Chasing It (6.16)

Tony goes on a losing streak. AJ proposes to Blanca.
Little Vito Spatafore expresses his
unhappiness in a multitude of ways.

Episode 81 – Originally aired April 29, 2007
Written by Matthew Weiner
Directed by Tim Van Patten

__________________________________

Many viewers found this episode to be a real dud. They felt the hour was plagued by multiple issues:

  1. It had an weird visual style, due mostly to its use of a shaky hand-held camera
  2. Tony’s sudden gambling addiction seemed to come out of left field and just didn’t feel very believable
  3. The storyline about troubled Little Vito took us away from more pressing concerns just as the series was coming to a close

Of these criticisms, the one that I find most valid is the unusual visual style. Tim Van Patten was a longtime director of the series, going back all the way to Season 1, so I surprised to see so much jittery camerawork and so many extremely tight close-ups of characters. It all felt a bit out-of-place to me, it is a look that better fits cinema-verite than it does The Sopranos. (However, a 2014 Vox article noted that Van Patten does have a history of using extreme close-ups because they provide, in his own words, an “in-your-face experience” which ostensibly allow viewers to better empathize with what a character is going through.)

The criticism of Tony’s gambling problem is a thornier issue. The episode begins with the sound of a spinning roulette ball, immediately setting the stage for a story about unlucky streaks and losing wagers. Despite this early setup, I had a hard time buying into the idea that Tony was going full-tilt into a gambling addiction now. It just seemed too contrived. The whole thing came on so quickly, like a flash flood. Of course, the previous episode did set up the idea a little bit, as Tony borrowed $200,000 (“a bridge loan,” he called it) from his friend Hesh. But that little snippet from the previous hour just seemed too thin a foundation upon which to build an entire storyline now. However, I have come to appreciate this storyline much more with rewatch. I’ve come to feel that it is not all that important for us to buy into Tony’s gambling addiction because this plot really isn’t about a gambling addiction. It’s about something going on inside of Tony that is more insidious and ugly. Matt Zoller Seitz expressed a similar sentiment in his write-up of this hour:

He’s behaving like a man who isn’t happy being a Mob boss, or a mobster period, and wants out. Because he knows he can’t get out, he expresses that wish subconsciously, by doing and saying things that destabilize the life he’s always known.

This is why I can accept Tony’s all-consuming and seemingly out-of-nowhere gambling addiction as something more than a typical network TV crisis-of-the-week improv. When a character is convincingly drawn, the details of his self-destructive compulsion don’t matter that much; what’s important is that it makes sense given what we know about the character, and arrives at a critical juncture in the storyline.

Tony and Hesh have been longtime friends, even referring endearingly to each other as tatelah in previous episodes. But now, deeply embedded resentments and prejudices are bubbling up in their relationship as they have assumed the roles of debtor and creditor. Tony insists on paying a vig on the loan, but he serves up anti-Semitic statements to Hesh along with the cash. Tony clearly feels some resentment towards Mr. Rabkin. (Hesh takes Tony’s ugly statements in stride, but we know it must be difficult for him to do so. We remember how quickly he almost came to blows with Reuben when he suspected the Cuban of harboring anti-Semitic feelings in 4.03 “Christopher.”)  

Tony also feels anger towards his wife, after she denies him some of her spec-house profits for a football bet. He explodes at her for not funding his “sure thing”—a wager on the Jets. (A bet on the Jets can never be a sure thing, regardless of what inside information you might have.) Angered by Carmela’s suggestion that he should have made the bet with “his” money  rather than asking for “hers,” Tony reminds Carm that she once secretly took “his” money out of the bird feeder and made it “hers” (a scene from “Mergers & Acquisitions” that we all certainly remember).

Tony is on a losing streak, losing money on sports bets, horses and at the casino tables. Hesh starts to suspect that one way that Tony might cut some of his losses is by cutting him out of the picture, and so he feels quite threatened when Tony and big Bobby Bacala arrive at his home. Tony pays his vig and then invites Hesh to a boat show. (When Tony mentions the boat show as their final destination, I think many of us immediately think of Big Pussy’s fate—as well as Paulie’s recent close call—aboard a boat.) We learn later that the invitation was legit and that Tony was actually trying to do right by Hesh by paying his vig in person. Bobby suggests that Tony should simply default on the debt (“You should tell him to go fuck himself and his $200k”), but Tony rejects the idea. What kind of Boss doesn’t pay his debts? Tony certainly doesn’t want to turn into a “degenerate gambler” (a phrase that he learned from his father). But Tony is degenerating now, not necessarily into a gambling addict but into something much worse. Tony is turning into some sort of grotesque beast, he is coming closer and closer to losing that small shred of humanity that he has been able to hold on to these past few years. We see, for example, how his homicidal impulses have been rearing up recenly; he thought about killing Bobby Bacala and Paulie Walnuts earlier this season, and it is certainly within the realm of possibility that he could take Hesh’s life now. Moments after Carlo opines that no one would know if Tony simply stiffed Hesh, Tony lashes out angrily at Carlo for not kicking up enough money. Tony’s angry response, I’m sure, is not due so much to Carlo’s low production as much as it is to the conflict Tony feels within himself: he realizes that he can indeed take Carlo’s suggestion and stiff Hesh, but also knows that doing so would sacrifice some final vestige of decency and honor that he must be trying to maintain within himself.

