Mayham (6.03)

Tony continues his odyssey through a mysterious dream-world, while AJ and Vito
add to the general stress level in the real world.

Episode 68 – Originally aired March 26, 2006
Written by Matthew Weiner
Directed by Jack Bender


“Mayham” is a multi-faceted episode, it has a little bit of everything for every type of viewer: broad humor, serious drama, spookiness, surrealism, post-modern playfulness.  The hour begins by reaching out to the “blood-and-guts” fans—Paulie and one of his soldiers get into a shootout with some Colombian drug dealers.  The raid on the drug dealers nets an enormous prize, perhaps as much as $1 million.  Some of the major tensions of this episode stem from how this money is to be distributed, within the mob and to Carmela.  (This is not the first time that we have seen a Colombian drug dealer get killed: when Chase wanted to infuse a large amount of cash into the narrative in “A Hit is a Hit” [1.10], it came at the expense of a whacked Colombian dealer.)  During the bloody fracas, Paulie takes a knee to the groin:

Paulie's Walnuts

Chase milks all the humor he can out of Paulie’s nuts.  I chuckled as Paulie grumbles, “I’m livin’ it up here” as he applies a big bag of ice to his balls.  We’ve seen Paulie take it in the walnuts before.  Valery the Russian knocked him with a shovel in 3.11 and Minn Matrone thumped him with her knee in 4.12.

Paulie takes it in the nuts X2

Chase gets a good amount of humor from Silvio here also.  Many viewers found fault with Silvio’s storyline, finding the plot-point of his sudden asthma too forced and Stevie Van Zandt’s acting abilities underwhelming.  Both valid criticisms.  But I think Chase very cleverly uses Van Zandt’s limitations as an actor to serve the story.  Silvio/Van Zandt has always played second fiddle to The Boss (whether that be Boss Soprano or Boss Springsteen).  Silvio/Van Zandt is more effective as a Number Two man.  (Bruce Springsteen has even referred to Van Zandt as his consiglieri.)  Silvio’s queasiness in this hour may be a reflection of Van Zandt’s actual discomfort at having to play a bigger role in this hour than what he is used to.  Silvio is as uncomfortable being the “Acting Boss” as Van Zandt is acting as a Boss.  Chase similarly hedges Maureen Van Zandt’s liabilities as an inexperienced actress by having her play “the wife,” the same role that she plays in real-life.  Both of the Van Zandts are unseasoned actors, but by mirroring their onscreen-relationship to their offscreen one, Chase is able to get strong, believable performances out of the two.

At the beginning of the hour, it seems that Gabriella Dante is turning into a Lady Macbeth, pushing her husband to grab power with both hands.  We might wonder if all the mirrors-shots are meant to reflect their two-faced ambition:

Sil and Gab Macbeth - Sopranos Autopsy

As the episode progresses, however, we recognize that the Dantes really are not cut-throat opportunists.  In fact, Silvio may be the man that Tony and Carmela can trust the most.  (Sil putting his hand on comatose Tony’s arm is one of the few genuine expressions of concern that any of the gangsters have shown since Tony was shot.)  All of the other guys are two-faced and selfish.  Especially Vito Spatafore.  Vito tries to claim a bigger piece of the Colombian’s drug money from Paulie.  He clashes with Bobby over income and territory.  He tries to garner Larry Barese’s support for a run at the top leadership position, in the event that Tony doesn’t survive.  He does all this while stiffing Carmela of the significant financial package that she is supposed to receive.  Silvio tries to referee all the hostilities and infighting but is overwhelmed.  Bobby Baccalieri won’t even give Silvio a break as Sil is being loaded into an ambulance.  Everybody is being an asshole.

The biggest asshole of the hour must be AJ.  (I kinda wished somebody would kick him in the nuts.)  He is truly insensitive and callous here, to a degree that cannot be justified by the pain and anxiety he must feel in this difficult situation.  He almost seems proud to be a jerk—his T-shirt even says “Most Likely To Bogart.”  We learn here that AJ is planning to infiltrate a federal lockup and kill Corrado as payback for shooting Tony.  I think the plan is less an attempt to get vengeance and more an attempt to be taken seriously, but the poor kid doesn’t understand that brewing up such an idiotic idea makes him seem even more like a clown.

Carmela is infuriated to learn that AJ has spoken to the national media.  His obscene outburst is shown on Bill Kurtis’ television program.  The presence of Bill Kurtis here, who is well-known for shows like Investigative Reports, blurs the line between SopranoWorld and the real world.  Chase likes to use famous faces to pierce through the “fourth wall,” mingling the real and the fictional in true postmodern fashion:

Bill Kurtis Sopranos

The greatest postmodern gambit of Season 6 surrounds the production of Christopher’s mobster-slasher film Cleaver, a storyline that gets introduced this hour.  J(ames) T(imothy) Daly returns in this episode as writer “JT Dolan.”  (Perhaps “returns” is not the right word, he’s dragged back into the narrative by Christopher’s goons.)  In a funny bit of irony, Dolan is instructing his writing students to exploit their hang-ups when the Mob foists a writing job on him because of his hang-up—his gambling debt.  The entire multi-episode storyline about Cleaver is, in a sense, generated out of Christopher’s hang-up—he has never let go of his dreams of Hollywood.  JT has a pitch-meeting with the goombah investors now that is pitch-perfectly hilarious.  Lil Carmine fancies himself a film-industry insider because he’s got nine movies under his subspecies.  Silvio looks like he wants to whack JT just for mistakenly thinking that Michael Myers is a supernatural being like Freddy Krueger or Jason.  The rest of the guys get caught up in insignificant plot issues.  (Based on this meeting, we probably wouldn’t expect Cleaver to ever get made.  But actually, ‘Saw-meets-Godfather’ is a pretty good premise for a slasher flick, so it’s not that surprising that the movie does eventually get produced.)

