Tony returns to his regular life. Allegra Sac gets married. Vito gets outed.
Episode 70 – Originally aired April 9, 2006
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Steve ‘Ichabod Crane’ Buscemi
Whew! We’ve been sailing some rough seas lately, with mystical near-death-experiences and heavy-duty philosophical excursions over the last couple of episodes. We’re finally back in calmer waters now. “Mr. and Mrs. John Sacrimoni Request” is a solid and easygoing episode. This is a fairly straightforward hour that doesn’t require too much breaking down. I’m going to focus on the role that fantasy and fairytale play in the episode, because it is not obviously apparent and has not been discussed very much in any previous analysis that I’ve seen. Chase pits “reality” against “fantasy” in all three major storylines of the hour: Tony’s return to regular life; Allegra Sacrimoni’s wedding; and Vito getting outed.
Tony is getting settled back at home and at work, but everyone is treating him like a kid. Carmela acts like an overprotective mommy, even shielding him from provocative newspaper articles. Dante Greco offers to set his watch so that he can remind Tony to take his medications. The Sopranos can sometimes be guilty of beating us over the head with some point that it wants to make, and the point of Tony’s vulnerability and weakness is pounded into us here. But Chase can be subtle too. For example, when Tony comes to the Satriale backroom, Chase’s camera captures him pulling out a bottle of antibiotics. In each successive shot, that bottle—which represents Tony’s convalescence—appears at the bottom of the screen and acts as an anchor to the scene. It’s a subtle touch – we don’t even notice the bottle until Christopher calls our attention to it:
“Antibiotics,” Chris says. “I had that with the spleen. Staves off infection.” Christopher and Tony compare their surgical incisions. Tony has survived a major catastrophic event, and—like many survivors—he is convinced that his life will be changed going forward. In Melfi’s office, Tony insists that “Each day is a gift. And that’s how it’s gonna stay.” Tony feels that from now on, he will appreciate each day as a special miracle imbued with meaning and grace. He will give thanks everyday for the gift of life that he has been given. Yeah, good luck sustaining that feeling, Ton’.
We know Chase well enough—and most of us know life well enough—to know that Tony’s noble sentiment cannot last long. Tony is trying to turn his life into a fairytale, give it a “happily ever after” feeling in which he appreciates the value of each and every day. But the truth is that some days just suck – you almost wish that there was some sort of Existential Customer Service counter where you could return the day for a refund. Other days—most days, I think—feel neither miserable nor like a sacred gift; they just feel like another day in the long string of days that make up life. It’s the same ol’ shit. Another day, another dollar. Of course, there are occasionally days in our lives that are truly special and memorable, days we can genuinely be thankful for. Wedding days, for example…
The Sacrimoni family plans Allegra’s wedding in the visiting room of the prison where Johnny Sac is serving time. John assures his family that the wedding day will be special despite “all the roadblocks and persecution” that they face. We chuckle as the younger, anorexic-looking daughter’s food issues suddenly bubble up to the surface of the conversation: “Jesus, can we ever talk about anything in this family besides food?!” Chase doubles down on the humor by cutting to a familiar food market with its grinning pig:
All brides-to-be wish that their wedding day will be special, and Allegra is no exception. Her wish comes true – at least for awhile. The reception is a lavish affair, held at Leonard’s and filled with music and dancing and laughter and fine food. But the realities of mob-life start to intrude upon the fantasy. During the reception, Johnny Sac convinces Tony to whack “the mayor of Munchkinland” Rusty Millio. Rusty wasn’t thrilled about having to attend this wedding; in the opening moments of the episode, we saw him open the invitation and groan to his wife:
The wedding turns out to be quite a consequential thing in Rusty’s life – Tony was not willing to whack Rusty until Johnny Sac convinces him otherwise at the wedding reception. (This gives a double meaning to the episode title: Mr. Sacrimoni requests that his rival Rusty be killed.)