I think another possible dynamic at play here might be Hesh Rabkin’s connection to Johnny Boy Soprano. Hesh was one of Johnny’s trusted advisors, and so he would surely be familiar with the disgust that Johnny Boy felt toward gambling addicts. Tony may feel, at some level, that to be in Hesh’s bad graces is to vicariously be in his father’s bad graces. If so, eliminating Hesh could be a way of escaping his father’s disapproving gaze-by-proxy. On the other hand, Tony may not be thinking whatsoever about what his father’s opinion would be of him now. In fact, I can imagine Tony taking ill-advised financial risks now precisely in an attempt to compensate for his father’s aversion to risk. Of course, Johnny Boy never had enough screen-time for us to know exactly how much of a risk-taker he was or wasn’t, but we do know that he passed up a golden opportunity to move out to Nevada and run a supper club with Rocco Alatore. Johnny gave up a chance to become a millionaire and take his family out the dangerous mob-land of north Jersey. Perhaps Tony’s irritation toward Johnny Boy’s old advisor is a latent resentment of Johnny Boy himself.

Maybe death-by-Tony was indeed in the very near future for Hesh, but if it was, we’ll never know because he gets “rescued” by another death. After Hesh’s girlfriend Renata passes in her sleep, a sympathetic Tony shows up to offer his condolences—and the cash he owes. The fact that Tony arrives now with the full amount, $200k, in one of those brown paper bags from Bloomingdale’s, shows that it probably wasn’t all that difficult for him to rustle up the cash:

medium-brown-bag

Tony could have paid Hesh back prior to this but he chose not to. Was Tony in fact thinking of stiffing Hesh, perhaps even killing him? Or was Tony simply saving his cash for a rainy day, because he feels a very rainy day is just around the corner? I think the previous episode provides some insight now. In “Remember When,” Tony confessed to Beansie Gaeta that he is “waiting for the other shoe to drop.” In the very next scene, after he is cleared of all suspicion in Willie Overalls’ murder, Tony grumbles “You gotta wonder what’s next.” Tony should have been thrilled to be off the hook but he wasn’t. His disposition is growing darker. Todd VanDerWerff [who I’ll be referring to as Emily VanDerWerff going forward, per her wishes] also recognizes this change in him. Tony, she writes, senses that…

…the good run is coming to its end…What he’s doing here isn’t really addiction per se, nor is he really desperate to find a way back to solvency. When he needs to give Hesh the rest of the his $200,000, Tony is able to provide it in a paper bag. No, what Tony is trying to do is find a way back into the universe’s good graces, back onto the never-ending gravy train that propped him up for so long.

As we enter the endgame of the series, a sense of impending doom is settling upon SopranoWorld and its inhabitants. Tony may feel that his unlucky streak is part of a larger pattern in which he is being stalked by Karma or Fate or Something Big. Carmela senses it too, recognizes that there is “a giant piano hanging by a rope just over the top of your head every minute of every day.” Tony tries to convince her that “big picture-wise, I’m up…way up” because he survived a gunshot wound that he wasn’t expected to survive. But perhaps more to the point, Tony knows that it was a gunshot that he didn’t deserve to survive. He knows that instead of entering the Inn at the Oaks as legitimate businessman Kevin Finnerty last year (“Mayham” episode 6.03), he chose to return to the world as murderous mafioso Tony Soprano. Perhaps the former choice would have functioned as a sort of redemption for him, but the latter choice has left him utterly unredeemed. And now this unredeemed man seems to be following some subconscious impulse to burn through whatever is left in his life, ruining relationships, taking unneeded risks, even contemplating the murder of people close to him. I think that we all, Tony included, have an internal impulse to pursue whatever ultimate fate we think we deserve—it colors our actions and thoughts whether we realize it or not…

Driving home one day in 2007, my regular route took me past OJ Simpson’s Miami home. A crowd had gathered in front, and when I rolled down my window, a bystander told me that OJ had been arrested earlier that day in Las Vegas for robbing sports memorabilia at gunpoint. Like everyone else in the country, I was shocked that this man who in all likelihood got away with murder could now get himself in trouble over something so stupid. The excellent 5-part documentary, O.J.: Made in America, chronicles how OJ descended into an illicit, reckless lifestyle after his acquittal for double murder. He surrounded himself with thugs, sycophants and wannabe gangsters, cutting ties with his more respectable friends. A reporter in the documentary, describing this period of OJ’s life, says that “he was going down…he had no interest in getting to either safety or higher ground…he was going to go, essentially, to decadence.” Perhaps the Vegas debacle was just a caper that got out of hand, in which case we shouldn’t try to read too much into it. But I think it is quite possible that OJ was grappling with some serious guilt and may have been subconsciously seeking some way to be punished. (This would also help to explain why one year earlier he had produced that pseudo-confessional book, If I Did It.)

It may be a bit of a reach to say that Tony’s sudden gambling addiction now is indicative of some fatalistic subconscious impulse driving him to wreck a life that he doesn’t believe he deserves to have. Whether or not that is the case, I think it is certainly the case that Chase is trying to emphasize Tony’s moral and spiritual degeneration now. Chase may have felt that he just didn’t have the time in this shortened, compressed season to make his case in his usual organic and natural way, and thus we have “Chasing It,” an episode where Chase throws the idea at us like a fastball. Thomas Hardy once wrote that “Art is a disproportioning of realities, to show more clearly the features that matter in those realities…” This hour disproportions reality to some degree in order to show that nihilistic Tony is making his way toward a cliff, a cliff that may be one of his own making but a cliff nevertheless.

