Luxury Lounge (6.07)

Artie’s business—and his mood—go into a slump.
Christopher and Lil Carmine venture out to California.

Episode 72 – Originally aired April 23, 2006
Written by Matthew Weiner
Directed by Danny Leiner

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“Luxury Lounge” left a lot of viewers feeling cold. Critic Todd VanDerWerff, for example, gave the episode a grade of “B-,” the lowest grade he gave to any Season 6 outing. Other viewers were even less generous, feeling that “Luxury Lounge” just flat out stunk. For one thing, they argue, the hour seems to rehash a lot of old material: we’ve seen the “Artie has a crush on his hostess” storyline twice before, and Moltisanti’s trouble with substance abuse is getting a little tiresome. Many viewers were also bored by Chris and Carmine’s trip out west. And some found David Chase’s criticism of American materialism here to be a bit facile and clumsy (at least by Sopranos standards). This was the biggest gripe that TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz had of this episode. I’m a big fan of Seitz but I believe his take on this episode is inaccurate. (Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight and reflection, while he was giving his assessment 24 hours after the original airing. I’ll come back to why I think Seitz gets it wrong.) I have great affection for “Luxury Lounge” and I think it is one of the highlights of the entire series.

Artie Bucco has always played the straight man on The Sopranos — he is one of the few recurring characters that is not a criminal. There may be times when there is a heroic dimension to being “the good guy” (like when Artie convinced Tony not to whack soccer coach Don Hauser in “Boca”). But being good all the time can be a drag. Artie and Charmaine have reconciled, and that is probably the main reason why he doesn’t pursue his new hostess Martina despite being clearly attracted to her. He jealously watches as married man Benny Fazio flirts with the beautiful hostess. Benny and Martina pour salt in Artie’s wound: they’ve been stealing credit card numbers from the restaurant (and this at a time when Nuovo Vesuvio has been losing money and losing clientele to Da Giovanni, whose chef is talented, handsome and has a head full of hair).

At the Bada Bing, Artie rues the “regularness” of his life. The Bing is a sort of “luxury lounge,” a place where men can indulge their fantasies. Tony points out that if Artie is interested in banging one of the strippers, it can surely be arranged. But Artie—unlike Tony—is governed by a code of conduct that forecloses any such possibility. Artie leaves the strip joint with both his heartache and his hard-on unrelieved.

Artie and Chris Moltisanti are paralleled throughout the hour. While Artie feels jealous of Benny Fazio, Chris has issues with a “Ben” of his own: Ben Kingsley. Neither Chris nor Artie are paupers, yet they consider themselves “have-nots” compared to the “haves” that they rub shoulders with. (When Chris refers to the film To Have and Have Not mistakenly as “The Haves and Have-nots,” it underscores this hour’s theme.) Christopher has long wanted to escape what he has called “the fuckin’ regularness of life,” whether through drugs, filmmaking stardom or material wealth. Chris follows Ben Kingsley around the so-called “Luxury Lounge” like an excited puppy (while Zino & Tommy’s aptly named “Gangstadog” plays in the background) and watches with envy as Sir Ben gets comped all sorts of valuable gifts. Christopher’s sense of having a diminished status—at least in comparison to A-List Hollywood actors—gets inflamed.

Matt Zoller Seitz found Chase’s handling of the entire episode to be rather clunky, but he had a particular gripe with the sequence at the Luxury Lounge:

Moving on to product placement, I know the high-toned Home Shopping Network blather was “ironic” and germane to the episode’s themes. But it was still painful, because if the brand names are real, there’s no such thing as a satire on advertising…From Oris watches to Cingular phones, every product featured in “Luxury Lounge” got one, sometimes two closeups, plus a worshipful verbal description that sounded like ad copy. Unfortunately, this has been the Sopranos norm…HBO insists it gets no money from product placement, that the merchandise is given to the show in hopes of exposure. But considering all the self-conscious, ass-kissy, take-you-out-of-the-moment dialogue that goes along with the goodies, “free” doesn’t really mean free.

Seitz has a point: using actual brand-name products can indeed undermine any satire that is being made of advertising and the marketing industry. But the benefit of using brand-name products is that it helps to puncture the boundary between SopranoWorld and the real world, and thus any criticism Chase makes of SopranoWorld can pass though the boundary to be a criticism of our own world. When Sopranos’ characters use real-life, brand-name products, it emphasizes that they are us and we are them; they would feel more distant from us if they were driving “Fadillac” cars and wearing “Malph Lauren” clothes. Chase gets a similar effect out of his use of real-life celebrities: it pierces the line between fiction and reality. Although Season 6A doesn’t have the plethora of famous faces that appeared in Season 5 (David Lee Roth, Lawrence Taylor, etc), three celebrities do appear now:

bacall, kingsley, wilmer - Sopranos Autopsy

The appearance of Hollywood actors, playing themselves, helps to situate this TV show in our real world, which makes it all the more difficult for us to insulate ourselves from Chase’s censure. I understand Seitz’s discomfort that the line between satire and selling out may be a bit blurry here, but the blurriness of this line is itself one of the cultural features of contemporary America that Chase is criticizing. As Americans, we’re so awash—from cradle to grave—in advertising, product placement and “brand integration” that we are losing the ability to recognize what is and what isn’t a sales pitch.

In giving The Sopranos a pass, I may be guilty of too blindly taking the opposite position from Seitz. I perhaps give David Chase the benefit of the doubt too easily. For example, it never dawned on me that this bit of dialogue after the car accident in 5.05 “Irregular Around the Margins” might be a product-push:

Adriana: How’s your car?
Tony: Escalade? Totaled. Probably saved our life.

Tony’s line did catch my attention, not because I suspected Tony’s praise of the vehicle to be a hidden advertisement but because I saw it as Chase’s ironic criticism of the American obsession with giant SUVs: a smaller car would have been able to evade a raccoon in the road without flipping over. In his article “Made Brands: Sopranos Product Plugs” (Advertising Age, June 2004), Jon Fine notes that the folks at General Motors were concerned that their product might be reflected poorly on the show and had extensive talks with Sopranos people about it. But a GM spokeswoman added, “We have absolutely no input as to how our vehicles are described in the script or how they’re used.” David Chase and HBO have never accepted money for product placement on The Sopranos, although they have accepted free products (like Escalades) ostensibly to offset the cost of purchasing or leasing these goods.

