The Fleshy Part of the Thigh (6.04)

Tony is discharged from the hospital, but not before he meets a scientist
with an interesting theory.  Bobby gets a chance to test his marksmanship.

Episode 69 – Originally aired April 2, 2006
Written by Diane Frolov & Andrew Schneider
Directed by Alan Taylor


“The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” is one of my favorite episodes, it is truly a keystone hour in my understanding of the series.  Although I have a fairly specific interpretation of this outing, I recoil from calling it the definitive interpretation.  (I think “definitive interpretations” have the effect of a solvent, dissolving all the magic and mystery out of a work of art.  And this particular work of art is chock full o’ magic.)  When this hour first aired, it rang a deep chord in me.  And then, in the aftermath of the cut-to-black at Holsten’s Diner, I found myself thinking about “Fleshy Part” quite a lot.  Within days of the Series Finale, I had formulated an interpretation of that cut-to-black that was deeply informed by this episode.  (Part of the reason why this write-up is so long is that there is a lot I need to get “on the record” here if my “Made in America” entry is to make any sense.)  I am sure that many viewers will not agree with how I’ve unpacked this hour.  But that’s perfectly ok with me.  In fact, one of my favorite things about this episode is how it seems to endorse the idea that there is room in this world for varying viewpoints (and that dogmatic positions that insist otherwise are just plain silly).

Tony is slowly recuperating after coming out of his coma.  Some residue of his near-death-experience (or whatever that long, strange trip was) seems to be lingering in his consciousness—he tells his nurse, “I’ve been feeling, I dunno, not myself.”  We get the sense that Tony is at a crossroads in his life, he has been given a second chance to change his ways.  Will he take advantage of this opportunity?

It seems to me that Chase has always put his audience at a crossroads in how we choose to view the series.  Although it’s easy to watch this series and think about it in terms of “good vs. evil” or “right vs. wrong,” I think Chase is far more interested in getting us to see SopranoWorld in a complex way as opposed to looking at it in a simplistic way.  This parallels a choice that was being debated in the real world at the time this episode originally aired (and is still being debated today): would America be better off if we approached social and political issues with a nuanced understanding of their complexities, or would the country be better off if we were guided by uncomplicated, strongly-held values and decisive action?

The Sopranos is stocked with characters that would prefer the latter choice, and Chase now adds two more to their number.  Aaron Arkaway, who we haven’t seen since “…To Save Us All From Satan’s Power” (3.10), reappears now with a brand new character, Pastor Bob.  The duo represent that segment of our population that revels in simplistic certainty, those folks that are 100% sure that they embody all that is Good and Right while all others are Evil and Wrong.  I’ve stated before that Chase seems to make a conscious effort in Season 6 to place The Sopranos within its American milieu, and Aaron and Bob represent the Religious Right that began truly flexing its power in the first decade of the 2000s.  This episode makes reference to several battles of the “culture war” of the period, including Pro-life/Pro-choice standoffs and the Terry Schiavo case.  The reference in this hour to Charles Colson, President Nixon’s hatchet man, is particularly interesting because it explicitly brings politics into the episode.  (Colson served time for his role in the Watergate cover-up.  He became a Born-again Christian while in prison, and was enjoying great popularity within the Evangelical community at the time this episode first aired.)

It was Colson’s boss Richard Nixon who engineered the “southern strategy” (making an appeal to white, religious, sometimes racist voters) which transformed the Democratic south into a Republican stronghold, and which eventually led to the election of Born-again Christian George Bush in 2000.  President Bush wore his certainty on his sleeve.  Mr. Bush (like Pastor Bob here) tended to see things in a black-and-white way, he retreated from nuance or complexity.  Bush placed the entire world in a duality: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” he famously said just before launching his War on Terror.

Of all the cultural battles of the Bush era, I found the skirmishes over the theory of evolution to be the most infuriating.  Religious radicals, not surprisingly, find evolution to be a threat because it undermines their radical beliefs.  (As do a hundred other discoveries of the modern world.)  What was outrageous to me was that many mainstream believers at the time were egregiously siding with their radical brethren on the issue, even though the theory of evolution does not threaten mainstream beliefs.  (Evolution does not attempt to explain how life began on earth, nor why; it only accounts for the great diversity of species.)  Even relatively mainstream President Bush got in on the act in August 2005, weighing in on an ongoing court case (Kitzmiller vs. Dover Area School District) by saying that the faith-based “Intelligent Design” curriculum deserved to be taught alongside evolution in public school biology classes.  (Just four months later, John E. Jones, the judge—a Bush appointee—who presided over the case, eviscerated proponents of Intelligent Design for their cynicism and pseudo-intellectual ploys in his ruling against them.)  About three months after “Fleshy Part” originally aired, the journal Science published the disturbing findings of a recent study on the subject.  Of the world’s 34 most developed nations, we ranked second-to-last in percentage of adults who accept evolution to be true.

Evolution study

It was widely understood that it was the efforts of Christian fundamentalists that put us in this embarrassing spot.  (And similarly, it was the work of Islamic fundamentalists that put Turkey in last place.)  I’ve been taking this long trip down memory lane to give a sense of the cultural context in which “Fleshy Part” was written and first broadcast.  But let me get back to the episode now.

Early in the hour, Pastor Bob seems to be a kind-hearted and thoughtful minister.  He presents a vision of Christianity in which God is forgiving even to the worst criminals, and Tony seems to grow interested in what Bob has to say.  But then Bob presents his “Young Earth” view of history, claiming that the planet is only 6000 years old and that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.  (“What, like The Flintstones?” wonders Tony.)  Bob, wielding a creepy smile, asserts that one cannot both believe in evolution and be saved from damnation.  Pastor Bob reveals his true colors.  His Christianity is not one of generosity and inclusiveness as he has led Tony to believe, but one of division and punishment. 

Pastor Bob - Sopranos Autopsy

Pastor Bob is certain that John Schwinn, the scientist in the room next door, is a lost soul if he has accepted evolution to be true.  This is Bob’s version of Christianity, one that puts up barriers between faith and science, between “true believers” and everyone else.  I find it very interesting that Chase places Hesh and his daughter Beth in this scene.  Chase inserts three shots of Hesh while Bob speaks, and we get the feeling that the old man has some suspicions about the young pastor.

Hesh and Beth

Hesh surely knows that many fundamentalist Christians deeply and truly believe that all non-Christians will literally be sent to Hell when they die, an eternal “concentration camp” from which there is no escape.  As a Jew, Hesh’s afterlife doesn’t look too bright according to these fundamentalists.  Beth is correct in pointing out that the Evangelical community is very supportive of Israel, but Hesh understands that this show of fundamentalist love is temporary: “You wait,” he responds.

hesh You wait

In contrast to the fixed, simplistic divisions that Pastor Bob makes, scientist John Schwinn presents a view of the universe in which no divisions exist—everything is connected to everything else.  When Schwinn makes his case in Da Lux’s room, this episode gets really interesting for me, because his philosophy is so contrary to the prevailing tenor of the series.  With each passing season, The Sopranos has been growing darker.  The murders of Adriana and Tony Blundetto at the end of last season finally put the series, I felt, in some of the darkest territory that a television show has ever inhabited.  It is fairly common to find very grim narratives in film and literature, in works like Chinatown or The Sound and The Fury, for example.  On TV shows, however, we always expect to find some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.  But after the bleak ending of Season 5, I started to feel sure that David Chase would throw up a cement wall at the end of the tunnel.  I became more and more convinced that a dark philosophy would dominate SopranoWorld all the way through its final hour, a philosophy that was most clearly articulated by Livia in “D-Girl” (2.07):

Why does everything have to have a purpose?  The world is a jungle.  And if you want my advice, Anthony, don’t expect happiness, you won’t get it.  People let you down…In the end, you die in your own arms…It’s all a big nothing.

Nihilist Livia in D-Girl

When “Fleshy Part” first aired, I immediately saw it as a sister episode to “D-Girl.”  These two episodes, I believe, present two very different approaches to the fundamental philosophical question of life.  Livia proclaimed from her hospital room in Season 2 that “It’s all a big nothing,” but John Schwinn—also from a hospital room—now gives us an alternative idea: it’s not all a big nothing, but a big everything.  Everything is everything:

Livia didn’t believe that everything is everything, she believed that everything is nothing—everything had zero value for her.  Livia never made any profound connections to anyone or anything, and so it is not surprising that she would feel that “it’s all a big nothing.”  Schwinn might agree, in a very limited sense, with the idea that it’s all nothing; he explains that nothing actually exists, at least not in the way we perceive them to.  He says there are no boxers, no tornadoes, no separate entities whatsoever—the appearance of individual entities is only an illusion.  But the fact that it’s all an illusion does not necessarily reduce the universe to a desolate “big nothing.”  On the contrary, Schwinn sees the universe as a big everything—a giant soup of assimilated particles.  Schwinn’s idea that “nothing is separate, everything is connected” is a powerful metaphysical counterargument to Livia’s philosophy of disconnection and fragmentation.

Livia is not here now to make her side of the argument, but Paulie almost functions as a stand-in for her as he bitterly grumbles in Da Lux’s hospital room.  His words closely echo the sentiments that Livia expressed to AJ from her hospital bed in “D-Girl”:

  • Livia had told her grandson that “People let you down…in the end, you die in your own arms,” and Paulie now says of family members that “in the end, they fuck you too.”
  • Livia had compared the world to a jungle, while Paulie compares it to a boxing ring where everyone has to stand alone and fight.

Paulie is angry because he has just learned that the woman he thought to be his mother is actually his aunt.  His relationship to his “mother” suddenly feels false to him, it is not what he had always thought it to be.  His life suddenly feels like a farce.  The mother-child connection is arguably the most profound connection that exists in the human experience, and so it quite understandable that Paulie would feel bitter right now.  (Perhaps even more so in this case because Paulie doesn’t have a wife or children, only his mother.)  Livia’s bitterness was not the result of some painful revelation as Paulie’s is—she was permanently hostile towards the world.  Her relationship with her children—and everyone else too—was truly a farce. 

There is a clever meta-joke hidden in Da Lux’s response to Schwinn’s theory: “Everything is everything, I’m down with that.”  Of course he’s down with it—the character “Da Lux” is played by rapper Lord Jamar, a member of the 1990s hip hop group Brand Nubian which released the album Everything is Everything in 1994.

Brand Nubian - Everything is Everything - Sopranos Autopsy

Far from simply being a little inside-joke for hip hop fans, Chase is using Da Lux’s real-life persona to call further attention to the notion that “everything is everything.”  Re-watching this episode now, I realized that “lux” is the Latin word for “light,” and further research showed that “da lux” in Latin means “give light.”  John Schwinn and Da Lux now give an outlook that could function as the light at the end of the tunnel.  We have known SopranoWorld to be a place darkened by greed, violence and nihilism.  The idea that “Everything is everything” may very well be the shining beacon that lights up this dark world.

Although this is the first time that the philosophy that “everything is connected” has so clearly been articulated on The Sopranos, David Chase had previously expressed the idea on his earlier TV series Northern Exposure.  In the episode “The Great Mushroom,” which appeared in the sixth and final season of that series, Joel expresses a sentiment to his friend Maggie which sounds a lot like John Schwinn’s theory.  It’s a long clip (with some weird moments where Maggie imagines Joel being killed, which I’ll discuss later in the write-up), but it’s worth taking the time to watch because I think it can really deepen our understanding of the current episode:

Joel saying that there is only “an illusion of separateness” is a precursor to John Schwinn’s “It’s actually an illusion, those two boxers as separate entities.”  Joel telling Maggie that “We’re part of the same big mushroom” is a more poetic expression of Schwinn’s line, “We’re all part of the same quantum field.”  The similarities in dialogue from these two different episodes (from two entirely different TV shows) may seem surprising at first, but the explanation for the similarities is quite simple: “The Great Mushroom” and “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” were both written by the husband-and-wife writing team of Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider.  Frolov and Schneider were longtime writer-producers of Northern Exposure, and worked with David Chase when he ran that show in its final two seasons.  “Fleshy Part” is the first episode that the duo wrote for The Sopranos, and they became significant contributors to Chase’s mobster drama in its final season.  David Chase may have specifically tapped Frolov and Schneider to write this particular Sopranos episode because he knew from prior experience that they could handle this theme of connectivity in the way that he wanted.