___________________________________

UNFORTUNATE SON
In the previous episode, we saw Doc Santoro get whacked by his rival Phil Leotardo. Now, Phil gets his crowning ceremony. Nancy Sinatra (i.e. “Nancy With The Laughing Face,”) sings “Bossman” at a party for the new Boss. But Chase, to the consternation of many viewers, turns his attention away from from Phil Leotardo to focus instead on Phil’s second cousin (once removed): Little Vito Spatafore. Chase constructs Little Vito’s storyline from a small bit of dialogue which we heard back in episode 6.11 “Cold Stones”:

Vito Jr: (Reading from the newspaper) “Relatives say that the victim had surprised his friends and family by declaring himself a homosexual and saying he wished to lead an openly gay lifestyle.”
Francesca: I don’t understand. Dad wasn’t a spy?
Vito Jr: No.

Vito Jr’s “No” dripped with heartache, and Chase harnesses that heartache to create an unexpected storyline now. Many viewers were disappointed that Chase would deviate from more “important” issues to focus on Little Vito now, but this type of narrative detour is a common Chasian characteristic. Professor Dana Polan points out another reason why so many fans were frustrated by this particular detour: it is a tangent of a tangent. Many viewers did not receive the gay-mobster storyline about Vito Sr. very well, believing it to be insignificant and tangential, and now Chase was taking them even further down the rabbit hole with this story about Vito’s son.

The character of Little Vito had previously been played by Frank Borelli, but Chase taps Brandon Hannan to play the updated version of the boy. Hannan, who had previously appeared in short slasher- and horror-films like Dead End Massacre, The Day They Came Back and Nightmare, was able to bring something dark and disturbing to the character. It is his performance here that makes this storyline one of the most compelling one-off stories of the entire series.

And this brings me to a sort of inverted parallel between Vito and Little Vito: the actor who played Vito had actually played two different characters, whereas the character of Little Vito was played by two different actors. Or to express the inversion in a simple diagram:2 vitosJoe Gannascoli played Vito Sr, but he originally entered SopranoWorld playing Gino the Bakery Customer in episode 1.08. Inversely, Little Vito was first played by Frank Borelli but is now played by Brandon Hannan. This is not a major point, but it does once again raise the topic of how Chase plays with issues of identity. I had previously noted that the character of “Vito Spatafore” was essentially defined by his various identity conflicts: overweight man vs. Atkins dieter, macho mafioso vs. closeted homosexual. He had even adopted various false identities during his crisis period: “Vince” up in Dartford, “undercover CIA agent” in his explanation to his kids. I argued that Chase’s decision to specifically tap Joe Gannascoli to play a man suffering an identity crisis was meta-perfect because Gannascoli had actually had an entirely different identity early in the series.

I can make a similar argument now about Little Vito. I’m not sure of the specific reason why Hannan replaced Borelli in the cast, but having a different actor play the troubled young man now meta-emphasizes the change in his personality. He, like his father before him, is suffering an identity crisis. Those two questions which are such a significant part of Season 6—“Who am I?” and “Where am I going?”—are questions that both Vito Sr and Vito Jr struggled with. I guess it’s true what they say: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. (Though Phil Leotardo phrases this a bit differently.)

Marie Spatafore comes by Satriale’s to ask Tony for $100,000 so that her family can get a fresh start up in Maine. (Silvio describes her as a mezzo mort before she enters the meat market, and Marie does in fact look ‘half-dead’ from all the stress she is under.) When she mentions that Little V may have hung the Petruzzo’s cat, we get a slight reaction shot of Tony. (We’ve known for a long time that Tony can accept almost any kind of monstrous misbehavior with one exception being cruelty to animals.) Not wanting to pay the requested amount, Tony assures Marie that he can some talk some sense into her son. Silvio later suggests that getting a dog for the boy might help. Tony, surely thinking of the Petruzzo’s cat, dryly responds, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Silvio is often seen fixing little trinkets and things in the backroom of Satriale’s. He is fixing a lamp when he makes the suggestion about the dog. So this is Mr. Fix-it’s idea for fixing Little Vito’s psychological and emotional problems: get him a pet. A rather lame suggestion, if you ask me. Silvio’s feeble solution highlights how difficult a problem this particular one is for the mobsters to solve. The mobsters are ill-equipped to deal with a young man in make-up. He doesn’t conform to their notion of masculinity whatsoever. The Mafia has an outdated, chauvinistic idea of masculinity, an idea that Vito Sr. was not able to conform to. Vito paid the ultimate penalty for his non-compliance: capital punishment by pool cue. Little Vito, with his queer Goth look and sissy demeanor, is now staging an almost perfect rebellion against the mobsters’ outdated, tough-guy notion of masculinity.

Phil is not very understanding when he has a sit-down with the boy at an Applegate Farm stand: “You look like a Puerto Rican who-ore. You make me sick.” The color scheme of this scene seems to underscore how trapped Little Vito is within SopranoWorld, because the red, white and black tones that completely surround him are also the theme colors of The Sopranos:

lil-vito-silo

Little Vito would almost certainly benefit from having more of the discipline and guidance that Phil advocates, but the boy also needs some sympathy and understanding. Phil, however, isn’t able to appreciate that part of the equation. Phil is still showing signs of the gay panic he suffered after finding out that Vito Sr. was homosexual. It blinds him from seeing Little V as a young kid just enjoying some ice cream here. Phil sees him instead as the incarnation of something foul, something vile. We might remember that back in episode 1.07, a question arose whether young AJ’s misbehavior was the result of simple youthful indiscretion or whether it was the result of some evil seed that he had inherited. Chase closed “Down Neck” with a scene of AJ enjoying an ice cream sundae, an image that signified that AJ was just a kid, not some incarnation of evil:

aj whip cream

I think the shot now of Little V slurping his sundae (sorry, his silo) at the ice cream stand serves a similar purpose: it emphasizes that he is just a kid. A change of location may serve the boy well, but Tony is not enthusiastic about underwriting the $100,000 cost to move. Tony tries talking to Little V himself, even bringing out his whole “you go about in pity for yourself” spiel, but he isn’t much more understanding—or successful—than Phil was.