The appearance of brand-name goods on The Sopranos may be a thorny issue, but I take comfort in the fact that this series has never resorted to the tactics of some TV shows like Modern Family. In one episode of the popular ABC sitcom, Claire extols the virtues of the Toyota Sienna — and we later find a “pay-for-play” advertising disclosure in the final credits:

Modern family

Part of the reason why I’m willing to give David Chase and The Sopranos the benefit of the doubt is that he has been up-front and open about the whorish nature of the television industry, and about his own role in the industry’s ugly environment. When asked about network television, he told Allen Rucker “I loathe and despise almost every second of it…I considered network TV to be propaganda for the corporate state.” He has openly stated on more than one occasion that he worked on Northern Exposure solely for the fat paycheck. In March 2004, Chase told NPR’s Terry Gross that he believed the first priority of the networks is not to entertain but “to push a lifestyle…What they’re trying to sell is the idea that everything is ok, that this is a great nation and a wonderful society…It’s ok to buy stuff, let’s just go buy some stuff.” The idea that television is capable of hypnotizing society to go out buy more stuff is borne out by studies and statistics. In her 1999 essay “What’s Wrong with Consumer Society?” Juliet Schor shares some interesting findings:

In my Telecom survey, I found a direct effect of television watching: it is correlated with spending more and saving less…In my analyses, I found that every hour of television watched per week raised annual spending by $208 per year…In a poll conducted by the Merck Family Fund in 1995, the fraction responding that they “watch too much TV” rose steadily with level of indebtedness.

Of course, the reasons for these figures may be manifold, not simply attributable to Chase’s theory that networks are pushing viewers to buy more stuff. But there is little doubt that Americans are daily bombarded, explicitly but also implicitly, with the directive to go out and spend money. In the years after 9/11, George Bush was often criticized for telling us to go shop as a way to fight terror. To be fair, this seems to be a mischaracterization of President Bush’s words — his mention of shopping in the context of fighting terror was never quite as simplistic as many liberal pundits in the media characterized it to be. However, in December 2006 (just 7 months after “Luxury Lounge” originally aired), Bush did say “I encourage you all to go shopping more” during a news conference about the economy. There were worries at the time that a recession was looming, and this was Mr. Bush’s solution — and his way of comforting us. In the following year, the world plunged into the worst recession we’ve seen in decades. As our economy teetered in 2006, rather than increase regulation of financial derivatives and the high-risk behaviors of banks and brokers and mortgage companies, our government’s strategy was to encourage us to shop.

Our elected Democrats haven’t done much better. While the recession raged, President Obama never really asked us to make sacrifices or be more austere. Politicians have learned that it can be toxic to their careers to ask Americans to be reasonable in our attitude towards consumption. In 1979, President Carter said in a characteristically thoughtful speech:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

Sixteen months later, Reagan beat Jimmy Carter 489 to 49 in the electoral college. Americans became so disheartened by Carter’s speech that it has become known as “the Malaise speech” — even though the word “malaise” never appears in it. Tony Soprano certainly struggles with the poorly defined sense of identity that Carter speaks of. (“Who am I? Where am I going” Tony asked earlier in the season.) SopranoWorld characters have a gnawing sense that their lavish lifestyle, as Carter suggests, is unable to fill the emptiness in their lives. (They can’t shake the feeling that it’s all a big nothing.) Our politicians, on both the Right and the Left, have failed us where it matters the most.

Chase has taken some well-placed jabs at the Right throughout the series, but by going after Hollywood celebrities in this hour, he is aiming at the Left. In “Luxury Lounge,” a vulgar materialism is shared by both West coast liberal elites and East coast mobster thugs — and by implication, everyone in between. Since its opening episode, The Sopranos has been commenting on our compulsive consumerism. Usually, the commentary is fairly subtle: Meadow is assigned readings from Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class, or Tony spends his free time thumbing through Yachting magazine and the Robb Report. In this episode, the commentary is much more overt.  And complicated.

The complications of consumerism are apparent in virtually every aspect of American existence. We are the most religious nation among all developed nations, and this is perhaps a result of our quest for meaning in a consumeristic culture that was never designed to produce a satisfying sense of meaning. Our religiosity itself may be pushing us further into consumerism, partly due to the ministries of those such as Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar which preach a “Prosperity Theology” that places a very high value on material wealth. Some of our politicians and leaders recognize that asking us to check our unbridled consumption might actually increase our quality of life, but they are too cornered or cowardly to ask. We recognize that our prioritization of consumption and commerce is putting our health as well as the health of the entire globe at risk, yet we cannot summon the strength or discipline to make any significant changes. “Luxury Lounge” may be problematic, even contradictory, in its critique of consumerism. But, as a society, our own attitude towards consumption is far more problematic and contradictory.

In his criticism of this hour’s “product placement,” Matt Zoller Seitz expressed a concern that David Chase had “found a way to sell out while seeming to be above that sort of thing.”  It just seems unlikely to me, however, that Chase would feel any need to compromise his integrity in 2006 (the year this episode was produced), as Chase had built up enough power and success and latitude at HBO by that time to run his show in almost any way that he wanted. A crass commercialism simply does not seem to be among Chase’s guiding impulses. Of course, I do recognize that Chase is only human, saddled with all the paradoxes that come with being human.  Here is David Chase and one “Hunter Scangarelo” coming out of a real-life Luxury Lounge at the 2008 SAG Awards:The Luxury Lounge In Honor Of The 2008 SAG Awards - Day 2

The only freebies at this lounge seemed to be homeopathic products—I don’t think there were any Oris watches or no-cost Cadillac leases—but there is still a troubling irony to the picture. Chase swims in the same dirty water as the rest of us. Nevertheless, I think The Sopranos successfully maintained its artistic and moral integrity throughout its run — present episode included. This is quite an achievement in an era of television that includes shows like Modern Family which slyly incorporates paid ads into its teleplay, and shows like American Idol which sells promotional air-time to advertisers, and shows like The Apprentice in which NBC allowed a wealthy real-estate developer to freely promote his own properties and personal brand as well as the products of his wife and daughter. It’s some damn yucky water we’re all having to swim in now…