This hour is best remembered for continuing Tony’s journey (or whatever you want to call it) through Limbo (or wherever you want to call it).  Tony is still trapped in the labyrinth, he hasn’t escaped the belly of the whale.  Tony/Kevin wakes up in his hotel room to find that he has been served with a summons.  He is being sued by the Crystal Monastery for breach of contract.  He visits the monastery to speak to the monks.  It’s a very quick visit, but a very key scene:

One reason the scene is important is because it seems to be pointing to the idea of karmic retribution for Tony/Kevin for his crimes.  In her essay, “From Here to InFinnerty; Tony Soprano and the American Way,” Prof. Terri Carney contends that Tony/Kevin’s misdeeds can be conflated to the misdeeds of our entire society.  She notes that when Tony insists that he is not Kevin Finnerty, the older monk responds that “To a certain extent, all Caucasians look alike,” a response which…

…gives voice to an overarching theme: all businessmen, from Tony Business to Kevin Finnerty to Tony Mafia, will have to account for their part in the corrupt practices of accumulating wealth in disregard of fellow human beings, whether those human beings be murdered or more indirectly victimized…We, like Tony, are unavailable to redemption as long as we blindly support and enable an economic system that is self-justifying even when perpetrating ‘victimless’ crimes such as polluting the environment or cheating employees out of benefits and retirement packages.

Dr. Carney argues that we, like Tony/Kevin, will be left lost and disconnected from each other if we continue to allow greed—both personal and corporate—to shape our culture.  Corporate capitalism, as it exists in America today (and which Tony/Kevin seems to represent), is a destructive force, disintegrating the connections that exist between human beings.  Buddhism, on the other hand, is a philosophy of integration.  The young monk’s words convey his sense of integration with the world: “One day we will all die, and then we will be the same as that tree.  No ‘me,’ no ‘you.'”  For the Buddhist, there is no division between himself and all the other elements of the universe.  Tony/Kevin, however, is no Buddhist.  The economic model that guides his life and generates his worldview is inherently divisive.  In her essay, Carney includes a quote from Prof. Richard Stivers on the meaninglessness that inevitably arises when humanity is so divided:

For meaning to be effective, it must be shared meaning that binds people together in common responsibilities and reciprocal moral relationships.  Consumerism is a shared belief but it leaves one psychologically isolated, for it is based upon freedom without responsibility.  The ability to create meaning in consumerism, to spiritualize consumerism, fails because its utopian promise of perfect happiness and health cannot be achieved in this world…

In a democracy like ours, we have the freedom and power to shape society as we see fit.  If American society is afflicted by a callous and inhumane form of consumerism, then we ourselves are ultimately to blame.  We are complicit in empowering a system that isolates us rather than unifies us.  Carney asserts that the issue of complicity is a major concern of these last two episodes, and I think the scene here in which Carmela visits Dr. Melfi reinforces her assertion.  Of course, Carmela is directly complicit in crimes greater than simply contributing to the consumerization of mankind.  In Melfi’s office, Carmela feels pain as she comes clean (or at least comes cleaner than we’ve ever heard her come before) about her collusion with criminals.  But her greater pain comes from the thought of what she has done to her two children.  She can string together only half-formed sentences, barely able to express the guilt she feels:

Carm:  It’s all out in the open now, the whole thing.  And them…they’re not in grade school anymore…they become…the longer they stay with us…
Melfi:  Complicit.
Carm:  Oh God.  (Sobs.)

Carmela can’t even say the word, so Melfi needs to supply it for her.  We too may hesitate to admit our own guilt in creating the value-system that motivates monsters like Tony Soprano and people like Tony/Kevin.  It might be quite distressing to think that their values are not very different from our own. 

I think Terri Carney makes a powerful reading of these last two episodes.  But I don’t think that Tony’s troubles in Limbo are meant to primarily be a criticism of American consumerism/materialism.  Sure, Tony/Kevin’s sense of dislocation within the coma-dream may at least partially be a reflection of the dislocation that Tony Soprano feels within the depersonalized, consumerized society of contemporary America.  (And I have little doubt that our consumerism and vulgar materialism are high on Chase’s list of concerns; several episodes this season including “Luxury Lounge” and “Johnny Cakes” specifically target materialism and corporatism.)  Ultimately, however, I think Tony’s sense of dislocation is more a result of his particular childhood and his life-choices than it is a result of the prevailing socio-economic model of America.  Tony would probably be struggling for meaning (“Who am I?  Where am I going?”) even in a less corporatized, less materialistic culture, like that of Canada or Bhutan for example, as long as he was born to Livia Soprano.

Livia did not believe in connections, and so what few relationships she had with friends, family, community and society eroded into nothing over time.  She was a very emotionally isolated person.  It wasn’t very surprising to hear her tell AJ in “D-Girl” that “in the end, you die in your own arms…It’s all a big nothing.”  For Livia, life and death were little more than big, meaningless voids.  The young Buddhist at the monastery now presents a very different worldview.  The practice of Buddhism is the practice of recognizing one’s holistic connection to everyone else and every thing else.  A genuine Buddhist does not die alone, in his own arms.  He dies just as he lived, integrated and assimilated with everything around him—even that tree out there in the garden.

The scene with the Buddhist monks here is instrumental to my understanding of the series.  Chase uses Buddhism, I believe, to represent an alternative to Livia’s nihilism.  (I think this is an extremely important point but I am going to leave the reason why for the next write-up, where it will make more sense.)  Though Buddhism may function as a counterweight to Livia’s nihilism, Livia’s poisonous influence on Tony does not suddenly lose its venom just because he makes a visit to the Buddhist monastery.  (Oh, if only it were that simple.)  In this episode, Livia seems to appear—in a manner of speaking—to exert her power over her son just at the moment when he is most vulnerable to fall victim to her dark philosophy…

Tony/Kevin drives out to the Inn at the Oaks ostensibly for a family reunion, but the party turns out to be a far more metaphysical affair than what he was expecting.  This sequence is one of the most spine-tingling of the entire series.  The appearance of Tony Blundetto, who we know to be dead, hints that this Inn is a portal into death—but the man in the tuxedo doesn’t act like Blundetto, and Chase further confounds us by listing Buscemi’s character only as “Man” and not as “Tony Blundetto” in the credits.  We cannot be certain that he is in fact Blundetto.  Nor can we be certain that the mysterious woman that appears on the stoop of the Inn is Livia, but we are led to this conclusion partly because the woman and the setting are so reminiscent of the dreamscape we saw in episode 4.11.

