Kennedy and Heidi (6.18)

Tony goes west after offing Chris.
AJ goes downhill.

Episode 83 – Originally aired May 13, 2007
Written by Matthew Weiner & David Chase
Directed by Alan Taylor

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As I’ve mentioned before, I probably will never make a “Top 5” episode list. But if I ever do, this episode will be on it. “Kennedy and Heidi” is a gorgeous hour, and like all gorgeous things, it doesn’t deserve the indignity of being schematically broken down and analyzed. But I do believe there are a lot of interconnected and important ideas here—some new, some old—that require a bit of unraveling in order to be best understood. Let’s step into the labyrinth without further delay.

Although it clocks in at only 50 minutes, the episode feels epic, and that is in part due to the different contrasting elements it contains. The contrast and distance between some of these elements stretch the episode into almost epic proportions:

  1. Dark vs. Light elements: the scenes that make up the first 10 minutes of the hour are set at night in dark shadowy locations, in sharp contrast to some of the very bright, sun-kissed scenes later in the hour (the final scene is almost literally sun-kissed; it features a solar flare)
  2. East vs. West elements: the hour begins in familiar New Jersey territory but finishes out in Nevada
  3. Natural vs. Man-made elements: the opposition between the natural world and the man-made world is presented throughout the hour and even gets explicit treatment in AJ’s English class
  4. Physical vs. Transcendental elements: the physical experiences of pleasure and pain fill the hour, but the idea of transcendence is also explored (via psychotropic drugs and the natural world)

Chase also seems to reference the transcendental by making a subtle allusion to the Transcendentalist memoir Walden (which I’ll come back to later). David Chase has never hesitated to incorporate philosophical ideas right into the storylines of The Sopranos, delving into Existentialism, Buddhism and Quantum Physics in previous hours. In the remaining episodes, he throws Transcendentalism and Romanticism into the mix, creating a medley of ideas that come together very nicely to close the series, in my opinion, in a satisfying—though enigmatic—way.

This hour, despite my lengthy effort to decode it, will also remain enigmatic. “Kennedy and Heidi” is puzzled together with so many covert references, subtle callbacks, loaded images, unforeseen twists, high concepts and unanswered questions that it is guaranteed a place as one of the great enigmas of the series. Like all great enigmas, it hints that some grand truth may be hidden below its surface—and then beckons us to come search for it.

We might remember that episode 2.11 “House Arrest” opened with a sequence (scored by the Pretenders’ “Space Invaders”) in which a garbage truck dumped trash in front of a convenience store. In something of a parallel, “Kennedy and Heidi” begins with a shot of construction waste being dumped out of a garbage truck. (And the use of “Space Invaders” later in this hour formally connects the two episodes.) The construction debris immediately establishes this hour’s concern with the built (man-made) environment. A site supervisor comes in and demands that the workers immediately stop dumping, and then warns his son to stop eating his dinner so close to the load because it contains asbestos.

asbestos

In the Pilot episode, Christopher said an almost paradoxical-sounding line: “Garbage is our bread-and-butter.” Chris was obviously referring to the central role that the waste-carting racket occupies within the mob’s business empire, but the line also made a metaphorical connection between garbage and food, underscoring our culture’s tendency to over-consume and waste the various resources that are available to us. Chase explicitly makes a connection between garbage and food again now, as the boy eats his meal in front of the toxic pile of trash. As the hour progresses, Chase will expand on his thesis that our consuming, wasteful American lifestyle is having a toxic affect on ourselves and on the natural environment.

Christopher doesn’t seem quite right when he and Tony meet with Phil and Butchie to discuss their garbage-dumping deal—he’s acting a little weird. Chris has obviously been shooting up some of the fun stuff. As he and Tony drive back home, we get a flurry of premonitions that seem to foreshadow Christopher’s very imminent death: Chris suggests they meet Phil’s price because “life’s too short”; Chris slips the soundtrack from The Departed, of all movies, into his CD player; the two men listen to a cover of “Comfortably Numb,” perhaps denoting that Chris is too numb to drive safely. Some viewers also find it notable that Chris is wearing a hat in his final scene now, a complementary bookend to his first scene of the series. (He was wearing a black cap as he and T chased Mahaffey down in the Pilot.)

Despite these little clues, we are still shocked by what happens next. When Christopher’s truck drifts in front of an oncoming car, he overcompensates, plunging his vehicle down a steep embankment. But it’s not the crash that kills him. Tony begins to call emergency rescue, but pauses as a wicked calculation comes into his head. He shuts his flip-phone, reaches into the car and stifles Christopher’s airway. We remember the Pilot episode ended with Nick Lowe’s “The Beast in Me” over the final credits, and now we see the true extent of Tony’s beastliness. Tony has never looked more like a monster than he does here, he exudes the calm of a true sociopath. The passing headlights of cars driving along the embankment above them punctuate the darkness, but none of the vehicles stop. No one stops Tony Soprano from smothering the life out of his young cousin.

Christopher has always had bad luck with his vehicles. In the Pilot episode, his Lexus got dinged up when he drove into Mahaffey; later in the series, he was pumping gas into his Hummer H2 when he made the decision to betray Adriana; in Season 6, his Maserati was confiscated by the FBI; and now he wrecks his Escalade, and moments later is killed in it.

It’s a horrifying scene, but not one that we should be particularly surprised by.  Christopher’s murder is the natural culmination of several storylines involving either himself or Tony or both of them:

  1. Christopher’s long-running addiction has been a source of worry for Tony for some time; Tony had previously threatened to whack Chris before the FBI could leverage his drug problems against la famiglia (some viewers believe that Chris may have already flipped, and that was the reason he was acting a little strange now)
  2. Chris has always been hotheaded and difficult to handle, and he sometimes behaved impetuously when he felt frustrated by the Mafia (in the previous episode, he tossed Lil Paulie out of a high window, and later sulked out of the Bing when he thought the guys were having a laugh at his expense)
  3. Chris may not exactly have a death wish, but he has been flirting with self-destruction for a long time by using drugs; there is not only the danger inherent in habitual drug use, but there was also the great danger of being whacked by Tony if Tony ever learned how bad his addiction has become
  4. Tony has treated Chris as something of a son over the years; his frustrations with his actual son AJ may have spilled over toward his surrogate famiglia son Chris now
  5. Tony has had murderous impulses towards members of his inner circle lately, potentially coming close to killing Bobby, Paulie and Hesh in earlier episodes this season

There may be other contributing factors, including various subconscious motivations. (In “Tony’s Vicarious Patricide,” for example, Elizabeth Lowrey argues that Tony kills Christopher because of a subconscious desire to escape the sins of his father.) But I think Chase provides some clues that the most immediate reason for his murder is the resentment that Tony has been harboring over the way Chris depicted him in the movie Cleaver. Chase, for example, provides a couple of close-ups of shots of Christopher’s Cleaver hat as it repeatedly draws Tony’s attention. Cleaver-imagery has been associated with Christopher from his first appearance on the series all the way to his last:

bloody cleavers

The significance of the movie Cleaver here may also be hinted at by the fact that it is in a black Cadillac Escalade that the two men roll down the embankment now; we remember that it was in a black Escalade that Tony and Adriana crashed that night three years ago, an event that substantially shaped the storyline of Christopher’s movie.

