facade of being an ‘upstanding guy’. Tony’s fragile ego just couldn’t take his hypocrisy being called out. If anything this was Tony at his truest self. Classic old school conservative/traditional dude (textbook ESTJ). He just can’t handle a dissenting voice that does align with his worldview and worse was challenging him!
    I for one is more inclined to believe Ralph is innocent. The title of the episode is just another facade for in reality it is of no consequence Ralph arson-ed the stable. It was more about ralph’s transformation which lead to him being ‘bumped’.
    I am yet to see the next episode but i wonder if the title actually refers to ‘who killed ralph’ rather than the possibilities mentioned by you.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Absolutely, the title can also refer to the question the guys will have over what happened to Ralph. Thanks for mentioning it!


    • Thanks for the articles, re-watching the series and getting a lot more out of it for reading these!
      The camera boom hitting Junior is also another unforeseen event which may or may not induce his dementia.
      As mentioned above, a lot of this episode revels in uncertainties around where the responsibilities lie for the events, so part of the the complexity of the episode is in how the different characters react – there is anger and seeking to blame others regardless of evidence (Paulie at Ralph for the phone call, Ralph at the other kid / his ex / briefly God for Justin, Tony at Ralph for Pie Oh My), guilt (Ralph), resignation (Ralph again) and seeking advantage (Junior).
      Plus some old aspects of the hypocrisy of the characters come back again – Tony wants to make sure Paulie follows the rules in respect of Ralph but breaks the rules himself (emphasised by Tony talking to Paulie about them being in a business and Christopher talking to Tony about what’s good for the business after disposing of Ralph), and Tony killing Ralph over a horse when all he did over Tracee was give him a punch and Ralph looks to turn over a new leaf but still smacks someone around to get money.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. During the infamous kitchen argument, Ralph says, “That fire was a bolt from beyond.” (Crossbow arrows are often called bolts – This must be a reference to the arrow that struck his son earlier in the episode, which was also “a bolt from beyond”.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clever… the arrow and the fire are both examples of what Piluso called “the imminent unexpected,” it’s quite possible that the writers linked the two in the way you suggest…


  18. I may be clutching here but I rewatched this amazing hour last night and wondered this. There is some element of fathers and their responsibilities towards their sons in this episode. Ralph and his guilt over Justin’s injury and how the effects of that are felt in the Soprano household when there is that really touching moment of Tony almost aggressively kissing his own son. Then there is the fatherly tone that Tony takes with his surrogate son Christopher when he comes over high and gets a lot of lecturing about how it will screw his life up (and they dismember and dispose of a body).

    I was struck by how childlike Ralphie is in this episode. Tearful, lost and helpless, this image becomes even more potent when Tony arrives and Ralph is wearing pajama’s like a kid. Some writer’s have suggested that Ralphie is somewhat of a match for Tony but I don’t think so – when Tony lifts Ralphie up to be sitting on the counter and they try to kill each other, Ralphie (Raid can at hand or not) looks totally helpless and again I thought of my own little boy and how I have the physical power to put him where I want him to be. Ralph of course, may also be innocent of what he is about to die for (if it is for the horse and not Tracee).

    Tony becomes a monster and I believe this happens when he act in an extrajudicial way and outside ‘the code’. Christopher alludes to the fact that if Tony can do that to a made guy, then his men will think he can do that to any of them, if he exercises his power over them on a whim; they will be at his mercy. Of course, look what happens to Christopher, his own ‘son’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think you’re clutching at all…

      It’s such a poignant scene with Tony and his son, and I especially love how true-to-life AJ’s response is: he has this annoyed “WTF? Get your hands off me” attitude and walks out of his dad’s embrace.


  19. I think Ralph would have collected insurance eventually, because he was already sick of the horse and the expense. He went along with Tony a couple of times because he’s the boss, but really, he was not going to pay anymore vet bills, and the horse was not a winner. Tony killed him because of the horse mostly, but also because of Tracee. I didn’t really buy Ralph’s tears about his son, because he was looking at the kid who hurt him like he wanted to kill him.(shades of John Gotti and his neighbor who ran over his son) the way he spoke to his ex-wife, and because fundamentally he’s a bad guy. Yes, I’m sure he was worried and upset about his son, but I don’t think he was really capable of genuine sorrow or guilt. As Paulie says’ Crocodile tears.” He was feigning innocence about the horse, to me it was obvious. Plus, I thinik that everyone, even Melfi was surprised at Tony’s upset about the horse. I bet Ralph thought he wouldn’t be that upset, and I also bet that Tony took his share of the insurance. Tony lost his temper, a Soprano trait that only brings trouble. As bad as Tony gets in the series, Ralph is so much worse on so many levels…it was just the last straw.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. This episode is unlike anything I have ever watched. This is my favorite Sopranos episode for a few reasons. The fact that the inevitable build up between Tony and Ralph since “University” has been brewing made it that much more enjoyable. This program has been known for it’s acting, and I think this episode, particularly the Joey Pants/ Gandolfini scenes are the absolute best the series has to offer. Joey Pants no doubt earned his award here. I remember the original airing I was stuck at work and when I left I immediately got numerous messages that I must get home and watch the show. Your analysis is top notch as usual- and the comments section made me think long and hard about my thoughts on who actually killed the horse. Could have been Ralph, definitely could have been Paulie. He surely had issues with Ralph and could no doubt come up with a plan such as this. This episode to me, offers the absolutely funniest scene of the entire series with the telephone call to Nucci, revealing to her about his “gerbiling.” It also offers a killer fight scene which was just spectacularly done, and the process to get rid of the body. It definitely has the forensic feel to it. Your briniging up of Tracee and the horse was interesting. I got a sense the first time around when I seen this episode that Tony’s rage for Ralph went much deeper than the horse, no doubt Tracee was part of that pent up anger. I think Tony went to Ralph’s knowing he was going to kill him, just the way he segued into questioning Ralph made me think he just needed to hear or not to hear certain things. If he wasn’t initially intending on killing him, Ralph antagonizing him and flat out disrespecting him set him off. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this episode is the scene where they throw the body into the water. It was filmed about a mile from my home. It was done at a quarry called Dutch Springs in Bethlehem, Pa. This link even pays homage to old Ralph: https://njscuba.net/reefs/chart_pa_dutch_springs.php Every time I pass by I say hi to Ralphie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link. It’s funny how we now know the details of Ralph’s final resting place—including the specific fishes he is “sleeping” with—but no one in SopranoWorld (besides Tony and Chris) ever had any idea… That quarry is about 90 minutes from my brother’s house, maybe I’ll dive it when I’m in the area sometime… Thanks again!