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Artie and Christopher are paralleled throughout the hour, and Chase employs both obvious as well as subtle methods to do it. As I mentioned earlier, an obvious (though not often recognized) parallel is that both guys have issues with men named “Ben” here: Benny Fazio and Sir Ben Kingsley. There is also an obvious similarity in how they both lash out:

  • Artie, frustrated with the way his life and business are going, tries to intimidate Martina (“We lead the world in computerized data collection!”) and later physically attacks Benny
  • Chris, frustrated with his lower status within the social hierarchy, tries to intimidate Sir Ben on the elevator and later physically attacks Lauren Bacall

A more subtle link is made between Artie and Chris through wardrobe. Aboard Tony’s boat, Artie wears a jacket with the Stugots II insignia over the heart. (Artie can be an onboard guest but he cannot own a yacht like the Stugots.) In the following scene, at the Viceroy Hotel, Chris wears a bathrobe with the hotel insignia over the heart. (Chris can stay as a guest at the upscale hotel, but he cannot enjoy its Luxury Lounge.)

2 Have nots - Sopranos Autopsy

The similarity between the two men is also underscored by the way both of these scenes are juxtaposed to each other: Carmela calls up to Artie “Who’s hungry?” and Chase immediately cuts to Christopher picking at his breakfast. The two men are hungry, but for more than just food; they are starving for a deep sense of fulfillment in their lives.

Who's Hungry - Sopranos Autopsy

After Sir Ben passes on the script, Chris cannot restrain his bitterness. First he pulls apart the sunglasses that Kingsley gave him. Then he mugs Lauren Bacall on the street. (In her essay, “The Producers,” Cameron Golden describes the attack as a metaphorical “full frontal assault by Christopher on classic Hollywood filmmaking.”) Given the theme of this episode, I find it interesting that we can clearly see a Robinsons-May department store behind the fallen actress. Bacall’s assistant even uses the department store as a location marker when she calls for an ambulance. In earlier eras, human beings used civic spaces—temples, granaries, public plazas—to navigate and situate themselves, but now we just call out our position relative to a mall or a department store to let others know where we are.

There is a parallel made between Lauren Bacall and Artie as well: both get victimized by mobsters. In mirrored scenes, both of them get their right arms hurt (and Artie’s cussing echoes the venerable Hollywood star’s outburst):

Lauren Bacall, my fuckin arm - Sopranos Autopsy

One of the great things about Season 6 is that several actors get showpiece episodes in which they get a chance to show off their talents. John Ventimiglia makes the most of the chance he gets now. Throughout the years, Ventimiglia’s perfect comic timing coupled with the great expressiveness of his face and body allowed “Arthur Bucco” to become the most amusing character of the series. Artie provides plenty of laughs in this hour too. But he is not just here for comic relief; in fact, he is the one who needs relief from the various frustrations of his life. He is vexed by money woes, insubordinate employees, a beautiful but chilly Albanian hostess. He is second-guessing his decision to become a legitimate restauranteur, even his decision to become a chef. It all adds up to a profound existential anxiety for Arthur. Though he doesn’t voice the questions outright as Tony did previously, he too is wondering “Who am I? Where am I going?” Watching Ventimiglia steer his character through such deeply felt angst is one of the highlights of the series for me.

But perhaps the primary reason why I love “Luxury Lounge” so much is because it immediately reminded me of one of the greatest films of all time: Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game. Renoir’s 1939 masterpiece depicted contemporary French society indulging in decadence and luxury at a time when social and political tensions in Europe were reaching a boiling point. (Hitler would invade and begin his occupation of France in the following year.) The Rules of the Game is often in the back of my head when I’m watching The Sopranos because David Chase quoted one if its most famous lines in an early interview with Peter Bogdanovich: “The awful thing about life is that everyone has their own reasons.” (And Prof. David Lavery uses this quote as an epigraph in his book This Thing of Ours: Investigating The Sopranos.) The precise moment, however, that this classic film and “Luxury Lounge” became truly linked in my mind was when Artie shot the rabbit that was eating the veggies in his backyard. The Rules of the Game features an orgiastic hunting scene where scores of animals are killed by partygoers at a luxurious estate, and the final, disturbing image of the hunt is of an unfortunate rabbit slowly releasing its final breath on earth. (The rabbit was actually killed, it wasn’t “filmmaking magic.”)

There is one character in the film, Andre Jurieux, who is not as cynical or careless or decadent as everyone that surrounds him. He has an innocence comparable to that of the harmless animals that are hunted down, and he too is shot to death by the end of the  movie. Artie Bucco, like Andre Jurieux in the film, is a virtuous man in comparison to all those around him. When I first watched this episode, I wondered if Artie—like Andre—would be sacrificed by the end of this hour. I didn’t necessarily think he would be killed like Andre Jurieux, but that his goodness would somehow be sacrificed — perhaps he would cynically bang a Bing stripper after all, or partner with Tony Soprano in some attempt to increase the income and excitement in his life.

In the final scene of the hour (and a scene that perfectly belongs in my somewhat-regular FOOD, FAITH AND FIREARMS category), we see that Artie is able to maintain his rectitude and his conviction is himself. He pulls the rabbit out of the refrigerator to cook a meal for a stranded couple that has wandered into Nuovo Vesuvio. The rabbit generates a notable contrast: Jean Renoir showed a rabbit being gunned down in his film to represent an innocent creature being victimized by an indulgent society, whereas David Chase takes the rabbit that Artie gunned down and turns it into a symbol of individual rebirth. In the kitchen, Artie’s faith in himself is reborn and he rededicates himself to his craft. The scene is infused with echoes of the past. The gorgeous, delicate guitar that scores the scene comes from a classical piece that was written over a hundred years ago, “Memories of Alhambra.” (The Alhambra palace/complex itself was built over six centuries ago.) Using his grandfather’s age-old, time-worn recipe book, Artie transforms the dead animal into a warm and fulfilling meal. Artie cannot indulge in strippers or yachts or extramarital affairs like Tony can, nor does he have Tony’s financial means. But Artie has qualities that many others in SopranoWorld lack: passion, artistry, and a strong sense of connection to the virtues of his forefathers.