Cameron Golden, in “The Producers: The Dangers of Filmmaking in The Sopranos,” points out a scene from the Pilot episode which becomes important in the context of Christopher’s murder now. In the Pilot, Chris sulked in Tony’s backyard because he felt that his work for la famiglia was not being appreciated. Chris reminded Tony that he potentially has another way of earning a paycheck: his cousin’s girlfriend is a Hollywood producer who is interested in his story. Tony snapped upon hearing this:

Henry Hill pilot

(Tony gets right up in Chrissie’s grill and accuses him of wanting to “go Henry Hill on me now.” Henry Hill was, of course, the actual mobster-turned-FBI-informant whose life-story was turned into the film GoodFellas.) Chris had always wanted a more compelling and dynamic arc, and he turned to filmmaking as a way to create a more interesting storyline than the one real life was supplying him with. And if filmmaking didn’t give him enough of a kick to escape the fuckin’ regularness of life, he could always resort to drugs. Tony wasn’t a fan of Christopher’s filmmaking goals even back in the Pilot episode, and Tony never approved of his drug use. Both of these aspects of Christopher’s life surely contribute to the motive behind his murder.

And perhaps Chris asking for Tony’s Toblerone back in 5.11 “The Test Dream” also contributed to his early death. I’m not suggesting that Tony murdered his cousin as payback for grabbing his delicious candy bar two years ago. (Tony’s not that petty.) What I mean is that Tony may have suspected that Chris was jonesing for some heroin and was trying to satisfy his craving with the Toblerone instead. (It was in the episode prior to that one, “Cold Cuts,” that Tony criticized the way Chris turned to sweets as a way to keep his larger cravings at bay.) 

The mob guys come to visit Tony as he recuperates at home. (Just before they enter, we hear the sound of a bird cawing outside the window, perhaps recalling the black bird that sat on the windowsill in Christopher’s induction ceremony into the Mafia years ago.) The Sopranos had previously explored the discomfort and awkwardness that sometimes follows a death—see “Proshai, Livushka” in particular—and Walden Belfiore seems to be suffering that discomfort now in Tony’s bedroom. But he tries to avoid being silent by continually mentioning that Carlo will be arriving soon. (This annoys Silvio: “What’s with you and Carlo’s fuckin’ arrival?”) Tony plays with fire a little bit in this scene: he comes close to confessing his crime when he says that he would have choked Chris if he knew Chris was high on drugs. Tony also makes a dangerous pun (of sorts) when he tells the guys that Chris choked on his own blood; in actuality, he was choked by his own blood—Tony is Christopher’s blood-relative.

Tony’s desire to confess manifests itself again in a dream in which he tells Dr. Melfi that he killed Chris. But Tony’s primary desire isn’t actually to confess his guilt; it is to confess his relief at no longer having to deal with his troublesome cousin. Tony must pretend to mourn Christopher after killing him, so he puts on an act. Chase often uses clips from TV shows and movies to underscore a point, and the little snippet from The Dick Cavett Show which plays on the Soprano television here underlines the acting job that Tony is now doing. In the snippet, Katherine Hepburn tells Cavett that she was a poor actress when younger: “I can laugh and cry and I could always get the part. Could never keep it. They got on to me after a while. I’d lose my voice, fall down, get red in the face, talk too fast and couldn’t act.”

I highlighted the part where she speaks of blushing when trying to play a part because it may be making an outright parallel to Tony Soprano now: Tony is also red in the face (due to his bruises) while he tries to sustain his act.  

acting - abrasions

As everyone around him grieves, Tony keeps trying to sell them the idea that baby Caitlyn could have died if she had been in the vehicle. He seems to be trying to find some “legitimate” justification for the murder in his mind and perhaps also alleviate any bit of guilt he might be feeling for causing pain to Christopher’s loved ones. Tony keeps describing the tree branch that penetrated all the way to Caitlyn’s car seat:

carseat

Trees have long been associated with death on this series.  But in the previous episode, trees were also strongly associated with family and domesticity. (Paulie put Christopher’s family in danger when he rampaged through the trees and plants of Chrissie’s suburban yard in his Cadillac; and the hour ended with Chris up-righting one of the fallen trees before entering his home.) Although it may be unlikely, there is some possibility that Chris would have found a way to beat his addiction after this accident if Tony hadn’t suffocated him. It is conceivable that seeing the branch of a tree jutting into his daughter’s car seat would have inspired Chris to be more resolved in his efforts to stay clean.

Tony’s frustration mounts as he tries to keep his charade up. When he exchanges nods at Christopher’s funeral with Daniel Baldwin, who played his alter-ego “Sally Boy” in Cleaver, we recognize the irony: Baldwin could never do as good a job acting as “Tony Soprano” as Tony himself has to do right now. Adding to Tony’s frustration level: Nucci Walnuts suddenly passes away too. Marianucci Gualtieri was one of the most naïve, sweet souls in all of SopranoWorld. But her funeral service isn’t a place of fond remembrance and contemplation for Tony, it just becomes a place where Tony has to listen to Paulie babble and moan about his various grievances. Tony decides he needs to escape from Jersey for a while, and makes a phone call to his man Alan to set up a trip to Vegas. (Note: In real life, funerals act as a transition between life and death. In this episode, funerals acts as a transitioning device within the storyline: the two funerals transition us from the scenes of death and depression in New Jersey to the more lively and energetic scenes in Nevada.)

I think we can consider this hour to be the third true “Vacation Episode” of the series. The first two Vacation Episodes featured locations that added to the specific thematic dimension of the story, and the same can be said of the current hour. In “Commendatori,” the guys went to Italy—a very fitting location, thematically, in that the Mafia, and by extension The Sopranos, would not exist if not for certain customs and ways of problem-solving that originated in that ancestral land. The second vacation episode took place in Paris, very fitting thematically in that Paris was the proving ground for Existentialism, a philosophy that I believe deeply informs that hour as well as informs the series as a whole. And now Tony is going out west to Las Vegas, very fitting thematically because of what the American West and Las Vegas each represent in our national consciousness.

The West is that region, in our national mythology, where we go to discover ourselves. “Go west, young man” was a popular phrase in the 19th century, an exhortation to young Americans to go west and merge their personal destinies with the Manifest Destiny of the country. The idea persisted well into the 20th century (and perhaps still persists), and so our history is filled with stories like that of Jim Morrison, for example, who moved from Florida to the west coast to make movies and music, and then sought spiritual self-awareness, fueled up on alcohol and drugs, in the deserts of the southwest. David Chase himself, unsure during his undergraduate years in North Carolina (Wake Forest University) and New York (NYU) whether or not he wanted to become a professional musician, eventually moved out west to California (Stanford University) to pursue his graduate film degree. 