Allegra’s special day looks like it’s going to go well all the way through to the end, but it gets wrecked when U.S. Marshals choose an inopportune moment to usher John back to prison. As the Marshals pull their giant government SUV in front of the reception hall, they block the path of Allegra’s limousine (making a mockery, literally, of John’s earlier statement to his family that they would persevere through all the “roadblocks”). Ginny Sac faints in the ensuing confusion. The image of her legs sticking out from the crowd reminded me of the scene from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy’s house lands on the Wicked Witch of the East and all we see of her are her legs sticking out:
Ginny is no wicked witch, so I don’t know why this shot made me think of that movie. I guess the reference to “Munchkinland” earlier in the episode put me in a Wizard of Oz frame-of-mind. I can’t be sure that this shot is meant to evoke the Oz fairytale, but there is no question that Chase references another fairytale just moments later; after a teary-eyed John is hauled back to jail, the guys gather together and discuss John’s crying:
Paulie: His fuckin’ coach turned into a pumpkin, hehe.
Phil: But even Cinderella didn’t cry.
In the macho world of the mob, crying is a sure sign of weakness. Phil wonders if John Sacrimoni has the stugots to withstand the federal government’s prosecution. Tony is far more forgiving, he understands that fathers can’t always control their emotions when it comes to their daughters. Tony may have a particular soft-spot towards his daughter right now because she, perhaps more than anyone else, saved him from dying (i.e. entering the Inn at the Oaks) a few episodes ago. Additionally, Tony knows what it’s like to be led away in handcuffs in front of his daughter just as Johnny Sac was here – it happened to him back in Season 2:
Every wedding I’ve ever been to has tried to capture an idyllic sense of “happily ever after,” that sense of storybook romance. Even if a wedding can successfully evoke the magic of a fairytale, no marriage can sustain the fantasy forever. Some marriages don’t even come close. Throughout the reception, Vito Spatafore looks listless and dour – perhaps the happiness of the newlyweds serves to remind him how hollow and contrived his own marriage is. (We are neatly reminded of Vito’s homosexuality when he compliments sharp-dressed Finn.) In an ill-humor, Vito hustles his wife Marie and their kids out of the reception early, before they even get a chance to finish dinner.
The Sopranos often forwards the notion that people are the cause of their own unhappiness. If we are far from living our ideal life, then it is largely our own fault. We live in prisons of our own making. There is a neat little sequence of scenes here that drives this point home. Tony gives voice to the idea outright, telling Carmela that we each make our own luck in life. This scene is bordered by two scenes that confirm Tony’s point. First, we see the cold interaction between Vito and Marie as he lies to her about why he’s going out so late at night. He has metaphorically imprisoned himself in an unhappy marriage because he is not willing to come out of the closet. And then we see that Johnny Sac has literally imprisoned himself. John Sacrimoni is an intelligent, capable man, full of love and respect for his wife and daughters. It’s not difficult at all to imagine that John could have provided a good life for his family as a law-abiding, legitimate businessman. But he chose to make his living as a mobster, and now he is confined in a cell as a consequence.
Though Vito is not stuck in an actual prison as Johnny Sac is, he is constricted by his double-life as a closeted gay man. Vito is not living his best possible life, but rather an imitation of life. Fittingly, Marie is watching Douglas Sirk’s 1959 film Imitation of Life as Vito goes off into the night. Douglas Sirk fleed Nazi Germany (his real name is Hans Sierck) because his politics didn’t jibe with German fascism and also because his wife was Jewish. He came to the United States and became well-known for directing lush melodramas that were critical of the constricted society of 1950s America. Films like Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows explore racism, social conventions, and class divisions. At a time when a vision of a wholesome, happy, godly, peaceful society was the prevailing American fantasy, a fantasy reflected in works like Leave it to Beaver and Bing Crosby songs, Sirk’s films came along to lift a veil and show us that all is not perfect in our country. Contemporary filmmaker Todd Haynes recognized that American society of the 2000s was, in some ways, as constricted as the 1950s America that Sirk depicted. He released Far From Heaven in 2002, a film very closely modeled on Sirk’s earlier melodramas. Haynes’ contemporary film doesn’t focus on race relations or class divisions as Sirk’s movies did, but on a more contemporary injustice — prejudice against homosexuals.