After getting picked on by his classmates one time too many, Little V drops a deuce in the school shower. The act gives new meaning to Phil’s extremely ugly (but weirdly poetic) line from earlier: “I guess the turd doesn’t fall far from the faggot’s ass.” The gross act also inspires one of my favorite exchanges between Tony and Silvio:

Silvio: Carlo said the kid went into a litter box and ate some cat shit?
Tony: No, he took a shit, in the shower.
Silvio: Glad we got that straight.

(Steve Van Zandt has never gotten enough credit for his deadpan delivery.) I think it’s possible that Tony might have indeed sprung for Marie’s $100,000 relocation if his $100k bet on the Philadelphia Eagles had panned out. But the question of “would he have or would he not have” becomes moot because Philadelphia loses. (In a funny irony, Tony bets against the Dolphins because their starting kicker is out for the game, but we later hear a radio commentator say that the Fins won specifically because of a strong special teams performance.) And so Tony ends up feeding Marie the bullshit platitude that “there is no geographical solution for an emotional problem,” and they decide to send Little V to boot camp instead.

This particular type of camp was disturbingly popular in the mid-2000s. They often featured “gender-reinforcement” and “gay conversion” components where camp-goers would try to “pray the gay away.” Camp-goers were often subjected to a very harsh regimen which sometimes included corporal punishment. The camps lost popularity once it became clear how cruel and ineffective their methods were. (And now it is largely accepted that their intended effect—to fundamentally edit human beings—was in itself cruel, even unethical.) Marie doesn’t want to see her son sent off to one of these camps but consents to the idea because she doesn’t know how else to help him. I think we saw Carmela make a similar decision back in the Season 3 finale. In 3.13 “The Army of One,” Carmela resisted sending AJ to the highly regimented Hudson Military Institute, but she finally relented after attending Jackie Jr’s funeral. As I mentioned in my 3.13 write-up, Carmela wanted to adhere to the Nurturant Parent model of parenting rather than the Strict Father model that Tony prefers, but she finally conceded out of fear and desperation. Just as Marie concedes now.

The tale of Little Vito here can be considered a standalone storyline because we never hear anything about the young man ever again. But the essential conflict within the storyline—how should Tony go about rescuing the troubled youngster?—is about to reappear in AJ’s ongoing saga. AJ’s life has been going (relatively) smoothly, but it all begins to come crashing down now…

ANOTHER UNFORTUNATE SON
There have been hints all through season 6B that Blanca is not all that impressed by AJ. She doesn’t seem very enthusiastic when he asks to marry her, but AJ makes an impassioned argument that he’ll make a good life for them and their children. After all, he was made night manager of the pizzeria in just 3 months and he will be the day manager in just a few more, and he plans to own a chain of restaurants and clubs in a couple of years—“You’ll never have to work again.” And so Blanca says yes. (Well, technically she just says “okay.”) I must admit I felt happy for AJ here. He can still be clueless but he hasn’t been much of an asshole lately; he deserves some real happiness. But AJ’s bliss doesn’t even last one full episode. Blanca rains on his parade, almost literally: it is at the Latino Day Parade that she breaks off their engagement:

picnic-aj

Blanca tells AJ that she is not sure if she loves him and returns his ring. AJ is left dazed and confused, and it won’t be very long before he falls into complete depression. The conflict between the Strict Father vs. Nurturant Parent models of parenting will rear up again as Tony and Carm bang heads over how best to help their son. As AJ unravels and approaches a cliff of his own in future episodes, it will not be sure at all that either Tony’s or Carmela’s parenting strategies will be able to save him.

While we’re on the subject of the Strict Father mentality, I want to take a quick look at the footage on Tony’s TV of George W. Bush walking hand-in-hand with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia:

bush-tv

Both the Saudi Arabian monarchy and the Bush Administration were guided by Strict Father principles. They both espoused a patriarchal form of leadership and power. They both imbued their gods (God or Allah, take your pick, but each the embodiment of the Heavenly Father) with unquestioned patriarchal authority. They both valued compliance, conformity, and submission to the hierarchy. They both supported the regular use of the death penalty. These values and characteristics—perhaps that last one in particular—are also the values and characteristics of la cosa nostra. (There are roughly 70 killings in The Sopranos which originally ran over an eight-year period, while Texas executed 154 people during George Bush’s 6-year tenure as Governor.) Tony and Phil Leotardo clearly believe in the Strict Father model, with Phil even believing that gay men in general are not capable of playing the role of the strict father—soon after he murdered Vito Sr, he told Marie that perhaps the kids were better off not having their dad around. Both Tony and Phil make some attempt to fill the crucial role of father-figure in Little Vito’s life, but when their meager attempts fail, Little V is sent to a boot camp that is better able to implement their ideology. In the next episode, a battle between parenting ideologies will heat up inside the Soprano home. Furthermore, I think Chase makes an effort in upcoming hours to extrapolate this ideological conflict within the Soprano household into a commentary about a similar battle taking place, larger in scale, within American society as a whole.