Although a philosophy of connectivity had never been articulated outright on The Sopranos prior to “Fleshy Part,” I have argued throughout this website that Chase has always emphasized connectivity through the very structure of the series.  Chase purposefully exploits the medium of television to create a great number of connections.  He spoke about his use of “connective tissue” in a 2004 interview for the L.A. Times.  (I included this quote previously in my “D-Girl” write-up, but I’ll put it up again here.)

“…I come back from France with a chart of every character over 13 episodes,” he says. “What happens here, what happens there, how do things intermesh. Then I show the chart to the writers and ask, ‘What are we going to do that really interests us?’ Separate stories sometimes emerge, and the chart sometimes becomes just connective tissue.”

We can see how Chase’s use of connective tissue could be considered the televisual equivalent of John Schwinn’s doctrine of connectivity.  In her essay, “The Sopranos: If Nothing is Real, You Have Overpaid For Your Carpet,” Martha Nochimson writes that David Chase invites us to…

…explore in greater depth the innovative use he has made of the structure of serial television, a narrative form more suitable than film for depicting the world according to Schwinn, since serial television can, after all, be understood as a replication of the world of particles combining with other particles to make a whole.

Just in this episode alone, we find myriad connections.  Some are obvious but innocuous: the scuba socks that Paulie gets for his aunt (er, mother) visually connect to the scuba socks that Jason Barone wears when he goes sculling.  Some connections may be more tentative: is the Browns’ song “The Three Bells” evoking John Schwinn’s place of employment, Bell Labs?  Other connections reward the conscientious viewer with their irony and humor: in Season 4, Paulie was so concerned about his mother’s TV when she first moved into Green Grove that he ordered both Lil Paulie and Benny to carry it, but now he angrily tosses the TV out of her Green Grove window:

2 TVs - Sopranos Autopsy

I think one of the most important clusters of connectivity to be found this season developed around what we might refer to as “the Asian theme.”  This season has had something of an Asian flavor, beginning with the scenes at Nori Japanese restaurant in the season opener.  Professor Terry Carney, in her essay “From Here to InFinnerty,” lists several Asian references found in the second and third episodes of the season: the Buddhist monks, the Crystal monastery, Tony’s Asian doctor, an Asian nurse, Janice’s mention of Chinese food, Christopher’s mention of the popularity of Asian horror-films, AJ’s Asian-print shirt, and the Chinese-lettered decor in Silvio’s bathroom.  And now we find Tony watching the 70s TV show Kung Fu in his hospital room.  I believe the significance of Kung Fu here is that is extends the “Asian theme” into this episode, allowing us to bridge the Asian metaphysics in the previous hour to John Schwinn’s physics in this hour…

When the young Buddhist monk said to Tony/Kevin in the previous episode, “One day we will all die, and then we will be the same as that tree.  No ‘me,’ no ‘you,’” he expressed a notion of integration and connectivity that parallels John Schwinn’s idea.  David Chase uses the young monk’s Buddhism just as he uses Schwinn’s physics—as a way to counter the nihilism that perpetually looms in SopranoWorld.  Schwinn looks at the same universe that Livia saw, but he sees it in a positive light—a universe in which all disparate things are connected.  Buddhism is similarly able to take Livia’s “big nothing” and give it a positive spin.  The Buddhist concept of sunyata is a little complicated to understand, and I’m no expert on it, but I think it may inform these last couple of episodes.  “Sunyata” can most closely be translated in English as “emptiness.”  Barbara O’Brien at clarifies the definition:

Sunyata is often misunderstood to mean that nothing exists.  This is not so.  Instead, it tells us that there is existence, but that phenomena are empty of svabhava, a Sanskrit word that means self-nature, intrinsic nature, essence, or ‘own being.’

She gives the example of a chariot: if you removed pieces of the chariot one by one (wheels, axles, etc), at what point would the chariot cease to be a chariot?  One person may say that a fully disassembled chariot is still a chariot, while another might argue that a chariot missing just its wheels cannot rightfully be called a chariot because it can’t be used for transport.  Each person subjectively perceives and defines what a “chariot” is—there is no inherent, intrinsic “chariot-ness” in its parts.  Even a fully-assembled chariot does not contain some intrinsic “chariot-essence,” it is only a contraption upon which someone has projected the label “chariot.”

So how does sunyata relate to The Sopranos?  Buddhist doctrine claims—as does John Schwinn—that the things we perceive in the universe are only that—perceptions.  We project properties and definitions on to things, they do not themselves contain a definitive essence, whether they be boxers or tornadoes or chariots—or even ourselves.  Barbara O’Brien spells it out:

We also are empty of self-essence. However, if we don’t perceive this, we understand ourselves to be distinctive and separate from everything else. This gives rise to fear, greed, jealousy, prejudice, hatred. If we understand ourselves to inter-exist with everything else, this gives rise to trust and compassion.

Hmm, “fear, greed, jealousy, prejudice, hatred”—personality traits commonly found in several SopranoWorld characters, particularly in the family matriarch.  Buddhists are something like Livia in that they believe, in one sense, that “it’s all a big nothing.”  But the Buddhist conception of the “big nothing”—sunyata—is not the same as Livia’s desolate void.  Sunyata is simply the absence of intrinsic essence, and the recognition of this absence is the beginning of wisdom, compassion and trust.

Historically, Eastern religions and philosophies like Buddhism have been more friendly than Christianity to the idea that all things are interconnected.  As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell noted, Eastern thought-systems generally place a great emphasis on harmony and perpetually attempt to bring all things into accord.  Christianity, on the other hand, is a religion built upon dualisms: good vs. evil, God vs. Satan, God vs. man, man vs. woman, man vs. nature, earth vs. heaven, heaven vs. hell, body vs. soul, life vs. afterlife.  Not all Christians are so dualistic in their thinking.  But Pastor Bob certainly is, and that’s the reason why he is so averse to the theory of evolution.  Evolution is a theory of inter-connection (just as Buddhism and John Schwinn’s physics are).  Evolution literally makes a connection between creatures as disparate as an orangutan, a squid, and a cyanobacterium.  All living thing are connected by common ancestors, and perhaps even linked by one common ancestor.

Chase seems to allude to the theory of evolution quite early in the episode, when he cuts from Tony’s dinosaur book to a shot of birds flying above Barone Sanitation:


With this edit, Chase may be giving a nod to the scientific consensus that modern birds are descendants of dinosaurs.  (Many of us were probably first exposed to this idea while watching Jurassic Park years earlier.)  Chase further legitimizes this scientific consensus as Meadow reads from the dinosaur book:

Meadow: “In Montana, the fossilized remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex yielded soft tissue that indicated a definite link between dinosaurs and modern birds.”

I almost took a heart attack when I heard Meadow read this line, because of a particular term that it contains.  I had always believed the term “soft tissue” to contain special Sopranos significance ever since the first time I heard it, back in Season One’s “Isabella.”  Just as Livia was engineering his assassination, Tony hallucinated a woman named ‘Isabella’ who possessed all the warmth and kindness and maternal characteristics that his own mother lacked.

Isabella- soft tissue

We may remember that as a dental student, Isabella was “interested in tumors of the gum and the soft tissue of the mouth.”  I had argued in my “D-Girl” entry that Tony’s real mother is someone who destroys connections, but his fantasy-mother is someone who repairs connections, literally: soft tissue is connective tissue.  I think that these two mentions of the phrase “soft tissue,” first by Isabella and now by Meadow, may have a parallel function: they highlight the thematic importance of connectivity on the series.  David Chase had previously used Isabella (and her interest in healing connective soft tissue) as a contrast to Livia (and her alienating, disjointing nihilism), and now Chase seems to use evolution (a theory bolstered by the discovery of fossilized connective soft tissue) as a contrast to Pastor Bob (and his alienating and narrow-minded ‘either/or’ dualism).

I recognize, of course, that the repetition of the phrase “soft tissue” may simply be a coincidence, not some well-planned refrain seven years in the making.  David Chase obviously cares about connective tissue, speaking about it on multiple occasions including in the interview for the L.A. Times which I quoted above, but that doesn’t prove he actually drew a line between the “soft tissue” mentioned in this hour and the “soft tissue” mentioned in “Isabella.”

I’ll admit, the more I thought about it, the less I believed that Chase was conscientiously calling back an almost throwaway line by Isabella in Season 1.  But I will submit one more point on the matter: this episode’s title actually references soft tissue—the fleshy part of the thigh is literally made up of the stuff.  Of course, the episode title may not actually be highlighting the possible metaphorical significance of “soft tissue,” it may simply be making a joke: the title most obviously refers to Bobby’s attempt to shoot Marvin in the thigh (but he misses the target, hilariously sinking a slug in the aspiring rapper’s buttock instead).  The title can also refer to the back of Jason Barone’s leg which Paulie thwacks with a metal pipe.  (And it may also refer to Paulie’s mother’s thighs, which he tries to cover up as he slips the scuba socks on.)

But if Chase does mean for the episode title to carry some of the metaphorical weight that I’m suggesting, then the fleshy parts of Marvin’s and Jason’s thighs may indeed be underscoring the use of “soft tissue” as a symbol of connection.  It would be quite fitting, metaphorically speaking, that Bobby shoots at the soft tissue of one thigh and Paulie thwacks at the soft tissue of another; the damage done to each would represent Bobby and Paulie’s dehumanizing way of making a living which perpetually damages and destroys all forms of connection and connective tissue.

Paulie goes after Jason because he is jealous of the strong connection that the young man feels with his mom.  After finding out the truth about the identity of his birth-mother, Paulie’s relationship to adoptive-mother Nucci feels false to him.  There is no good reason for him to feel this way, but he has always been a simplistic man, a man of simple rules and easy conclusions.  As I noted earlier, Chase uses Paulie’s simple black-and-white worldview as a foil to Schwinn’s more complex worldview as they talk in Da Lux’s room.  Paulie is also used as a foil in this hour, as in previous hours, to Tony.  Tony Soprano is not as broadminded as John Schwinn, but there is a greater complexity and dimensionality to his thoughts than there is to Paulie’s.  We may remember how their views clashed in Season Two’s “From Where to Eternity.”  Paulie said he believed in a literal Heaven and Hell (as well as Purgatory, where he’ll spend 6000 years for all his mortal and venial sins).  Like Pastor Bob, Paulie has a fixed, absolute view on religious matters.  Tony has a more relativistic view, as we may remember from their conversation in that same Season Two episode:

Tony:  You eat steak?
Paulie:  What the fuck you talkin’ about?
Tony:  If you were in India, you would go to hell for that.
Paulie:  I’m not in India.  What do I give a fuck?
Tony:  That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

Paulie vs Tony Season 2

Paulie has a similar function in this hour as he had in “From Where to Eternity”—he provides a contrast to Tony Soprano.  Tony tries to give Paulie a broader, more universal view of things, tries to get him to recognize that the truth is much bigger than what he sees out of his limited, self-absorbed viewpoint.  Tony recalls the Ojibwe proverb, trying to convince his friend that he is part of something bigger.  But Paulie doesn’t see it.

Tony & Paulie1

Tony takes the broader, more relativist position.  This episode’s argument for relativism and against those certainties that come out of dogma or faith is probably the most important thing to take away from the hour.  David Chase has fashioned a world, much like the real world, in which truths that are held with an absolute grip are not very reliable, and they may even be laughable (like the idea that humans lived with dinosaurs).  The world is composed mainly of relative truths, not absolute ones.

Buddhism is relativistic too.  Once again, Barbara O’Brien explains: “Because all phenomena exist interdependently, and are void of self-essence, all distinctions we make between this and that phenomena are arbitrary and relative.  So, things and beings ‘exist’ only in a relative way…”

I think John Schwinn also underlines the idea that there are no absolute certainties when he makes a reference to Schrodinger’s Equation.  The equation takes into account the uncertainty that is at the heart of quantum physics.  I am even less versed in quantum physics than I am in Buddhism, so I’m not going to try to get into the mathematics of it.  From what I understand, particles within a quantum system have certain properties—like location—which we cannot predict with any real certainty, but we can use Schrodinger’s Equation to express their most probable locations within a wave of probability.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t exactly understand the mechanics of the equation for our purposes here, because I think Chase is more interested in what it says as a metaphor: we don’t have certainty about even the most basic building blocks of the universe, so how can we claim to have certainty about any of the larger things within the universe?