Many of Chase’s viewers took issue with his “gay mobster” storyline, and they had a variety of reasons for their dislike. Some found the scene where Vito gets sighted at a leather bar here to be a little too sensational, and others found the scene to be too unlikely to occur. Some viewers didn’t think Joe Gannascoli was believable in the role of a gay gangster. Some viewers simply didn’t like the story. (It’s completely legitimate to dislike certain storylines, but I’m sure that some of the ire directed at this particular story stemmed out of a homophobia that was more rampant and apparent in 2006 than it is today. And I would guess that a larger percentage of Sopranos viewers have this prejudice compared to the viewership of, say, The West Wing or Mad Men.) Other viewers complained that the storyline was just a comic excursion, or a way to kill time leading into Part II of Season 6. I didn’t share any of these opinions then, and even less so now. I’ve argued over the last few write-ups that a major goal of Season 6 seems to be to place The Sopranos in the cultural and political currents of its time. Chase puts his series square in the stream with this episode. When this episode originally aired in 2006, President Bush was pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment, a Constitutional amendment limiting the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. That same year, Evangelical leader (and anti-gay zealot/Presidential advisor) Ted Haggard was outed by a male prostitute and forced to resign his presidency of the National Association of Evangelicals. Also that year, Representative Mark Foley (R), who had taken anti-LGBT positions as a Congressman (though he didn’t support the Federal Marriage Amendment), gave up his Congressional seat after it was discovered that he had been sending sexually explicit messages to young male interns. Clearly, gay rights and attitudes toward homosexuality were common and contentious topics in our national dialogue at the time. Chase’s “gay mobster” storyline is an integral and necessary part of his effort in Season 6 to turn the series into more of a reflection of contemporary America.
Some may argue that Vito’s story here contributed little to the national debate over gay rights because the Mafia, after all, represents only a tiny (and very unique) sliver of the larger American population in which it exists. However, I think that Chase has always presented his mob as a subculture that is very much shaped by the larger mainstream culture of the United States. Vito Spatafore is not only hemmed by the customs and taboos of the mob, he is also ruled by American societal norms. The values of the mob and of American society often run parallel. And I think we can find an even stronger parallel between the conventions of the mob and the conventions of the U.S. military. In his essay, “Until the Fat Man Sings: Body Image, Masculinity and Sexuality in The Sopranos,” Keith Mitchell writes…
The jig is up for Vito, and he knows it…He knows the price of being queer and in the mob. The parallel between Vito’s situation as a closet gay man in the mob and the question of gays in the military is relevant here. Before his outing, Vito existed under a self-imposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was an official policy used by the U.S. Military as part of their prohibition against gay service members. (Gays could serve openly in the armed forces only after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was finally repealed in 2011.) The Mafia has something of the rigid mentality and the hierarchal structure of a military organization, and many mobsters even think of themselves as “soldiers.” Like a gay U.S. military service member (at the time), Vito’s only way to remain in his organization would have been to make sure that his secret never got out.
Vito knows he must flee now under penalty of death. He kisses his sleeping wife, grabs his gun and heads out for a motel. As Vito makes his getaway, The Browns’ harmonious 1959 tune “The Three Bells,” which we heard in the previous hour, plays again. We heard the first verse, about Jimmy Brown’s birth, in the previous episode but this time we only hear the second verse, which is about his wedding. I think Chase uses the song here just as he used it in the previous episode: as a way to gently mock the silliness of a simplistic, black-and-white mentality. Vito must make his escape now because his colleagues are still mentally stuck in the schematic morality of the 1950s. The simple, idyllic world that the song evokes didn’t actually exist in the The Fifties, but Chase’s mobsters—and many Americans still today—look back to that era as some sort of Golden Age. Of course, in reality, the affairs of human life and the human heart are far more messy and complicated than their backwards-looking, reactionary idealism allows for. Their idealized vision of the world may be wholesome and appealing, but it’s too good to be true. It is only a feel-good fairytale:
The Three Bells (2nd Verse)
There’s a village hidden deep in the valley
Beneath the mountains high above
And there, twenty years thereafter
Jimmy was to meet his love.