  21. Another ambiguous moment took place in the office at the Bing when Ralph has an emotional breakdown, due to his son’s accident, in front of Tony and claims to be a changed man. After an attempt to console him, Tony reveals that he is seeing Valentina. Upon leaving the office, Ralph tells Tony to thank Carmela for being great through his ordeal and maybe if he married a woman like her, his life would have taken a different direction. Tony seemed less than thrilled to hear these “complements” about his wife, especially from Cifaretto. Not sure if that contributed to the pent up anger, but it can be interpreted as Ralph’s verbal revenge for losing Valentina to Tony.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a very important moment, imo, that always leaps out at me… Ralph’s resentment towards Tony for smacking & humiliating him, for “stealing” his horse (and his “share” of winnings) and, now, for stealing his woman… all that builds up to the moment when Ralphie says that about Carm. He’s gotta be thinking “this guy will never be satisfied – no matter how much he gets!!!” Especially in this scene, where the Devil-figure Ralphie more closely resembles the Biblical figure, Job…
      First, as a viewer, I love it because someone’s finally telling Tony how invaluable Carmela is. But what Ralph’s doing is also implicitly giving her (at least, some) credit for Tony’s success, so it’s also kind of a dig at him.
      In fact, I’m now wondering if Ralphie *did* actually commit the arson, and that his resentment towards Tony (along with the vet’s bills) is one of the motivating factors.🤔 Remember it’s in that same scene at the Bing, that Tony tells Ralph there are some problems with the horse, and he kindly asks Tony to take care of it. Maybe he knew this would be a great way of not only getting his investment back, but a chance to really stick it to Tony, on the downlow. It’s the only way Ralph thought he could probably get away with screwing Tony over. It’s pretty obvious Tony feels closer to animals than he does with people.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with you wholly and completely, James. I have never been in the “Paulie Walnuts did it”camp. It wasn’t his style. He didn’t strike me as someone who would kill a horse- even as weird and psychopathic as he was. I don’t think he stole that picture of pie as a trophy. It’s just not his way- he’s old-school. But Ralph? Ralph would be the type to use that method to get back at Tony. “No. More. Fires! ” Remember that?
        And you’re right- that scene where he praises Carmela after Tony admits stealing Valentina? Very pivotal scene. I couldn’t agree more.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Oh, yeah, I’d actually never even considered the theory that Paulie might’ve done it until I read the comments on this site. Not only do I not believe he killed the horse, but I always thought he was genuinely honored to have that painting of Tony in his house, and found it weirdly touching. Certainly never thought it may be some sort of sick trophy for Paulie. I always thought it was sad Tony couldn’t accept the way Paulie honored him, even though I understand his embarrassment.
          Ralph is a far more likely candidate – I hadn’t even thought of it in re: to the “No – more – fires!” scene but that’s a great connection.

          Thanks for the thoughtful response, Sue – I’ve been enjoying your comments since I discovered this wonderful resource for Sopranos fans!

          Liked by 2 people

  22. I loved this episode, has to be in the top 5. We all know Ralph is a bad guy and will die at some point, the ambiguity on whether he lit the fire or not adds another dimension to this episode. Chris’s drug use has gotten so bad, Tony realizing he is not that reliable to take more responsibility. Tony breaking down in Melfi’s office about how bad the world is, taking this show into darker areas. Tony has been trying to cover for Ralph with regard to his behavior I guess Tony had enough. Not the horse per say the whole thing with Tracee Tony felt guilty about. Great Analysis


  23. One more minor example of the Satan imagery/allusions: when Tony wakes up at Bada Bing, he gets off the sofa and a poster behind him reads

    “Tessa the Tease
    She’ll bring you to hell!”

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Ralph is such a depraved character — in the hospital waiting room it looked like he actually wanted to go after his kid’s friend and would have done so had Tony not had him wrapped up.

    Couldn’t get lower than Ralph.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Soft Drinks of Choice

    Can we talk about the theory that it was Paulie who set the fire? I guess it has to do with him being somehow clever enough to instigate this against Ralphie after the calls to his ma. Then again, maybe he wasn’t framing Ralphie, maybe he thought Ralphie gave a shit about Pie-Oh-My. The main argument is really just that Paulie is just that greasy. The type to sneak into your house, to smother an old woman, for instance. And definitely one to react emotionally when people close to them are threatened.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s definitely possible, especially considering Paulie’s history and personality as you point out. But would he have then hung a painting of Pie-o-my up on his wall? I’d guess he would want there to be as little connection between him and the murdered horse as possible…


  26. I think Paulie as a character is not so subtle. He wouldn’t kill the horse to get revenge on Ralph. It’s too convoluted a plan for Paulie to of. He would just kill him (Ralph) out right. The horse didn’t really factor in with Paulie either. I’m positive that Ralph can say with truth that he didn’t do it, because he had someone else do it for him. He was sick of giving Tony his part of his winnings, he was sick of the vet bills, he didn’t want the expense, Tony took his girlfriend, and the son was injured. The insurance was a way to get revenge and to make money. If Tony was amenable to the fire, he would have said he did it…but as we know, they never admit crimes, sometimes not even to each other. If there is a God and we are meant to pay for our sins, then Ralph’s bill came due that day. If you look at Ralphs facial expression’s through the episodes before, you can see it coming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was very convinced Ralph did it when this episode first aired; but now I lean much more toward believing Ralph didn’t do it. (Maybe learning that that’s how Joe Pantoliano played the scene is influencing how I see it now.) You bring up a nice way to split the difference: Ralph wanted Pie O My dead but got someone else to carry out the deed—Ralph did it and simultaneously didn’t do it …


      • Ron – I agree with you (and others) that Ralph did not kill the horse. Instead, he hired Corky Ianucci to start the fire (in kind of the same way he set Vesuvio on fire). Paulie? Nahh … he ain’t that smart/savvy. In a nutshell, Ralph is technically guilty.