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On the DVD commentary track for this episode, writer Matthew Weiner marvels at how consistently Chase uses “subconscious” elements within The Sopranos, how various things in the episodes interconnect and tug at our subconscious. I think a notable example of this is how “Luxury Lounge” is able to subconsciously link American materialism with the threat of terrorism. We are led to wonder if the stolen credit card numbers that the mob has sold to Ahmed and Muhammad will be used to finance terror. More subtly, Chase plants thoughts of terrorism in the first scene of the hour when the recently arrived Italian hitmen talk of visiting Ground Zero, and then in the final scene of the hour, the hitmen compare their luxury purchases while on an airplane, a mode of transport which was turned into a tool of terror on 9/11.

As I mentioned earlier, for me there is a strong linkage between “Luxury Lounge” and The Rules of the Game. I feel that Chase was using this episode to sharply criticize our indulgent materialism and lack of genuine political engagement at a time when terrorism presented a serious existential threat to us, just as Renoir used his film to criticize French decadence at a time when Hitler was threatening Europe. Of course, Chase may not have overtly made this link — it may be a connection that was formed solely in my mind. Regardless of whether it is David Chase or our own brains that lead us to see a particular connection or parallel on the series, a sort of bell goes off in our subconscious mind when we make the connection. It is precisely because the episodes resound at such a subconscious level that we find The Sopranos to be so resonant.

CONNECTIONS TO “D-GIRL” (2.07)
“Luxury Lounge” bears some resemblance to Season Two’s “D-Girl.” The current episode features some famous Hollywood faces just as that earlier episode did:

Favreau Garafolo Bernhard - Sopranos Autopsy

Chris is something of a fish-out-of-water in Hollywood now, just as he was out of place among the Hollywood-types in “D-Girl.” In both episodes, Christopher mispronounces the title of a movie, underscoring that he really isn’t a Hollywood-type himself: in “D-Girl,” he referred to The King of Comedy as “Kings of Comedy,” and now he mistakes To Have and Have Not as “The Haves and Have-nots.” He also botches a popular TV show now: “Law & Order The S.U.V.”  The fact that Ben Kingsley is able to refer to Lauren Bacall as “Betty” (Betty Joan Perske is her real name, the name that all her friends know her by) emphasizes that Kingsley is a Hollywood insider in a way that Chris is not. Chris attacks Lauren Bacall not simply because he is envious of her bag of luxury swag, he is hurt and frustrated that he remains outside of the Hollywood world that he has long wanted to be a part of.

Maybe nothing in the world hurts more than feeling left out. I believe that David Chase hints throughout his series how vital and important ‘connectivity’ is; perhaps the reason why Chris feels so hurt now is because he recognizes just how disconnected he is from that entire world of filmmaking. It’s a disconnection that he also felt back when Amy Safir rejected him both personally and professionally (and threw a William Inge reference at him that went over his head) in “D-Girl.” Chris does some cocaine with a Beverly Hills hooker now, and he has to call Murmur to come support him when he feels himself chipping. Two episodes from now, the pain in Christopher’s life will lead him to a serious backslide, and by the end of Season 6A, he will be a full-blown user again.

Of course, Cleaver does eventually get produced, but only because Chris turns to the people with whom he does have a real connection: his mobster colleagues. (And also JT Dolan, who has a connection to Chris that poor JT simply can’t escape.)

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META-WORLD
The various famous faces within this hour give the episode a meta-fictional flavor. The meta-appearances of real-life Hollywood stars as Chris and Carmine try get their film project off the ground are notable because it sets the stage for the most meta-fictional foray of the series — the storyline surrounding the making of Cleaver later in Season 6. Another meta-moment within “Luxury Lounge” is the appearance of David Chase at the end of the hour:

David C.

It is impossible to say whether Chase is playing himself in a mind-bending meta-appearance, or if we should interpret him to be playing someone else here. (It is quite “appropriate” that he should appear here on an Italy-bound flight, as his only other appearance on the series was in Italy in the episode “Commendatori.”) Chase truly breaks the boundary between the real world and the fictional world by appearing here in person, and by cracking the boundary open, this hour’s criticism of our vulgar materialism is able to become more direct and real.

MURDEROUS PARALLEL?
Rusty Millio is killed here for never submitting to Johnny Sac and Phil Leotardo who snatched control of the NY famiglia away from Lil Carmine last year. Rusty was one of the men who engineered the hit on Joey Peeps during last year’s power struggle. In a murderous parallel, Rusty is killed in his car now with his driver Eddie becoming collateral damage, just as Joey Peeps was killed in his car with demoiselle Heather becoming collateral damage.

NEW PLACES
The series introduces many new places into its narrative in Season 6. Part of the current episode takes place in Los Angeles. And earlier in the season we were in Costa Mesa (although that seemed to be more of an alternative universe within T’s headspace). Over the remainder of S6, we will visit Dartford, Paris, Miami, Bobby’s property in upstate New York, Las Vegas and the Missouri prison-hospital where Johnny Sac is housed.

RING A BELL?
When Murmur arrives at the Fly Away motel to pick up stolen credit card numbers, he is humming Elton John’s “Daniel.” Critic Tim Goodman notes that the fact that the Fly Away is an airport motel may be what inspired Murmur to think of this particular song which begins “Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane.”  (When we saw the hotel previously, the exterior shot included an overhead airplane; while we don’t see an airplane this time, we do hear one flying by.)  When Murmur reworks the song’s chorus to sing “Hillel my brother,” it underscores that the Italian goombah and the Hasidic motelier are brothers-in-crime.  We may have forgotten about the Fly Away because it has been a while seen we’ve seen it, but the bell on the desk may ring a bell (or two): Sil and Paulie beat Ariel over the head with it in episode 1.03 and Furio summoned Hillel with it in episode 2.06:

2 bells again again
hillel and bell
After taking Murmur’s payment in exchange for his customer’s credit card numbers, Hillel goes right back to reading his holy book.  I guess the hot-sheet motel isn’t making as much money as the Hasid wants, so he has found an easy way to supplement his income. Don’t worry, Hillel, even though it is some ugly business you’re caught up in, I’m sure that God understands and forgives. Isn’t that right, Hillel?