We remember that in previous episodes, it was in a western locale that Tony/Kevin Finnerty had to search for himself and find his true identity: the dreams (or whatever they were) in the early part of Season 6 were set in Costa Mesa, California. Tony now comes back west, in the flesh, to continue that search. (Matt Zoller Seitz call his trip to Vegas “a coded attempt to replay” his trip to Costa Mesa.) David Chase seems to underscore the western location through a musical selection: when Tony first arrives in Las Vegas and is being driven through the city’s streets, it is the song “Are You Alright?” off of Lucinda Williams’ album West that scores the scene.

west - lucinda williams

The western city of Las Vegas also carries certain connotations in our national mythology. The place is the ultimate American example of The Fabricated City. The city did not grow as organically as most cities grow—it may be more accurate to say that Vegas was forcefully and artificially manufactured on to its site. Various 20th century Americans, including Bugsy Siegal, labored to transform the inhospitable desert location into the town we recognize today. It is a fantasyland cooked up by mobsters and Mormon banks, a vision dreamt up in the desert and extruded into a three-dimensional cityscape. The city would never have thrived if not for the massive nearby building projects of Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. The aggressiveness of the financial and engineering efforts that were needed to bring modern Las Vegas into existence probably contributed to the ersatz, kitschy, manufactured quality of the city—a quality well-documented by architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown in their book Learning from Las Vegas.

learning from LV

When Michael Corleone first arrived in Las Vegas in The Godfather II, Coppola shot the distinctive cityscape from within a moving car. Likewise, Chase shoots Tony’s arrival in the famed city from within a moving car. But instead of using some breezy, swinging music as Coppola does to score his scene, Chase uses Lucinda Williams’ contemplative, understated track. Additionally, Chase includes two more sequences of Tony being driven through the city. I’ve compiled the G.II sequence and the 3 clips from the Sopranos into one video to highlight the differences:


Chase’s driving-clips here are quite interesting. For one thing, some of their imagery recalls the images we see in the opening-credits sequence of every Sopranos episode. (The tunnels, in particular, feel like an analog to the Lincoln Tunnel seen in the credits.) Chase’s varied use of scoring in the driving-clips is also fascinating: clip 1 uses, as I mentioned, Williams’ contemplative song; clip 2 has only the sound of road noise and the turning signal; clip 3 is scored by the raucous, spirited sound of The Pretenders’ “The Adultress.” But perhaps the most noteworthy thing, in terms of my analysis, is that Chase’s third driving-clip underscores the ever-growing built environment of Las Vegas by including imagery of a building site, a cement truck and multiple construction cranes. There is a strong, explicit contrast made in this hour between the man-made world and the natural world, and I believe Chase utilizes the overly-manufactured setting of Las Vegas to add to this dimension of the episode.

In 2014, Dr. Martha Nochimson wrote an article for Vox magazine that received a lot of attention because David Chase (according to her recollection) told her that Tony didn’t die in the final episode. Chase’s publicist released a statement the following day saying that Nochimson’s recollection was inaccurate. Missed in all the ensuing hubbub was the fact that Nochimson’s article is actually one of the most insightful documents about Chase and The Sopranos ever written. Nochimson wrote about Chase’s deep interest in Carlos Castaneda, the anthropologist who abandoned the scholarly life after meeting a “sorcerer”—a sort of shaman/healer—named Don Juan who introduced him to drugs and spiritual enlightenment. (It was in 2.06 “The Happy Wanderer” that Melfi quoted Carlos Castandeda to Tony: “Live every moment as if it were your last dance on earth.” Tony mistook the man for a prize fighter.) Chase came of age in the 60s, the era when the recreational use of hallucinogens began to take off. Nochimson quotes Chase on why taking such drugs merely for recreation didn’t appeal to him: “Reading Carlos Castaneda convinced Chase that using drugs ‘without a whole belief system around it was really fourth rate.'” Chase came to recognize the sacramental, spiritual aspect of drug use. The drug of choice for such religious experience for Castaneda was peyote. Castaneda writes in The Teachings of Don Juan that the shaman “related the use of Lophophora williamsi [peyote] to the acquisition of wisdom, or the knowledge of the right way to live.”

THE ACQUISITION OF WISDOM
In Vegas, Tony pays a visit to Christopher’s stripper friend Sonya—a woman whose name means “wisdom.” (Notably, the working title for this episode was “Sonya.”) Tony comes to inform her of Chrissie’s death, but I think Tony’s real motivation is that Christopher’s mention of his psychedelic trips with the dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty (“like something out of Goyim,” to borrow Tony’s description of Gloria Trillo) probably aroused his curiosity about the woman and the drugs she’s holding. I believe Tony is looking to get a taste of what Christopher experienced. (In a sense, he is putting himself in Chrissie’s shoes after snuffing Chris out.) Tony was interested in seeking his true self earlier in the season (“Who am I? Where am I going?” he asked) and this quest has now led him to siren Sonya’s doorstep. Tony may feel that losing himself, at least temporarily, in a psychedelic fog will lead him to a better understanding of his place in the world. He is following that impulse that many of us feel: the impulse to lose oneself in order to find oneself. Going to an unaccustomed place to do unfamiliar things is often the first step in following such an impulse. Scott Slovic, in his extraordinary book, Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing, quotes Henry David Thoreau’s description of this phenomenon: “…not until we are lost do we begin to realize where we are, and the infinite extent of our relations.”  Slovic adds, “We need this sense of disorientation, of being in an unfamiliar place, in order to realize eventually what our true relationship with the world is.”

Tony and Sonya do peyote buttons together. He quickly gets sick. I love the little editing “tricks” Chase uses to simulate the feeling of very suddenly realizing you are going to vomit: the slow camera push-in instantly speeds up, there is a rattling sound and a flash of light, and the image cuts to Tony throwing open the bathroom door (the rattling sound that began in the previous frame was the sound of the bathroom doorknob) where he barfs into the toilet.


Tony leans back and stares up at the round, bright light fixture. In his heightened state, he can see a glow and hear a buzz emanating from it. He may very well be associating this light with the beacon he saw in Costa Mesa during his coma-dreams.

Tony takes Sonya, the girl with kaleidoscope eyes, to the casino. As they watch the ball spin round the roulette wheel (Chase subtly slows down the footage of the spinning wheel to focus our attention on it), Tony makes a beguiling statement: “It’s the same principle as the solar system.” What principle is Tony referring to here? Is he recalling a junior high science lesson on centripetal force? Is he referring to the circular orbits of celestial bodies? Or does he have something more philosophical in mind? As I re-watched this scene, the spinning wheel made me think of the Buddhist concept of enso. The enso circle can represent the zero, the void, emptiness. But the circle can also represent everything—all that exists in the universe can be encompassed by its simple brush stroke.

ENSO THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

Tony has been primed by his nihilistic mother to see the universe as a Big Nothing. But maybe the peyote is leading Tony to fully see the interconnectedness of everything, as John Schwinn did in “The Fleshy Part of the Thigh.” The principle of the solar system is, perhaps, both “nothing” and “everything” simultaneously.