        Liked by 1 person

  27. It is fascinating to see and hear such great writing done by such fantastic actors. Joe Pantoliano’s delivery of the lines is exquisite. He’s despicable, he’s hilarious, he’s intelligent, he’s cruel “excuse me senor!”…its all great. You can see how a woman like Rosalie would like him when he is doing his regular boyfriend impression. He really seems like a catch. Tony’s character is 2 sided as well, but not night and day like the Ralphie character. I just admire everyone from the writers to the producers to the editors and the actors so much on this show. Everything about it is 100% on point. I’m not saying anything that we don’t all know, but I feel I have to say it. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  28. This is just by the way.
    When Christopher goes to grab Ralphie’s head, and finds himself holding only his wig, it reminded me of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587. She was beheaded. Following the custom, the executioner lifted up her severed head to show it to the people assembled. But as he held it up, it slipped from his grasp, and he was left holding only her wig while her head fell to the floor with a thud.
    What happened next is even less relevant, but watching ‘The Sopranos’ one may become interested in violent death. The Queen had gone to the block with a little puppy hidden in her bosom, and it ran out of her headless body.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I like to read this episode as continuing the psychoanalytic investigation of the past several episodes. In this light, Tony killing Ralphie for killing an innocent horse/whore is a bit like Tony killing a surrogate for himself for his part in killing Gloria, or for his own general toxicity.

    One strand of this episode – at least the first half – are splits between what people say publicly (“he’s gonna be fine”) and what they believe (“he’s gonna be a vegetable”). By the end, many such tensions are flattened, as if by a cosmic cataclysm. There’s a reckoning. Mysterious but symmetrical divine justice seems to play a big role. Junior, e.g. – after not being shot dead, as we might expect a gangster to go out, but struck by a boom – shifts from an old man faking dementia to… – an old man with dementia. He goes the same way as his “mocked” brother Eckley. Ralph covertly scares a woman about her son’s health (Ms. Gualtiari, to say nothing of Rosalie), his own son becomes gravely injured…

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Even on my 4 or 5th re-watch this episode is one if not the best. It almost seems like 2 shorter episodes spliced together. Definitely edited to be very ambiguous around the killing of the horse and whether Ralphie is guilty or not. I love these write ups!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Not to sound like I’m starting a fight, but the shot of the goat and you comparing it to Satan, I read that the goat happened to get in front of the camera and turn around into the lens and the crew thought it was funny so they kept it. Either way, it’s another very brilliant and interesting comment you have come up with!

    Is it just me, or is Ralph’s maid who noticed Justin looks (and sounds like) just like the same woman who called him crying about not paying the vet in another episode and also the women he offered champagne to after Pie o My won…? I love this show!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. My interpretation is that the episode’s title and the conversation Ralph has with the priest point to him being innocent (with respect to arson). He asks the priest why God would do such a thing to his son and tries to find some sort of meaning behind the tragedy. It’s very natural for people to try to ascribe some kind of purpose to help cope with the unbridled chaos and ambiguity that makes up our lives. Random accidents that destroy people and things we love point a spotlight at how little control we have over anything and almost seem to mock any importance or meaning we have ascribed to them.
    It seems that Tony is unwilling to accept this loss of control and meaning that results from the fire and tries to ground it in terms of something he can understand and influence. The “whoever did this” from the episode title is Tony directing a feeling of general metaphysical angst at the uncaring entropy of the universe at a corporeal form that can be held responsible. I think this also ties into Ralph’s association with the devil, in practice the devil is a catch-all scapegoat for all the terrible things that happen in life. The devil is obviously more of an abstract concept but plays functionally the same role as a way of confirming there is tangible cause and “meaning” for evil. It’s much more comforting to blame something or someone than to accept that there is no bigger purpose and things just sort of happen.
    I think Tony desperately wants Ralph to be responsible, both to help him rationalize and accept the horse’s death and to give him a reason to lash out and put at end to the tension that’s been building between them. There’s so much accrued anger and resentment and the imagined arson provides the justification he’s been looking for to finally off Ralph.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “The uncaring entropy of the universe”—that’s what this episode is really all about. The question of whether Ralph caused the fire or not is almost insignificant in comparison..


    • A great post here.
      Also Ron, where can I read this “If all this is for nothing: The Sopranos as Art Cinema” by William Siska?
      I tried Google but didn’t find much. Is it present in the Essential Sopranos Reader book?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I found the web link to it in Essential, but I believe the link no longer works since Essential editor David Lavery died


      • replying more than 3 years later because it may help someone looking for these in the future!
        I finally managed to access the online-only essays cited on Lavery’s book with the help of Wayback Machine

        listing the titles to facilitate forthcoming searches

        Carl Wilson (Brunel U), “Even Brendan Filone’s got an identity and he’s dead”: Christopher Moltisanti and the Reflexive Subjectivity of the Constructed Self
        Paul Lumsden (Grant MacEwan College), Tony’s Menagerie: Animals in The Sopranos
        William Siska (U of Utah), The Sopranos as Art Cinema
        Sven Weber (Independent Scholar), The Sopranos: Asleep
        Bruce Plourde (Rowan U), Tony and Dora: Mastering the Art of Counter-Transferrance
        Dianna Lipp Rivers (Lamar U), Hospital Scenes, Nursing, and Healthcare in The Sopranos
        Ilaria Bisteghi (U of Bologna), The New Serial Television: The Sopranos and The Relay Race-Like Text Structure

        Liked by 1 person

    • This. I am absolutely convinced of this analysis of Tony’s need to believe Ralph burned the stables.