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ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • I think it is noteworthy that the writers chose American Express to be the company that suspends card usage at Vesuvio after tracing fraudulent activity back to the restaurant. Throughout the series, we see the mafia (and now Ahmed and Muhammad) use companies with the word “American” in their names for their shady activities. It’s as though Chase is saying that grift, fraud and crime are fundamentally “American,” it is just a part of who we are and how we do business. There are a couple more “American” companies yet to come in Season 6.
  • You’re too damn clever, Chase. Phil Leotardo tries to thank Tony for clipping Rusty Millio, but Tony—afraid that he is being recorded—refuses to take credit for it. So Phil says “we’ll chalk it up to the Headless Horseman.” Of course, Tony did order the hit and so he is, in essence, “the Headless Horseman.” Chase’s clever joke to the viewer comes from the fact that it was Tony Soprano who killed Tony Blundetto last season — which makes Soprano the “Headless Horseman” to Blundetto’s “Ichabod Crane” (the nickname that “some very sorry people” gave him).
  • The ‘gay mobster’ storyline doesn’t get any attention here, other than Phil Leotardo describing Vito with some very nasty words, and Lil Vito getting picked on and called “Homo Jr.” at the restaurant DaGiovanni.
  • Christopher is floored to learn that all the ostentatious, expensive items in the Luxury Lounge are being given away for free and wonders, “How’s that even fuckin possible?”  Finn asked an almost identical question, “How is that even possible?” in episode 5.09 “Unidentified Black Males” upon learning that he would earn $20/hr (almost four times the minimum wage in NJ at the time) despite having no construction experience or skills. The answer to both questions, of course, is that some people have privileges and immunities that the rest of us don’t have. These two episodes (both written by Matt Weiner) make a link between the West Coast Hollywood elites that patronize the luxury lounges and the East Coast mobster thugs that control Finn’s construction site.
  • The issues surrounding “the haves and the have-nots” along with Artie’s gripes about the struggles of the working man in this hour set up the exploration of blue-collar/working-man values in “Moe n’ Joe” three episodes from now.
  • Though he didn’t get nominated, I think Ben Kingsley deserved an Emmy just for his “Fuuuuuck.”
  • The scene in which Lauren Bacall is attacked here may be a callback to a similar scene from a 1979 episode of The Rockford Files (“Lions, Tigers, Monkeys & Dogs”), in which Bacall has to be helped up from the ground after being attacked:

    2 Lauren Bacalls

52 responses to “Luxury Lounge (6.07)

  1. Worth the wait Ron. LL is one of my favourites too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dude Manbrough

    Fantastic post as always. Artie is my favorite non-Tony character and the scene at the end of this episode is my favorite Artie scene. Like Tony, Artie followed his father into his line of work but unlike Tony, Artie’s craft is still capable of bringing him peace and joy. It’s his and his alone, something no one, not even Benny Fazio criminal mastermind, can ever take from him. It’s a beautiful scene and if I’m not mistaken it’s one of Artie’s last appearances too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I read somewhere John Ventimiglia said that whenever a character got whacked or written off the series, the cast would refer to it as “getting the wrong side of the pencil.” I’m so glad Chase never erased Artie, he’s around until the end (although he never gets the spotlight again like he did in this hour…)

      Like

    • I got a different feeling about Artie in that last scene. I think he may have resigned himself, but I am not sure he gets any joy out of his work anymore. He was supposed to bring that rabbit to his father, instead he gives it to the customer. I took it to mean the opposite, that he will continue on, but he has lost faith in his fathers words. Hard work doesn’t pay off in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gotta echo Edson’s sentiment. Always worth the wait. I don’t know if we all thank you enough (or could) for all your hard work, but thank you, on behalf of all of us who get so many new insights from your posts and maybe even check for new ones every night.

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  4. You know, I wrote in the comments section of a few episodes back that I considered this episode to be just plain bad. I rewatched it again the other day and I’ve definitely changed my opinion of it, mostly due to Artie’s development here. He’s somewhat of a straight man to the mob, but he desires to be like them: rich, strong, feared, -and most importantly- capable of fucking any woman they please. The last one is specially important. I think that Artie’s sexual pettiness is central to the episode and his character. He feels just as lustful as anyone but by his own moral code (and seductive shortcomings…cause lets be honest – he couldn’t fuck any of these girls even if he really tried to) he’s restrained. He sees Benny successfully wooing the hostess and it pisses him off twofold – On one hand it’s the girl that he likes and on the other, he’s a married man that doesn’t share his moral code. Of course, what triggers the confrontation doesn’t really have anything to do with this, but we can guess that it loaded his punches. (And goddamn, did I enjoy watching Artie win that fight, I hated Benny in this episode. Snobby prick).

    Other than that, we see that his business isn’t doing well and that his crew doesn’t seem to respect him. This could all be a way for Chase to show us that taking the high road doesn’t necessarily lead to fulfillment. Karma isn’t real. This isn’t a morality tale…but then again, maybe that’s what the final scene of him cooking the rabbit was meant for. Fulfillment from honest work. Guess that ambiguity wins again.

    As a side note, I really liked how Tony stood up for Artie. Really shows how much he values that friendship.

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    • Great take on Artie. Your phrase “sexual pettiness” got me thinking… Artie certainly behaves with pettiness in this hour, and it’s rooted in his sexual jealousy. I was reading Esther Perel (the Belgian psychotherapist) recently and she writes that in American culture, jealousy is seen as something petty, weak and embarrassing. In some other cultures, however, the feeling of jealousy is seen as something legitimate and normal, and therefore can be dealt with in a more mature, healthy way. As an American man, perhaps Artie doesn’t have the framework to deal with this heavy emotion constructively, and so he lashes out clumsily, spitefully, even violently.

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    • Tony actually calls Artie out and is brutally honest, even after Artie goes around in pity for himself (if you hate it here so much, why don’t you leave?). It’s only after Tony sees that Artie simply refuses to hear him that he pulls out the big guns – stop talking to people, just cook. His ability to deal with Artie is simply masterful. If Artie first heard him and realized he needed to change, Tony would have backed off. But Artie needed the “hit.” And it worked. I think Artie is Tony’s only honest relationship.