Tony has a crazy lucky streak at the roulette table. He seems to be convinced that it is because he no longer has his ball-and-chain cousin Christopher weighing him down. The captain has jettisoned his Jonah, it will be smooth sailing ahead from now on. The thought fills him with relief and he falls laughing onto the carpet, with its pattern of connected circles:

circles

The circle that connects each of us here on earth is the natural environment. We share the land, the air, the water. We build our towns and cities within the natural world, we draw sustenance and recreation from it. In the Pilot episode, when Melfi described Tony’s job title as “Waste Management,” he added “The environment” with a nod. In truth, Tony is about as divorced from the natural environment as a person can be. He has a wasteful and consuming lifestyle. He has very little concern for the natural world, and (other than the occasional outing aboard his gas-guzzling, wake-producing boat) has rarely derived any pleasure from nature. 

Nature has been an integral, though subtle, part of The Sopranos narrative, beginning with the wild ducks that found a home in Tony’s backyard in the Pilot. New Jersey itself is called the Garden State due to its high percentage of wooded areas and green spaces, as well as the historical importance of agriculture to its economy. Martha Nochimson writes in Dying to Belong, “Juxtaposed to the dubious world of the gangster materialist is the world of nature, a more organic form of materiality in The Sopranos, which appears throughout the series with its Romantic connotations as a form of healing rapture that counterbalances the hollow world of money.” In this episode, the juxtaposition Nochimson speaks of is prominently displayed as Tony flies to Las Vegas: as he sits with wine and shrimp cocktail spread before him aboard a luxurious private jet, he looks reflectively out of the window at the green earth below him.

juxtaposition plane

The “Romantic connotations” of nature that Nochimson mentions is given explicit treatment in this hour, as AJ’s English class is studying a sonnet by William Wordsworth, the poet considered to be the founder of the Romantic movement in literature. 19th century Romantics adored and idealized the natural world, finding nature to be a respite from not only the grimy industrial cities developing all around them but also from the consuming, unhealthy lifestyles that these cities produced. The first line of the sonnet is read by AJ’s English teacher, while the second line is written on the blackboard behind her:

The world is too much with us
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers

I’ll supply the next two lines because they are important to my discussion:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

The “sordid boon” is a reference to the Industrial Revolution that was transforming society; while many people at the time welcomed the boon for bringing productivity and wealth, the Romantics condemned it as sordid and squalid. Wordsworth’s narrator goes on to say that he wished to live in ancient times because ancient pagans had a reverence for nature that is no longer felt in contemporary times. Wordsworth criticizes his contemporaries for worshipping materialism instead. I find it very notable that this scene in the English class is squeezed between two scenes depicting Tony’s materialistic, luxurious lifestyle: 

wordsworth and nature

Tony Soprano is both the product and the purveyor of a monstrous materialism. He is staying at Caesar’s Palace (which is now home to the almost absurd Bacchanal Buffet, with its hundreds of food items and sauces). The English teacher had asked her students “Why such strong words against the material world?” As strong as Wordsworth’s words were in 1802, we need even stronger words against the material world today. One scene in particular drives this pitiful point home:

eagle abatement

Sitting in his hotel room in a Caesar’s bathrobe (reminding me of the time in episode 1.03 when he insinuated to Ariel the Hasid that he was the modern incarnation of the Romans), Tony tells the asbestos removal guy to leave the toxic material where it is while he works out a deal with Phil Leotardo that doesn’t hurt his bank account too much. Never mind that the probability of the asbestos leaching into the ground or floating into the air goes up the longer it sits unsecured. And never mind that it is a frickin’ middle school that the asbestos is currently sitting at. After Tony can’t reach a deal with Phil, the asbestos gets cheaply and illegally dumped into a lake (it looks like it’s someplace out in the Meadowlands). 

Chase makes the point that this is just Business As Usual in America. At the beginning of the hour, we see Tony and Phil negotiate with the Statue of Liberty—that great symbol of the USA—in the background. (Phil wants a higher cut when he learns that Tony is making a killing in the asbestos business, charging customers as though he is following all the EPA regulations when he really isn’t.) Later in the hour, we see that the company that is disregarding the regulations at Tony’s behest is named American Eagle Asbestos Abatement of New Jersey. On the back of the man’s jacket, we clearly see the logo of the bald eagle, our National Bird and one of our most enduring symbols of strength, freedom and the great American outdoors.

TRASH in america2

In previous episodes, we saw the the Mafia get involved with companies (both real and fictional) that had the word “American” in their names: American Biotics, American Express, American Standard. As I’ve written before, Chase is making some sort of commentary with this practice, maybe pointing to the “they are us, we are them” idea—it is not only mobsters that indulge in illegal activities, it is all of us, all of America.  He could simultaneously be signalling that even though mob activities might only involve a particular company, they actually injure all of America as a whole. American Eagle Asbestos Abatement (which seems to have been a real company in New Jersey at the time in 2007) punctuates the idea once again as the series reaches its end.

Critic Tim Goodman of The San Francisco Gate noticed a thought-provoking connection in this hour. He notes that Tony travels to a western land in this episode, and “Members Only,” the first episode of Season 6, included the track “Seven Souls” featuring William Burroughs speaking lines from his novel The Western Lands. Of course, the “west” that Burroughs’ novel refers to is land west of the Nile River (thought by the Ancient Egyptians to be the Land of the Dead), not American land west of the Mississippi River. Nevertheless, I think it’s legitimate to ponder whether Chase had The Western Lands in mind when he sent Tony out west in this episode, especially when we consider what Burroughs’ novel is about…

The novel argues that ecological destruction will inevitably lead to social upheaval. The character of Joe the Dead tries to disrupt and impede corporations from conducting business that would hurt the environment, and is very critical of companies like McDonalds and Coca Cola for the damage they’ve done. The Western Lands has something of an apocalyptic tone, finding little hope that mankind can reverse its ruinous mistakes.

I’ve argued in several of my write-ups for this season that a major goal for David Chase in creating Season 6 seems to have been to place The Sopranos in its American milieu. And so it seems inevitable that Chase would produce an episode like this one that pits the material world against the natural world. A little historical context for this hour may be helpful. This episode originally aired about one year after the book/film An Inconvenient Truth came out. The work made the public aware of climate change and environmental degradation in a way it never had been before, and turned Al Gore into the face of environmental activism. The oil and gas industry was naturally a primary, recurring target of Gore’s criticisms. Meanwhile, George Bush—the man who beat Al Gore for the Presidency by the skin of his nuts—had family wealth that was largely earned in the oil business, worked for the oil and gas exploration company Arbusto right out of college, and chose the CEO of oilfield services company Halliburton to be his Vice-President.