In addition to “The Great Mushroom,” Frolov and Schnieder produced another episode of Northern Exposure called “The Robe” which also seems like a forerunner to the current Sopranos hour.  In “The Robe,” Esau (a wooden dummy) tends to “speak” in platitudes and certainties.  His morality is black-and-white, fixed.  Chris Stevens, the radio DJ who voices the dummy, is not very comfortable at all with such a “wooden” morality (although he does recognize, of course, that whatever comes out of Esau’s mouth is actually coming out of his own mouth):

I’ll very quickly list some of the notable similarities between “The Robe” and “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” which are not completely apparent in the video clip above:

  1. Esau in “The Robe” and Pastor Bob here both have a fairly simplistic sense of morality
  2. In “The Robe,” Esau makes a joke about Buddhism; “Fleshy Part” continues a sort of “Asian theme” from the two previous episodes (which both featured Buddhist monks)
  3. There is a reference in “The Robe” to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the idea in physics that a quantum particle’s paired variables (like speed and position) cannot both be known simultaneously with any certainty; “Fleshy Part” contains a reference to Schrodinger’s Equation which is closely related to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle

If you let my clip play out to the end, you can see in the credits that Chase, Frolov and Schneider were all directly involved in the production of “The Robe.”  So, we see that the three of them were previously engaged in this debate between certainty and uncertainty (or Absolutism and Relativism, or the simplistic and the complicated, or whatever other terms you want to use to frame the contrast), and they had previously used similar corresponding elements: Buddhism, quantum physics and a character with an unsophisticated viewpoint (Esau the dummy parallels Pastor Bob).

Like Chris the deejay in Northern Exposure and John Schwinn here, David Chase turns away from easy certainties and simple dualisms.  It’s tempting, of course, to indulge in certainty; there is nothing more effective at alleviating our existential confusion and anxieties.  And there is plenty to be anxious about.  Our society is relentlessly cold—the insurance company’s representative at the hospital, for example, is as callous as a mobster.  (Tony first calls her a “sick cunt” and then a “bird of prey.”)  The universe is even more callous and cold.  “If the history of the Earth was represented by the Empire State Building,” Tony’s dinosaur book tells us, “human existence would only be a postage stamp at the very top”—the immensity of Time seems to render our very existence into something trivial.  We hunger for explanations that make sense to us.  It would be nice, for example, to have a reasonable explanation for why God would allow the little girl in the other room to get so horrifically burned.  She has suffered third-degree burns over 80% of her body:

Little girl

I’m sure Esau the Dummy or Pastor Bob could conjure up an explanation for such a heartbreaking sight—perhaps the child is paying for someone’s sins, or maybe God means it to be a test of faith.  But Chase resists such simple answers.  I don’t think, however, that Chase submits to the idea that there are never any answers.  Some of the answers we seek might be found within a doctrine of connectivity, which Buddhism, Physics, and the serial nature of TV itself are all able to convey.  Martha Nochimson continues in her essay…

…David Chase has designed a twenty-first century gangster story in which the nothingness that the characters fear is visible to the audience as a delusion we need not share. 

But here’s the thing about David Chase: he’s a crafty one.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier write-ups, Chase incorporates (or maybe “buries” is the better word) his themes and designs so well into The Sopranos’ narrative that it’s often difficult for us to know if we’re actually seeing what we think we’re seeing.  In this hour, Chase uses humor to cover his tracks.  For example, I figured that Chase may have used the name “Da Lux” because it means “give light” in Latin, but this insight is made completely pretentious when we consider that Chase may have chosen the name simply because it sounds similar to a brand-name laxative, which then generates a funny joke: Bobby refers to the rapper as Ex-Lax.  Similarly, I want to ascribe great thematic significance to the scene in which Marvin’s “soft tissue” gets injured, but it’s hard not to laugh when we see him writhing on the ground, clutching his butt and shouting “They shot me in my ass!”

David Chase used humor to lighten heavy thematic explorations in his earlier series too.  If we look at that above video clip from “The Great Mushroom” again, we can see how its important message is undercut by humor: while Joel throws down some deep philosophy, Maggie fantasizes that he gets squashed by a boulder and bombed by an airplane.  Chase likes to shroud the importance of any messages he may be sending us.  We may note in the current hour that it is precisely when Schwinn is making a critical point about connectivity, using the boxers on the TV as an analogy, that the TV signal gets lost:

Lost signal

A similar thing happens in “D-Girl,” the episode that complements the current hour.  Big Pussy expresses a sentiment of friendship and connection to AJ that counters the bitter opinion that his grandmother had spewed at him earlier.  But as he does so, the audio signal through which we hear him catches some static.  Pussy is providing a powerful lesson but Chase’s universe—like the real universe—is filled with obstacles that sometimes prevent such lessons from coming through clearly:

In “Fleshy Part,” John Schwinn gives voice to a shining philosophy of connectivity, but he is ultimately silenced by David Chase—Schwinn’s voicebox is removed after he is struck by laryngeal cancer.  (The absurdity of the universe: Schwinn came in to the hospital for a sinus infection, but now he must leave without his larynx.)  Tony thinks of stopping by Schwinn’s room as he is being wheeled out of the hospital, but decides not to when he sees the man recovering in bed after his laryngectomy.  Tony will never hear whatever final words John Schwinn might have had to say to him.

Tony exits the hospital and Chase immediately starts flinging “symbols” at us.  The sound of wind fills the air.  (Wind!).  The wind rustles the leaves of a tree. (Tree!)  The sound of a bell wafts down from a nearby tower.  (Bell!)  Tony clutches his sister’s hand and says, “I’m supposed to be dead, now I’m alive… From now on, every day is a gift.”  Tony’s outlook on life is changing.  (Janice, however, doesn’t look like she’s buying it 100%.)  Perhaps this changing outlook is the reason why Tony gave Rudy the E.M.T. a pass, he didn’t shake him down for $2000 as originally planned.  And maybe this is why he finally accepts Johnny Sac’s offer for the sale of Barone Sanitation, even though the offer doesn’t include the skim money that he wanted.  “Truth be told, there’s plenty of garbage for everybody,” Tony concedes to Phil.

I introduced this hour by saying it’s chock-full of magic, and I think much of its sorcery comes out of the way Chase pulls together a number of evocative motifs.  It is this episode that truly begins the process of establishing bells as one such motif:

  1. John Schwinn worked at Bell Labs
  2. The sound and image of a nearby bell tower marks Tony’s reentry into the world
  3. “The Three Bells” by The Browns scores the scene in which Jason is out sculling
  4. The last diegetic sound of the hour before the credits start to roll is a ringing church bell

The presence of “The Three Bells” is especially interesting.  This particular version of the song came out in 1959, the same year that Tony Soprano was born.  The first verse—which is the only verse heard in this episode—is about the birth of Little Jimmy Brown.  Perhaps Chase is leading us to make an association between these lyrics and Tony’s “rebirth,” the idea that Tony has come back in the world with a new attitude after a long duel with death.  I don’t necessarily buy into this theory, but I do believe the lyrics are important because they evoke a particular view of the world—I’ll explain what I mean a bit further down:

The Three Bells (first verse)
There’s a village hidden deep in the valley
Among the pine trees half forlorn
And there on a sunny morning
Little Jimmy Brown was born.

All the chapel bells were ringing
In the little valley town
And the song that they were singing
Was for baby Jimmy Brown.

Then the little congregation
Prayed for guidance from above
“Lead us not into temptation,
Bless this hour of meditation,
Guide him with eternal love.”

Trees are another motif that is used with great effect here.  The very first shot of Tony when he exits the hospital includes a tree with its leaves rippling in the wind.  Chase uses trees to connect scenes here as he has done in the past: the camera pans up into the canopy in Tony’s backyard, and moments later pans down from the canopy at the river where Jason is attacked by Paulie.  Perhaps also notable, “The Three Bells” contains a line about pine trees.  Trees, as I’ve mentioned before, are themselves great symbols of connection.  The dialogue about evolution in this hour made me think of those “tree of life” illustrations that are often used to diagram the connections between creatures from the past and creatures of the present.  I really like Bart Simpson’s version of the diagram:

tree of life screenshot

Wind is another major motif in The Sopranos.  The Ojibwe proverb, with its mention of a “great wind,” is seen and referenced throughout the hour.  John Schwinn also mentions great wind—tornadoes—in his explanation of the universe.  The sound of wind is heard multiple times within the hour.  The way that wind is used in the episode’s final two sequences—when Tony relaxes in his patio and then when Paulie attacks Jason—is particularly clever.  Both sequences are scored with the sound of wind, which gives way to the sound of Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days” as the credits begin to roll.  Floyd fans might recognize that the wind that is heard toward the end of this episode is actually coming from the beginning of the musical track: “One of These Days,” as it appears on the album Meddle, begins with nothing but the sound of wind for about 30 seconds before two bass guitars come in and kick off the actual music.  (And the song ends with the sound of wind again before segueing into the next track, “A Pillow of Winds.”)  The wind-motif is so important to Chase that he chose a song here that has the sound of wind incorporated right into the track.

What I find more interesting about the song, however, is how it almost seems to work in conjunction with “The Three Bells” (the only other non-diegetic song in this hour) to together represent that simplistic, black & white view of the world that Chase seems to criticize in this hour.  The two songs are at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, lyrically and sonically—they are, in a manner of speaking, “black” & “white.”  “The Three Bells” almost sounds Pollyannaish and foolishly optimistic in how completely it invokes a world that is so peaceful, mild and well-ordered.  The song’s 3-person harmony reflects the harmonious world that it depicts.  The song plays while Jason is out rowing, which is itself such a peaceful and serene scene, unlike many of the scenes we are often subjected to in The Sopranos.  The simple lyrics portray a village filled with faith and light and heavenly guidance, a place like the Eden that Pastor Bob surely believes once existed, and believes will exist—at least for some people—once again.

The Pink Floyd song, on the other hand, evokes an entirely different world.  Instead of serene harmonies, we find a composition that sounds almost diabolical.  The basses come in first, played through a delay effect that creates an echoing sound.  A heavily distorted guitar joins in, adding a disturbing layer.  An organ provides dramatic flourishes.  The drums finally jump in, increasing the frenzy.  There is exactly one lyric in the song, uttered by an ominous, monstrous voice: “One of these days I’m going to cut you into little pieces!”  This is the song that fits SopranoWorld as we’ve known it over most of the last 5+ seasons—dark and disturbed with violent overtones.  This song, which could almost be described as nihilism made audible, evokes Livia’s black conception of the world.  

Chase seems to suggest in this hour that a simplistic, black & white mentality can be divisive and lead to a nihilistic worldview.  John Schwinn gives us a way in this episode to transcend the nihilism, transform the nothingness into something positive.  But Chase silences Schwinn with a laryngectomy by the end of the hour.  Despite this silencing, I believe that a philosophy of connectivity and integration like the one expressed by Schwinn will continue to undergird The Sopranos all the way to the end, even through its final, memorable moment.    


This hour has more than its fair share of unfortunate sons.  Paulie learns that his mother is actually a nun and his father is some G.I. named Russ who knocked her up during WWII.  The news throws Paulie into chaos: “Who the fuck knows who this ‘Russ’ bastard is?  The worst thing is I’m not who I am.  It’s like my whole life is a joke, a big fuckin joke on me.”  Some viewers have speculated that Paulie’s dad might be blowhard Russ Fegoli who appeared at Hugh’s birthday party in “Marco Polo” (where I believe he mentions he served in WWII).  I’m not sure if we know exactly how old Paulie is, and we definitely don’t know how old Russ Fegoli is, but the actors that play them were born, respectively, in 1942 and 1928, so the math could work if we massaged Russ’ age a little bit…  (I think Fegoli being Paulie’s father would be just way too much of a coincidence but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chase stuck the possibility in there as a fun little easter egg.)