___________________________________

THE END
During an outdoor lunch with the family, Meadow mentions that cousin Brian’s baby is due soon. Chase cuts to a shot of Carmela looking worried and uncomfortable:

brians-baby

In the very next scene, Carmela her calls her contractor-slash-father in the middle of the night, terrified that the roof of the house she has built and sold to her cousin will collapse in the stormy weather. It is no surprise that Carm should be worried about the structural integrity of the house: she knows that the house was built only because Tony, at her prodding, muscled the building inspector to look away from its construction issues. She may also subconsciously have doubts about the home’s structural integrity because she knows it was funded by her own lack of moral integrity: she pocketed Tony’s $600k while agreeing to look away from his criminal deeds and corrupt lifestyle.

As the series approaches its end, a sense of persistent unease within SopranoWorld is coming into sharper relief. Carmela worries that the house she built is of unsound construction. She also has a gnawing concern about what the future holds for her. Her anger at Tony for wanting to gamble with her profits doesn’t come out of some tightfisted greediness, it comes out of a worry that that cash may not be available when the comfortable life she has built for herself comes crashing down. Tony is also suffering from a persistent unease—he has become too paranoid to even go out to the driveway and get the newspaper for himself. But publicly, Tony hides his anxiety beneath a swaggering bravado.

I think many Sopranos viewers were also in a continuous state of unease at the time these episodes originally ran. This season aired less than six years after 9/11, at a time when our war on terror was not going nearly as well as first predicted. The way we chose to conduct the war probably only exacerbated the problem, creating as many enemies as we destroyed. And Osama bin Laden was still on the loose, releasing ominous videos from time to time. Chase makes several references to the threat of terrorism in the final season, reflecting a profound national anxiety of the time. We were all conscious of the giant piano hanging by a rope over our collective heads. This may be the greater significance of the footage of George Bush and King Abdullah that appears in this hour. Saudi Arabia is suspected of giving financial and material support to the men who attacked us, yet here is our President walking amicably alongside the Saudi king. Their cooperation reminds us that perhaps Tony and gang are also inadvertently working hand-in-hand with Islamic terrorists. Tony seems to get wind of this possibility when he drives through a Muslim neighborhood and sees Bing regulars Ahmed and Muhammed loitering with some men in traditional Middle Eastern garb. Chase conscientiously refracts our real-world anxieties and the threat of terrorism into SopranoWorld, and it adds to the general mood of uneasiness that characterizes The Sopranos in its final run of episodes.

___________________________________

CONNECTIVITY
Chase always utilizes connectivity in his episodes, and in this hour he makes connections through the use of certain dollar amounts. As I mentioned earlier, $100,000 is the amount that Marie needed to escape north Jersey and it is also the amount Tony loses on the Philadelphia Eagles. A little bit more subtle is the recurrence of “$18,000”:

3-eighteens

Tony notices he is up 18 grand at the roulette table, which is the same amount he later bets on the horse Meadow Gold, which is the also the cost of the boot camp that Little Vito is sent to.

Another notable connection is made through the reappearance of the Lladro figurine here. Carm showed the figurine off as evidence of her family’s wealth to Devin Pillsbury in episode 4.06 “Everybody Hurts,” but she hurls it at Tony now when he suggests that the money she earned on the spec-house is not genuinely hers. As SopranoWorld continues to get darker and its characters become increasingly profligate and dissolute, Chase uses various types of internal rhymes and connections to help maintain some sense of order and structure within the series.

___________________________________

TITLE SIGNIFICANCE
Dr. Melfi asks Tony, “What are you chasing, money or a high from winning?” Tony may indeed be chasing one (or both) of those things, but he may also be chasing the universe’s good graces, he may be chasing a sense of meaning, he may be chasing some form of punishment. Tony doesn’t answer Melfi’s question, and neither does the episode title—we can’t say with any certainty what the “it” in “Chasing It” refers to. The episode title keeps the major ambiguity of the hour intact. 

__________________________________

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • Evidence of some bad blood? Matt Weiner, who wrote this episode, worked on the CBS sitcom Becker earlier in his career. Becker was created and produced by Dave Hackel. Perhaps not coincidentally, the gravestone of a “David Hackel” is desecrated by Little Vito in this hour:

hackel

  • Tony assures Hesh at one point that he will soon be getting his cut of “the MRI centers.” I wonder if this means that Tony finally put into motion that MRI scam he thought up in the Pilot episode.
  • “Cavatina,” the musical theme from The Deer Hunter (one of my absolute favorite movies), is playing in the restaurant as AJ proposes to Blanca. A central idea in the film is the “one shot” philosophy, the idea that you must be mentally and physically prepared to take your shot when the best opportunity presents itself. Perhaps the relevance here is that AJ is taking the best shot he has ever had at happiness by proposing to Blanca.
  • Pee. Stepping out of the bathroom, Hesh tells Renata that “That was me, not a fireboat.” So, every episode in 6B thus far has had a reference to peeing. Again, I don’t think there’s any great symbolism to this or anything, it’s just a part of the regularness of life. 
  • This hour supplies one of my favorite malaprops when Tony tells Marie, “…Vito’s passing and all that that entrailed.”
  • Another funny moment: Ted Yackinelli, the building inspector who comes to look at Cousin Brian’s house, seems pleased to meet Carm and Hugh—until he learns that they are the builders. “Oh, great” he mutters. (And then Hugh does this awesome arm gesture that nicely conveys the idea, “These building inspectors, they don’t know shit…”)
  • Jason Gervasi appears for a moment in this hour; he will figure heavily in upcoming episodes as AJ’s life spirals out of control.
  • Bobby Baccala seems quieter, more reflective lately. Chris even asks him what’s wrong with him. Perhaps committing his first murder three episodes ago is turning him into more of a solemn figure.
  • This hour contains a mention of Al, Christopher’s father-in-law who we have yet to meet, in connection to some power tools. (We remember that in the previous episode, the Cubans in Miami discussed Makita power tools.) The tools, as well as Al’s hardware store, become a major point of contention between Chris and Paulie in the next outing.
  • Many people have tried to decode Carlo’s (mistaken) reference to the “Eddie Valentine” episode of The Twilight Zone. (He seems to actually be trying to refer to the “Henry Valentine” episode.) All the fan-theories about Carlo’s allusion get somewhat complicated so I’ll stay away from the whole thing (other than to say that it’s fairly common for SopranoWorld characters to make these sorts of little mistakes in their pop references).
  • Chase supposedly went with Brandon Hannan to reprise “Little Vito” because he needed someone that looked a little bit older than the original actor looked. Hannan was nominated for a SAG Award and Primetime Emmy for his work here.
  • Howlin Wolf’s “Goin’ Down Slow” closes the episode. It’s very fitting, as Tony does seem to be making a slow descent into nihilism and decadence. The song title also reminds me of what that reporter had said about OJ prior to his Las Vegas arrest: “He was going down…”
  • Speaking of Las Vegas… The storyline in this hour about Tony’s gambling helps to set up the tale of Tony’s trip to Sin City a couple of episodes from now.