Of all of President Bush’s questionable decisions regarding the environment, perhaps none was scarier than his appointment of Gale Norton to be his Secretary of the Interior. As SecInt, Norton was responsible for the management and conservation of our federal lands and natural resources, but the Los Angeles Times described her as “the Bush Administration’s leading advocate for expanding oil and gas drilling and other industrial interests in the West.” Upon resigning her post, she worked as a lawyer for the oil behemoth Royal Dutch Shell. None of this is surprising considering that she was mentored straight out of law school by James Watt, a professing evangelical who employed her at his legal foundation which protected the interests of cattle, mining and oil companies. Watt himself was Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Like many evangelicals, Watt believed in the idea of Dominion—humans are the supreme creatures in God’s ordering of the world and thus have dominion over all the lands and animals of the earth. In several of his articles, including “Ours Is the Earth,” Watt made clear that he saw the planet as “merely a temporary way station on the road to eternal life…The earth was put here by the Lord for His people to subdue and to use for profitable purposes on their way to the hereafter.” This is a 180-degree departure from the way Romantics such as William Wordsworth viewed the earth. Romantics saw nature as itself godly, not simply as a resource given by God to man to exploit in any way he wanted. As Roderick Frazier Nash wrote in his exceptional book Wilderness and the American Mind:

Nineteenth century Romantics and Transcendentalists sensed the unity of the natural world and related it to the presence or reflection of divinity. In calling attention to the higher uses of the environment than the service of man’s material needs, they manifested a belief in the sanctity of all life.

In the final scene of the hour, we see that Tony and Sonya have made their way out to a rugged and lonesome landscape. They sit quietly, obviously still feeling the effects of the drugs, next to a big, bad, black S-class Mercedes. Tony’s attention is drawn to the sky, and then a flash of light brings him to his feet. He throws his hands up and shouts “I get it!” In the final moments of the episode, the camera pans across the scene so that the Mercedes, that symbol of gaudy materialism, slips out of the frame. Only Tony, Sonya and the natural landscape remain:


What is it exactly that Tony “gets”? Professor Dana Polan points out that the camerawork and the framing and the staging of this scene make it look like something out of one of those arthouse movies that are so often concerned with the meaning of life: “the art-cinema trappings of revelation are all there, but it’s worth noting that no details of that revelation are made clear to us in the moment. We don’t know what Tony gets.” Maybe Tony has finally figured out the significance of that beacon in the Costa Mesa dreams. Or it could be that he has found the answers to those questions he has been asking, “Who am I? Where am I going?” Perhaps he finally understands just what it was that Christopher was seeking through his drug use. Or maybe he is just having a false epiphany driven by the peyote. Whatever it is, the experience certainly feels transcendent to Tony.

WALDEN
The philosophy of Romanticism never became as popular in America as it was in Europe, but it did inspire certain prominent Americans like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson to develop a related philosophy called Transcendentalism. The Transcendentalists found nature to be a balm and a retreat from the materialistic world too. Roderick Frazier Nash, again in Wilderness and the American Mind, writes that the Transcendentalists “thought that nature was the proper source of religion. They were even more in accord with English Romantic poets such as William Wordsworth who believed in moral ‘impulses’ emanating from fields and woods.” H.D. Thoreau was the most well-known Transcendentalist, and Walden; or, Life in the Woods was his most well-known book. In the memoir, he describes how he lived a simple, honest, clean life in the woods of Massachusetts. Professor Perry Miller, in his essay “Thoreau in the Context of International Romanticism,” described Walden as “one of the supreme achievements of the Romantic Movement—or to speak accurately, of Romantic Naturalism.”

I don’t think it is a coincidence at all that we are introduced to the character of “Walden Belfiore” in this hour. (He may possibly have appeared in an earlier episode but it is in this hour that he has his first speaking lines and gets named in the credits.) Walden’s name recalls Thoreau’s Walden. The name “Walden” is quite unusual for an Italian goombah (Paulie even questions him about the strange moniker in the final episode), but I think Chase knew exactly what he was doing when he named the character. I’ll have more to say about Walden Belfiore and Romanticism in my write-up for the final hour.

(Another point to make, parenthetically, about the early Transcendentalists is that they started a literary magazine called The Dial in 1840. It was The Dial that first published W.B. Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” a poem that lends its title and apocalyptic tone to the next Sopranos episode.)

I’ve labored pretty hard here to connect Romanticism with Transcendentalism with Environmentalism, even throwing Buddhism into the mix, but I don’t necessarily believe that Chase was conscientiously trying to connect all these various “-isms” together. Chase is an artist, and like all great artists, he creates his work intuitively and instinctively. Sure, he brings his thoughts and knowledge and reading to the process of creation, but I don’t think he ever makes an overly intellectual effort to checkmark all the philosophical boxes. It is the job of the critic and the viewer to label and deconstruct, not the artist. Just as Tony Soprano organically found a meaningful experience in the West just by following his natural impulses, without going through a whole lot of intellectual rigmarole, David Chase organically finds the way to inject meaning into his work just by going through his natural artistic process. I often think of the words of the mythologist Joseph Campbell when I think about the ways that we find meaning and create meaning. (I look to Joseph Campbell for guidance the way Chase looks to Carlos Castaneda; not surprisingly, both men taught at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.) Campbell said:

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.

Amen to that.

amen to that

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AJ’s disturbing storyline continues here. In the previous episode, he took part in the assault on young Victor who was behind on a debt. Apparently Victor had to have some toes amputated. AJ and Jason Parisi mock and laugh at “Long John Shithead” (obviously a reference to Treasure Island’s one-legged Long John Silver) as Victor walks by on crutches. (The image of the young man on crutches reiterates the irony of the previous episode’s title: “Walk Like a Man.”)

In the current episode, AJ takes part in another assault, this time against a young Somalian student. But he doesn’t actually punch or kick the guy, he only watches with mute intensity. We’ve seen AJ have creepy responses to violence before. In his essay, “Christopher, Osama and AJ: Contemporary Narcissism and Terrorism in The Sopranos,” Jason Jacobs writes that AJ “stands on, passively watching, and we are invited to speculate on the nature of his involvement: Is he repulsed as we are or is he fascinated? The film style deliberately avoids defining his response for us.” Jacobs uses examples from “All Due Respect,” “Walk Like a Man” and the current hour:

aj stare

Does AJ have a dead streak (as his mother asked in 6.11 “Cold Stones”) in him? It’s very possible. He seemed to enjoy watching the fight that took place in front of him last season in “All Due Respect.” He seemed almost excited watching Victor get maimed in the previous episode. But it’s difficult to discern what’s going on in his head as watches the Somalian get attacked. In his therapist’s office later on, he doesn’t bring up the attack specifically but he does paraphrase Rodney King (another black man who was famously beaten by a group of white men): “Why can’t we all just get along?” AJ is clearly distraught in a serious way. He tells his doctor that the world is fucked up, “people walk around like this is all something” but they’re blind to the reality of things—they don’t see how screwed up and empty everything really is. AJ is sliding toward a major depressive episode.

I‘ve never studied or compared the names of Tony’s children but this might be the right place to do it. Tony’s daughter was given the lovely, pastoral name “Meadow” which recalls the natural world. (Las Vegas, interestingly, means “the meadows” in Spanish. Open green fields fed by natural artesian wells were once a distinctive feature of the area, before we turned the place into our most fabricated city.) Meadow, despite her moments of hypocrisy and self-blindness, has been developing into a thoughtful, educated woman, engaged positively with the world around her. She doesn’t suffer from the despair and hopelessness that affect her father and brother.

