Jack Massarone gives Tony a painting. Tony Blundetto joins SopranoWorld. A power struggle within the New York
famiglia begins to heat up after boss Carmine dies.
EPISODE 54 - ORIGINALLY AIRED MARCH 14,2004 WRITTEN BY MATTHEW WEINER DIRECTED BY ALAN TAYLOR
The season opener “Two Tonys” seemed to suggest that the Mafia storyline will take precedence over domestic issues this this year. “Rat Pack” continues in that vein, introducing us to a lot of new mob faces. (Well, old faces but new to us.) Tony and Carmela’s domestic/separation issues stay out of the limelight for the most part here. Carmela does get screentime with her girlfriends, but she has very little interaction with her husband, and Meadow and AJ make only the slimmest of appearances.
The first three scenes of the hour introduce us one after the other—bang bang bang!—to this episode’s rat pack (and I don’t mean Dino, Frank and Sammy); “Blackjack” Massarone, Adriana and Ray Curto are all working with the Feds. We watch Curto now correct the FBI transcript of a conversation that we saw take place way back in 4.01. We’ve known since “Proshai, Livushka” (3.02) that Ray Curto is a rat, and he will have the distinction of being the longest-tenured informant of the series.
Adriana will not have Curto’s luck – her tenure as an informant will not last nearly as long as his. Ade doesn’t know it, but the Feds have installed a camera on a light pole outside of the Crazy Horse – an action that will have dire consequences for her later in the season:
(The date on the video is 3/11/04, just three days before this episode originally aired, reinforcing the sense that SopranoWorld-time correlates with real-world time.) Adriana is straining under the pressures of her double-life. She tries to elicit some warmth from her handler Robyn Sanseverino, but the agent does not seem to be a naturally warm person. Robyn rarely ever makes eye contact with Ade, keeping her eyes fixed on the notebook in which she constantly scribbles notes. She lies about not having children when Ade queries her. Robyn does, however, share a heartfelt story about why she got into the FBI in the first place. But the story, and its lesson—“Nowhere but the FBI is the line clearer between the good guys and the bad guys – and you’re with the good guys now”—reflects Robyn’s lack of nuanced understanding or sensitivity, a shortcoming that will leave Adriana even more isolated over time.
Adriana does feel the warmth of friendship at the Soprano home during Movie Night with the girls, but this only makes her feel like a Judas for betraying her friends. She rushes out of the house, slipping off the curb as she runs to her car. (A couple of tight insert shots of Rosalie make us wonder if Ro will put 2 and 2 together and figure out that Adriana is an informant.)
Blackjack Massarone doesn’t have Curto’s luck as an informant either. We first met Jack in “Do Not Resuscitate” (2.02) when he was Tony’s partner in grift at a construction project. We don’t know when the Feds turned him, but we find out quite early in this hour that he is wearing an FBI wire. It takes Tony a little bit longer to recognize that Jack is a rat. He initially suspects that Jack gifted him the Rat Pack painting as a way to cover his betrayal, but then revolts at the idea because it would imply that there’s a hidden agenda behind every good deed: “Can’t a guy be fucking nice anymore? Friendly?” (Well, no, Tony – at least not in the world that you’ve fashioned for yourself.) Tony wants proof of Jack’s betrayal, and is certain that at his next meeting with Jack he will be able to “vibe it out,” pick up on anything suspicious or unusual.
But Tony’s confidence in being able to sniff out a rat has completely disappeared by the time he returns from his meeting with Jack: “I couldn’t tell shit. What the fuck am I, a mind reader?” The Soprano crew find the proof they need, however, in Jack’s kindness. When they hear that Jack complimented Tony on losing a few pounds, they realize he’s full of shit. Tony Blundetto’s earlier fat-joke to Tony highlighted a fact that is glaringly obvious: Tony Soprano has been putting on weight over the years. David Chase’s decision to bring back Jack Massarone—an old character from years back—is genius for how it triggers the plot-point: Jack has known Tony for years, so he certainly knows that Tony has not dropped a few pounds but has only gained weight. This particular compliment coming from Jack, a longtime acquaintance, is a sure sign of his guilt.