===================================================

BH and JG

Follow me on IG

48 responses to “Chasing It (6.16)

  1. I’m unaware of the fan theories surrounding the “Eddie Valentine” reference, and now you’ve got me curious. Any links I can check out?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. FThatParakeet

    Always glad to see a new post. I’ll have to give it another try later though. Forgive my lengthy comment, but as someone who dedicates paragraphs to minor details, I hope you can bear with me. I’ll admit, I’m almost certainly alone here..but, that diagram grinded my enjoyment to a halt. Silly, yes. But I could not for the life of me figure out why you felt the need to add it. I’m not being rhetorical here–what were you thinking? What you admitted wasn’t a “major point” (which I’d argue isn’t even a minor point) was as understandable as it was uninteresting…on its own. Kind of like if you had told us somewhere in the episode that 2 meatballs were added to a pot already cooking 3 meatballs to make 5 total meatballs. But then, to help us slow people catch up to your brilliance, you illustrate the irrelevant coincidence. I don’t like to speak for other people, but I hope my fellow readers will forgive me. NOBODY was lost after your mentioning of the non-factor. And certainly not only up until that napkin doodle cleared it up for them. An actor played two characters; A character related to one of those characters was played by two actors. You write something like that in the Trivia section of IMDB and it will say “7 of 300 people find this interesting”. But, even if that little nugget was somehow Earth-shattering to someone, it certainly isn’t advanced calculus. And let’s remember to not overlook the irrelevance. In my previous meatball example, the total number of meatballs in the pot is a “who cares?” detail. Next, we’d (for some reason) insert a drawing of a pot with five meatballs in it, broken into sets of two and three. Even if I was such a dullard where I would need the simple math illustrated for me, wouldn’t I still, after finally figuring out all of my mind-bending calculations, end up wondering “but, who the hell cares how many meatballs were in the pot?” Just a bizarre thing to add and an even more bizarre way to add it.

    Like

  3. I quite like the theory by FlyonMelfi’sWall called “Tony’s Vicarious Patricide,” posted on thechaselounge.net, which tracks Tony’s disassociated anger in 6B toward his father and father figures. In 6B we witness the “decompensating” that Melfi predicted would occur as fallout from Tony’s refusal to acknowledge the trauma caused by his shooting. Having failed to unleash his anger on Paulie, he now directs his anger toward another father figure, and gambles heavily – violating the only real “moral lesson” we ever saw his father ever teach him – “You must never gamble, Anthony.” (delivered immediately post “Clever Incident” btw). This explains the sudden prominence of heavy gambling as well as the shaky camera work as Tony struggles to find an outlet for the rage he can’t begin to acknowledge.
    The idea is that this unacknowledged anger toward his father & father figures (building since childhood, conveniently misdirected at Livia, and brought to the surface by the shooting) climaxes with Tony coming face-to-face with a baby car seat crushed by a tree branch, whereby his anger suddenly finds an outlet. After which, he feels A LOT better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great take. I haven’t visited Chase Lounge in a while, I wonder if FlyOnMelfisWall is still active on it. She’s brilliant.

      Like

    • Dude Manbrough

      Very well put. It’s the entire crux of season 6B. Tony is realizing that his father’s inability or lack of desire to steer his son away from “the life” is the root cause of every problem he has. His sudden cruelty and his reckless gambling are just his feeble form of rebellion long after the fact. Meanwhile AJ’s attempt at rebelling (a non-Italian girlfriend with a child, working an honest job) has failed which (spoiler) is going to lead directly to Tony proffering some ill-conceived fatherly advice that leads to disastrous consequences.
      Those who felt Tony’s actions in 6B and this episode were out of character are missing the point: he IS “out of character” as the series winds down. The facade is crumbling around his ears. his judgement is unsound, he is increasingly lost, angry and bitter. He forced Bobby to needlessly kill a nobody out of petty revenge, he seriously considered murdering Paulie, he attacked Hesh over a bridge loan and sabotaged a lifelong friendship and it’s about to get even uglier.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I never could understand the vitriol towards this episode. As you point out, the specifics of Tony’s spiraling are not as important as the fact that he is spiraling.