“Anthony, Jr.,” on the other hand, is truly becoming the junior-version of Anthony Soprano. Tony has been sliding more and more into a nihilistic mentality through the seasons (with his nihilistic monstrosity in fullest display early in this episode), and AJ too has been sinking into this debilitating mindset. AJ feels like the world is coming undone now. Like the ball that Tony and Sonya watched in the spinning roulette wheel, AJ’s world is “turning and turning in the widening gyre” until finally “things come apart, the centre cannot hold” (to quote the poem AJ reads from in the next episode). Tony’s murder of Christopher in this hour was perhaps, more than anything else, an effort to bring some order and peace to his world, but AJ’s behavior in the next hour will catapult Tony’s world into chaos.

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KENNEDY AND HEIDI (TITLE SIGNIFICANCE)
Much analysis has been done over the years of the episode title. The hour is obviously named after the two girls in the oncoming car that Chris swerves to avoid. But why would such a rich and memorable episode, stuffed to the gills with surprising events, location changes, tempos shifts and thematic explorations be named after two very minor characters who are only on-screen for a total of about 5 seconds?

kennedy and heidi

Some analysts find meaning in the name “Kennedy” because there have been several references to the Kennedy family on the series, including when Tony describes the stoic Kelli Moltisanti as “Jackie Kennedy” in this episode. (Some have also found a connection between this hour’s events and the Chappaquiddick incident, in which a drunken Ted Kennedy left the scene of a car accident that killed his passenger.) Others find meaning in the name “Heidi.” They believe, for example, that the name may be a reference to “the Heidi game,” a 1968 football game in which NBC cut away from the broadcast to the movie Heidi, causing some viewers to miss Oakland’s remarkable comeback in the final minute. This, they argue, foreshadows the way that Chase will unexpectedly cut away from the final scene in the final episode. Myself, I think the simplest and most powerful explanation of the title comes from Matt Zoller Seitz who argued that Kennedy and Heidi’s five minutes of screentime are among the most important minutes of the series because it crystallizes how people behave in SopranoWorld. The girls are faced with a moral test: go back to the scene of the accident and see if they can do anything to help or keep on driving as though nothing happened. Passenger Kennedy thinks they should go back but driver Heidi decides not to, because she could get in trouble for driving after dark with only a Learner’s Permit. Moral test failed.

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TABLEAU
Every hour of The Sopranos is filled with incredible shots, but there was one here in particular that I wanted to call attention to. As the friends and family gather after Chris’ death, we can see a wide range of their responses to the tragedy within the tableau shot:

range of responses

Bobby and Carlo in the foreground seem more interested in the game on TV. In the midground, there is more sadness and emotion. And finally in the background, Chrissie’s mother is in complete drunken despair.

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MINAS DE COBRE
The track that plays over the final credits is “Minas de Cobre” (Mines of Copper”) by Calexico. The band, named after a town on the California-Mexico border (“Calexico” is a portmanteau of “California” and “Mexico”), is a Tucson-based collective of musicians. “Minas de Cobre” is an instrumental, and so it contains no lyrics that can further clarify our understanding of the episode. But the instrumentation and melody and rhythm of this song by this southwestern band strongly contributes to the sense of place that is such an important component of this hour. 

After Tony exclaims “I get it!” but before “Minas de Cobre” begins, we hear the sound of the wind blowing through the rugged landscape. Chase uses wind frequently on the series, and here it emphasizes how timeless and eternal the natural elements of the planet are. Long after you and I and Tony Soprano are gone from this earth, after all our deeds and misdeeds are forgotten, the wind will still be here.

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ADDITIONAL NOTES:

  • Just before he dies, Chris says “That’s the flying ointment” instead of that’s the fly in the ointment. He is malapropping till the very end.
  • When Kelli gets the bad news about Christopher, we can see Paul Schaeffer on the TV set behind her. God, I miss The Late Show with David Letterman.
  • At Chrissie’s funeral, T gets Julianna’s last name wrong (“Skiffle” instead of “Skiff”) when he introduces her to Carmela, either because he genuinely mistakes her name or because he’s trying to throw Carm off the scent of his relationship with her. (Carmela is not fooled though, she seems to suspect that either Tony or Chris slept with the attractive woman.)
  • Cats.  When Tony first visits Sonya’s condo, we can see the book Cat: The Complete Guide on the coffee table just as Sonya first mentions Christopher by name (“You’re a friend of Chris”). I bring this up because some viewers strongly equate Chris with the orange cat that makes a notable appearance in the final episode.
  • 3 to 5 / 7 to 9.  The actress Marie Donato played a character named “2 to 5 / 7 to 9” in episodes 3.02, 3.05 and 3.13 but she was never referenced this way in the episodes themselves; we only know her peculiar nickname because that’s how it was listed in the credits. In this hour, Silvio finally explains that she is called this because she never misses a wake. Her name may be particularly fitting in this episode because she has two wakes to go to, Chrissie’s and Marianucci’s. (It’s probably just a continuity error that she was “2 to 5” in previous episodes but is called “3 to 5” in this one.)
  • The Pretenders’ “Space Invaders” plays over the scene in which Tony lays in Sonya’s bed. In a sense, Tony is here in Las Vegas ‘invading a space’ that was normally occupied by Christopher, not just in Sonya’s bed but also in experimenting with the hallucinogenic peyote.
  • Tony Soprano could be considered a professional environmental polluter on the series, a fact highlighted in this episode, but the actor that plays him is anything but. In an Inside the Actor’s Studio appearance, James Gandolfini said he might like to have been an environmental attorney if he hadn’t become an actor. In the 1998 film A Civil Action, Gandolfini plays a waste disposal employee who turns against his company for contaminating the town water supply with carcinogens.
  • Carmela has been suspecting Christopher of having something to do with Adriana’s disappearance for some time now, but she immediately reverses course when Chrissie dies, even chastising herself for ever doubting him: “Why are we so quick to blame, what is the attraction in that?” The Sopranos has always been interested in answering the inverse of Carmela’s question: why are we so quick to absolve blame? Why do we try so hard to avoid a reckoning, why do we so readily brush our guilt and suspicion and criticism under the rug to make it look like they were never even there?

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78 responses to “Kennedy and Heidi (6.18)

  1. Hallelujah!
    I’ve been watching these episodes, one per day, preceded by reading your dissection. Last night, I watched this episode, the first sans your commentary.
    Thanks for helping me to appreciate even further this all-time great series.
    I’m only sad that I’ll likely have a long wait for “The Blue Comet” and “Made in America” (but, I’m watching these, tonight and tomorrow, respectively, regardless. 🙂
    –Joe in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY–