      The reading of the devil as scapegoat is genius.

      I also love how it being Tony’s ‘truth’ doesn’t prove Ralph didn’t burn the stables 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  33. someotheralex

    Two things I noticed watching this:
    1) Ralph’s last words before Tony attacks him are “What are you, a vegetarian? You eat beef and sausage by the fucking carload!”. In a previous episode, a connection between Tony’s panic attacks and meat is drawn (due to witnessing his dad chopping off the butcher’s finger and then how his mum reacted to meat being brought home) – I wonder if the mention of meat just before Tony’s murderous rage that kills Ralph was a deliberate choice? (I haven’t seen past this episode yet, so it might be that panic attacks or meat don’t have the same significance in future episodes for all I know, but just a thought)
    2) There seems to be a mirroring between the shot of Tony and Christoper looking down at Ralph’s sinking corpse from the cliff, and the shot in University of Tony and Silvio looking down at Tracee’s mutilated body outside the Bing. This would also represent how Christopher is now expected to more and more replace Silvio as Tony’s closest confidant.

    Liked by 3 people

  34. Christine Marotte

    I truly love your insight . My take on whoever did this is in reference to Ralph and the stable fire that killed Pie o My. I say stick to what we do know for sure. Ralph is capable of setting fires beyond that, nothing. We do know that Ralph was vile to Tracee in the manner he spoke to her, his treatment of her and that he murdered her. I believe Ralph was the father of the baby Tracee was carrying. Ralph’s twisted sexual nature revealed he did not have sex in the normal manner that would result in pregnancy. We know Ralph is capable of fathering a child, Justin . The only time were are shown Ralph having actual sex was with Tracee. So I believe Ralph knew it was his child and he was offended about the stance that Tracee took in front him with many of his crew present. He was also offended at the way they sided with her, although seeming to be in jest, Ralph noted there was truth behind their reactions. So Ralph baited Tracee in order to get her to react so he could “justify” his brutal deadly response. So the horse represents the straw the broke the camel’s back in Tony’s mind and enabled the violent fight between Tony and Ralph, but when it went to where Tony was to the point of killing Ralph Tony is speaking of Tracee.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Christine. I think “stick to what we do know for sure” is a great philosophy to live by. I don’t think its necessary to always abide by it when we’re analyzing art (like on this website), but I always try to follow it in real life. I’ve been going nuts the last few weeks talking to people with their various coronavirus conspiracy theories and I just want to yell at them “Stick to what you do know for sure!”

      Liked by 2 people

  35. I am watching The Sopranos for the first time, and love this website with its intelligent analysis and commentary. Thank you, Ron and all the contributors.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Brilliant episode, and an excellent analysis! That Guernica thing is incredible.
    The whole second half of this episode is incredible. The complete implosion of narrative threads, the absence of background noise, the shift in lighting – it all works brilliantly to create its almost queasy mood. I think this whole episode is very much about exposing the TV idea that revenge must always be enacted, that bad people must get their comeuppance, that killers must die, for what it is – an indulgence of base anger and abdication of morality masquerading as morality itself. While other crime narratives would revel in the death of a “villain” like Ralphie at the hands of Our Loveable Hero (who, sure, he’s a thief, pusher, extortionist, pimp and murderer, but he’s not as bad as *this* other guy!), The Sopranos reveals the truth – all that happens is a cold-blooded murder of a man, with a hospitalised son, dating the widow of the man whom his murderer supposedly loved and respected the most, who has also lost her only son on that same murder’s orders. It really is a dirty, shameful little thing. That Jackie April Junior Scholarship, which gets a brief side mention before being forgotten about, will do more good than Tony’s crime, which Hollywood wants us hooting and baying for, could ever possibly do.
    Two questions that struck me while watching this episode:
    1) Chris claims to have only snorted some heroin before meeting Tony, but when he takes off his shirt, wouldn’t track marks have been visible and given the extent of his addiction away?
    2) Why bother to dispose the head and hands separately from the rest of the body? Some kind of mafia ritual – but wouldn’t things that require so much more effort and risk of discovery be one of the first of “The Old Ways” to go? Avoiding identification – why not just dump the whole body in the place it’s least likely to be found?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment Sophie. I also wondered the same thing about Ralph’s head and hands… I would guess that Tony orders the dismemberment out of an abundance of caution, and experience has shown them that it is the “safer” way to go. In any case, it certainly adds a moment of spectacle to a part of the hour that is characterized by slowness and quiet (and to a part of the season that has been relatively quiet in terms of blood-and-gore)..


    • Chris was mostly shooting into the veins in his feet. I believe we’re shown that a few times. So no obvious track marks.

      Also, just wanna chime in and say that Imperiolli plays high as well as any actor I’ve ever seen. A lot of performers over do it and exaggerate too much.