All the chapel bells were ringing,
Was a great day in his life
Cause the songs that they were singing
Were for Jimmy and his wife.
Then the little congregation
Prayed for guidance from above
“Lead us not into temptation,
Bless oh Lord this celebration
May their lives be filled with love.”
There’s a funny exchange here when Perry Annuziata (or Penne Arrabiata, as T calls him) chauffeurs Tony around town. Tony notices Perry’s powerful arms and they start talking about weight lifting. Tony feels the need to share an anecdote about his younger days:
Tony: There was a time when I could bench over 300 pounds.
Perry: (looks straight ahead at the road, unimpressed)
Tony: With a major head cold one time, I did it.
Perry: (still doesn’t respond)
Tony: If you cough with weights like that over your head, you could crush your neck.
Questions and issues regarding strength and masculinity pulse throughout this hour: Phil Leotardo questions Johnny Sac’s toughness after seeing him cry; Vito knows his life and status as a professional tough guy are endangered after being seen in a leather outfit; Tony feels weak and emasculated as he recuperates from his gunshot. With Dr. Melfi’s help, Tony figures out how to combat his feelings of vulnerability. Melfi told him to project an image of strength, and Tony does just that when he gets back to Satriale’s. He picks a fight with strongman Perry and kicks his ass. (I guess it’s something like that old strategy of starting a fistfight with the strongest guy on your first day of prison to prove how tough you are. Tony knows he can bait Perry because of how quick he was to anger after getting cutoff by an aggressive driver.) As the guys help poor Perry up off the floor, Tony slips into the bathroom to vomit. He pulls himself up to the mirror and grins at himself in satisfaction. Tony is back in the saddle again, and he knows it. But the thrill of victory is short-lived; within moments, he is puking again.
With the beatdown of Perry Annunziata, Tony has taken the first real step in settling back into “the fuckin’ regularness” of his daily life. The Students’ 1959 doo-wop song “Every Day of the Week” starts up and takes us into the final credits; “Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday,” they sing. Although Tony insisted earlier to Melfi that “each day is a gift,” these lyrics underscore that each day is primarily just that – just another day of the week. The regular, boring, day-after-day ongoingness of life trumps everything else in SopranoWorld. Life is not a never-ending fairytale. Sure, some days are a gift. But other days are not particularly special. And some days, you find yourself on your knees with your head in a dirty toilet bowl.
I find it notable that this hour features three works of art originally produced in 1959: Imitation of Life, “The Three Bells,” and “Every Day of the Week.” 1959 was arguably the final year of the old guard. In the following year, the old hat-wearing politicians were shaken up by the election of our new bareheaded President John F. Kennedy and his vibrant vision of the future. Also in 1960, Bob Dylan dropped out of college to focus on his music. These three works from 1959 must have seemed so dated within just a few years because of the artistic revolution that occurred in the Sixties. Art in that period, regardless of its medium, became experimental, conceptual, pop, performative, psychedelic, far out… The times, they were a-changin’.
The artistic revolution of that decade reflected—and fueled—a progressive swing within our culture. The 60s gave us LBJ’s “Great Society” plan, Civil rights, voter rights, the student movement, the youth movement, the peace movement, immigration laws that opened up our borders. Social and sexual attitudes loosened up, giving rise to “free love” and drug use. But there were legitimate concerns about the excesses of the decade, including concerns about governmental overreach. The pendulum started to swing back to the Right, and it has been swinging back and forth for decades now.
When it comes to gay rights, however, the pendulum has pretty consistently been moving in one direction, especially over the last 10 or 12 years. The Federal Marriage Amendment stalled just two months after this episode first aired. The military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in 2011. Also in 2011, evangelical Ted Haggard admitted to GQ magazine that he would identify himself as a bisexual if he was a member of today’s younger generation. Mark Foley went on to live openly with his partner after leaving Congress. A significant portion of the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2013, allowing gay married couples to receive more of the benefits that heterosexual couples enjoy. And in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down all state bans against homosexual marriage. Some viewers saw Chase’s gay-mobster storyline as a placeholder or as padding for a season that was irregularly divided into two parts. But the storyline genuinely reflected a major cultural concern of the mid-decade, and it may not even be too much of a stretch to say that Vito’s story in Season 6 played some role in shaping our culture’s evolving stance on homosexuality and gay rights over the following years.