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    • Tony may value their friendship, but it doesn’t stop him from taking advantage of Artie. He runs up tabs he never pays, he promised help and protection that never seems to materialize. Everyone, including Bennie, knows Artie is Tony’s friend but it doesn’t stop Bennie from stealing from him. Tony tells Artie he should have come to him rather than attacking Bennie, but what would Tony have done? The damage is done, and Bennie seems like a good earner, plus, he is part of la familgia and Artie isn’t. So Tony does what he did: Makes Bennie move the dinner for his parents to Nuevo Vesuvio…but promises that Artie will give him “a rate”. Like Tony said to his other “friend” Davey, This is who he is. He uses people, friends included. Some friends you are better off without.

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  5. I always liked the Artie stuff in this episode, it’s where John really got to shine as him the most in the entire time he was on the show. It helps he gets some brilliant lines and bits in this episode as well (Non-stop assrape and Computeristed data collection). Can’t imagine Benny will ever live it down getting beat up by Artie of all people. Which of course Artie being Artie pushes his luck and get burned for it. Still, his arc ends nicely here and his last appearance at the end of the series shows he is content with his life and he knows he finally has that to lord over Tony.

    The Chris goes to Hollywood stuff has never been something the show really made interesting to watch, it really feels at times more of Chase and the writers slagging Hollywood off for their own reasons rather than any deep look into the world of it. Still, this did lead to the substandard Cleaver film and the Sacred and the Propane.

    Plus, it is hilarious seeing Ben Kingsley and Laura Bacall swearing.

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  6. Awesome exploration of a great episode, Ron.

    One question: When Tony declines to take credit for Rusty, is there some indication he thinks he’s being recorded?

    I always assumed he demurred because he had previously told Phil “no” on this particular issue and didn’t want Phil to thank a “no” could be turned into a “yes.”

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    • It’s possible that is what motivated Tony’s response. In any case, Phil believed Tony was being cautious about being recorded.

      Liked by 1 person

      • FWIW, I believe Tony is coy in this scene is because he legitimately wants to put distance between himself and the hit (hence getting the Italian hitmen, using the middleman to relay the orders) probably because he doesn’t want to be known as the family that kills senior captains in other crews.. I don’t think he has any worries about being recorded by Phil.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Probably worth pointing out that Hunter Scangarelo was played by Michele DeCesare, David Chase’s daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for another great analysis. I’ve never seen “Rules of the Game,” but I will. A great catch (I didn’t see this – why???) David Chase on a plane to Italy. The American writer Thomas Wolfe’s last novel was “You Can’t Go Home Again” which addresses the effects of capitalism and the stock market crash on his home town (among other things). The protagonist of the novel (based on Wolfe) is unable to go home because of what he wrote in his previous novel.
    The first Chase appearance was in Italy, where he’s unimpressed with Paulie’s American-ness; his greeting and attempt to connect with the Italian men. In this scene, Chase’s passive onlooker sees Italians ogling the worst type of American crappy capitalism – drooling over the unimportant (interesting that there are so many watches in this episode in what was increasingly becoming a post-watch world). Rampant materialism may just be America’s greatest export. And all of the watches – is he saying something about time as well? I know that Chase spent a lot of time in Italy; did his fame prevent him from going “home?” Do Americans really have homes?

    One of the final scenes in the episode, Chris comes bearing the luxury lounge gifts stolen from Betty, but Tony is singularly unimpressed by the bag of stuff Christopher gives him. At first Chris goes into the bag, a bit like the Wizard of Oz (who is really the poster boy for smoke and mirrors). Christopher: “Tickets to Australia” Tony: “Looks like Sarasota. After a 20 hour flight?” Christopher then gives him the over packaged and really, really ugly (in my opinion) watch. Tony wordlessly puts it on the “accepted gifts” pile. My favorite – Tony picks up an ugly cheap looking small plaid bag. Christopher “That’s for a pocket dog.” Tony wordlessly puts it in the “no” pile and gives Christopher a rather long look (perhaps remembering Christopher’s last encounter with a “pocket dog?”) Tony then begins to paw through the bag himself looking for valuable items (he chooses stuff that he can easily give to goomars). After taking what he wants, he reprimands Chris for his “loss of focus.” He doesn’t know the degree by which Christopher has lost focus by starting to use drugs again. Increasingly Chris does lose focus – he turns to movies and drugs. He is unable to go home again after the loss of Adriana and rehab (he actually uses Adriana’s death here as an excuse saying that he made “the ultimate sacrifice.”) Perhaps this is a stretch because I never really saw Christopher as caring for anyone or anything – a true child of the times, the mob, and Tony – his idea of identify is based on something he picked up from the movies or television (to your earlier point on television and consumerism).

    Anyway, I think this is one of those episodes that is so meta that it completely broke Chase’s earlier paradigms of connectivity and the blurred line between reality and the screen. As an aside (but not really), there is a great deal of evidence to show that the human brain is simply not equipped to tell the difference between reality and what’s on the screen. Simply put, technology is always ahead of where we are, and the only way to really see this is introspection and being mindful of what’s in front of us. The only person who goes home again in this episode is Artie because he does have a home, and a craft that he enjoys, and a past – all of which are represented beautifully.

    I think the thing I really loved about this episode is it is the end of Artie’s “arc” – throughout the series he was always dissatisfied, but is shown here using the past to create a nurturing and healthy experience for people.

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    • I believe that over the last several years, Chase has considered France to be his home as much (or more?) than the United States. I don’t know what draws Chase there, but perhaps part of it is Wolfe’s rule. Also, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he felt that the French attitude, generally speaking, toward art, culture, materialism, governance and the market is more in line with his own beliefs.

      I too noticed all the shots of watches in this hour (and that’s why my header pic is of the Oris watches at the luxury lounge). I’m gonna come back to the watch-imagery in my write-up for “Moe ‘n Joe.”

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  9. I agree with your take on Chase’s intention with all the product placement in this episode (paid or not). I’ve never had an issue with the way this show uses real world products, including in this episode.

    Whenever I see a show (or movie) that shows a character driving around in a car with a blacked out logo, or drinking something like “Tarbucks coffee,” it makes the entire production seem inauthentic to me, and immediately pulls me out of the story. Shows like the Sopranos and Seinfeld were great at integrating real world brands into their stories in a way that didn’t feel forced or commercial (even if they were). Other shows, like Entourage or Modern Family (as you noted), sometimes acted as glorified commercials in a way that could be as off-putting and distracting as the blacked out logos.