Jason Barone is another unfortunate son.  He has been working as a ski instructor, very far removed from his father’s sanitation/recycling business and SopranoLand affairs.  He doesn’t understand why some consultant named “Anthony Soprano” should be receiving the second-highest salary in the company.  (And when his eyes linger on Meadow at the hospital, I thought to myself, “He really doesn’t know who Meadow Soprano is either.”  I think he would be less equipped to handle her self-deception than even poor Finn is.)  Paulie smacks Jason’s knee with a pipe (a very unfortunate injury for a ski instructor) and then puts him on a long-term extortion plan for $4000/month (virtually impossible on a ski instructor’s wages).  We never hear about Jason again so we don’t know if he ever paid or for how long.

Another unfortunate son is the boy who accompanies his truck-driving dad on his garbage route.  The boy is here only because it’s a vacation day from school, which of course happens to be the day that Cinelli Sanitation makes its stand against Barone Sanitation.  The boy screams “Papi!” and runs crying to his father after the man is beaten, kicked and left unconscious in the street.

I should also include AJ, who is the quintessential unfortunate son of The Sopranos.  He doesn’t have a very hard time in this hour—but that may precisely be what makes him so unfortunate.  He has gotten a new job at Blockbuster Video and is getting along with his mom, but we learn that there is peace between mother and son only because she apologized to him.  We are not told exactly what the apology was for, but we can guess that it was because earlier this season Carm had screamed that he is a cross for her to bear.  Of course, he is a cross for her to bear.  His behavior was completely deplorable and it is really him who owed her an apology.  But, following a pattern that the Soprano parents have been stuck in for years, Carmela gives her son a pass.  Maybe a tougher stance by Tony and Carm over the years would have had a more fortunate effect on AJ.


Maybe I’m harping on the topic at this point, but there are two more Frolov & Schneider-scripted episodes of Northern Exposure that further illuminate our understanding of what it is that the husband-and-wife writing team brought to “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh.”  John Schwinn’s physics are used here to present a relativistic view of the universe, alternate to Pastor Bob’s absolutism; similarly, in a season three episode of Northern Exposure, “Get Real,” a visitor to town mentions Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and then a bit later says, “In quantum physics, there are no absolutes.”

More relevant, perhaps, is season two’s “All is Vanity,” (an episode title, by the way, which expresses a sentiment very similar to Livia’s “It’s all a big nothing”).  A stranger has died in the small Alaskan town, and Chris Stevens must deliver a eulogy for the unknown man.  The opening part of his eulogy seems to prefigure Livia’s idea that “in the end, we die alone in our own arms,” but he closes with a thought that echoes the Buddhist conception of sunyata—we can take our aloneness and emptiness and use it to connect with others: 

The fact that we don’t know this man isn’t important really because his experience is our experience.  His fate is our fate.  ‘Vanitas vanitatum, et Omnia vanitas,’ says the preacher.  All is vanity.  I think that’s a pretty good epitaph for all of us.  When we’re stripped of all our worldly possessions and our fame and family and friends, we all face death alone.  But it is that solitude in death that is our common bond in life.  I know it is ironic, but that’s just the way things are.  Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas.  Only when we understand that all is vanity, only then it isn’t.



  • I mentioned in my write-up for 6.02 that I would revisit the slap that Tony/Kevin got from a Buddhist at the OMNI hotel.  Many viewers saw the OMNI as a reference to God because ‘omni’ is a common prefix to describe Him: omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent.  But I think the significance of the prefix is that it may further connect the monks’ Buddhism to Schwinn’s metaphysics.  “Omni” means “all” or “every,” it signifies “everything.”  Everything is everything…
  • Treach is great here as “Marvin,” he brings such comic relief to the hour.  And Hal Holbrook is just frickin’ fantastic as “John Schwinn.”
  • When Tony concedes to Phil and Johnny Sac’s demands regarding Barone Sanitation, I thought I saw a look of disappointment on Phil’s face.  Perhaps Tony’s placid conciliation causes Phil to lose some respect for him, which might partly explain the adversarial stance that Phil takes toward Tony throughout the rest of season 6.  It’s also possible that Phil looks less-than-thrilled when they reach the agreement because Phil may not actually want peace with Tony.  He is still carrying a lot of anger, as we will learn later, that Tony refused to give Blundetto up after killing Phil’s brother.
  • Conservative leaders and politicians deserve credit for no longer pushing Creationism as a legitimate scientific theory on par with Evolution.  Though some local school districts and State Boards of Education have kept the so-called “debate” going, it is no longer the polarizing wedge-issue it was when “Fleshy Part” first aired.
  • I have a teenager’s sense of humor.  I laughed when Tony described Vito’s bathroom habits: “Hour-and-a-half to take a dump, that guy.  You could build a jetty with what comes out.”  (It was in episode 5.06 that Vito said shitting is a source of pleasure.)

spiral jetty, smithson

  • I covered a lot of ground today: Buddhism, quantum physics, Schrodinger’s Equation, nihilism… Don’t worry, none of this stuff will be on the test.  (But they will rear up again in my entry for the Series Finale.)


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© 2020 Ron Bernard

142 responses to “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh (6.04)

  1. 4000.00 dollars is how much Paulie pays a month for his mothers room st Green Grove.. Coincidence? I think not!! He feels Jason should pay because Jason’s mother loves him and Paulie feels angry about his mother.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I thought it was $4k too but I couldn’t confirm it here… did we learn this in another episode?


      • Yes when Paulie had the sit down with Tony, Silvio and Ralphie. Paulie was describing how happy his mother was at Green Grove and I think Tony said” 4000.00 a month?” And Paulie alluded to the fact that he would be able to pay it.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Nope, it was 8000.00. There goes my theory!


        • Orange – Actually, Tony once said that Livia’s room cost $8,000/month, then often mentioned $4,000/month. Despite his history of lying through his teeth, I’d say it was the latter amount. For $8,000, she’d be living like a queen with 24-hour nursing care (if she didn’t run them off, that is)! 😖

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I check everyday for updates, happy you are still at it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, Ron. This may be your best entry yet. I remember you mentioned in your “D-Girl” review that when you got to this episode, you’d have a lot to say about connectivity, and lay the foundation for your analysis of the final scene. So I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while, and it did not disappoint.
    A lot of fans prefer the earlier seasons, or just plain don’t care for Season 6. (I look at it as one long season, rather than 6A and 6B.) But it’s my favorite season by quite a large margin. It’s an incredibly deep work of art, and you have touched on a lot of the reasons why in this review.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I still get the error when trying those two. And damn, I really want to view them. Reading this feels incomplete!

    You may be able to view them because YouTube will let you and you alone watch videos you have uploaded. I uploaded a Godfather video to YT years ago, and right away it told me that it was blocked for infringing Paramount’s copyright. But I can still watch it.

    I’m not sure why it’s blocked on your Android device though, unless you’re signed into a different Google account on that device.

    Maybe you could upload the clips to Vimeo?


  5. Ron, you said it all, man.
    Your perspective adds even more soft tissue
    to the show.
    I keep checking your site for updates like a pig
    rooting for truffles, and you do not disappoint.

    Thanks for your generosity.


  6. Reading your season 6 posts has increased my interest in Buddhism hugely. I was raised as a Hindu, a religion which, like Christianity, largely emphasizes the concept of Heaven, hell, mortal sins and the duality you mentioned of (even though it’s an Eastern religion). As a child, I always wondered how many sins were tolerated before someone is deemed unworthy of heaven.
    (I feel proud that I can understand all the Sanskrit words without reading your explanation of them, due to our contemporary language being derived from Sanskrit itself. It makes grasping your ideas much easier.)

    I feel like I can keep reading your posts all day long. Eager for your thoughts on Made in America and the Schrodinger’s Cat theory about the final scene.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Shreyas. The idea for including the bit about “sunyata” here came partly after I learned from a Gujarati relative that the guju/hindi word for ‘zero’ is ‘sunya’. I was thinking about how everything is just A Big Zero in Livia’s mind…

      I know there is a lot of duality in Hinduism (and Hindu equivalents of Pastor Bob certainly exist) but I don’t think a religion that is so pantheistic can ever be quite as dualistic as Christianity. Hindu gods also seem (maybe I’m wrong here) so much more “human” – they can be jealous, wicked, mischievous… A characteristic of Christian duality is the belief that God is purely perfect, with none of the “imperfections” that humans have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yea, you are right. Hindu gods were much more prone to sins and impulses which makes you question what kind of “gods” can be so flawed.
        Have you thought about writing posts about other series after The Sopranos is done? You are a gifted writer and I would love to read whatever articles you post in the future. How about a MadMenautopsy? Sure it isn’t Sopranos…. but then what else comes close?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm I’m really fascinated by Louie (Louis CK’s show). It’s no Sopranos but it had a lot of clever and meaningful things going on in terms of editing, sound design, plot structure etc which often got overlooked by viewers and critics, probably because most people see it as “just another sitcom.”

          But it’s hard to get excited about Louis CK’s work now after his disgusting behavior off-camera…


        • Ron, Louie is a great show. Last year, I also got ahold of a copy of Louis CK’s abandoned film I Love You Daddy. It’s really excellent. I think that film was him dealing with his shortcomings as a man and how he has treated women. It surely would have been praised and won awards if hadn’t been pulled by the distributor as the scandal hit.

          I know it’s not acceptable to say these days, but I loved CK’s show and the films he’s directed. I still think Roman Polanski directed 3 or 4 of the top 100 films ever. Woody Allen is still one of my favorite directors.

          To bring this on-topic to a Sopranos blog, I think part of the reason we let ourselves love Tony is because it was well-known that Gandolfini was a very nice guy in real life. Yes, apparently he had a history of substance abuse problems, his marriage disintegrated due to his infidelity, and he could be difficult on set. But those seem like more relatable, universally human problems that are tempered by all the many reports of his kindness and generosity.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Did you notice I squeezed a Chinatown reference into this write-up, Leaman? It’s one of my top 3 favorite films even though I do believe Polanski should be in prison. But it’s hard to separate the art from the artist sometimes. I still love Woody, but its impossible to watch his movies without thinking of the improprieties and allegations…


    • I did notice your reference to Chinatown, and I find it very appropriate. The Sopranos seems like a descendant of that great era of Hollywood.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hate the sin, love the sinner… our tailor, he’s goin blind!!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ron – Ever since Woody (Alan) married his stepdaughter, and Mia Farrow’s accusations against him, I’ve refused to watch his movies. He is one disgusting, sorry excuse for a so-called ‘man’. Unfortunately, powerful ‘men’ (be they politicians or in the entertainment industry) never seen to get prosecuted, impeached, or imprisoned for their crimes/misdeeds. 🐽


  8. This is more of a coincidence by casting (or is it?) but, it’s interesting to me that in an episode about absolutism vs. relativism guest starring Hal Holbrook, Charles Colson of Watergate was referenced. Holbrook famously played “Deep Throat” in All The President’s Men, an informant to two intrepid reporters investigating the Watergate scandal. We now know that W. Mark Felt of the FBI was Deep Throat in real life. In fiction and in history, Deep Throat was a character steeped in relativism. He was willing to snitch, anonymously and in shadowy parking garages, either for big reasons or petty ones, but they stood outside the “right vs. wrong” ethos of the Nixon White House and most political ethos in general. Felt was a career G-Man, so his reasons went beyond “Law and Order,” and he risked his career and reputation. Again, his reasons could have been altruistic or selfish; who knows? It was relative, not absolute, the way people in power often cast issues. We know that Felt’s FBI was used as a tool for lawbreaking shenanigans at the very least by the White House. Nixon himself was publicly very “right vs. wrong” but privately inconsistent and nuanced, and willing to rationalize “wrong” to suit his needs.

    Men like Colson found God in prison and though I can’t speak for them, probably embraced the absolutism of Christianity as a way to reestablish morality within themselves after having gone so crooked. Colson later said that when he came to terms with his role in Watergate, “I sat there for a long time that night deeply convicted of my own sin.” Sin is a curiosity in Christianity since it damns one to hell, but we all supposedly are sinners and must repent. I’ll close by saying that there are plenty of parallels between the Nixon (or any) White House, the mob in Soprano World, and the FBI in both real life and in Soprano World. A good way to sum it up would be “All’s fair,” and it’s certainly all relative and connected…

    Great write up, looking forward to the next one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for adding this note.. I actually had a screengrab of Holbrook as Deep Throat ready to go here, but left it out because I didn’t want to complicate an already complicated write-up even further. (I also left out a screengrab of Woodward’s notebook with the name “Charles Colson” scrawled right in the middle of all the other Watergate players.) I’m guessing that no one was thinking of the Deep Throat connection when they decided to hire Holbrook here, but the subtext that is generated by casting him can certainly deepen our understanding of the episode…

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think they (he) did.
        No longer deep and without throat.