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ron, I stumbled upon your site recently after probably my 25th re-watch of the series. I was looking forward to this next episode write-up, coming back to check daily (quite an exciting life I lead!). As always, it’s a wonderful analysis.
    I’ve had my share of tripping experiences (never peyote, but LSD and psilocybin) and can definitely confirm what Chase said about it being fourth rate without there being some belief system around it. When I first saw the episode in 2007 I had yet to experiment with drugs of any kind, so the peyote scenes seemed very profound and mysterious. But in retrospect seeing Tony tripping drove home the point that he’s quite empty inside.
    Ordinarily the experience of a good trip does leave a lasting impression of some kind; stereotypical hippy stuff regarding the immensity of the universe/transience of existence, etc. What Tony took away from it was really quite shallow.
    If the epiphanies he had from his coma wore off by this point (and they certainly seemed to have), then his trip insights would vanish even faster. It would confirm to me that he is a sociopath, because anyone with a decently functioning conscience would have the most horrifying psychedelic experience imaginable.
    Tony would be overwhelmed by ruminations about all the bad things he’s done and would end up in the loony bin. It’s interesting to note that Paulie mentions getting dosed with acid in the next episode, and seems to have had a fun time himself. I imagine only Bobby Baccala would freak the fuck out, especially after popping his cherry. Even if I was with Sarah Shahi in luxurious settings, if I’d done a tenth of things Tony did over the years I’d be a basket case by the time I came down.
    I don’t imagine there’s much in the way of scientific studies on the differences between antisocial and more balanced personalities under the effects of hallucinogens (let’s hope that changes down the line) but it’s an interesting thought. I also wonder if you’ve ever dabbled with any of these substances and if it colored your take on the episode? Very much excited to see the rest of your work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great points. In my limited dabbles, I’ve had very hit-or-miss experiences, never any life-changing epiphanies. I have however had transformative and insightful experiences outdoors (even indoors sometimes when reading the great nature writers) and that has definitely influenced how I see this episode…

      Like

      • I agree he’s too damaged to come back or improve, and calling him a beast at this point is right. Tripping is, of course, remarkably intense at the best of times. Without a proper outlook it’s like being strapped to a rocket with no guidance system. Tony definitely had a shitty trajectory, considering what little he got from it. With an IQ of 136 you’d think Tony would’ve come up with some amazing way to dissolve the entire mafia and turn it into a legal enterprise, emerging from his experience as a transcendent and peaceful figure. He’d force the whole crew to trip with him (with the help of expertly vetted trip sitters to guide them to enlightenment), and undertake a campaign to surreptitiously dose the New York bosses, slowly spreading the transformation.
        He’d peacefully divorce Carmela (welcoming Furio back to America with sincere apologies) and marry Sonya. He tenderly repairs any messes he’s made with AJ and Meadow (who decides to go back to medical school). The various businesses go legit through brilliant reorientations.
        But instead he just gambled a bit and thought about his mother. I’d like to think sociopaths could turn into normal people if they had a proper psychedelic experience overseen by shamans. But I don’t think so. He’d just killed Chris andwas laughging about it, so it shows he had very little guilt or conscience lol.
        If the Sopranos were an RPG, Tony is perpetually stuck at the beginning of the game when on his own. And by using the cheat codes available to him, he can advance all he wants but there is no lasting satisfaction of having really achieved anything. His life is also kind of like not doing any of the stories in GTA and just stealing cars and popping heads.
        Sad thing is he definitely knows this on many levels, that’s why I think in the last episode he is ready to die. I don’ think his takeaway from the trip was totally shallow though, he had pangs of conscience. In the back of his mind, through all the seasons he got close approximations of deeper feeling and a wistful sense that he was fucked up and not getting to properly connect to life. And think of how Janice probably took everything known to man and wasn’t any different from her 10 year old self! And it goes on and on and on and on. Wheels within beautiful wheels, this amazing fucking show.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Coach Molinaro was right about Tony, he always takes the easy way out. Like with the asbestos. His beef with Phil leads directly to the asbestos being illegally dumped, which puts them all at risk, but where is Tony? He’s in Vegas, smoking weed and doing peyote with Christopher’s old girlfriend, indulging his hedonism while the situation back home simmers.

          Liked by 2 people

    • I certainly wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Tony or any of his pals during a hypothetical trip gone bad. I agree, Tony on one of those unnervingly introspective total ego death trips would be an ugly sight indeed. Of all the mob guys on the show Tony probably has the deepest intellect and struggles the most with constantly repressing the ugly truth about himself. A little too high a dose and perhaps he goes from “wow pretty colors” to “oh my God I murdered those people and poisoned my family and my marriage is a sham” and like you said a total mental breakdown.

      A Paulie bad trip would probably involve him crying over his ma and possibly violence. A Sil bad trip would probably involve malevolent staring and possibly violence. With Chris you’d barely notice. Bobby would no doubt break down over losing Karen and gaining Janice, a realization that would destroy any man. Ralph would decide that a little coke would make the trip even better. I don’t even want to think about Richie tripping. And Artie would spend his entire bum trip in the closet silently weeping, then would suddenly become very active in the church afterwards.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Awesome work Ron, Been waiting for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for all your hard work and valuable insight Ron

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I thought I’d check Autopsy, and then I let out an orgastic sigh when I saw “Kennedy and Heidi” under Season 6.

    Of all the times we see Tony fuck, this one bothered me the most when I first saw it. It was just so business as usual bacchus. I think it took me a long time to finally admit that this is Tony Soprano,

    I noted the Late Show too. Heh heh, as Paulie would say.

    Edie deserved another Emmy for her reaction to Chrissie’s death. Like god. damn.

    “Seems like that’s the cause of death.” That look Sil gives. Does he suspect?

    Again, tensions in New York are bafflingly underplayed in this leadup. Do we expect full on war from here? The final five of this show move like a slasher killer, slow but always catching up.

    Until this rewatch, I hadn’t noticed that tableau shot, but this time I did, particularly, Chris’s despondent mother. Spooky.

    I have heard Tony’s “I get it” interpreted as a) that he is a fucking demon, that’s just who he is, frog & the scorpion & all that b) exactly what he tells Melfi in the next episode, which calls back to his question in Walk Like a Man. “Is this all there is?”/“Everything we see & experience is not all there is,” or even c) him thinking ‘ok chris drugs r great after all lol.’ In some way or another, you’ve touched up on each of them. Bravo.

    I think watching the beating is the decisive moment for AJ in deciding who he really is. Like his father suffocating Christopher, he looks dead and blank in the face of violence. But where Tony has blood on his fingers, AJ is a passive observer. His only physical reaction is to deliberately remove the Somali biker from his space. He opts out of the situation, drops the knife again as it were. He isn’t his father.

    One of the best writeups Ron. As we reach these final laps, we are very grateful to you for this analysis. And for introducing me to podabing lol.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Lol you’re welcome. I love that little look Silvio gives T.. I always feel like I would have been able to see through Tony’s act, but I probably only feel that way because I know what actually happened

      Liked by 1 person

    • Two moments get me every time I watch them. Both are Carmela’s gasps. First time is when Tony is in the hospital and Christopher consoles her. The other time is when Tony tells her the news about Christopher. Every. Time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered if him saying I get it was him realizing he’s either dreaming or even dead. That sounds stupid but after rewatching the series again (with head phones so I could pick up the malapropisms and clues and sonofagun, I STILL didn’t get the flying ointment line! It’s amazing what you don’t get with this series)…I really wonder. It seemed to me like the rocky valentine twilight zone Episode referenced earlier…cuz in that episode the gangster was on a never ending bender like Tony here)….