    I also find it interesting that GM was concerned with the way their brands were represented on the show. Not surprising, but interesting nonetheless. I will say that a lot of the guys I used to watch this show with in college wanted to drive Cadillac’s specifically because a lot of the characters drove Cadillac’s. It really changed the “old man car” image that the brand had for a lot of people at the time. This show, along with the popularity of the Escalade model in rap and hip-hop videos at the time, popularized the Cadillac brand with a younger generation in a way that, while maybe not GM’s target marketing approach, was very effective. And I think they eventually embraced it.

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  10. I liked this episode. I don’t know if I agree with the idea that Christopher realizes he is not a part of the Hollywood Elite. He has been fooling himself the whole series that he can be anything than what he is. Yes, The Luxury Lounge might be something that is an elitist move star thing, but Christopher gets most of his stuff for free by stealing it. That’s a little different than getting it because you are entertaining people. Everyone knows stars don’t pay for anything once they get famous. They are literal advertisements in human form. Still not illegal like murder and theft. Also, I am happy that Artie gave Benny a beating, because he’s not as weak as he seems, but is an angry frustrated man. . But how long is he going to fool himself with his middle aged fantasies of younger beautiful women falling in love with him? Two of those fantasy women used him as a dupe, so he’s a fool. He chooses to be a regular guy, faithful to his wife (only because nobody wants to cheat with him) he won’t put money on the street like Tony suggested earlier in the series…he made his choice just like Tony made his choice. I like the comedic elements of Artie’s character, but I don’t feel sorry for him. Tony gave him good advice about his business, he helped him with the 50,000.00. He really has protected him through the whole series. yet Artie resents him. They aren’t allowed to eat at another restaurant? Its ridiculous. He feels sorry for himself…like everybody in the show except for maybe Paulie who is pragmatic and excepts his life for what it is.
    Everyone is inherently unhappy, and everyone has chosen the life they lead. Chris has to go to his mob friends to finance his movie..so what? In the end he gets what he wants. Still takes drugs and dies as a result. The actor who plays Murmur is fantastic, and the exchange in the elevator was priceless. Ben Kingsley was fantastic. He was truly non-plussed about why he was being overtly threatened by these thugs. It was very well written. When you are rich, you can buy things. Why is that a bad thing? I think the difference is that maybe Ben Kingsley feels better about his life choices than Christopher does about his.

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    • Totally agree about Artie. It’s less that he’s some virtuous bastion of marital integrity than simply he’s a man who can’t get any. And I’ve never understood his resentment of Tony either. For all his faults, Tony really has been a good friend to him, and not only protected, but actively helped (or tried to help) him throughout the series. Heck, he even gave him a place to stay in Season Five when Artie was living in a motel. Tony has been kinder to Artie than his own sister most of the time, yet Artie doesn’t seem at all grateful for that friendship, offering nothing but resentment. I could see Artie being annoyed if Tony hosted an event with main competitor, but he was an invited guest at someone else’s party at Da Giovanni. I honestly don’t know what he was expecting Tony to do, given Artie’s skewed perspective on almost everything.

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      • Yeah, but if I remember correctly, Artie only chased Adriana while he was separated from his wife. I think the main reason he never gets any is because he keeps punching above his weight, getting interested in these women that are way hotter than he is. And that itself may be an element of his virtue — if he was truly interested in cheating on Charmaine, he might be pursuing women that he actually had a chance with…

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        • …like Sandy.

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        • He engineered the separation because of Adriana leaving, and he thought if he told her he was separated she would consider him. (reality check) Let’s also say that Charmaine is a nag and very controlling but she has his best interests at heart. She sees his interest in the darker mob world. . As Carmela put it “You can only push a man so far.” He’s dying to be Tony without any of the murder or crime. I did admire that he gave that little dig to Benny about the “Martina.” He had to know he would pay for that. He’s a man of contrasts.

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        • Also, Artie doesn’t have the charisma of Tony. Looks wise he’s not a bad looking guy, just has no power. He carries no weight. this is what bothers him, but
          that’s Don Giovanni’s fault right?

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Great analysis, as always, Ron. I have a question: Is there an episode of The Sopranos that you consider genuinely bad, maybe one of those that you need to analyze in the future?

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  12. straight outta iowa

    Another great review, Ron. I agree — YUGELY underrated episode.

    Artie is probably may favorite character overall. And the “computerized data collection” line was perhaps his best.

    One interesting aspect of Carter is that he was maybe the last major evangelical Democrat, before they mostly got swooped up in the Reagan Coalition.

    On the issue of religion and commerce in America, in the unlikely event you haven’t read it, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” by Max Weber, which has been scrutinized every which way for the past century, remains IMHO the definitive source on the subject.

    Keep up the good work!

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    • Thanks SOI. I think a big reason why Carter was the last Dem to be open and proud of his Christianity is because after the spanking he took in 1980, the Democratic party began to give up on the religious vote — which has had disastrous consequences on the party, and probably on the entire country as well..

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  13. Thanks for another winner, Ron. You point out so many gems, that it motivates me to pay closer attention
    to seemingly throw away lines on repeated viewings.

    Rusty’s wife distracts him at the critical moment, she was no help to him at all. Charmaine on the other hand saves Artie from himself
    time after time in this episode. He refused to hear her when she called him on the chatting, so he had get it from Tony in that
    great scene later.

    This close up on Artie’s struggles reminds me of Bourdain’s tales in “Kitchen Confidential”. The long hours, the stress, the
    thin margins, bargaining with suppliers, food that’s suspiciously close its sell by date. “OK push the scampi, wholesaler
    says they’ve gotta get eaten tonight!” I don’t envy Artie’s life.

    Artie envies Tony’s options at the Bing, while sitting at the same bar are the Arabs running the
    credit card scam that’s going to force him into 2Fers. Later when Tony gives Benny some of his ‘taste’ to
    pay down his tab at Vesuvios, I had to laugh at the irony. Right before the fight, Benny says “…I was gonna cut you in”,
    so I wonder if Artie ever saw that tab money.

    Ben Kingsley unlike Artie, could see who was scamming him right away. “Bollocks” he says on the phone when his
    agent can’t give a good reason for the meeting at the Viceroy. “Sir Kingsley” engineers escapes each time
    Chris or Lil Carmine try to corner him, it’s so rare to see anyone escape the wreckage in Soprano World that I’m
    happy for him. However, the gallant knight escapes by throwing Betty to the wolves.