        Liked by 2 people

        • OMG my brain would explode in awe if that’s why Chase gave him the laryngectomy!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I love this “Deep Throat” subtext, but I kept thinking about two other roles that Holbrook was famous for. His most famous was Mark Twain, which he played for over 2,000 performances. Not sure it has direct relevance here, but I can’t see him without thinking of it. I suppose Tony could be seen as a mirror image of Huck Finn – sharing some of his characteristics but unable to escape his troubled beginnings. The other Holbrook role, memorable to those who grew up in the 70s, was the Stage Manager in a nationally televised version of Our Town (at a time when nationally televised meant everyone was watching). Our Town is about many things, but Act III is mostly about the living being haunted by the dead – and the dead observing that the living don’t appreciate that “every day is a gift”. It does feel like there are some tonal rhymes between this three episode arc in The Sopranos and Our Town, and in both, Holbrook provides commentary to help drive the authors’ points home.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Wow….Why didn’t I think of that!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Hey Ron,

    Gotta say this is my favourite episode and you did it justice. Between the quantum physics philosophy and Bobby’s marksmanship, it is peak Sopranos. Reading your write-ups counters the burnout that comes with school.



  10. I think a lot of Tony’s angst comes from when his attention is taken by things that are outside his small world. Like a lot of people, its out of his comfort zone, which is why he goes back to his old ways. But its interesting that he is willing to learn and listen, even if he doesn’t agree or change his ways. Carmela’s angst comes from guilt and from being always in the same place. Her trip to Paris gave her a mental jog, but it didn’t last. They are stuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I just think that Chase is telling us with his connective theories and his concept “Everything is Everything” is that the series must be seen and interpreted, like life itself, in an integral, connective and uniform way. These are not hermetic compartments but events that constantly flow and feed back between past, present and future. It establishes, in fact, a theoretical framework for practical purposes (viewing of series), but also for philosophical purposes (understanding of life). The series [like life] although it can be cataloged in episodes or seasons, in reality is a constant continuity where the ontological aspects are preponderant. That is a person – as a connected individual – is not only what he builds in his life but also what previous generations have built and that have determined a specific place to be born, a culture where to absorbe, a language to speak, a technology to learn, a social / environmental context in which to prosper or survive. There also lies another type of connectivity; the connectivity between the “generations”. Now, Chase masterfully teaches us those concepts with the incorporation of Buddhism and quantum physics, which as Ron says, have implicitly high connectivity with each other. As there is no coincidence, yesterday I read in an Argentine newspaper (I’m Argentine, I speak Spanish, but I “connect” with the American reality also through common points such as being part of the human race and also being a son of Italian immigrants) that “SCIENTISTS CONFIRM THE EXISTENCE OF THE SOUL AND ENSURE THAT THIS DOESN’T DIE BUT RETURNS TO THE UNIVERSE”. Tell me if that is not the zenith of connectivity. Dr. Stuart Hameroff, from the Department of Anesthesiology and Psychology as well as director of the Center for the Study of Consciousness of University of Arizona, in Tucson, USA, and his colleague, Sir Roger Penrose, mathematical physicist at the University of Oxford , United Kingdom, have been working since 1996 on a quantum theory of consciousness, which states that the soul is contained, in a structure of microtubules in brain cells. “The idea is born that the brain is a biological computer, with 100 trillion neurons whose synaptic connections act as information networks.” Their findings point out that our experiences are a result of the effects of quantum gravity on microtubules, a process which they call objective orchestrated reduction (Orch-Orr). The communication between neurons through the secretion of neurotransmitters is done through synaptic vesicles distributed along their axons. The cytoskeleton of neurons plays a very important role in the dynamics of these vesicles, thus Hameroff and Penrose propose that microtubules, the smallest units of the cytoskeleton, act as channels for the transfer of quantum information responsible for consciousness. Until now there was a certain scientific consensus in considering that consciousness emerged as a property of biological organisms during EVOLUTION. It would, therefore, be a beneficial adaptation that provides an EVOLUTIONARY advantage to the conscious species. Instead, Orch-Orr theory asserts that consciousness is an intrinsic characteristic of the action of a non-computable universe. In a near-death experience, for example, microtubules lose their quantum state, but the information within them is not destroyed. That is to say that, in understandable terms, the soul doesn’t die, but returns to the universe: “the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state. The quantum information in microtubules is not destroyed, it can not be destroyed; it is simply distributed and dispelled by the universe. ” And if the patient is resurrected, this quantum information can go back to the microtubules and the patient says “I had a near-death experience.” However, if the patient dies, “it would be possible for this quantum information to exist outside the body indefinitely, as a soul.” Incredibly after reading this incredible writing, I also read that according to the Prophecy of Seer, inserted in the Major Edda, a set of Scandinavian poems written in the tenth and eleventh centuries, there are three women (Normen) called Urd, Verdandi and Skuld. They are the goddesses of destiny (schicksalgottheiten). Urd is the maiden who “went”, Verdandi is the maiden of what is and she is in continuous transformation; and Skuld is the maid of what will be, becoming, what should be. Not so strangely she is related to “the need”. The three Normen do NOT schematically represent the past, the present and the future, as one tends to believe. They act as a UNITY. It seemed to me a masterful mythological synthesis of what History and CONNECTIVITY mean. Nothing is transformed without an “active” past or a need to be. There are no departures, no breaks, no disruptions. There is unity and continuity. Even when it does not seem so.
    Greetings from Argentina. Sorry for my English. I really like your blog !

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Only a show like The Sopranos could introduce a character like John Schwinn via a fart joke.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Ron, your write-ups for season 6 have been stellar. I had, until now, considered this a decent, meditative, ramp-down episode following Tony’s hectic journey through Costa Mesa (or whatever it was)–but nothing special in the context of the show’s potential. Following your comments, however, I feel deeper appreciation for the hour’s thesis and want to re-watch. In fact, you (and, admittedly, the No Fuckin’ Ziti shmucks) have me poised for a full-fledged re-watch of the series. Please keep up the good work. I speak for many when I say I am looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the rest of season 6!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. great write up as usual Ron. How did I miss the Schrödinger reference? So could it be that Holsten’s is “Schrödinger Diner”.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. First, I definitely think Holbrook’s cancer was deep in his throat on purpose.
    Second, the fleshy part of the thigh protects the opening to the womb, in this case, Paulie’s Mother’s. Her womanhood has been under wraps until she lays exposed on her deathbed, much to Paulie’s embarrassment. He tries to cover her, but she throws the covers off. Her long ago pregnancy and her being Paulie’s Mom was also under wraps all these years, until she exposes it on her deathbed. He tries to silence her, but she refuses. Another thought: Her thighs, sixty years ago, were the fleshy part of her that Russ had to navigate in order to impregnate her. She was a woman before she was a nun and the sexuality that was there was covered for all the years after she gave birth. And of course, everything you already said about the rapper and Barone.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Brilliant thoughts…

      It’s interesting, even though we only meet Paulie’s birth mother for a few minutes, we get a sense of her friskiness and sensuality and womanhood despite the fact that she is an old nun not doing much besides laying in bed. We might then get the sense that Paulie could have inherited some of his more dynamic personality traits from her rather than from Nucci who is a bit reserved and naïve.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Joshua Guenther

    “…prevailing tenor of the series.”
    Intentional pun? Great write-up!


  17. Vito doesn’t say shitting gives him pleasure. He mentions the anus is a source of pleasure. The earliest, intentional gay allusion, I think

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Schwinn expounds, (‘voices’), a philosophy, a theory, a view of the world & of life that intrigues, perhaps convinces, certainly reassures Tony. He then loses his voice.

    On leaving the hospital Tony tells Janice of his new-found attitude and approach to life. Tony is seeing the world through different eyes now, and he has a new voice: Schwinn’s voice.

    Everything is connected.

    The question “What is the Sopranos about?” Is a killer (no pun intended). It’s massive.

    What IS it about?

    If you’d asked me before I started watching, I’d probably have replied: “the mob”.

    If you’d asked me during Seasons 1 & 2, I might have responded “family, it’s about family”.

    But now, early in Season 6, it’s become a question so huge and complex that I can’t answer it satisfactorily.

    Sure it’s about the mob, sure it’s about family, sure it’s about good and evil and right and wrong and sin and redemption and right and wrong and life and death but it’s about much much more than that: the interconnectedness of life, the universe, everything.

    Everything is everything.

    Hell of an episode.

    Hell of a show.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. I’m watching this episode right now and just noticed something. When Tony and Schwinn meet, Schwinn tells him he worked at Bell Labs. Tony says to him “You guys invented stereo.” Schwinn doesn’t look impressed. In fact, looks a little perturbed. Stereo vs. mono. Duality vs. singularity. I wonder if he was annoyed at the irony of his life’s philosophy and part of the fame of the company he worked for (his life’s work)?

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This entry is perfect! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Ron, When Tony is in his hospital bed watching Kung Fu Master Po says to Kawi Chang Caine “Between father and son there is a bridge which neither time nor death can stop”. I can’t help but think that there is meaning to this, but I have no idea what the meaning is. Do you have any thoughts on the quote, and how it relates to the episode?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought about that line quite a bit before doing this write-up.. I thought it might be some sort of reference to the relationship between Johnny Boy and Tony, or between Tony and AJ, but ultimately I couldn’t think of anything that wasn’t too much of a reach. Anyway, the important word in that line might not be “father” as I originally thought, it might be “bridge.” Bridges form connections between things, and I think this hour is all about connectivity. As I mention above, Chase may be using shaolin Buddhist Kawi Chang Caine to bridge the Buddhist philosophy found in the previous hour with John Schwinn’s metaphysics in this hour..

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks! It may just be a random episode of Kung Fu, but I did like the eastern flavor to it, as you pointed out. The last three episodes were very Buddhistic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Kung Fu scene is also interesting when you think that the main part of Kwai Chang Caine was played by David Carradine (Bruce Lee contended for the role and was very upset to fail).

        You could look at it as Carradine, an American, immersing himself in Eastern themes which could refer to Tony basically doing the same (although the movie plot is sort of the opposite: Caine was raised as a Shaolin monk and travels across America).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I tried to post this like 5 times last week; this will be the final attempt:
        I think you were onto something.
        We see things we think of as throwaway lines/thoughts/themes ALL THE TIME on this show only for them to come back episodes/seasons later. I interpreted the line about fathers and bridges as a reference to the destiny of the soprano men. Maybe it doesn’t fit into the narrative of this specific episode but I think it’s one of those things that fits into Tony’s season-long chance to change who he is/who his son could become theme.
        “Neither time nor death can stop” this bridge/connection between fathers and sons. I think Johnny/Tony/AJ are (almost) the same people born into different generations and classes. We see manipulation/lying from all of them. We know they all have panic attack/anxiety issues. Tony and AJ dropped out of college early. All show signs of antisocial behavior (AJ and the sulfuric acid, Tony with 90% of the stuff he does, Johnny cutting off fingers). The strongest argument against AJ being different from his father is that AJ is soft. You could say it’s AJ growing up rich but how tough was Tony when he was younger really? He was embarrassed about his ‘small hands’ when junior told his girl cousins about it.. and just look at his coach molinaro dream. He was clearly intimidated by the guy.
        Then there’s this image of AJ coming down the stairs in the final episode:
        Remind you of someone?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it was both. Johnny begat Tony and we can already see Tony’s influence on AJ.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Did anyone notice the shirt Tony wearing when Junior shoots him is very similar to the shirt Tony wears in the final episode???