We might be reminded of Jack’s longtime friendship by a comment Tony makes to Johnny Sac in this episode. As they talk in the Bada Bing bathroom, Tony tells Johnny that he used to find Jack to be a bore; this may spark our memory of Tony describing Jack as a bore to Artie as he approached them on the golf course back in episode 4.02:
(Jack’s propensity to wear caps might be the reason why the Feds decided to hide their wire in his ‘Museum of Science and Trucking’ hat.) We know that Jack is a golfer because of this scene on the greens in “No-Show,” and this helps us understand why he is now found in the trunk of a car with a golf club cover stuffed into his mouth. FBI rats are conventionally found with a rat crammed into their face, as we learned in Season 1. The golf club cover (which resembles the symbolic rodent in color and texture) is a clever Season 5 variation of convention:
With this echoing imagery, Jack Massarone is paralleled to rat Jimmy Altieri. I started seeing echoed images in this episode between Jack and fellow rat Adriana as well, but I’m not sure if I’m making too much of it – sometimes, when you think you see a pattern (a pattern of parallels, for instance), your brain start seeing that pattern all over the place. In any case, here are the two strongest parallels I found:
Adriana and Jack are both shot in pointedly red, black and white settings, a color scheme rarely found
in SopranoWorld locations (despite being the theme colors of The Sopranos):
Adriana and Jack both have trouble with the curb – Adriana slips off one and lands on her face while Jack is helped over a curb by Tony:
Among the new mobsters that appear this hour are Lorraine “Lady Shylock” Calluzzo and Phil Leotardo (who tells a classic Jesus-joke at Carmine’s funeral). But the most significant newbie to be introduced is Tony Blundetto. Cousin Blundetto has been in prison for 17 years, and Tony Soprano feels a certain amount of guilt about this – although this is not easy to recognize upon the first viewing of the episode. Chase starts to slowly build up our awareness of Tony’s guilt and regret in this hour: Tony gets emotional watching a WWII documentary in which a soldier recounts how he let his buddy down; Tony buys Blundetto a Motorola so he can “call me when he needs me”; Tony tries very hard to get Blundetto back in the game and is very disappointed to learn that he would rather go straight. We immediately recognize that Blundetto’s desire to go straight is going to define his story, because we’ve seen the “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” arc in earlier works like The Godfather and Carlito’s Way. But we really do believe (at least for awhile) that Blundetto might actually succeed at achieving his goal because he possesses a great repository of intelligence and insightfulness from which he can draw, something that we’ve already begun to get a sense of in this episode.
Arguably more significant than the arrival of Blundetto to SopranoWorld is the arrival of writer Matthew Weiner to The Sopranos. According to a July 2011 Kodak.com “In Camera” interview, Weiner knew since childhood that he wanted to be a writer, and writers were idolized in his family. (A giant poster of Hemingway hung in his childhood home.) After finishing at USC’s graduate film school, he worked as a TV writer and stand-up comedian (and won an episode of Jeopardy to boot). David Chase saw his script for the Mad Men pilot and insisted that he put his own series on hold to come work for The Sopranos. (Weiner has described this as being called up from the minor leagues to come play for the Yankees.) He was a significant contributor to The Sopranos in its final three seasons, and only after that infamous cut-to-black at Holsten’s Diner did he go back to showrun Mad Men (which was undoubtedly one of the highest-quality programs of the post-Sopranos landscape).
Part of the reason why Weiner was such a great fit on The Sopranos was his ability to plant little seeds of connectivity and then cultivate those connections through the seasons (as we will see). He gave a lot to the series, but he also got a lot back in return – he says he learned much working with David Chase:
David Chase is a real artist who believes in himself. He has a lot of wisdom from being in show business for 30 years. He is completely reactive to what he considers to be the worst parts of television, and he’s always trying to overcome them…I learned to immerse myself and to never give up or take the easy way out. I learned to push myself and also to trust the audience. David had tremendous faith in the audience. He was uncompromising in every detail, and completely involved.
It was quite possibly through The Sopranos that Matt Weiner met director Alan Taylor, who went on to direct the Pilot episode of Mad Men. Taylor does an excellent job on “Rat Pack.” The opening scene, for example, is astutely staged, hinting that Jack Massarone has been followed but leaves the details mysteriously murky. Later, Taylor uses an Asian character to “connect” various beats at the FBI office, but does it in a way that doesn’t feel contrived or kitschy. Alan Taylor only directed a pair of Sopranos episodes before now, but he becomes a substantial contributor from here on out.