Dark Mother dream Pt. II

mysterious Livia

(In truth, we also don’t know for sure if the Dark Woman on the stairs in “Calling All Cars” represented Livia.  But I argued that that was a reasonable guess because Livia had so strongly been associated with stairs while alive.  And Chase all but confirmed that the Dark Woman was Livia in an interview with Martha Nochimson.)  There are some tense moments now as Tony/Kevin ponders going into the Inn, and Chase further elevates the viewer’s heart rate by cross-cutting to the hospital room where Paulie’s incessant chattering has sent Tony into tachycardia.  (There is something wickedly funny in the thought that Tony Soprano might be killed not by a hitman’s bullet or by the electric chair but by Paulie Walnuts’ ceaseless jabbering.)  Just as the tension reaches its peak, the screen fades to white.  We wonder if this is the end for Tony, if this is the famous white light that reportedly marks the end of the line.  But the white screen fades back into the hospital room, to Mead and Carm’s faces.  Tony comes out of his coma and out of danger.  He has survived.

I think we can give a large amount of credit to Meadow for saving her father’s life.  It was her pleas (“Don’t go, daddy, we love you”) probably more than anything else that pulled Tony back from whatever precipice he was on.  Meadow started the series out as a bratty and annoying little girl but she is maturing into a caring, thoughtful young woman.  She seems to have dodged the nihilistic attitude that plagues others in her family.  Over the last couple of seasons, she has arguably become the antithesis of her grandmother, a sort of “anti-Livia”:

While Livia’s connections to others continuously disintegrated, Meadow tries to integrate herself into her family and society, even formally
studying the ways in which do this at Columbia, as we saw in “No Show” (4.02):

Meadow signature

While Livia continuously demonstrated her callousness on steps and staircases, Meadow showed compassion and insight on the staircase
of the family home in “Eloise” (4.12):

Staircase of love

Faced with the choice of following the mysterious woman into the luminous Inn or turning back toward a young girl’s voice calling from the trees, Tony chooses the latter.  Tony, it seems, chooses Meadow over Livia.  In the previous episode, we heard Meadow read the first three lines of Jacques Prevert’s poem.  I provided the full text of the poem because I felt it to be relevant to this scene now.  The poem lauds the earth in all its beauty, but also in its banality and ugliness.  Humanists/agnostics/atheists have embraced this poem because it exalts the earth without romanticizing it.  Our planet may not be perfect but it is all that we have for certain.  We cannot know with any reasonable certainty what the Afterlife may hold, but we know for certain that all members of humanity must share some time together on this small blue planet.  Meadow is far from being an ideal person, and she is not a Humanist (with a capital H), but she sometimes demonstrates a humanity that is rarely found in SopranoWorld.  It is her voice that pulls Tony back to this imperfect earth of ours.

Someone has put an Ojibwe saying up on the bulletin board in Tony’s room.  Christopher reads the proverb out loud: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.”  The proverb evokes the idea of humility, of recognizing that we are part of something larger than our individual self.  But this is an idea that cannot gain much traction in SopranoLand.  We see great exhibitions of selfishness in this episode, as we’ve seen in every episode.  Just moments after reading the Ojibwe quote, Christopher undercuts its sentiment by doing the most selfish thing of the hour: he tries to capitalize on Tony’s frail state in order to get a greenlight on his movie project.  The unfair advantage that Chris takes now parallels an earlier scene, in which we saw Bobby focus on his own desires before an ailing Silvio:

selfish Bobby and Chris - Sopranos Autopsy

Christopher argues that Tony owes him the movie because Chris turned Adriana over to him after finding out she was a rat.  When Cleaver is finally released, we see that the movie expresses some of Christopher’s long-simmering feelings about the connection between Tony and Ade—not the fact that he had her killed, but the fact that they were in that fishy car accident together.  Christopher is still harboring suspicions about that night.  Poor Tony—he emerges out of an existentially disorienting Limbo/near-death-experience only to immediately be confronted by suspicion and selfishness.

The Mystics’ “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” starts up over the final scene and takes us well into the end credits.  During his coma, Tony was in some mystical place “over the rainbow,” but he is back home now.  Chase seems unwilling, however, to close out such a mind-bending, spooky episode with soothing music from a 1950s DooWop band.  He segues into Daniel Lanois’ truly eerie “The Deadly Nightshade” over the tail end of the credits.


YOU, ME and THE TREE (Part II)
have long been a part of Sopranos mythology, going all the way back to the rotting tree that Tony thought he saw in Melfi’s “Korshack” painting in episode 1.03.  And a forest of trees was famously the setting of existential dislocation in Season Three’s “Pine Barrens.”  (See my 5.12 entry for a more complete list of tree references.)  I think that Chase deliberately evokes his long-running “tree-mythology” in this hour, first with the Buddhist’s line, “One day we will all die, and then we will be the same as that tree,” and then with those suggestive shots of the trees outside the Inn at the Oaks.  (Even the name of the inn points to its tree-lined setting.)  Many viewers took note of these recurring references and began to equate trees with death.  While this is a perfectly justifiable interpretation, I think we miss the true richness of the show’s imagery and its metaphoric power when we make simplistic, one-to-one associations like “trees = death.”  Prior to this episode, the strongest symbolic association between trees and mortality was made in “Long Term Parking”—but in that episode, the trees evoked life as well as death:

Chase substituted the imagery of Adriana’s killing with a shot of the overhead canopy, and then later came down from a canopy to find Carmela and Tony beginning their new life together.  Chase uses trees in multiple ways throughout the series.  Sometimes trees signify life, sometimes death.  Sometime they add tone and texture, or establish a setting.  It is a human tendency to ascribe fixed meanings to symbols (i.e. trees = death), but I think Chase’s instinct is to leave his imagery and symbols unfixed, without definitive meanings.  One way he creates ambiguity is by linking images and symbols together in vague, indefinite chains that can be read in multiple ways.  For example, one viewer may believe that the “great wind” found in the Ojibwe proverb here links to the wind that rustles the trees at the Inn at the Oaks.  Another viewer may link the Ojibwe proverb to the “great wind” that Vito released into the Soprano couch in the previous episode.  As in the real world, there is no omniscient voice in The Sopranos that supplies definitive interpretations.  Without the comfort and clarity of clear-cut answers, SopranoWorld characters are perpetually at risk of falling into chaos, isolation and “mayham.”  But living in uncertainty is their lot in life (as it is in ours) and so they would do well (as would we) to accept it and learn how to function morally and purposefully within such ambiguity.  (Of course, it would make for one hell of a boring show if they all actually did this…)


Sopranos’ writers love using the character of “JT Dolan” to make fun of writers themselves.  It was in episode 5.07 that JT couldn’t get squat for his writing Emmy at the pawn shop, and now JT yells at his writing students for not doing shit when Benny and Murmur beat and drag him out of the classroom.  (You can bet that the students will try to incorporate the scene into their future stories and novels, though.  I love that one of the students is wearing a giant top-hat, the type that only budding literary artists or Guns ‘n Roses guitarists wear.)

JT tells his students that writers “mythologize our inner narrative.”  We know that Christopher, though not a very talented writer, shares this characteristic—he sees his life in story/narrative terms.  (Remember when he complained that his life-story had no arc back in episode 1.08?)  His script for Cleaver, we will see, is based on his inner narrative regarding his place in the mob and his relationship with his Boss.  To put it in mythic terms, he is the Hero while Tony is the Villain.  In the classroom, JT references one of the earliest known mythic stories of literature: the Heroic story of Beowulf.  There may be something very clever and fitting about this particular reference.  In the story, Beowulf mortally wounds the villainous creature Grendel by chopping off his arm.  In Christopher’s movie, there is a neat reversal: the Villain chops off the Hero’s arm.  Which then gets replaced with a cleaver.  (And we know where the story goes from there.)


The “gay mobster” storyline which is such a prominent feature of Season 6A won’t kick off for another two episodes, but there are a couple of interesting moments in the current hour that relate to Vito Spatafore and this particular plotline:

  • In Patty Leotardo’s first appearance of the series here, she is very thoughtful to Vito, offering him fresh fruit instead of a rich dessert as she knows that he is on a strict diet.  But her thoughts toward Vito will not be nearly as warm once she learns he is gay.
  • In the early part of the episode, Vito figures that Tony doesn’t have very long to live, so he resists paying Carmela what is due to her—it would just be money down the drain if Tony dies.  In a cool irony later this season, Terry Doria will reverse this logic and borrow money from Vito when he figures that Vito doesn’t have very long to live.
  • Finn feels intimidated when he runs into Vito at the hospital.  Vito gets a bit intense and handsy with the young man, and it is tough to tell whether the gangster wants to fuck, marry or kill him—maybe all three.  (Meadow displays her usual delusion when she assures her boyfriend that Vito is harmless.)  I think this must be the first time the two are seeing each other since Finn stood Vito up at the baseball game in episode 5.09.  Finn, of course, will soon provide the eyewitness account that confirms Vito’s homosexuality to the other mobsters.



  • Malapropisms are such an integral part of the series that this episode is actually named after one.
  • It was in episode 5.13 that Tony described his predicament to Silvio, “You got no idea what it’s like to be Number One. Every decision you make affects every facet of every other fuckin’ thing. It’s too much to deal with almost.”  Silvio assumes the responsibility of being Number One in this episode, and he would certainly agree with Tony’s description.
  • I love how this episode gets so many little details at the hospital right.  Anyone who has spent time in an ICU would recognize these details: having to sneak outside-food in, the callousness of some of the staff, the conversations about where you parked the car, the disproportionate number of Asian doctors and nurses…
  • Gotta love Paulie: he just scored a major payday with the Colombian thing (worth upwards of $200,000?) but he’s still clipping coupons for Band-Aids.
  • If we take a close look at the bulletin board in Tony’s room, we see that Georgie has signed the card from the Bada Bing.  He said he would quit the place after Tony gave him a severe beating in “Cold Cuts” (5.10) but apparently he didn’t.

Ojibwe saying - Sopranos Autopsy

  • Some “Tony dies” theorists find evidence in this episode for their argument that Tony was killed at Holsten’s Diner.  The “cut-to-black” that signifies Tony’s death, they argue, is inversely correlated to the “fade-to-white” that signifies Tony’s emergence back into life in this episode.  It’s not a bad argument, there is some logic to it.  But as I mentioned previously regarding the tree-imagery, I think our understanding of the series becomes impoverished if we ascribe absolute interpretations to ambiguous details.  (I’ll go further in the final write-up into why I’m underwhelmed by the deduction “fade-to-white = life, therefore cut-to-black = death.”)
  • I wasn’t trying to pick on Steven Van Zandt’s acting abilities earlier.  I’m only suggesting that Chase may have tailored the material to fit his actor.  I think Van Zandt is awesome on The Sopranos, and I liked him on Lilyhammer too.
  • Chase exponentially builds on this episode’s ideas of integration and connectivity in the next episode, “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh.”  The next hour is crucially important to my understanding of the series, and I’ve been itching for years to share my thoughts on it.
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82 responses to “Mayham (6.03)

  1. Seitz: I thought of Twin Peaks many times while watching The Sopranos, but never more so than that shot in season six of that very slow pan across the trees against the sky, with the branches blowing in the wind.