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Funny, if I were to talk to Chase, I’d talk about Northern Exposure. Still remember stumbling across “Spring Break” as my gf lay snoozing and being astonished it was network tv. Hard not to wake her up in my excitement, but she would not have been happy.
    This episode well captured the same absurdities NE did so well, to great amusement after the catharsis of Mayham. Scatalogical humor is perhaps my favorite; no matter our lofty thoughts, we’re still creatures imbedded in the grossest of materiality — a duality Season 6 captures perfectly.
    Sunyata beautifully describes this reality of interconnected, meaning-seeking creatures in a truly empty, terrifying universe where we must live day-to-day with the smell of death all around us. Ever since I was a little kid visiting my dying grandfather, hospitals scared the shit out of me, to the point I’ll do everything I can not to die in one. Yet perhaps the most meaningful moment of my life was holding the hand of another dying grandfather as he passed from this world. My sense at the time — one I still carry — is death is truly the end, but one that left me feeling fully alive and embodied in the moment, face to face with the fact that there’s no escape, only release.
    At least I hope so….

    Liked by 2 people

    • If you were to talk to Chase about Northern Exposure, don’t expect much of a reply. To him, it was just another job for hire. He’s more likely to discuss his time on Kolchak: The Night Stalker or The Rockford Files.

      Liked by 1 person

    • NE is the only show besides the Sopranos that I’ve made notes for for every single episode. (I’m not gonna turn those notes into a website like I’ve done for The Sopranos though—it’s just too much work, and I don’t think there would be much of an audience for it now anyway.) I know Chase has distanced himself from NE, but the entire series was so rich and deep and intelligent…


  24. As Carmela told Bob Wegler” That’s way over my head.”

    Liked by 2 people

  25. “The Three Bell’s” is interesting. The Third “Bell”, or verse, dealing with death, is missing. Leaving us hanging. And my mind thinks about the bell ringing over the door in that final scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. There is a strange configuration of images which I cannot quite figure out in this episode. As Tony comes out of his subconscious fantasy into the real world, Paulie goes deep into his. It is a sort of parallel. The first shot is the monster mask on the dummy at the diving store where Paulie goes to get his Aunt/Mother’s slippers. When you dive down into the depths of your past, you may encounter monsters (often fish, in this series).
    When Paulie gives the shoes to his Aunt/Mother, the nun says that they are too small, perhaps evoking Cinderella. At some point in the first season, Tony taunts a repentant wise guy on the television with the phrase “if the shoe fits …” I suppose this kind of imagery suggests an anxiety about if you can fit into the role that you are supposed to have. Can the Aunt/Mother really fill the role of Paulie’s mother? Can a gangster fulfil the expectations of his gang? Can Paul fit into his hitherto unknown family relationships? Their is also a sexual aspect, Paulie is troubled by the sight of his Aunt/Mother’s legs. Psychoanalysts have said a lot about Cinderella’s shoe.
    Paulie’s reaction to the discovery of his disguised birth is to channel his agression onto a real mother’s son. This is the tragedy of criminals, who makes others pay for their own insecurity, instead of accepting whatever imperfect love they can find. In this episode, Paulie’s story is very similar to Tony’s in other parts of the series.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Still don’t understand that theory of John Schwinn!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. “Evolution and salvation are mutually exclusive” is a nice double allusion. Not only obviously referencing the political circumstances of the time with the Religious Right (makes you wonder what Chase would’ve made of the Sopranos if it was being produced now, in the era of Trump), the pastor’s expression can also be a metaphor for an outlook on life – juxtaposing changing as a person (“evolution”) to achieve salvation or not. The series has previously suggested these characters find it hard to change, Tony drags them back in or characters go back to old patterns, so if the pastor is wrong on the metaphorical level then the characters are damned.
    Also, personally, I interpreted the “everything is interconnected” theme in a less hopeful way than you. Partly because of Schwinn being silenced afterwards. But also because of how Tony is shown to be connected to everybody. The knock-on effects of various decisions he, Phil and Jason Barone take end up seeing that garbage man get attacked and his kid watching on in terror. And the trees motif at the end of the episode seems to emphasise the connection between Tony relaxing back at home and Jason getting beaten by Paulie. That too is an unintended consequence of decisions taken by Paulie’s mum, aunt and random GI father decades in the past. So arguably the interconnection is coming out in a negative way here. Plus, in the previous episode, when Carmela is visiting Melfi, they discuss her worries about the children being complicit in the mafia crimes, purely because of their connection to Tony and his ill-gotten gains. So there’s definitely an underlying idea that the series is playing with, that we’re all connected – in this case, connected to the mafia either in terms of being complicit, being dragged in, or being on the outside but still connected because of how it impacts us. And ofc if the mafia is a metaphor for something wider (modern American society, say), then that would we’re connected to it in terms of participating in it’s negative effects and/or being effect by it. But I’m just spitballing here, maybe the series takes this theme in a the more hopeful direction after this episode idk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent thoughts. Building on your idea about evolution and salvation… I’ve never come across a conception of the Afterlife that wasn’t full of paradoxes and problems, and so I find it very appealing to think that maybe we can achieve some kind of salvation by evolving at a personal level and changing for the better..

      Liked by 1 person

      • As an ordained priest, with a masters in Theology, let me assure you that the dualistic presentation of Christianity personified by Pastor Bob (and commonly presented in mainstream culture), is not the Christianity of Jesus. for Jesus, salvation was and is, very much about the here and now. (‘The Kingdon of God is here,,,’ ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is in you…’ etc.) and Christianity, not about where you go when you die, but how we live such that the compassion and love of God might reign ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ The Way of Jesus is – when freed of the dualistic, binary, tribalistic, retributive, transactional impulses that the church, beginning with the original disciples and Paul, have struggled to resist interpreting him through – is every bit as much about personal transformation, so that we might be restored to union with one another (reconciliation), as any eastern religion. In fact a good case can be made, that at their core, ALL the great enduring religious traditions share this great truth. (Amazing analysis btw, and I agree with that this perhaps represents one of, if not THE main theme that Chase is working out through his characters. It is after all, the great theme of ALL our lives: Will we transcend our broken selves and our broken world and choose a path toward union/connectivity, or stubbornly double down again and again, on each opportunity life presents us to ‘get out,’ and instead stay imprisoned to or fears, attachments and ego, and remain on the path of self-centeredness and separation from each other, God and ourselves?)

        Liked by 3 people

        • Amen to that, I wish more Christians shared your vision of Christianity.


        • It was an unfair dichotomy that Chase presented us to begin with, a false equivalency if you will: he gives us a character that is compassionate and loving as a picture of science that loses it’s voice in the process, and on the other hand we have an exceptionally creepy and intrusive televangelist who cares little for common sense, even though it is supposed to be his best weapon in the battle for making sense. It was a cheap shot at religion as a whole, and it aged poorly: world is more atheistic today than ever, yet depression and spiritual crisis, both, have taken proportions of a pandemic, while being exemplified in the ongoing pandemic at the same time. Not the most honest moment for Chase, and doesn’t really work: you need best arguments from both sides to have the best possible picture in hopes of reaching any valid conclusion, this way it no more than an ideological intervention aimed at religious folk, as if Paulie’s superstitions weren’t more than enough to cover that small (in quantity) aspect of a contemporary America.


          • Hal Holbrook’s character from Into the Wild (2007) and his character from Sopranos should have had the discussion about the universe and God, that would have been ideal and free of bullshit.

            Liked by 1 person

  29. This definitely ranks as a Top 3 episode of the entire series so far; and wow, this was a good stinkin autopsy.
    Now that I’m in the habit of reading these after each episode, 1.) your writings have helped me analyze this series much more critically (thank you), 2.) I now get really excited when I nab an autopsy-chic symbol or call back in real time 🙂
    A couple freaky observations I’m thrilled to share…
    ° I’d have to run the episode back for any keen insight on this, but I noticed that after Paulie got balls kicked in, there were like 5-7 seemingly-intentional crotch shots (most notably on Paulie himself, Tony, and Dottie). I’m gonna presume there’s some underlying commentary on manhood, ‘busting balls’, ‘having the balls’ to do/say something, vulnerability, fertility / parenthood. My roommate’s a season behind me, so hopefully I will get the chance to rewatch this soon and revisit my comment.
    ° There seemed to be an interesting connection between Tony/Kevin’s curiously-plain voice and his first bout of rage ‘post-purgatory’. Throughout the series, there’s hell of a lot of Tony tantrums. In this scene, however, (if I’m not mistaken, he’s grumpy about negotiating this whole construction deal), Tony’s voice is so disturbingly deep and hellacious that he sounds like the literal Devil. Deeper, more sinister than I’d ever before heard him. To my amusement, he lets out a little exorcism-type cat barf the very moment I’d picked up on this. Now that he’s out of this purgatory state, I had a natural inclination to root for a ‘good’ / gracious Tony. I’d be a fool to think that’d be the case, but wow.. this scene shattered that feeling so abruptly (which was sad, funny, and very cool). Made it clear that Tony’s conscious is gonna have no easy outs from the temptations of Earthly things (mafia things) that’ve been hammered in ceaselessly. [Perhaps it was so obvious that you’d omitted it from your autopsy], but for the next little while, I was wondering if I’d made a reach with the whole Devil / possession scheme. When Paulie blows up at his not-mom later in the episode though, I noticed the same thing. When his temper ramped up, his voice reached a record-breaking low (for his character) that was equally-demonic and also a little funny. And while I would’ve loved a little cat barf on Paulie’s part, I can’t say I’m disappointed. That’d be ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought all those shots to Paulie’s balls ultimately increased the chance of prostate cancer.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lol maybe that’s possible!


        • Also, the theory of Russ Fegoli being Paulie’s father is not too far fetched. Think about it. Paulie was in his 50’s in the Sopranos (the character). Russ was probably 75 like Hugh. Russ said after the prostate surgery he couldn’t eat tomatoes anymore. Isn’t that an odd way to let us know that he had prostate cancer? It might be a red herring, but the soldiers were young in WW2. It’s entirely possible that he cold have fathered Paulie. Its like Janice saying many episodes later that she had Chinese food after she told Bobby she couldn’t eat it. Details. It could be a reach…maybe not!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Orange – Bruce Kirby, born Bruno Quidaciolu (‘Russ Fegoli’) passed away in 2021, at age 95! He was 79/80 years old on the Sopranos episode. Technically, he could have been Paulie’s dad, but I dunno about that. 🙄

            Liked by 1 person

  30. Robye Shirley

    Something I noticed re-watching this: Tony hears the rapper talking about his street cred and then all of a sudden Bobby Bacala just happens to overhear another rapper talking about the same thing. This has always seemed, to me, too convenient for Chase. Considering Tony had been on Bobby for playing the brother-in-law card too much, I think this implies that he may have overheard that conversation and then planted the seed of the idea in Bobby’s head, maybe Bobby even believes it is his idea. Tony is certainly capable of this level of manipulation. Same thing with Paulie asking for the money at the end of the episode. Chase does a lot of these cuts where we are meant to connect the images or events more closely than the surface level implies. I believe most viewers hear Paulie’s line about “Don’t tell Tony” and think he is trying to keep something from the boss but I think this is another example of Tony planting seeds. He even asks Paulie to “make sure he understands his obligation.” Perhaps Paulie is doing more than was implied by Tony by asking for the monthly cost of his mother’s funeral home, but I think “Don’t tell Tony” is a more of a “Don’t you dare fucking bother him with this shit” response. I am sure many viewers saw the calm cuts between Tony and Paulie as Paulie getting fed-up with Tony, that scowl has been present in the elevator, peeped by Carmella, and it is becoming more and more the face Tony sees. I do understand why many viewers felt Paulie was conspiring against Tony but I think the real reason is that Chase is deluding US into thinking that TONY is any different. He pays lip service to enlightenment but actually he wakes up and is immediately almost where he was. He may be jollier and think he is different but it seems to me he really isn’t, his perception of himself is the only real difference I see. He occasionally says yes to things he might have fought harder against previously, he is briefly mellowed, but he also wields his condition like a weapon. I had open heart surgery myself and when I got out, the glow of being grateful I was alive did last awhile, but speaking from personal experience, if I am truly honest with myself, I was acting like I was before the surgery, but I felt like I was doing so much different, better, because I was so grateful. My joy at being alive blinded me to some of my self-awareness but enough time is always there to remind you of the fucking regularness of life.