Taylor’s quality directing is part of the high standard that the series has set for itself. This high benchmark exceeds anything we’ve ever seen on television, and even eclipses most film standards. The love and respect that the Sopranos’ creators have for cinema and filmmaking is reflected once again in this episode’s “film club scenes,” as Carmela and her friends go through the American Film Institute’s list of top 100 American movies (the 1998 list). First on the list is Citizen Kane. Carmela pulls out a movie synopsis by housewife-favorite Leonard Maltin, and tells the group that Greg Toland’s cinematography in the film is first-rate. One of the most groundbreaking cinematographic achievements in Kane, of course, is Toland’s use of deep focus/deep space. After they watch the film, Carmela compliments the cinematography while the girls sit in two parallel lines that draw our eyes back into the deep space. We might note that Gabriella concurs with Carmela’s statement from the back row, definitively pulling our attention into that focused background. So, this shot may in effect be paying homage to Kane better than any of the comments that the women make:
The women make an effort to discuss the merits of the movie but quickly move onto gossip and girl-talk. They change the subject partly because they’re not cinephiles, they don’t possess the knowledge or language to have a serious discussion about film. But additionally, Citizen Kane is simply not one of those movies that inspire lots of viewer discussion. It keeps topping “Greatest Movie” lists all around the world, and rightly so, because of its technical and narrative innovations, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that actually loves the movie. (Welles claimed that the audience’s cold reaction to the film was part of his master plan; it underscored Charles Foster Kane’s cold and unapproachable nature.) In comparison, The Sopranos “broke all the rules and invented some new ones…the cinematography, music and screenplay…are all first-rate,” (as Leonard Maltin wrote about Kane) while managing to be loved in a way that the film isn’t.
Another old but not-so-familiar face to appear in this hour is Adriana’s friend Tina Francesco. (We saw her previously in Season 3’s “Another Toothpick,” when she appeared as Mustang Sally’s girlfriend.) She expresses a sentiment that is commonly held in SopranoWorld: “Sometimes you gotta just take care of yourself, you know?” Yes, we know – and if we didn’t know, this episode abundantly supplies the lesson. Tina tries to take care of herself by flirting with Chris even though she is Ade’s maid-of-honor. Adriana in turn takes care of herself by revealing Tina’s ‘fake invoice scam’ to the FBI. Ray Curto has selfish, not moral or civic, reasons for ratting on the Mafia. The tension between Johnny Sac and Lil Carmine arises out of each one’s desire for power. Even the good guys are looking out mainly for themselves: the attorney that prosecuted Corrado wants to go after the juror that caused a mistrial, despite the FBI’s objection, and he gives more priority to retrying Corrado than to building the RICO case against Tony Soprano all because this is his best path to a six-figure job at O’Melveny & Myers. The line between the good guys and the bad guys is not as clear as Agent Sanseverino would like to believe – everybody has their own selfish reasons.
- It is perhaps noteworthy that Chase places a significant number of Italian-Americans on the “good” side of the line; this hour features Agents Cubitoso, Grasso and Ciccerone. Even Robyn, with the surname Sanseverino, might be Italian – or at least married to one.
- Janice makes a naughty pun on the word “rosebud” after watching Citizen Kane. Apparently, Kane’s real-life counterpart William Randolph Hurst and his mistress Marion Davies used the term “rosebud” in a similar way (thus giving rise to the popular Citizen Kane joke around Hollywood, “He died with Rosebud on his lips.”)
- For reasons I don’t quite understand, some viewers find it hard to believe that Blundetto could mean so much to Tony Soprano when we’ve never heard of him before. The writers seems to take these viewers’ concerns into account, having Bobby Jr. tell Blundetto, “How come we never met you before? I’ve never even heard of you.” Perhaps one reason why this episode brings back a couple of old faces (eg. Jack Massarone and Tina Francesco) is to make the point that even though a character might not appear onscreen, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist; like Blundetto, they’ve been living their lives beyond our sight.
- Faith & Firearms: the bloody power struggle that takes place between John Sacrimoni and Lil Carmine starts out as a spat here over Carmine’s association with Opus Dei, the Catholic institution that was on everyone’s radar at the time because of the release of The DaVinci Code the previous year.
- The closing song, the Stones’ “Undercover of the Night,” is a political song but it nicely evokes the image of a “rat pack” scurrying around conducting its nefarious business under cover of night.
- Christopher refers to Lorraine Calluzzo (Patti D’Arbanville) as “Lady Shylock” because she is obviously a female loan shark. But it is also a clever meta-reference to Cat Stevens’ song “Lady D’Arbanville” which he wrote for girlfriend Patti in 1970.
- We see here that Tony has upgraded from his Suburban to an Escalade. His father also had a big, badass Cadillac, as we previously saw in flashback scenes:
- Some viewers have found a connection between eggs and death on the series. “Rat Pack” perhaps provides the strongest confirmation of this theory, as Carmine dies here after having had a stroke while eating egg salad in the previous episode. There may very well be a conscientious connection, but as I mentioned earlier, sometimes we see patterns because we want to see patterns. I just noticed that both Massarone and Carmine have appeared wearing Maxfli hats, and both are dead by the end of this hour. Hmm…is this a pattern? Probably not.