    Chase: I’d be very apt to say that shot was probably influenced by Twin Peaks, because I really did like that image. It was particular to The Sopranos, though, because of that one line we use in that season, the Ojibwe saying: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. missed your brilliant thoughts mate


  3. Although they are almost the same age Chase was very much influenced by Lynch and Twin Peaks and of course there are connections, obvious and not so obvious, in the Sopranos..and not just the trees. I’m saying this because for me Twin Peaks and the Sopranos are best TV series…ever.

    Another great analysis by the way. Thanks.

    Gabagool Walk With Me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Awesome. Keep it up. And thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I always equated the Ojibwe saying with Juniors summation of Livia earlier in the series: “She’s like a woman with a Virginia ham under her arm, crying the blues ’cause she has no bread” – but that’s more about greed and less about inter-connectivity that the Ojibwe saying reflects.

    When Chris is berating JT in the car, he says “it wasn’t me who told you to start gambling again”. So it’s safe to say that neither one of them has learnt their lesson and Chris is happy to juice JT again?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s safe to say that no one in SopranoWorld ever learns their lessons…


    • 1. I always take the JT thing as he still owed Chris lots of money from original debt. Chris took car as a portion and JT then went into rehab as the juice rang up. Not sure of timing between this and when he is teaching but figured that he still owed a good bit and now Chris had this opportunity to finally “collect”
      2. That one Buddhist on the right sure seems like a smart ass dick, for a buddhist that is.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Carmella is seen reading “G” Is for Gumshoe (a Sue Grafton mystery fiction) a couple of times in the ICU next to Tony, and as luck would have it:

    * The novel starts with 3 things happening to the protagonist on her 33rd birthday – another instance linking an injured character to the mysterious number 3.
    * It turns out that the person the protagonist was hired to find has been living under a different name to escape from a murderous brother.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Ron, incredible write up. In your clip of the monastery, when Tony/Finnerty describes being diagnosed with Alzheimers, the cut is to the flag-rope behind him, almost as if slicing into his throat. Similar to “College” where Tony garrotes Febby Petrulio, with the flag-rope behind him at neck level (interesting you showed the Petrulio-garroting clip in your write up also). The flags’ colors are similar between episodes. I thought the flag-rope in “College” might relate to karma, and like how you describe the idea of karmic retribution in “Mayhem.” Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting note about Beowulf. Pretty sure someone calls AJ that at some point in Season 6?


  9. Benjamin Dowling

    “Corporate capitalism, as it exists in America today (and which Tony/Kevin seems to represent), is a destructive force”
    This reminded me of what a film professor of mine used to say. He would sometimes talk about Sopranos and said that organized crime was Capitalism in its purest form as it is profit at absolutely any cost.
    Thank you – utterly brilliant as always.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Silvio trying to fill Tony’s shoes is bar none the funniest thing in the entire show for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I really enjoy reading this blog and I think once it is complete you should consolidate it into something portable like a kindle ebook. Not that it should be your motivation but I would pay for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • haha thanks… I think it’s just too big and too full of pics and videos (copyrighted stuff, sshhh don’t tell anyone) to ever turn into a book though..

      Liked by 1 person

      • My idea is The World of Ice and Fire meets The Sopranos Sessions. It could be big and have pictures like the former and you can describe the videos like the latter. You can do it in six (or seven) books; one for each season.

        I’m offering you a way to wipe your fuckin obligation. People are seeing huge profits with these Sopranos companion books.. douchebags who never wrote a sopranos essay before. Don’t make me come look for you

        Liked by 1 person

        • Lol. I’ve looked into publication but there seem to be too many legal and logistical issues with a work of this size. I may come up with a way for readers to help support the website, if they are so inclined…

          Liked by 1 person

  12. With the other supernatural elements on the show. Paulie seeing the virgin mary in the bing and the 3 oclock thing from chris’ coma dream, pussy appearing in a mirror after his death i always assumed the inn at the oaks was hell and the devil took the form of tony blundetto to trick tony to let go of his soul symbolized as the briefcase

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Chase crafted a series that is so realistic, so true-to-life, that even “supernatural” elements and interpretations feel very legit and possible within the reality of SopranoWorld…

      It’s interesting how suitcases had been associated with the idea of escape on the series; we saw Finn and Ade’s suitcases as they each thought of running away last season, and now the guy at the Inn tugs at Tony’s briefcase possibly in an attempt to prevent Tony/Kevin from escaping…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I interpreted that more as the the fact it was the “inn at the oaks” representing the trees discussed by the Buddhists earlier – that no matter what you had done that we would all become one and join together again, hence the whole “family reunion” aspect. Tony/Finnerty is told that “everyone is there” and he could go inside and join them but first he had to let go of his worldly baggage represented by the briefcase (much like how Buddhists attempt to attain enlightenment through letting go of the self and attachments). Tony B / the man tries to persuade him to let go but he’s not ready yet. The suitcases in the previous series seemed to represent attempts at escape which were ultimately futile and they got sucked back in to Sopranoworld, whereas this briefcase represented Tony’s whole life which kept him attached to the corporeal plane, along with Meadow’s cries.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. 3 shots to the balls, and Paulie gets prostate cancer. I think if Tony let go of the briefcase “My whole life’s in there” then he would have died. Also, we know that the man is Tony Blundetto, but Tony doesn’t seem to know it. If he was the same Tony, then wouldn’t he recognize his cousin? I get most of it, but some of it is still confusing. Who left that saying on the bulletin board? I also think that it was Tony who did Christopher the favor by letting him live after he found out about Adriana…. Why does he think Tony owes him anything? Christopher was ready to flip, and only because of the lifestyle he couldn’t do it. When he kills JT, he implies that he will have plenty to tell to the FBI…I hope one day David Chase writes a book and explains the whole thing. Then again, he doesn’t strike me as that type of guy..:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think all these gangsters feel like the whole world “owes” them something… that goes with the life they’ve chosen. A few seasons back Chris felt it was owed to him to be made after killing “Email” Kolar even though he knew the books were closed.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. straight outta iowa

    Steve: A jeroboam is a very large bottle of wine, so presumably Hernan is referencing AJ’s largesse at the West Chelsea clubs, where such purchases are often compulsory. Interestingly, a jeroboam of champagne is 3L (four bottles), but a jeroboam of bordeaux is 5L. From personal experience, consuming either in one sitting is very difficult, even for the most accomplished oenophiles.