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  31. Thank you, I feel like this one deserves a round of applause! 👏🏽

    Liked by 3 people

  32. Man I love this episode. If there’s one episode that I would say surprises me with the amount of content & material they were able to fit in, it would be this one. To take a few steps back.. Comparing the Tony we know versus coma Tony.. losing his identity/ briefcase (“his whole life”) had him as more of an innocent character, not as pure as a tree.. But very much without the ego and personality the “normal” Tony has. Losing ones identity & ego on that scale would most likely make someone open to new ideas and philosophies by having a clean slate mentally.. opened to a new way of life. It could bring one closer to the idea that everything is everything.. “Maybe I am Finnerty?”. In 6.01 “Members Only”, Tony mentions that he saw a baby being pushed in a stroller one way and in the other direction he saw an elderly person being pushed in a wheelchair. The “circle jerk of life” as he referred to it. When we’re born we obviously are without ego, beliefs & identity. For someone who is older with alzheimers, they too could be left without much of an identity. After Tony is diagnosed with alzheimers he says he’s not going to know who he himself is soon, so maybe it doesn’t even matter (I think this idea is related to the final scene between Tony & Junior in Made in America). When Tony tries to hang on to the briefcase before he wakes up from the coma, the man who appears as Tony B tells him “you need to let go”. Here, he tells the nurse he hasn’t been feeling like himself. Then when pastor Bob suggest Tony come join the church, Tony responds genuinely “it must be nice to have something to hold on to”. Tony seems to be trying to find something to hang on to instead of sinking back to his nihilistic ways of thinking.. At the same time he’s keeping an open mind here while discussing different philosophies. He’s says every day is a gift.. But as we hear him say later this season, life has a way of getting in the way of that.

    I was also reminded of the identity theme in the episode “Christopher” & how at the end of that episode Tony is talking about attaching ourselves too closely to a group.

    I only wish we had more scenes with Paulie & Nucci throughout the series. I always look forward to their scenes together.

    Also.. Last time I went through all your write ups I believe the latest episode you had done was Moe n Joe, so looking forward to getting to the rest.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Hi Ron, thanks for the writeup and analysis!
    I couldn’t help but notice that Marvin, a black man, was dressed in all white and Bobby, a white man, dressed in all black during the scene where he gets shot. When I was reading your writeup, your point of the Asian themes in these episodes and the “everything is everything” maxim made me think of the idea of yin-yang. I’m wondering if Marvin and Bobby’s choice of attire might be a visual reference to the yin-yang symbol or if I’m just overthinking a coincidence xD.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Andy. Maybe Marvin and Bobby’s clothes do make such a reference.. In any case, I mention the connection between the yin-yang and John Schwinn’s “everything is everything” idea in my write-up for 6.19 (because that’s the episode where Tony says, “There’s a balance, there’s a ying and a yang”).


  34. After contemplating this episode and reading your write up, it seems the perfect compliment to the ‘Two Tonys’. You have two fairly defined versions of Tony: the family man (Good), and the mobster (Bad). It doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that after we are presented with both Tonys in the dream, we are seemingly presented with two ways to judge him. The definitive evangelistic right and wrong, and then the complicated everything is everything.
    We are then presented with three situations where there is an attempt to keep things compartmentalized and disconnected. Paulie’s mom and aunt attempt to keep the secret about Paulie, the Barone’s try and keep their secret about the garbage business from their son, and Bobby tries to shoot someone and isolate the damage to a body part where it’s not too bad.
    None of that works out, and everything can’t be kept separated. Everything does become connected. It’s not only a commentary on our in-ability to judge Tony only from one viewpoint, but a further statement on how the two Tonys can’t be totally separated either by morality or consequences. He’s not all bad but the bad things won’t stay in the work box, they eventually come home. The good at home also works it’s way into his mob life, which is why we root for him at times.
    Even though it seems like the show comes down on the side of moral relativism, it actually asks for balance as mentioned by others. Balance though doesn’t mean picking one of the viewpoints presented. Everything is connected means there is a time and place for both viewpoints including the definitive right and wrong. Carmela’s visit to her own psychiatrist is a standout example of many others throughout the show that go out of their way to call certain behavior as it is. If everything is connected then you have to accept there is a place for all of it, including the philosophy you may not favor. Trying to compartmentalize yourself from one viewpoint or anything can’t work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good take, even a wise take. But it does raise a paradox…

      In recent years (to give an example) we’ve seen some anti-gay Christians like Ravi Zacharias make the argument that a truly “tolerant” society must make a place for those beliefs which might seem “intolerant.” Which leads to the paradox: If we tolerate intolerance, are we being tolerant or intolerant? In other words, are we increasing or decreasing the sum total of tolerance that exists in the world? I don’t know the answer—but I also don’t really dwell too much on the question. I am always gonna exclude philosophies of exclusion and will always be intolerant of intolerance, even if that is a contradiction that makes me some sort of hypocrite.


      • Someone once asked Orson Welles how he squares away the contradictions in life. He responded, “I don’t… I accept the contradictions. Consistency is the mark of the mediocre.” And, as he would also attest, no contradiction is more necessary, more needed, than intolerating the bigoted (it’s the balance – the white and black dots within the yin-yang)… and nothing is more mediocre than tolerating the intolerant in an attempt to be “consistent”.
        Everything is everything… there is a time and place for all things, including intolerance – when it comes to the white supremacist, fascist, misogynistic, homophobic, fundamentalist, (so-called) “christian” hysteria going on in this nation, which you allude to.
        I am so grateful that the creator of this website is as politically and culturally incisive as the series demands, as The Sopranos is THE allegory of the American Empire’s terminal decline. There’s a great NY Times article, from last October, called “Why Is Every Young Person In America Watching The Sopranos?” – dont know if you saw it… Spoiler: basically because it charts the breakdown of our country, our descent into fascist demagoguery, corporate oligarchy and environmental devastation; the youth recognize this. I graduated high school in 2000… this is the story the series was always telling, from literally its first frames. The series demands this kind of analysis, as The Sopranos is the best fictional representation and deconstruction of 21st Century America (which is why I could never abide the “hit-n-tits” crowd).

        Keep up the good fight, Ron! ✊
        Congratulations on having completed your opus, btw… I’m savoring each write-up.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks James. I did see that excellent NY Times article. In a way, this new, younger generation of viewers may understand the show better than those of us who saw it during the original airing did. The Sopranos may be more relevant today than it was 20 years ago. The fight is not over yet; it may just be beginning…


  35. Hi Ron, your thoughts are laid out well and help viewers out. What are your thoughts on the name “Schwinn”? I remember there are two schools of thought in Buddhism; Mahayana and Theravada- “The Greater Vehicle” and “The Lesser Vehicle” (I think “Lesser” can be taken as disparaging). But they are both vehicles to enlightenment. And a Schwinn is a bike which is a vehicle meaning John is showing Mr Soprano the part to enlightenment. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting thought, Brian. Even though David Chase definitely makes references to Buddhism around this part of the season, with the monks and a monastery (possibly named after the legendary Crystal Monastery in Nepal), I’m not sure how much Chase wanted us to connect Schwinn with Buddhism. Some of what I put in this write-up probably comes from my own interest in Buddhism subconsciously poking through into my interpretation…


  36. Not sure if this was touched on but in the previous episode, and you Ron reference this in your write up above, that in Sil’s bathroom are Chinese characters. They are translated as the way of Zen. The nod to this to Sil I find interesting as Sil has always had a placid and calm exterior even when doing dirty business, methodical. The bathroom is a calm and peaceful place, generally, although also of death which also has a peacefulness to it. Anyway, Sil’s bathroom is glamorous, large and imposing and he is private and quiet, a series of human contradictions. Sil, if he understands the Chinese characters, reflects on these images in the bath or reflecting in the mirror when he had his wife are speaking on possibly becoming boss. The Zen way is to take things in life in a way that is calm which unfortunately for Sil doesn’t work out for him. Also the characters are going the other way with the character 道 read first from the left to right as we do but read from right to left it makes sense, 禅道. I couldn’t make out the third character because of how it’s written. Probably much ado about nothing but I found it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  37. The “wallet biopsy” was a violation of EMTALA, and the case worker’s reference to it opened up the hospital to possible fines and the loss of their Medicare privileges. I suppose its function was to provide Tony with a reason to maintain his health insurance through his consulting job with Barone, but it was bad form on the part of the hospital and paramedic. A $2000 payoff would have been less than he could have lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. I know Septics like to think as the Orient as ‘Asia’, but there were also Indian doctors here, possibly signs of other parts of Asia as well (I’ve not considered it but I noticed the Indian doctor being pointed out, which being a Yank programme I hough was interesting.). Not read the whole thing just yet, I thought I’d comment as I read.

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Pingback: The Soprano Onceover: #65. “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh” (S6E4) | janiojala

  40. As a first time viewer, I found the existential meditations of these episodes a little overwhelming. So thankful for your blog making it all abit more accessible and less daunting.

    I thought it was an interesting choice to make the Buddhists so unsympathetic and aggressively un-Zen-like in their persuit of Kevin/Tony, hinting that despite seeing the interconnectedness of everything, some Buddhists might be just as capable of forming relationships with violence that Sopranoworld has with Catholicism.

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Great analysis, Ron. I would just add that not so subtle moment when Phil and Tony talk about Barone sanitation, which is the first time Tony is up and about, and outside the hospital. He takes his cigar that was just lit, and puts it out in the trash can the moment he gets angry at Phil Leotardo. Putting out the fires? Or it has something to do with Johnny Sack, who is mentioned immediately after he does it (foreshadowing his lung cancer, maybe even)? I don’t know, but it is very noticeable.

    Liked by 1 person

  42. The irony of this episode to me is that Lord Jamar, who portrayed Da Lux, is in real life, a bigger racist and a bigot than Tony S., a fictional character, specifically written to be (possibly) the biggest bigot in television history. Also, the “gangsta rapper” who is a softie, and gets shot for the fame/uses it for record deals and record sales, is awfully close to the episode of The Boondocks (2005) 01×06, that also contains the biggest element of the Sopranos last season: a gay gangster who hides it and tries to normalise it among his peers (although, in all honesty, Vito was gay as early as season 5, but it didn’t go nowhere until the actor who played him pushed for it).

    Liked by 1 person

  43. I find this Tony to be a bit like the obnoxious Harvard student character in the early part of “Good Will Hunting” (the “How about them apples?” victim). Tony gets one post it of a Ojibwe philosophy and he’s incorporating it into his personal teachings with Paulie. The same happens with Schwin’s theory. Both character’s (Tony and the Harvard student) haven’t really developed their own view or philosophy as much as parrot out the most recent one they heard.
    This episode does make me wonder how the series would have gone if it was only 4 seasons. Much of this episode’s, this season’s, viewpoint would have been left undeveloped (or at least under-developed). Thankfully, the show moved forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Sorry if this a double post but I didn’t see it show up

    Another good write up, Ron, but I think you stretched WAY more than usual to make certain connections here. Still interesting to read though and you do good work. Even when I think you’re off, your good writing and intelligence makes it an enjoyable read. Especially compared to crap like Reddit and whatnot. The quality of your comments section is mostly good too so thanks for the website.

    While I’m thinking about it and since you mentioned a heavy Asian influence in S6, if I’m not mistaken, this season also shows Tony and Carm (and later just Tony) discovering some kick ass fusion/sushi place that they start going to instead of Vesuvio’s. Figured I’d add that to the list.

    And apologies if my posts repeat things other people touched on. I have a bad habit of posting before I read the comments because otherwise I forget what the hell point I was going to make and then realize other people already made my point or observation.

    And also before I forget, I frequent the website linked below a lot and enjoy this dude’s write ups and the comments there as well. Figured some people might too. It’s not a plug and it’s not my website. Its behind a paywall to post but free to read. I linked this site to their thread as well:

    Liked by 1 person

  45. R.I.P. Hal Holbrook (John Schwinn), January 2021


  46. “I recognize, of course, that the repetition of the phrase “soft tissue” may simply be a coincidence, not some well-planned refrain seven years in the making….” “I’ll admit, the more I thought about it, the less I believed that Chase was conscientiously calling back an almost throwaway line by Isabella in Season 1….” “But if Chase does mean for the episode title to carry some of the metaphorical weight that I’m suggesting….”

    The bizarrely juvenile aspect of these reviews is the preoccupation with intentionality, whether the artist MEANT to do something, whether it was done on a conscious or unconscious level.