      Liked by 2 people

  37. I’ve been following my friends’ first watch of the series, though not closely. Tonight was Mergers & this. I first watched the show out of order and (the horror) on A & E. I always remember knowing Junior’s old and screwy by the end of the show, so watching his plot here it was interesting to hear my compatriots think it was all an act. I remember him looking semi-confused in his house, but it’s as you wrote it: the shot is much shorter & more ambiguous than memory served. So I might’ve spoiled his dementia with a comment. Whups.
    – Ron, I’d noticed all the Stones refs before, but it was you (Fredo) that really pointed out just how laden with Satanic imagery Ralphie’s very presence is. And that essay you mentioned on silence, boy does is hover over this second half. Breaking Bad, a fantastic show that has nevertheless always felt too much more sensational (in a ‘look how cool this fuckin’ shit is dude’ way) to me to be on level w/ the Sopranos. BB dissolves quite a few bodies over the years, but this Sopranoland analogue feels very stark and unadorned in comparison. I will always applaud this show loudest for doing what far too many shows and movies simply do not do: allow you the viewer to be drawn in without some incidental non-diagetic score to tell you how to feel about the scene.
    – Isn’t a heroin high relatively brief? I know the effects can linger like twoish hours, but Chris is wonky long after they’ve been sitting around waiting for dark. Prolonged usage? Then again, some of those later scenes are of a Wild Turkey-drunk Gandolfini and Imperioli, by the latter’s own admission.
    – Sudden acting brilliance: I don’t know what it is, but I love the way Vito mouths “Not good” to Tony at the hospital. Joseph G. made it real.
    – It’s the little things: the specifics of Mel’s daughter & the Irish Parliament bit. Bobby’s reaction is pretty much ours, a polite half-smile. The vague details of Ralphie’s family situation, clarified somewhat from Employee of the Month. A reference to long dead Mikey. And Lois, one of my favorite auxiliary characters. She and Tony are written as having lightly bonded over this beautiful innocent creacha. He’ll probably never see her again after this, though, and if Ralphie, Paulie or Whoever is responsible for the fire, it’s still another civilian relationship with Anthony Soprano that ends in grief.
    – Hell even Branca, with FICA & federal withholding. Nobody’s safe, man. And her subsequent domino push in Whitecaps? Nobody’s safe from Branca either.
    – Marianucci Gualtieri. That’s it.
    – When I watched the series w/ my spouse & Ralphie first showed up in Proshai, she said “Hey, wtf? Joey Pants is always bald in stuff.” And I just said “Mmm hmm.”
    – It’s worth something, has to be, that Justin basically gets the later Sil treatment. We never find out if he pulls through. The oxygen situation sounded pretty dire, and we have no indication of Ralphie’s good news about his motor skills when Tony visits the hospital in the following episode. Something about how surface level even seemingly-tender relationships can be in this world (see Lois above). #justiceforjustie
    – In a Four-Part 20th Anniversary writeup, Deadline asked David Chase twice if Ralphie killed Lady Pie, and twice he responded “I don’t know.” Classic.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. One funny similarity between this episode and 4.07 – in 4.07, Ron Zellman tells Tony he’s seeing Irina, Tony’s old girlfriend. Tony plays cool but eventually lays a belt on Zellman. Ironically, Zellman and Maurice think they should almost be punished for scamming HUD; Zellman earns punishment for a different transgression. In this episode, Tony tells Ralph he’s seeing Valentina, Ralph’s not-so-former-mistress. Ralph also plays cool.

    Ralph doesn’t exact revenge on Tony, though, unless it is Ralphie who had something to do with the fire at the stables. But would Ralphie burn the stables down to get back at Tony? I doubt it: Ralph doesn’t seem to care about Valentina or any of his mistresses – it’s all about him, like Janice said. Tony was probably leaning towards getting rid of Ralph before Pie-O-My was “destroyed” (Lois’s terminology there). Ralph’s sexuality was probably the last crucial part in the case against him.

    Ralphie is obviously at a weak point, and seems eager to pay for his wrongs. The tragic humor lies in Ralph’s masochism – he ultimately pays for his son’s life, his inappropriate behavior, sexual perversions, etc., with his life. I think maybe Tony is feeling Ralphie out when he says he should see the horse. Ralph certainly doesn’t seem to care. This would make a clear path to the stables for Tony. Tony knows Ralph needs to go but doesn’t bother saying this to Paulie, Chris, and Sil. He actually says the opposite. Perhaps this serves to keep the whole thing in the dark. Paulie does seem far more disgusted with Ralph than Tony. Anyways, great episode and interesting analysis.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Fittingly tragically ironic that Ralphy is worrying about the extent of the brain injury of his son…while in a previous episode, as Tony’s men are standing around the hospital bed of someone who’s suffering a brain injury, Ralphy cracks, “On the bright side, he never was that smart to begin with.”

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Watching / reading this again, it occurs to me that this episode, in its foreshadowing, embodies how uncertainty is the primary emotion behind the show (look no further than the series’ final scene). We are about as certain as to whether Ralph kills Pie-O-My as we are that Tony lives or dies in the end. How do you depict uncertainty in film? The show, through its visual language does a clever job in its juxtaposition of imagery. The horse’s death is followed by the silent goat’s (rich in symbolism, as you note) eerie, enigmatic gaze directly into the camera, then followed immediately by the murderous scene between Ralph and Tony. Despite the procedural body disposal sequence that follows, we as viewers are left with more questions than answers – the opposite of the traditional police procedural, where all questions are tied in a bow at the end. We view the bathtub, the site of Ralph’s cleansing and then dismemberment (perhaps a second cleansing?) from opposite angles; when Ralph is alive, we see it as voyeuristic (eye-level) and, in death, we see it through a high-angle shot from the opposite perspective. Tony’s final solo scene at the Bing is likewise marked with filmic representations of the Void – the empty spotlighted stage — shot from above, with Tony in the background, in the center — followed by the final first-person shot of him opening the heavy door into a blur of daylight. The dark void on the inside, highlighted by the spotlights, is just as unsettling as the whir of everyday life that transpires outside the Bing’s doors, where Tony becomes a presence of darkness in light. As you point out, the filmmaking here evokes so much through the camera work and editing alone. Once we get beyond the surface plot points (Whoever Did this? Did Ralph do it? Is Tony projecting something else onto him? Harboring a grudge over Tracee?), we can see that the show, through its visual creativity, is pointing us into a murky space, where the truth can’t be known, and where the void of uncertainty is palpable.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. I happened to listen to the Chi-Lites song “Oh Girl” from “Watching Too Much Television” right after finishing this episode, and wondered whether the harmonica sample from the “Once upon the time in the West” redux was, on some level, intended to recall the very similar one in that song. Tony obviously has a lot of motivations for killing Ralphie, but a minor subconscious element of it seems to be an obverse reflection of the actions he takes against Zellman in “Too Much Television” (a revenge against being cuckolded) vs. the aggression(avenging?) of a cuckolder (his new status with Valentina in “Whoever”). The Chi-Lites song triggered something in Tony vis a vis sexual ownership, and the stake in Pie-Oh-My has already been used as a parallel to a similar sense of monogamous ownership in “Too Much Television” (“I already took his horse”) — and to take it back even further, much like Valentina, Tracee seemed to be angling for Tony as a step up from Ralphie. It playing after Tony walks into the great blank ending to that episode communicated to me that he’s lost into that vertical split SA has referenced the in autopsy of this season. What boundaries he wants to maintain vs. the ones he wants.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting point. Even if the harmonica isn’t a direct callback to “Oh Girl,” there are definitely cuckoldry/masculinity issues in both episodes..