    In any event, and of potentially more relevance to SopranoWorld, Jeroboam was a King of Israel, who famously erected the two golden calves and thus “made Israel to sin”.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. It’s probably just coincidence, but there seems to be a recurring image of big, white frame houses with porches. Inn at the Oaks, Whitecaps, Uncle Pat’s house, the house in Tony’s dream (referenced in your post). Different houses, but similar looking… I dunno if there’s some significance there or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The plantation house “Tara” from Gone With the Wind is symbolic of the disappearing south. Selznick, the producer, commented that the big, white house was merely a facade – there were no rooms inside. He then compares “Tara” to Hollywood – an elaborate, but ultimately empty, set.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. “But living in uncertainty is their lot in life (as it is in ours) and so they would do well (as would we) to accept it and learn how to function morally and purposefully within such ambiguity.”

    I think a lot of people could use this advice when it comes to the big “cut to black”. Obviously its going to be discussed, but to actually hate it because it didn’t give the perfect answer they wanted is missing the point, when the point is actually ambiguity at its most rawest. You just don’t know when it could all be taken away.

    ….but I think I’m getting a little ahead here. We’re not quite there yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. “Join the Club” and “Mayhem” are my two favorite episodes in the whole Soprano’s series. I attribute this to a lifetime quest of trying to find answers about life and death (and no I have not found them yet). There is a Theory in Quantum Physics called the “Theory of Everything”, it is the belief that we exist simultaneously in an infinite number of parallel universes, the cycle infinitely repeats itself, kind of like reincarnation. To me the religion that most resembles this meta physical thought would be Buddhism, hence the Buddhist monks. When Tony was in the coma, I think he went into a portal of another Universe, where he was a beta male Tony Soprano. For example, Finnerty was slapped around by a Buddhist monk, at the Bada Bing Tony was always taking out his frustrations on Georgie. In this world he is made fun of by a smart ass at the bar, he is swindled into paying the dinner bill, he was now the whipping boy as opposed to the whipper. When Tony comes out of the coma the first person, he befriends is Schwinn who is a physicist. I think this episode was an exploration of heaven, hell, reincarnation, and physics (science), maybe Chase is suggesting that the answer to our existence could be a combination of everything.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Chase has said that he may believe in “other universes.” I’ll provide the full quote—and go further into multiverse theory—in the final write-up…


  18. In S03E02, Meadow helps Anthony out with his homework, and she explains how white can also represent death, not just black. This is also the episode Livia dies. After Meadow leaves Anthony’s room, Anthony hears a sound (creaking floorboards, possibly) from somewhere in the house, which prompts him to nervously look down the corridor, asking out loud “Grandma?”.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I feel this episode gives us a couple clues for a future we never saw. We already witnessed how wives of dead mobsters are treated. Later in this season we are reminded of this through the yet to be dead Johnny Sac’s wife having financial hardship. I believe in this episode we are shown what Carmela is in for. Had Tony not awoke, those guys would have kept stalling and never paid her. Her initial encounter with Melfi in the grocery store, unkempt, out of sorts, babbling about her a glimpse of Carmela in the future, after Tony’s death.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. My own personal take is that Tony never comes out of the coma. When he sees the light, he comes back from it, but is still in the coma. The rest of the episodes are his dreams or hallucinations. In the final episode, his family is called around him, and they literally pull the plug and it all goes dark. It’s his family and their impact on his that he can’t overcome and that killed him. Not only is the whole rest of the season Tony’s hallucinations, but the viewer’s too, since they are the ones that couldn’t let the series go.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. In an earlier life as a sportswriter, I often had to leave the house early in the eve to cover games, leaving my two little girls to be tucked in by their mom. As I was headed out the door one night, they somewhat teasingly pleaded into my tape recorder, “Stay with us, daddy. Please don’t go, don’t leave us.”
    That scene with Meadow knocked the wind right out of me. Even two decades later, just as I thought I was out, they pull me back into life, into connectedness. Likewise, Tony’s commitment to his family serves as a haven in the heartless world… even as his commitment to the family he didn’t choose tries to kill him again and again.
    Edie Falco is just incredible in this ep. For all the kudos Gandolfini richly deserves, she’s right there by his side.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Everybody’s making every effort to be positive in their conversations with comatose Tony. Meadow even emphasizes it to Paulie, but Paulie knew how to get T out of that coma.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. I don’t know if anyone commented on this, and it’s a very small thing, but I was amused when Janice offered to sit and give Carmela a break. She mentions she had Chinese food. Remember she told Bobby that she can’t eat Chinese food when she was trying to catch him. Like most courtships, we use subterfuge to get what we want. In Janice’s case this is dinner at Vesuvio’s Or “ Karens last ziti before she died.” A small thing, but very telling.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Two thoughts:

    1. The scene where Benny is in Silvio’s kitchen – the kitchen layout seems to mimic Tony’s. Dinette, kitchen, with a doorway off to the left. With Silvio’s wife as the resident “Carmela.”