    1. Why would anyone think this matters? Only a non-artist would pretend that some connection perceptible in a work of art has meaning IF AND ONLY IF the artist “meant to do that.” What percentage of the stuff that you do in your life is completely volitional? [Half? At best? Did you notice the other half matters at least as much?] Heck, there are artists who struggle to remove *all* conscious thought from their output! Now TV is both collaborative and partially driven by economic realities, so it will always be a blend. But worrying over whether each stroke of the artist’s brush was made while consciously contemplating other strokes, or not, is a consideration of no particular merit.

    2. If you’re the sort of person who *insists* on “knowing” whether or not connections were intentional, then remind yourself of this: it’s a TV show. Ideas were considered individually and discussed extensively in groups before being outlined, then drafted, then taken to shooting script, then revised, then shown to bosses, then likely revised again, then filmed with multiple takes, then given multiple editing and approval passes before attaining the final form you saw. Given this, it is absolutely irrelevant if David Chase thought “oh, this is reminiscent of that line from Season 1” or not at the time of its conception…by the much later date it makes it to air, it’s been noticed, discussed, and INTENTIONALLY LEFT IN a bunch of times! TV episodes may contain goofs like anything else, but in terms of intentionally included creative material, there are no “accidents.” Material that was doing nothing and had no resonances would have been cut or replaced with something else during the creative process. Undergraduates say stuff like “the car shown in this scene is blue because, I dunno, a blue car just happened to be driving by…?” Yeah, but, kid…it didn’t “just happen” to be included in a TV show. It was kept in the edit for a reason. It’s a decision now.


    • Ooh someone call the literary police, it looks like I’ve broken the laws of literary analysis once again… Maybe you haven’t gotten to my final write-up yet, but I go into intentionality and my (mixed) feelings about the Death of the Author. And I also get into the fascist impulse that some people have to dictate to others how they must or must not approach a work of art…


  47. Ouchie! 🐽 I, too, have been reproached/scolded for ‘approaching’ a thought different from that of another reader. KXR – this site isn’t for condemnation. It’s designed for us to ponder, quibble (at times), and to enjoy! It’s all about a show that isn’t really ‘real’, so why get yourself in a tizzy over Ron’s comments? It just ain’t worth the aggravation, so please chill!! 😎

    Liked by 1 person

  48. I don’t know if anyone mentions this in the comments but I’ve connected the Schwinn “lecture” in the hospital room to the final scene if only because at the end of this scene, the TV showing the boxing match loses the satellite signal and goes black (except for the lost signal message). It ties the two scenes together for me. And in that lecture Schwinn discusses Shrodinger’s Equation. Now, he does not mention Schrodinger’s Cat, so we can’t really be sure that Chase meant for us to think Tony’s situation at the very end is a Shrodinger’s Cat situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  49. Funny/odd things: Bobby tells the wannabe rapper that he’s a ‘marksman’, but ends up shooting the rapper in the ass instead of the ‘fleshy part of the thigh’! Yet, Bobby is able to successfully hunt deer with a bow and arrow AND kill the French kid with a bullet to the head (‘Home Movies’). Hmm … 🤨

    Liked by 1 person

  50. Always amused that those who thought it a Godsend that a US district court in the Commonwealth of PA should have the right to remove the teaching of so-called Intelligent Design from the classroom (Kitzmiller v. Dover) would be upset if a similar court in the Commonwealth decreed that a CRT-related program not be taught. And vice-versa of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not trying to defend CRT, but that seems like apples-and-oranges


      • There was a well known comparative politics (alas, I’ve forgotten who it was) scholar who once quipped that the old saw “that’s like comparing apples and oranges” is certainly misguided because these two items definitely are comparable: under the category of fruits. The point being that we should have our level of analysis correct. It’s either okay for state legislatures or federal courts to bigfoot over local school boards in prohibiting certain subjects from being taught, or it ain’t. Some have pointed out that there may be a difference between mandating something be taught and mandating that it be prohibited (a negative v. positive edict) but in this case they were both forbidding a specific topic/subject area. The only difference I can see is that according to polling data far more people would like intelligent design to be taught to their kids than would like something related to CRT. As the late George Mitchell once said (I think to Oliver North and echoing NYT v. Sullivan) “in a democracy, the people have the right to be wrong.”
        All the best 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have concerns about bigfoot courts too, but I meant that the difference is that Intelligent Design was ruled in the Kitzmiller trial to be a dressed-up form of creationism, and thus was in violation of the Establishment clause of the Constitution; I can’t imagine any judge in the country striking down a CRT curriculum for that reason. Of course, History—and how it’s taught—can be filled with a kind of dogma, even a polemic agenda. But the dogma hidden within the creationists’ agenda is of a different caliber and intensity…it’s apples and (unconstitutional) oranges.

          Their hidden agenda was most clearly—and hilariously—seen in the draft of a creationist textbook that was edited just after the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism cannot be taught in public school science classes. Before the ruling, the drafts freely made reference to “creationists,” but the publisher obviously needed to change that after the Court’s decision. After the ruling, a draft of the manuscript was found with the term “cdesign proponentsists.” The editor obviously put his cursor in the middle of the word “creationists” but didn’t fully delete the word before typing in “design proponents” hahaha. (If I remember correctly, this draft was discovered by the attorneys for Kitzmiller during the trial…)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Well I guess I have to concede this point but . . . ah, yes, we cannot simply let it go. Life would be boring if we did!
            And so . . . but I maintain my comparison because I believe the courts wanted to get rid of Intelligent Design (ID). Frankly, I’m not a fan of it myself so I understand why. So they latched onto the establishment as the most constitutionally sound way out. But they didn’t have to throw everything out – they could have used a scalpel but chose to use a cleaver. The court in Dover looked for the elements that can be ascribed to religion in order to classify it and bury it. Specifically, in the Dover case, as you mentioned, the textbook used by the ID people was shoddy (this is the “Pandas” book with the “cdesign proponentsists” ‘find and replace’ error left in) and contained a foreword by a ‘young earth’ advocate. But if the courts had been so inclined, they could have requested the Genesis-connected elements be struck and let the curriculum continue if properly amended. They chose not to.
            So why do I think it could be amended to avoid violating the establishment clause? Primarily, because there are ID people who are careful to avoid specific religious elements. So these folks are not preaching the same message as the Pastor in the Sopranos about a young earth, etc. This discussion
            with a Slate magazine science editor nicely outlines this with reference to the Kansas Board of Education debate. By being sure the curriculum is vague about the nature of the “Designer” people of many religions could fit this theory into their own religious convictions. Indeed you could believe like Elon Musk that we are living in a simulation and accept this framing of ID for teaching. In this mode, it can be viewed as a useful heuristic device to think about the assumptions of evolutionary biology. Considering assumptions doesn’t mean you must reject evolution and I imagine more liberally inclined biology teachers would have used it this way. I suspect biology teachers don’t like it because they know for high school kids it’s very hard to wrap your head around some of these assumptions especially the concept and implications of 4.5 billion years of time.
            An important underpinning of the above is that the idea of a “designer” both predates Christianity and can easily incorporate other ideological systems of belief. That it was originally deemed a philosophical argument rather than a religious one is illustrated by the fact that historically religious leaders perceived the argument as a challenge to faith and to their own theological tenets (these typically emphasized a strict textual understanding). Today, in the Middle East, the vast majority of scientist PHD holders (including microbiologists) are de facto Intelligent Design believers. By way of example, two daughters of Yousef Qaradawi (a well known Muslim Brotherhood preacher who came afoul of the Israelis, Egyptians and the Saudis) are Phds in Physics and Chemistry and teach in a public university. They believe in intelligent design and last time I checked didn’t have to convert to Christianity in order to do so.
            There is a separate legal contention from the so-called originalist legal tradition
            that believes we are misunderstanding the establishment clause historically. I don’t think you have to buy this argument to accept the points above but of course those who do buy in are more inclined to accept it.
            Finally, the notion of Irreducible Complexity adopted by many scientists who promote Intelligent Design (ID) (it originated with Michael Behe) rely on a kind of popular borrowing from quantum mechanics that, ironically, puts them closer to Chase’s science character (Schwinn) than to either the Young Earth preacher (Pastor Bob) or a traditional evolutionary biologist. I thought that one a nice twist to wrap up on. Cheers.

            Liked by 1 person

            • “latched on to the established clause*


            • The strongest argument against the above in my view is to assert that regardless of the postulated “original intent” of the establishment clause it has evolved and been interpreted to emphasize a wall of separation. That in a pluralistic society this remains the most effective way to ensure that people outside a majority belief system don’t feel a hegemonic ideological oppression. So the Dover decision in taking the strong view of EC is correct.
              And that’s fine. I’m not sure if those non-majority faith tradition populations are actually as on-board with the idea of keeping religion out of the public square as these proponents would like to believe. In the end it may be the conservative Christians who are the most happy to not have to see other faith traditions having their moment in the sun (well, on the calendar) in classrooms, the town center and in court houses as the nation’s demographics continue to become less homogenous.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Thanks for the links bob, I’ll take a look at them. But I don’t really pay attention to the ID vs Evolution issue very much anymore, because I think the Christian Right is now pushing scarier ideas (like authoritarian theocracy)…


  51. The Southern strategy began with Goldwater back in 1964; it was not until the 1980s that it took root and in the 1990s bore fruit and thorns. Well described in a WP opinion piece by Dr. Angie Maxwell of the U. Arkansas poli sci dept.

    Liked by 1 person

  52. Great analysis Ron! I know that I’m quite late entering the discussion … nevertheless, I feel compelled to offer some of my own thoughts (for better or for the worse) —such is the quality of your blog! Here is a smattering of my own Soprano ruminations:
    This episode reminded me a bit of Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain”: Tony’s staying in a medical facility, and engaging in discussions with a variety of characters, each of whom represents a different ideology; the isolated nature of the hospital ward (much like the Sanatorium from the Magic Mountain), that is, the hospital ward is almost like its own world, the purgatory-esque world Tony inhabited and the one we are led to believe Schwinn now inhabits after his surgery are a striking case in point, a world with its own peculiar customs and conventions—separated from the outside world of SopranoLand that the viewer has become so accustomed to; the principal characters Tony interacts with each represents ideologies battling (in some cases “battling”, think creationist idiocy; in others, through civil discourse) for the future of American culture (much in the way, the characters from Mann’s book, and their respective ideologies, are vying for the future of Europe).
    The motif or imagery of trees, like other viewers have noted, reminds me of Twin Peaks. Of course, Chase uses them in his own distinguished way. (I’m not condescending by saying he is alluding to, or borrowing from, Twin Peaks; Chase has an original vision). In any event, personally, I would offer it as a compliment to the Sopranos, recognising a judicious choice on Chase’s part, which may or may not have been influenced by certain forebearers. In my Twin Peaks, the Sopranos, and the Wire are a trinity—each untouchable, each complimentary to one another.
    The tree motif also reminds me of Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky’s ability to capture the hypnotic, haunting, (dare I say supernatural-character?), of wind buffeting trees, or similarly wind coursing through long-grass, seems like it may have also influenced Chase. (I remember reading somewhere that Chase would sometimes discuss Kubrick and Tarkovsky with writers).

    Liked by 1 person

    • All great thoughts. I especially like the Tarkovsky reference—some of Chase’s imagery does have a Tarkovskyesque poetry to it…


  53. This is a stretch and more of a personal connection but Tony watches Kung Fu in an episode where he decides every day is a gift.
    In 1994’s Pulp Fiction by Tarantino, gangster Jules Winfield is miraculously unharmed when he should have been shot dead and resolves to quit the gangster life. He says he now wants to be like Caine in Kung Fu, walking the Earth, getting into adventures and helping people.
    I don’t think Tony would have thought to walk the Earth, get into adventures and help people (too lazy and selfish for that but maybe help lower animals on the EVOLUTIONARY scale) but I do find it interesting that two well regarded works of gangster art – Pulp Fiction and the Sopranos – each have characters who have a “moment of clarity” (as Jules called it) and a frame of reference for both characters to live a good life is Caine from Kung Fu.
    (We won’t get into the actor who played Caine, David Carradine, later performing in another Tarantino film released prior to this episode’s production, getting to recite a soliloquy about Superman vs Clark Kent. A soliloquy that could also apply to Tony Soprano’s struggle with identity, Two Tonys, and what that struggle says about the human race and this crazy world)

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