    The gambling shouldn’t be seen as coming out of left field. We knew he gambled, we knew he had some shame about it, and we knew that at least some of that shame came from Johnny Boy telling a young Tony to never gamble.

    There’s also the fact that Tony’s losing streak ties in with the rest of Season 6 Tony’s outlook on being “up or down” on his luck in life. And, of course, it sets up how his luck changes in “Kennedy and Heidi.” Tony even points out the moment when his luck changed in his final scene with Paulie in the last episode. This is not something Chase came up with as a filler episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always liked the Little Vito storyline here, but I wasn’t crazy about Tony’s gambling storyline at all when this hour first aired. But I’ve come to like and appreciate it over time for all the reasons you point out.

      Like

  5. Episode 81, actually. Otherwise, fantastic. I can’t wait to see what you do with the final four.

    Like

  6. Thank you for the commentary. The information about the boot camp school was new to me, and very interesting.
    – – – – –
    I would like to write a Farewell to Hesh.
    In appearance and manner, he is many Jews’ ideal grandfather or great-uncle. We would know something about the dark periods of his past, never speak of them, and be secretly thrilled by them. We would accept his black women with amused tolerance, and we (the males) would again be secretly thrilled.
    He has a sad ending. He never thought that Renata would die before him. Although he is lucky to have a son and daughter-in-law, he is going to end his days as a lonely old man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points about Hesh. I’ve liked the actor Jerry Adler since the ’90s when he was on Northern Exposure, and I recently realized he was a major character in Manhattan Murder Mystery when I re-watched that film last month.

      Like

  7. I think Hesh will mourn and then move on like every other man. All the characters in this show are the same…basically horrible. This episode is very sad and depressing. Especially Little Vito. Why doesn’t his mother just sell the house anyway and get the hell out of there? It’s true that his angst over his father will not go away by a change of scenery, but I think he could be helped. Imagine what is happening at school with the bullying. Why would Marie ask for money from the people who had her husband killed? You know she must know deep down that the mob is involved, and that he was killed because of his sexuality. Carmela is another one. She is losing sleep over sub-par lumber that she used to sell a house to her COUSIN no less! How f’d up is that? If her father built their house, then for sure the lumber was not up to code…why feel guilty if you aren’t going to change? I think Tony knows the end is near, and is just going down further and further….he knows at the very least he is going to jail. In this episode I think the writers want us to start to really see through Tony’s good points and see what is beneath. He’s really showing how monstrous he is. Neither Phil nor Tony really care about little V. Tony could have easily given her the money. He just didn’t want to. Phil is so homophobic, how can he be expected to talk to a kid who is wearing Goth make-up? Why would Marie consent to have him go to that place instead of doing whatever she can to get him out of that environment? Its not easy to have issues with the kids, and to do it alone…but at least try. I don’t think Tony is thinking about his fathers views on gambling either…his father was trying to expain away the reason for cutting off Mr. Satriales finger. He had nothing against gambling, only that you pay your debts. We’ve seen Tony gamble in every season. He’s sinking, and money can’t make it better. He lashes out at Carmela, and rightly too…she did use bad lumber to make that house…..why sugar coat it? 600,000 is a pretty good amount of money. Plus, shes planning a newer, bigger house with the proceeds. He has been seething about the money she took from the bird feeder for years. He will never forget it. Tony doesn’t feel guilty about his criminal activities. If Carmela feels remorse, then she shouldn’t have done it like that in the first place. She may not have a criminal personality, but in some ways she’s worse, because she’s a hypocrite. She could make 500,000 as a profit and use better wood.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Tony is specifically thinking about his father’s views. Or, at the very least, subconsciously. To me, the hint is when he vehemently rebuffs the suggestion of stiffing Hesh. It ties it back to that conversation in Fortunate Son, where Johnny Boy not only told Tony never to gamble, but also told him that a man always pays his debts. Now, whether or not Johnny Boy himself actually lived by those words is another matter entirely, but it doesn’t really matter anyway. The point is that it definitely had an impact on Tony, especially when bookended by the trauma of seeing what happened to Mr. Satriale, and his first panic attack. We know this all still weighs heavily on his subconscious, as we’ve already established the connection between meat/panic attacks, and I think it’s all part of the same package.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. PS. Tony is upset at the money he is losing with Vito dead, and maybe young Vito’s problems are upsetting him even though he doesn’t want to admit it. He never really want to have Vito killed…and so not only is he losing money because Vito is not earning, he sees what havoc it has wrought on so many levels. Tony isn’t enjoying his life anymore. I think he was just annoyed at Carlo because watching “Twilight Zone” doesn’t get the bills paid.

    Like

  9. Blanca handles the situation well. She realizes that all the security in the world couldn’t make her get involved in the Soprano life. She’s like Charmaine..she knows who she is, and is not attracted by the lifestyle. Admirable, especially since money could help her out. SHE took the high road.

    Like

  10. Though Slava isn’t seen again in the series, in “Chasing It”, after having a meal with Paulie, Christopher and Bobby, Tony states that he’s going to see Slava to liquify some offshore money.

    Valery is dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too always took the reference to Slava as a subtle way to answering the ‘what happened to the Russian?!?!?’ question that kept so many viewers up at night back then. Just before Chase gave us all a whole new, even bigger chunk of ambiguousness to chew on.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You have mentioned many of your favorite movies in several posts. I´m curious about your personal top.

    Liked by 1 person

    • McCabe and Mrs. Miller has been at the top of my list for years. Chinatown is a close 2nd. It’s hard to narrow the rest down, but they would include, in no particular order, Lawrence of Arabia, The Deer Hunter, Days of Heaven, Lost in Translation, La Dolce Vita, The Act of Killing, The Graduate, The 400 Blows…

      Like

  12. “He surrounded himself with thugs, sycophants and wannabe gangsters, cutting ties with his more respectable friends.”