    2. After recovering, Tony asks Carmela if he’s dead. She tells him “you’re in a hospital, in Newark.” In other words,Tony doesn’t know if he’s in heaven or Newark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I noticed this – it seems like Tony is a sort of everyman. Tony’s situation could easily become Sil’s, given enough time. Or, even Vito’s. I don’t think Sil’s or Vito’s or Paulie’s families were even shown until this season, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  25. Sil’s inhaler is a weird corollary to Tony’s years as boss, stressed and overeating. It’s also a ghostly reminder of Tony’s breathing tube. The situations that drive Sil to breathlessness are shown to be unbearable or intolerable. This captures the reality of Tony’s life transparently, without Tony coloring the story. For example, Paulie and Vito wasting time arguing and worrying about money (when they’ve just been guaranteed 100k each). The Skip has a “big” job, we think, yet it’s totally political and sort of petty. It’s like babysitting. The camerawork favors distant shots rather than close-ups – this also establishes Sil’s distance from the situation. Yet we can imagine the un-thrilling side of Tony’s story – the one which isn’t always told in the previous five seasons.
    I like how, in the dream, Kevin asks the bartender whether it’s possible he could really be Kevin Finnerty. The bartender chuckles, and gives a concerned look – “how could you not be Kevin Finnerty?”, he seems to say. I like how, when inverted, the situation deepens Tony’s existential troubles. The question for Tony becomes “is it possible that I could really be Tony Soprano?” And if the answer is yes, then Tony might be astonished, or terrified. This suggests the loss of innocence, and the idea that his real life is a nightmare, whereas the dream is merely real. The sub-plot is almost as dense as the main plot.
    In another episode, Tony tells AJ, angrily, that in the end, “friends will let you down.” “Mayham” is definitely about insurrection. Everyone supposedly backing Tony wants to turn against him, except his immediate family. One of the darker things is the whole saint-after-death theme; I get the feeling Carm, Meadow, and AJ are all idealizing Tony internally, as they consider that he may soon be gone forever. This idea is spooky. The irrationality of humanity. A monk in Tony’s dream says “no fraud without a fairytale,” as Tony tells a guilt-ridden compulsory explanation for his showing up at the Crystal Monastery.
    Maybe it’s cliche, but all of this definitely reminds me of the Liar Paradox. The liar says he is a liar. This would be true, but, we don’t expect truth from a liar. The instance in which the liar admits he is a liar, he must be after something else besides the truth of his statement. We say the liar is incorrect because he supplied false information. The liar is truthful when not telling the truth. Tony excludes many details in his sessions with Melfi. If Tony is a liar, then he’s telling the truth. If Tony’s telling the truth, then he’s a liar.
    Here, and during Tony’s coma, language is the fairytale. Tony is speechless and therefore, free from fraudulence. David Foster Wallace’s story “Good Old Neon” is certainly required reading for those interested in the Liar Paradox, manipulation, psychotherapy, satire, and tragedy.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great points. There’s also a kind of weirdness and surrealism in much of Foster’s work that may be comparable to the tone of this hour. God, I do miss him…


      • Too true – now I’m seeing so many things that were happening in the early 2000s I was oblivious to, then. Are you aware of any essays or pieces in which Foster Wallace talks about The Sopranos? I wonder if he had seen it, and what he would have thought, given that the series was quite a bit different from the sitcoms and movies he berated.

        Neat find about Beowulf and Cleaver. I love how, when returning to the building after Chris’s henchmen rough him up and force him to write the script for “Cleaver,” JT yells at his students: “An entire room full of writers…and you did nothing!” JT’s tragic irony is as funny as any of the malapropisms in the series (ex: Little Carmine’s “trum-pay luh-oil” painting). Of all the kinds of people, the writers would surely be the ones to take action.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m not aware of anything Sopranos-related that he may have written, but one of my favorite of Wallace’s pieces is “My Appearance,” the metafictional story he did about David Letterman’s show. A metafictional piece about The Sopranos by him would surely have been amazing…


  26. Another reference you didn’t mention to the upcoming Vito ‘gay’ storyline is when he is waiting on Phil to arrive and says “finally, I was starting to grow mushrooms out of my ass”. Phil replies “now that’s an image”. The bottom end of a baseball bat anyone?

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Pål K. Patel Hellum

    Currently rewatching the series and I thoroughly enjoy reading your analysis Ron.
    One detail I picked up on in this episode that made me chuckle:
    Sil saying to Bobby and Vito: “What, do you speak Norwegian?” when trying to settle their situation. Norwegian being the language of Lilyhammer

    Liked by 1 person

  28. “I kinda wished somebody would kick him in the nuts.” — sublime!


  29. Loved the coupon scene, too — just another one of the countless examples of Chase et al seamlessly working in little details, making even incidental scenes true to the overall vision. And I have no doubt that this particular coupon is meant to reference Paulie’s recent “mayham” with the Colombians: “Works as hard as you, no matter how wet the job gets.”

    Liked by 1 person

  30. AJ seems to have gone to the original source for his material on how to be taken seriously by his mob involved family members. First he quotes Al Neri (I think it’s Neri) from GF II by claiming it would e “difficult but not impossible” to whack uncle Jun while he is in federal lock up. Soon after he indignantly expresses the way he has been relegated to be a “messenger boy.” like Hyman Roth’s Sicilian “messenger boy” Johnny Ola. Played of course by Dominic Chianese. Further evidence of blueing the line between the real world and soprano world or just highlighting how clueless AJ really is about mafia activities. Even though he is the son of the don he has to resort to The Godfather series for an example of how the mafia really operates. Overall, just more Chase being Chase.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. During this episode, when Carmella runs into Dr. Melfie in the grocery store she says “I got your note it was so thoughtful”.. do you think it was Dr. Melfie who put the “Ojibwe note” in Tony’s room. I looked at the other cards on the wall and did not see an obvious one from dr melfie. Also Carmella says “note” not card.
    (Good catch on the Bada Bing card / George’s signature, I seen that too!)

