Whoever Did This (4.09)

Pie-O-My suffers a gruesome fate.  So does Ralphie Cifaretto.  After getting rid of Ralph’s body, Tony goes to
the Bing where he sees a picture of Tracee.

EPISODE 48 - ORIGINALLY AIRED NOV 10, 2002
WRITTEN BY ROBIN 'GUILTY' GREEN & MITCH 'NOT GUILTY' BURGESS
DIRECTED BY TIM VAN PATTEN

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“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.

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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 toe-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.  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 rather odd 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):

chompers

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 that his corpse later 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 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.

SIGNIFYING NOTHING
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.)

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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.

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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.)

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ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • 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 the song choice is absolutely brilliant: 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.

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Guernica original - Deconstructed

19 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..

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  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?

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  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 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?

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  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”

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  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.

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  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.

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

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  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”.

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  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.”

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  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.

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  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 1 person

  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 2 people

  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.

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

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