  42. Killing Ralph is an action which directly leads to his ultimate demise in the diner in the final episode. This episode displays Tony’s failure as a boss. Too emotionally driven and narcissistic. He deserved his fate.

    Liked by 1 person

  43. Have you caught what Michael said in the podcast about the blinding light that came down on Tony as he was leaving the bing? He said it’s like the spirit of Tracee finally set free after Tony avenged her death.
    It blew my mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. In the kitchen scene, Ralph says to Tony something about how he is constantly eating meat, why does he care about a horse which then leads to Tony starting the fight. I’m not sure what the meaning may be but I’ve always found the presence of meat and animals in the show to be particularly interesting. Meat comes up in Tony’s flashback at Satriale’s and Melfi suspects it is a trigger for his panic attacks. Animals like Pie-O-My and the ducks we see throughout the show also play a very important role in Tony’s arc.
    I don’t think the fact that Ralph’s meat comment is what set Tony off is an accident. There’s a lot of lines I could draw but I’m gonna leave it at that

    Liked by 2 people

    • One of the top five episodes for me.
      I had this strange feeling that Ralph was a goner as soon as he started cooking eggs.
      Also, not sure if this has been covered but I found poetic justice in the fact that, while not quite as brutal, Tony bashed (and choked) the life out of Ralph – similar to the way that Ralph annihilated the “beautiful and innocent creature” Tracee. David Chase definitely swayed viewers at least a bit towards rooting for Tony when he avenges her death. He is the audience’s “Rottweiler” to sic on the most abhorrent character thus far. And we don’t have Melfi’s restraint about actually using him.

      Ron, this website and your write-ups are beyond impressive.

      Liked by 1 person

  45. Glad to see one of my favorite episodes of television get a worthy write-up; thank you for this.

    Your observation on mirrors made me think of something I noticed on my last re-watch: as Ralphie leaves the Bing, Tony approaches Sil, Paulie and Christopher; Tony is facing the door and the camera is positioned behind the other three, who are facing Tony. It’s an extremely quick shot, but we see Tony looking past his three friends at Ralphie as he walks through the door into the light, which we can see in the reflection of a mirror behind Tony. Tony walks through the same door at the end of the episode. I would love to hear any thoughts you might have on this.

    “Even the question of Corrado’s dementia is left unresolved. Does he go to the neighbor’s house to ask for ice cream because he recognizes the Feds are watching him, or is it because he is genuinely disoriented?”

    Your argument in defense of ambiguity is thoroughly convincing to the point that it almost seems wrong of me to take a definitive stance on *anything* in the Soprano-verse, but I gotta hand down a ruling on this one: I’m in the latter camp on this issue and I think the editing backs me up.

    After Branca brings Junior back inside, she excuses herself to go make tea and leaves Junior alone to contemplate what just happened, and he looks genuinely distraught (if we buy into the “acting” theory, maybe he’s just putting a show on for her as well – which is plausible). The camera begins to a circular sweep from right to left to capture Junior’s entire face, but it quickly cuts before we get there.

    A normal series would’ve given us the entire shot, perhaps even an extended sequence where Junior crumples onto the couch in a sad heap – but not The Sopranos. One could easily view the quick cut as a nod to ambiguity, and I think it is – but it’s more of a nod to Junior’s perception than to the viewer’s.

    Maybe my worldview is just more jaundiced than the average person’s, but I always watched this series with the assumption that the worst things will eventually always happen, just not necessarily to Tony. Not even Dr. Melfi or young Justin are safe.

    I’m being a real chiacchierone here, but this is my long way of saying that I always took Junior’s ice cream episode at face value, because how could the sad, lonely gangster currently pretending to have dementia NOT end up actually suffering from dementia? The irony is too sweet, especially in an episode where irony grabs Ralphie by the throat so lustily.

    To be fair, I’m able to say this was 20/20 hindsight because – unlike Ralph’s ostensible guilt over Pie-O-My – we eventually get the ocular proof that Junior’s mind is fading.

    So I think that’s why I’ve always seen the quick cut away from Junior as a sign of impending doom: we know something is wrong, he knows something is wrong; the fear is fleeting but it’s powerful – and I see it as an attempt to capture the angst that must exist in the mind of someone beginning to struggle with dementia. Junior realizes he may not recognize himself one day, so William Stich cuts away before we can get a full view of this realization.

    Last thing: “I came over. He was still moaning. He died almost right away. The ambulance wouldn’t have helped him anyway.”

    Probably my favorite bit of foreshadowing ever, when applied to Tony and Christopher’s relationship.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. “Something about Tony lumbering up the stairs with chains evokes for me the ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ with its dungeon and chains.”