    Haha, I think THEY cut ties with HIM. He was driven out of Brentwood after doubling down with his “oppressed civil rights fighter” defense strategy, and lost the support of almost every influential friend he had.

    “I wonder if this means that Tony finally put into motion that MRI scam he thought up in the Pilot episode.”

    I’m racking my brain here because I was always under the assumption that they were running the MRI scam since the early seasons. I mean, it was the entire reason they let the HMO guy out of his debt. But the only two mentions I can remember is Bobby talking to Tony at Chris’ BBQ (I think), and Bobby and Tony meeting at the Bing when Chris is upset with Paulie.

    “Carmela her calls her contractor-slash-father in the middle of the night, terrified that the roof of the house she has built and sold to her cousin will collapse in the stormy weather.”

    Carm’s Dad built their house, right? One thing I didn’t get is why is she so worried about the spec house and not her own? Hugh almost certainly used the same materials.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Tony and Carmela’s scenes in this episode are pivotal and underrated. I think the big “STOP TAWKINABOUT YOUR MUNNAY” fight is more hateful and explosive than Whitecaps, or any other fight between the couple (Army of One comes to mind). And the reconciliation scene is tender, in whatever way this show can be so, and chilling. “Who is out there?” Carmela asks. What rough beast?
    I think Bobby is just being an asshole to Chris. Notice the glances they exchange in the next hour, when Chris storms in about the drills. They’re both aware of how they’ve switched roles, and Bobby has certainly become more assertive in his Janus..ahem…Janice years. Oo Fa.
    The late, beautiful Jimmy G really ups the Joisey jibone in Tony’s voice in this last season. I always wondered if that was intentional, like a result of Tony aging and wounded. My favorite example is in this episode, when he’s talking to Vito, Jr. : You dink anyboddy wantsch dat?
    Great stuff as always Ron.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Hey Ron great write-up as usual.
    I find your comment about tony’s Internal conflict to hold on the last scrap of decency and honour he has, having never thought about it like that, and I think it adds a new context to his session/confrontation with Melfi at the end of season 5. I agree with your interpretation that she unfortunately probably did more to push him to kill tony b than to deflect him away from it, but it seems she didn’t pick up on the internal conflict within him, with the preservation of tony b’s life contributing to his own sense of decency and honour. Really looking forward to your next three write-ups, with the father-son younger and older generational conflict coming into major focus it seems.

    Like

  15. Hey Ron, I’ve told you many times that you run a great review site on the sopranos, with a great accumulation of academic analysis of the sopranos enhancing a viewer’s perception of the show. Your greatest strength as a reviewer however is that you understand the goal of a great piece of art, which is to give us enough guidance and treasure to spawn questioning and debate. To me this approach is very fresh and different and I hope you use it to examine other great pieces of media. Once the sopranos autopsy site is complete do you have any plans to examine any other tv shows or even films with your approach? If not, I think it’s something you should consider; I generally check this site once a day for any new analysis from you and I would happily sit down and read your analysis of any other pieces of mass media that I appreciate

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I might have a go at some movies next, including a couple of the movies I listed in a comment above. I would love to do something that explores the intersection between architecture + culture + nature, which is a subject that completely fascinates me. But as always, it’s tough to find the time…

      Like

  16. The actor that plays little V has a better resemblance to actor Vito too.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great write up, can’t wait for Kennedy and Heidi! Long time reader, first time commenter: would you be willing to share a bit about the process in writing your autopsies? Very curious about how many times you watch each episode, what your notes look like, the time it takes, etc. Thanks for the all the hard work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Grant. I guess I’ve watched every ep around 5 or 6 times over the years. The majority of my notes are on a 140-page Word document that is nothing but bullet points for each episode. The rest of my process is basically sipping on vodka-tonics while I hammer those bullet points into coherent paragraphs 😃

      Like

  18. It’s an interesting episode this, as it focus on stuff many fans wouldn’t think were as you say tangent at this juncture of the continuing fallout of the Vito thing. From his homophobic successor bringing in three times less money than Vito was and at a time Tony is on a losing streak and spending money all over the place like on another boat as Hesh stated.
    The look on Carlo’s face after Tony’s rant on him shows how more and more Tony’s crew were quietly growing more and more dissatisfied and it may have helped to play a part of Carlo’s actions in the final episode and possibly Patsi’s as well considering their sons were close.
    Phil once again projecting his own toxic masculinity and homophobia onto Vito’s family that leaves Tony holding the bag and him sending Vito jr off to those camps you mentioned, I really dred to think what happened to Vito jr considering what we know those camps did to the people sent there.
    Focus on Hesh, a character that never had the best of focus episodes along with other stuff building up to the final few episodes like as mentioned Chris and Bobby stuff. The start of AJ’s downward spiral and so on.
    This episode i think shows that Carmella won’t end up where Ginny did if Tony was to die or be killed, she ain’t no Angie with her in the end having to sell her spec house to her cousin.
    There’s very few domestic fights in fiction that truly have my back against the chair, but the one between Tony and Carm this episode every time has such tension rarely seen to feel so organic, such malicious words spouted out that it leaves you at the end of your seat. It really nails just how much Tony is degrading as the show reaches it’s conclusion.
    Can’t wait for the analysis on Chris’s swan song and you writing on the wonderful slow moving bit that makes Tony look like a demon.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s