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Why would Tony be worried about a law suit if he isn’t really Finnerty, the license shows a different person does not look like Tony so why would he be all that concerned about the law suit? Just something that bothered me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Obviously a late reply here… Some of that bothered me too, but I think maybe he senses that while he isn’t Finnerty, he can’t really prove it, and with the Alzheimer’s thing in the dream, he’s got more self-doubt. After all, he didn’t recognize his cousin either at the Inn scene.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Meadow says about the dr: “shes a ball buster”

    is this the same dr that questioned christopher falling off the counter and said “are you aware he has a drug problem?” ?


  34. My thoughts on this interesting episode:
    The monks say that when we die we lose our individuality and sense of self.
    Tony is in limbo and we see him losing his grip on self identity over time. Alzheimer disease is used as the vehicle for his transformation, as well as providing connectivity to what Jr Soprano is going through.
    Tony goes from adamantly claiming his name to bluntly asking “Who am I and where am I going”. Could I be Kevin Finnerty?
    Tony Blundetto is dead and his individuality is gone. He is now a selfless part of the universe, fulfilling his role of ushering Tony to his destiny, the same way a tree passively filters carbon dioxide from the air.
    When Tony asks “Tony B” about identity, the response he gets is ” We don’t talk like that here”.
    Similarly, Livia is also dead and the woman we saw there is in the same state as Tony B. One with the universe.
    One wonder’s what reality without a sense of individuality even looks like. For all we know, it really is a simple cut to black. Imagine after death, your body and spirit continues to move to the will of the universe, while your individuality becomes so dispersed that you lose all sense of perception entirely.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Good thoughts. The issue of retaining individuality after death is such a paradoxical and complicated issue. Do we carry all of the things that make us unique individuals into the afterlife, all of our particular desires and biases and loves and jealousies and insecurities? If we do, how could the afterlife be all that different from our current life? It certainly wouldn’t be any sort of heaven or paradise. Buddhism addresses this issue by contending that nirvana—the Buddhist equivalent of Heaven—is possible only by giving up everything that makes us unique (“we will be the same as that tree, no me, no you“). But that raises another issue: how could I be experiencing nirvana when I don’t even exist as a unique individual?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting questions, Ron. Here’s my attempt to wet my beak a little into this conversation… Nirvana has been claimed by some to be identical with becoming one with the Non-Self or emptiness. It is through realizing deeply, beyond concept, and living (in an experiential way) as the holistic self that is connected to all things both of form and formlessness – while still living as an individual. The individual sense that we normally take our primary identity from, falls more into the background, and becomes more playful and less serious. Therefore, desires, biases, loves, insecurities etc become merely phenomenal aspects of your reality while you, in the non-self, remain effortlessly one with all that is (kind of like the trees, quiet and still within, but definitely a part of the totality of life). Your primary identity becomes more universally minded and less individualized. It may appear like a death in some ways and that it seems to lack life – in a unique sense. But, having had a couple of Buddhist monk-friends growing up, one who meditates for hours daily – I can assure you that the one’s who attain Nirvana are full of life and do express this fullness in their own unique way.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks Mikey, I appreciate the answer. It still feels a bit paradoxical to me though… How can the thing that we’re calling “me” still be considered me “in the non-self”? If all my desires, insecurities etc get reduced to merely phenomenal aspects, then aren’t we gutting all the things that make me uniquely “me”? Which may not be a bad thing, but it does make it sound like achieving Nirvana is to become a part of some sort of hive-mind…

          In any case, I don’t mind living with these paradoxes and ambiguities—it makes things exciting, like living in a real-time mystery novel. And the more I learn about Buddhism, the more interesting it becomes to me…


          • Indeed, it is a paradox!

            This journey into Nirvana / non-self has been regarded by some to be largely an unknown evolved state of the human being. I have heard of this being compared to the analogy of the caterpillar not comprehending (from it’s own mind) the higher evolved state of the butterfly from their place in the evolutionary cycle. In other words, we cannot use our current paradigm to understand this “higher” more evolved state of the non-self. To become a butterfly, a caterpillar must face the destruction of the world they know. They go into a dark cocoon and their whole body decomposes. This is an analogy of the individual identity of our personal self that dissolves for the new state to be born. When comprehending reality from this “higher” evolved state, it all makes sense. But, to us caterpillars – still living in the “old” evolutionary paradigm – we just can’t grasp it in the classic form of thought that we approach most everything else in life.

            Liked by 1 person

      • My fourth post here, and second one referencing the movie “Jacob’s Ladder” 🙂 Lots of parallels to “Mayham”, including the Buddhist reconciliation of oneness with duality e.g, angels and demons. The standout quote in the movie, and apropos Tony/Kevin’s journey to the afterlife, is this one (by Louis, Jake’s guardian angel / chiropractor): “Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you, he said. They’re freeing your soul. So the way he sees it, if you’re frightened of dying and… and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth. It’s just a matter of how you look at it, that’s all.”

        Liked by 1 person

  35. OK, I just have to say that I’m really disappointed in how they’re handling Vito. First there’s all the ass jokes and the sausage in the mouth, now they’re doing the whole “gay predator” thing? Just horrible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure how you expect mafia guys from Jersey to act around a gay guy or a gay mafia guy murderer from Jersey to act, but he’s not going to be some sort of homosexual role model for young men coming out or something. Sopranos is an honest show and it won’t put in things just to placate sensitive viewers.
      Vito is threatening Finn because Finn is a witness. He’s not being a “gay predator.” Try to think about this stuff with the actual context of the story and not some instinct to be offended based on some imagined standards.


  36. It’s such a bad story line, we have to be reminded of it I guess. I think Vito is trying to scare Finn into silence. He might think hes good looking, but no way would he make a pass at him. He’s scaring him to death. Besides, they don’t really write it that way, WE are picking it up because we know he’s gay. So really we are guilty of profiling Vito.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Gloria was also buddhist. How did she figure into his life flashing before his eyes experience?

    Liked by 1 person

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