    I really think you’ve hit on something here, for more reasons than you may realize. I think “Cask” is one of the most underrated short stories ever written; what I love most about it is that it can be plausibly read in several ways.

    For instance, Montresor’s family crest is a snake biting the heel of a man who is stepping on it. So who is whom? Is Montresor’s vengeance on Fortunato (the fortunate one) supposed to represent the snake biting the man who stepped on it, or is it the man getting vengeance on the snake for biting him? Which is the more righteous?

    I have no idea if the allusion you made to “Cask” was a conscious one or not; but I’m glad you made it because, just like “Whoever Did This,” much of the brilliance of Poe’s short story can be found in its ambiguity.

    Another example: the precise motive for the murder is never revealed; but Montresor, a proud aristocrat from an old family, mentions the “thousand injuries” dealt him by Fortunato, a new money up-and-comer, which have apparently escalated into a recent insult for which there is no remedy but murder. Meanwhile, in North Jersey, Paulie says to Tony, “[Ralphie’s] a saint. You forget the thousand incidents with that guy?”

    I have no clue if Green and Burgess were alluding to “Cask” on purpose, but wow.

    As always, your thoughtful and diligent analysis has sent me down the rabbit hole. Thanks so much for doing what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. I’ll tell you why I think Ralph killed Pie. Besides the obvious: it was a fire- he’s the devil, he deals in fire. And he needs money, the horse was insured. The big reason is Valentina. Tony tells him he’s seeing her when Ralph is at his most vulnerable. Tony takes Ralph’s whore, so Ralph takes Tony’s horse. Thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  48. This is the only episode of the Sopranos where I balled like a baby (or like a reformed Ralph)…..the goat distressed about his friend…..My-Oh-My….only relationship that was pure without motive or agenda.

    Liked by 1 person

  49. Just re-watched this episode, it has always been a favorite. I always thought Ralph was innocent regarding the death of Pie-O-My. His denials to Tony seemed real. However, after reading the synopsis, I’m not sure. When they shot Ralph’s death scene, Joe Pantoliano wasn’t told if his character started the fire or not, so one can’t really use his words as evidence.

    Great write up. The horse references in the University episode makes sense. I’m starting to watch for these connections as I watch the series for the 3rd or 4th time, and pay more attention to the opening shots. I’m learning a lot by reading the episode break downs.

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Ron – I absolutely hated Ralph from the beginning. I dunno … maybe it was a combination of his messy red hair, his loud grating voice, his cocky demeanor and of course, the way he brutally murdered Tracee. I was both stunned and ecstatic when Tony killed him, and wondered whether the look on MY face (had I killed Ralph) would have been the same as Tony’s. Chase sure knew how to evoke wanton depravity in his characters … and us viewers as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Am amending my comments:
      I now think that Ralph’s time on this series was too short. Yeah, he rubbed everyone the wrong way, but he did a great job at being a friggin jerk. I laughed my butt off when he called Paulie’s mother (and his sense of humor doesn’t seem forced at all!). Had Tony made him a capo instead of Gigi, he could have been considered a major player. Unfortunately, Chase made a huge error in having him killed off in one season.

      Liked by 1 person

      • P.P.S. I recently read an article about Joe Pantoliano. In the interview, the actor was asked whether he was responsible for the death of Pie-O-My. He said that he chose to portray himself as innocent (of the horse’s death) because Chase was ambiguous (as often the case) as to Ralph’s guilt/innocence.
        I shocked by the identical comments made by Ralph and Dr. Melfi. When confronted by Tony, Ralph defended himself by saying, “But so what? It was an animal!” When Tony told Melfi that he was upset about the horse, she said, “It was an animal!” As an animal rescuer for 50 years, I (like many other people) always consider my pets ‘family’ – not just ‘animals’! 🕊

        Liked by 1 person

  51. On my 5th rewatch of this episode – the part where Ralph ‘meets his end’ – I remembered a scene in ‘Shutter Island’ (one of my all-time favorite movies). In it, Dr. Naering (Max Von Sydow) tells Teddy (Leo DiCaprio), “Wounds can create monsters, and you, you are wounded. And wouldn’t you agree, when you see a monster … you must stop it”. Somewhere in his past, Ralph was (physically, spiritually, and/or emotionally) wounded, and became a real ‘monster’. So, it seems almost fitting that he be stopped – killed – in order to stop him from continuing his monstrous ways. A fitting brutal death for a brutal man. 🐽

    Liked by 1 person

  52. Chase seems to use the “Champion” brand as a sort of kiss of death (although in the context of this show, where someone dies in almost every episode, I should mention that I don’t mean actual death, necessarily)… Ralphie is wearing a Champion sweatshirt when Tony beats him to death; Zellman is wearing Champion boxer shorts when Tony whoops his ass with the belt; if I remember correctly, either Matt Bevilacqua or Sean Gismonte is wearing a Champion t-shirt when Furio interrupts their intimate time to shake them down for an extra thousand… There are definitely other instances, but that’s all that comes to mind at the moment.
    Also funny that Chris is so high that when he goes to light his cigarette at the kitchen table (indoors), he uses a Zippo (famously “windproof”) but still feels the need to shield the flame with his right hand so it won’t go out. And the thumb of that latex glove… never gets old.

    Liked by 1 person

  53. P.S. Remember the scene where Tony washed his eyes out (from getting sprayed with Raid)? He then faces the stove and you can hear him yelp in pain. I read that Gandolfini actually did burn his hand on the stove, as the gas burner was still on. Ouchie!