In addition to gay rights, another contentious topic during the Bush era was the War on Terror. In this episode, Chase reminds us of terrorism issues and post-9/11 security procedures as the guests at Allegra’s wedding stand in line to pass through a metal detector. Tony even makes a reference to Osama Bin Laden. (And when Tony is asked to remove his shoes, we are reminded of that security procedure, post-shoebomber Richard Reid.) But this episode puts us in a terrorism frame-of-mind mainly through the reappearance of Ahmed and Muhammad at the Bada Bing. When Chris sees them, he jokes, “Where are the rest of the 40 thieves?” which certainly might allude to their criminal activities, but more pointedly, the Ali Baba reference underscores their Middle Eastern origin. As they conduct business, the men ask Chris if he can supply them with semi-automatic weapons “for a family problem.” Hmm, sounds kind of fishy. They gaze at the Bing strippers behind Chris, but this of course doesn’t rule out that they may be religious fanatics – some of the 9/11 hijackers enjoyed a strip joint too. Despite being told by the FBI a couple of episodes back to keep alert for suspicious activities, none of Christopher’s alarm bells seem to go off. Of the two contentious topics in this hour, I think most viewers would have predicted that ‘potential terrorism’ is the storyline that would have developed more as season 6A progressed, but Chase actually chose to focus more on the ‘gay mobster’ storyline. Chase loves to throw us the curveball.
Every Sopranos episode has some humor, but this one really tickles. Some of the more hilarious moments:
- Christopher’s Allegra/antihistamine confusion
- Christopher’s confusion over who owed who a favor in The Godfather
- When Tony returns home from work, Carm asks him “How was the first day? Do you want to take a nap?” like he is a little child. (And then cut to him crawling into bed for a nap.)
- AJ’s date says—while exhaling her cigarette—that she doesn’t eat fish because of the toxins.
- Johnny Sac’s dad shouts out some dietary advice: “Don’t eat that pepper!”
- AJ wonders, “An event planner?? Where do you get this shit?!” (It was in “All Due Respect” last season that Tony and Carm came to believe their son might be interested in this career.)
- It’s interesting that when Chris hands the stolen credit card numbers over to the two Muslim men, he parrots the famous American Express slogan: “Don’t leave home without it.” (The fact that the young men don’t recognize the slogan marks them as suspect cultural outsiders.) Throughout the series, Chase intertwines various criminal activities with companies that have the word “American” in their names (remember American Biotics from episode 1.10?), and we will see more examples of this later in Season 6.
- Irony: Corrado faked dementia earlier in the series in an attempt to avoid prosecution, and now he may avoid trial because he is actually degenerating mentally.
- Little Details: Corrado tells an orderly that he is taking Coumadin. (We know that Corrado suffers from TIAs, aka mini-strokes, and this is a medication used to prevent that.)
- Little Details: Petey is a minor character who’s been around since season 4 (I think he and Benny took out Credenzo Curtis and Stanley Johnson in “Whitecaps”), but this is the first time I’ve noticed his nickname: ‘Bissell’. It would be appropriate for him to be named after a floor cleaner – he is seen sweeping up Satriale’s here.
- Sopranos mythology: Allegra’s wedding sequence begins with shots that include trees and leaves being rustled by wind while church bells ring. Trees and wind and bells were used very powerfully in the previous episode, and they continue to gain mythological significance as the season continues.
- In “The Sopranos: The Vanity Fair Oral History,” Vince Curatola (Johnny Sac) pays a nice compliment to Steve Buscemi’s direction in this episode: “When Johnny Sac is brought back to his jail cell, in an orange jumpsuit, Buscemi said, ‘Vince, just sit down and do nothing—don’t even look exasperated, don’t look anything, it’s finished.’ And that was the cut he used. It was one of the best notes I ever had from a director: Sit down and do nothing.”