    One last observation. Chris keeps repeating the same mistakes in his life. When tries to gift Tony with stolen tickets
    to Australia, I wondered if Tony was going to repeat the mistake he made when he gifted his mother with tickets
    from the Scatino bust out. Not this time. But if it wasn’t Sarasota after a 17 hour trip, who knows?

    Liked by 1 person

    • All great observations. And I really hadn’t thought of that, how stupid it would be to try to use stolen airline tickets and for Chris to even offer them…

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      • The tickets are stolen from the gift bag, but they probably could be used anyway. They are complimentary. Anyone could use them. I doubt if they are in Bacall’s name. I love how dismissive Tony is of the gifts…and really, a little dog carrier?? And Ben didn’t throw Bacall to the wolves, I am sure he had no idea that his telling Chris about the gift bags would set off that chain reaction. Plus, they could have stolen those gift bags from anyone. Bacall was the unlucky one.

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        • Orangeannie, those tickets/vouchers would most likely have tracking numbers which, after the theft, would have been
          flagged to sent an alert if they were subsequently used. “We lead the world in computerized data collection” after all.

          But you’re right, I was too hard on Sir Ben, he couldn’t have known that his comments would put Betty personally
          in harms way.

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  14. …and it’s Lil Carmine who Tony pegs as retarded?

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  15. Wow, Ron, I’m ahead of you (as far as these autopsies go) for the first time 😄

    First time I’ve watched an episode and come here for your take on it only to find it’s not here. (Guess it shows you how much I value your Autopsy Notes?! Hope so, because I definitely do.)

    Anyway, the episode I just watched is Episode 10, ‘Moe n Joe’. The only thing I was going to say (and no doubt it’s already been noted 1000 times before but I’m a 1st time viewer so apologies in advance) is: Vito’s car, WTF happened there? One minute it’s bent from bulldozing into a station wagon, the next it’s pristine. A most un-Sopranos-like continuity glitch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks.

      I went back and looked at the scene. Although the car doesn’t seem as banged up as immediately after the accident, there is some damage to the front end.

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  16. There’s one thing left unmentioned- when Chris is haggling with the hooker in the room you can tell he’s totally in his element, the fact that he’s a long way from home doesn’t matter- the dude’s a pro when it comes to the underworld. That stands in stark contrast with how him and Carmine carry themselves when dealing with Ben Kingsley, climaxing in the luxury lounge itself (“Shelley can I get one of these?”)

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    • Lol, Shelley dismisses Chris and hands the package to Sir Ben instead. It’s true that everyone is a genius in their own element, Chris knows exactly how much to offer Eden for 40 minutes and 4 more lines…

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      • Chris is a non-entity in the Hollywood scene. Shelly didn’t even give him a second glance, and even the menacing of Ben Kingsley really didn’t hold much weight. Christopher is like that pretty girl or handsome guy who wants to be “Famous”. He has a big hole inside to fill. Drugs is what he chose to fill it with.

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  17. I just thought of something else that may contribute to Artie’s resentment. It goes back to what Tony said about Artie and Davey when they were in High School..He said they used to be tough guys.. I can’t remember who he used as an example, but now they are like Alan Alda and Phil Donohue. Also, Tony alludes to Davey about being kids together..”Do you think I’m still the fat kid on the bus?’ At one point in time Tony was the underdog, now he’s not and they are. That could be part of the resentment.

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  18. One of the final scenes in the Restaurant after Artie had to offer coupons reminds me of one of the last scenes in Casino. As Robert Deniro is lamenting the corporate take over of Vegas and the change in clientele there is a scene of senior citizens entering a casino. Much like the older crowd that enter Vesuvio on canes and walkers.

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  19. In S5 Phil has a problem with Tony protecting a member of his family. Now in S6, Phil has a problem with Tony protecting a member of Phil’s family. But that’s not all that bugs Phil. Bottom line is, Phil has a problem with anyone who opposes him for any reason. His opinions are not to be questioned, but he also shows contempt for anyone he feels backs down too readily. Can’t win with Phil. Interestingly, in interviews I’ve heard him do about the show, Frank Vincent comes across the same way. I don’t know if this is just Frank Vincent or if he drops into character when being interviewed.

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  20. Why is it disturbing that David Chase goes to the luxury lounge with his daughter? I know its supposed to symbolize materialism and so on, but I don’t see why its bad. Like I mentioned before, they are advertising the products when they use them. Its all part of being a celebrity. That’s what Christopher is pissed about. The mob takes whatever they want, from people who are affected in bad ways. He’s not altruistic in asking why the people that need it the least get it. He wants it for himself, just like he takes things by force and robbery in his life. The celebs aren’t stealing, they are being given the items. It might be materialistic, but what is Christopher if not materialistic? Even the movie he made was based on a genre that is made to shock and only for the money….Nobody would mistake him for a David Chase or a Ben Kingsley if he was a real person. Also, why are we assuming what David Chase is thinking about in his own personal life? We have no idea who he is or what he thinks. Maybe his daughter wanted to go or his publicist set it up. Its possible to write a story, and live a different truth.

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  21. I don’t know how anyone could not like this episode, the LA scenes with Carmine Lupertazzi Jr., Chris, Murmur, Lauren Bacall, and Ben Kingsley were comedy gold! Murmur and Corky are two minor characters that are very interesting, and you really want to learn their back story, in this episode you kind of get a taste of this.

    In the Pilot episode as well as “Whoever Did this” in therapy sessions with Melfi, Tony compares himself to a sad clown laughing on the outside, crying on the inside. In “Whoever did This” Melfi called bullshit on Tony’s perception of himself, she points out how he goes into fits of rage, he punches walls, he is very hedonistic, and not in control of his emotions. I think the actual sad clown is Artie, while on the outside he is a gregarious, physically funny (almost Chaplinesque), on the inside, I think he is a very sad person. He is the hard-working guy who always gets screwed. Artie is in an unhappy marriage, he has attempted suicide, and he is always the innocent victim of the mobs collateral damage (I.E. the restaurant fire, the unpaid bar tab, the credit card scheme).

    Liked by 1 person

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