    Liked by 1 person

  54. According to G. Hermanns (Dec 2021), Chase discussed the reason why Tony killed Ralphie:
    “… when he was beating up on Ralphie for killing Pie-O-My, it was really about the girl that he killed, Tracee (Ariel Kiley)”.
    SOooo, it looks like Ralph DID kill the horse after all!! 😯

    Liked by 1 person

  55. OK. I have to admit to either having a “senior moment” or not paying close enough attention, but I need a little help understanding something. I remember Janice throwing Ralph out of “her” house when she decided that she was going to set her sights on Bobby. Now, I see Tony coming to confront Ralph in a home which is, ostensibly, his. It’s also, apparently, where Ralph was in the shower when HIS housekeeper came to tell him of the injury to Justin. So, my questions is this: When did Ralph end up buying and moving into his own place (I guess ending his need to “stay” with whomever he happened to be “shtupping” at the time)? Thanks in advance for clearing this up.

    Liked by 1 person

  56. I was young when I first watched the Sopranos, maybe not even a legal adult, and in rewatching it now as I’ve just turned 30 I feel so differently about so many of these scenes and characters, but none really stood out to me so much as this episode. Tony is so evil here that I can’t seriously imagine anyone watching the Sopranos up to this point and still thinking there’s anything redeemable about this awful man. This deal-with-the-devil bastard that lets Ralphie walk away after beating a teenage girl to death, is willing to whack Johnny Sack so as not to endanger the moneyflow coming from the devil, and threatens Paulie about the repercussions should he touch him, only for Tony to kill him himself over… a horse? Understandably, they want the viewers to remember at the end that no matter how tragic what happened to Ralphie’s son may seem, he’s still the guy that bashed a girl’s brains out. I fear that a vast majority of people may have walked away from this feeling relieved, like, “Phew, Ralph’s finally dead. He got what he deserved.”

    I know that the general idea is that the horse reminds Tony of Tracee, but I wonder if there’s more to it. In a way, you could even say that seeing Ralph put so much care into his son’s condition (showing that he is, in fact, capable of emotion) may have made his murder of Tracee seem even more heinous in retrospect. Because, you know, if a guy is just a crazy psycho, there’s not much you can do about, you can either accept it or get rid of him; but when Ralph shows that he’s capable of a full range of human emotion with regard to his son, it also puts into contrast just how little he thought of Tracee. Him saying she was a “whore” means she was waste without any rights to speak of. He isn’t just using that as a defense to play down his crime and placate his crew, the guy GENUINELY feels no remorse and never once viewed Tracee as fully human, which could have triggered Tony who may have dismissed him more as an unstoppable force of nature rather than a cruel and misogynistic man.

    It’s also interesting how in the previous episode we have all the talk about Ralph, what his kinks are, and the relationship he may have had with his mother. I wonder if Tony may have felt there was some kinship between them there and got frustrated with Ralph shutting himself off at once. Ralph has severe mommy issues and Tony is fully aware of how that may have fucked him up growing up, and how big of a part it may have played in the execrable human being Ralph turned out to be. But this doesn’t seem to weigh much on his mind (at least from what we can see). At the very least it would lead to questions about who Ralph’s mom was and what exactly she worked as. If she was a whore, why, that would be very interesting…

    I have to say, I personally see this episode as Tony asserting his dominance and masculinity in the most brutal way imaginable. I don’t really think this killing of Ralph had much to do with the horse or with Tracee beyond Tony being able to tell himself that Ralph “deserved” it (which the Sopranos has already pointed out to us is not how this works, mobsters are incapable of dealing justice).

    I think Ralph:
    a) Caused Tony to feel emasculated repeatedly – not only do we have Tony failing as a boss by smacking Ralph around after the Tracee killing, but he ultimately failed to avenge her death in any meaningful way. In this episode we can even see Tony showing begrudging respect towards his Satan: “Kid in the hospital. Just take a look how he fucking earns.” This is the opposite of Tony, who, as we have seen, is barely able to get up before noon and deal with his family life.
    b) Signaled to Tony indirectly that he is in fact only human and not a devil. He suffers. He cries after his kid. And he likes to to be humiliated and take it up the ass because of the abuse he may have suffered as a child. So Tony was not only put down, but now he’s dependent on some guy that’s as vulnerable as he is AND falls into a category of sexual deviancy that could get him labeled the wrong thing and killed? Just by associating with him, it makes Tony less of a man in the old school mentality of mobsters.

    And what does it say about Tony, that his best earner is a crazed murderer that can’t keep his mouth shut and barely respects him? When Ralph is so highly valued by New York that Carmine is willing to let go of Johnny Sacks, is it so unimaginable that this road leads to Tony getting whacked to make room for big-earning, high-functioning psycho Ralphie to take over? What are his future prospects if he keeps fucking up while Ralphie never fails to deliver the goods?

    There’s one last thing I’d like to mention which I’m afraid some might take the wrong way… A lot of people that really love animals tend to not love humans all that much. I’ve heard it said as a joke by some African-Americans that, “White people care more about dogs than Blacks.” The fact that Pie-O-My isn’t even a dog, but a horse, a pet exclusively associated with affluent, (mostly) white families nowadays doesn’t seem accidental. It might in so many other stories, but Chase has criticized the brahmin class quite effectively in past episodes. No matter how you want to look at it, it’s still the case that Tony let Ralph walk away after beating a pregnant young girl to death, then decided to murder him in his own kitchen while the guy was hurting over his hospitalized son, all because of a horse Ralph MAY have killed. That contrast is insane, and it’s one that we shouldn’t forget just because we have the murder of Tracee at the back of our minds.

    The same way Ralphie dismissed the killing of Tracee by saying, “She was just a whore,” Tony will now dismiss it by saying, “He was just a murdering psycho.” Both are true. They also mean nothing when facing the reality of cold-blooded murder.

    Liked by 1 person

  57. “Creeps in this petty pace”
    Johnny Sack also says this (slightly different) a few episodes later when Tony refuses to follow through on the Carmine Sr hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a line from MacBeth- the tomorrow soliloquy.
      “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day. to the last syllable of recorded time. And all our Yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle. Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. “

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s