      But here is another reason I say this: in the final episode when Tony is digging for juniors money, he looks up at the sun…and it hit me watching this….the sun looked just like the light from the coma episodes!! Did anyone else see this as a possibility?

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Glad to see this new article up. I just HAVE to rewatch the whole thing once you’re done.
    The only additional note I have on this episode is that Tony with his red face in the hospital looked like a clown to me. That was the first thing I thought of because of the symmetry of his red cheeks. The sad clown. Except in this case I guess it’s inverted… he turns out to be happy on the inside about Chris’s death, while pretending sadness on the outside.
    Then again, when he has his “epiphany,” he seems to be simultaneously elated (“he’s really dead!”) and maybe… devastated (“I am beyond redemption”). Laughing and crying at once. Eh, that was my take.
    It’s a democratic show, every viewer is allowed their own take. Which makes it great.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. “I think we can consider this hour to be the third true “Vacation Episode” of the series.”
    Not Remember When?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Uncle Junior was right back in season four re: Chris. If Tony had taken Junior’s advice and offed Chris when he had the perfect excuse to do so he would have saved himself a lot of agita, sent a powerful message to the rest of the family AND had Adriana all to himself. But he still saw Christopher through that sentimental lens back then and still believed Chris was the future, even though he’d given him very little reason to think that. But in season 6B Tony is a far less sentimental guy who’s internally questioning much of what he thought were absolute truths, both about his father and himself. That “gaze of utter disappointment” on his face while a doped-up Christopher fiddles with the stereo says it all, at that point Chris is just nothing but a liability, all used up…”the dream is gone”.
    Then there’s AJ. Perhaps if Tony had “come clean” (“some of my income comes from illegal gambling and whatnot”) with AJ like he did with Meadow AJ wouldn’t be in the throes of a massive identity crisis in 6B. Unlike his own dad’s attempts to draw him in, Tony has kept AJ in the dark in a sort of half-assed attempt to insulate him from the truth and nudge him toward being a “good guy” aka a “regular” kid, even though he sets no such example himself. Tony has no idea that Blanca represented a whole new identity for AJ and he likewise has no idea that pushing him to hang out with the Jasons is the worst possible thing he could have done in that situation. He wants AJ to act like a “regular guy” e.g. the Jasons, but he doesn’t realize that they’re HIS definition of “regular guys”…mini gangsters. There’s nothing “regular” about them, they’re drunken thugs who run an illegal campus bookmaking operation and who knows what else. This only serves to further confuse and trouble AJ and we know how that eventually turns out.
    “He’s dead”…see, I wasn’t entirely sure he meant Christopher there. When he first got to Vegas he was still losing at the tables, so his gambling luck didn’t really do a 180 as soon as Christopher died. I realize this is just my interpretation, but I kind of saw it as Tony letting go of that misguided sentimentality/nostalgia re: his father (“you should never gamble, Anthony”) as his (massive) ego fell away thanks to the mescaline. At that moment there’s no ideals to follow, no “tradition” to uphold, he’s not Johnny Boy’s son anymore, he just “is” (and tripping balls). His issues with his own father and his own fatherhood (both literally and figuratively) temporarily vanished and for a brief moment the forces of “the universe” all aligned Tony’s way. “He’s dead”…that ever-present looming shadow over him has lifted and doesn’t matter anymore.
    Doing another re-watch (that’s ten LOL) and your write-ups are INVALUABLE as well as highly entertaining. Re-watching without this blog as a companion is unthinkable to me now!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dude, I agree with everything you said! I said it so many times in so many comments, but you summed it up succinctly.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I really expected Tony to kill Christopher after he came gunning for Tony over the Adrianna incident. I was glad he finally did it in this episode. (I know that makes me sound weird, but I also laughed at the Red Wedding…I hated the Storks.) If Tony had dealt with Christopher back then, he would have shown the others that nepotism didn’t affect his decisions. His patience with Christopher stirred the pot of resentment and he ended up with dysentery in the ranks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an interesting thought Dude, the idea that “He’s dead” actually refers to Johnny Boy. “Tony’s Vicarious Patricide” makes the argument that Tony has conflated Christopher with Johnny Boy, in which case “He’s dead” could actually be referring to both of them…

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      • Thanks Ron, I have read “Tony’s Vicarious Patricide” and IMO it makes a lot of really interesting points re: the father and sons theme that runs throughout the series but especially through 6B. I mean sure, he could simply be referring to Christopher there and perhaps I’m overthinking it, but suddenly having a Christopher (and mescaline) related epiphany like that seems somewhat out of character given how little (as aptly demonstrated during the Melfi dream) his death seemed to mean to Tony by that point. His first impulse wasn’t to provide comfort or support to Chris’ family and loved ones but to head to Vegas to “take” something from Chris one last time. My point being that by the time he stumbled down to the casino Tony wasn’t thinking about Christopher at all anymore, but (as always) himself. I don’t think the realization that Christopher is dead would prompt that sort of reaction, it was something more, something bigger than that.

        Anyhow, I always enjoy your posts and the lively discussions after. IMO 6B is the greatest run of episodes in TV history. I personally can’t wait until you get to the infamous Coco scene, which IMO is one of the most misinterpreted scenes in the whole series. Patience….LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Emmanual Kreisman

      Dude, I don’t remember Tony ever “coming clean” in the slightest to Meadow. She only explicitly asks Tony once, in College, and he denies his criminality completely. By the end of the show, she is in complete denial while she herself is about to literally work to defend criminals.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a deep dive. You brought up so much that just raster scanned by me on my last
    viewing. Lots to chew on here, especially the environmental themes.
    Thanks for the early Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent!
    Have a great time in Secaucus and say hello to that parakeet Ally Boy for me.
    Have a great time in Secaucus and say hello to that parakeet Ally Boy for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was suspicious of Walden mentioning Carlo so many times in light of the fact that he (Carlo) is wired for sound. I always felt that he too was not to be trusted.(possible rat) As I’ve said before, Tony has many reasons to resent Christopher, and this was building for a long time. It was a perfect way to get rid of him and keep his hands clean. Christopher may be a mildly sympathetic character, but he is a liability. I feel bad that he had a bad upbringing…but even with that his sense of entitlement is astounding. We know he would flip eventually especially if he gets caught using drugs. He as much as said so to J.T. If you look at the first few episodes you can see that Chris is a loose cannon, totally living in a made up world in his mind. “Stately Wayne manor” “Say hello to my little friend”..”that popcorn and rug smell in the theater makes me high, so I can be a screen writer”…so sad and unrealistic. I think he may feel bad minimally about Adriana, but his drug use started way before her…he was not an asset. He had to go. I’m surprised he wasn’t killed sooner. Also, all these informers makes me think that Tony will go to prison, not get killed in the diner. He may get killed in jail…or he may flip because all his friends are dead…so he can relocate and start new.What has he got to lose now? He has no love for New York. There are a lot of possibilities. We know Tony has always been a sociopath…and his decline was inevitable. I know it was a horrible thing to do, but I think Tony did the right thing in killing Christopher. And as usual, Carmela keeps her head up her ass. Everyone who dies becomes a saint…..that’s normal for humans to say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too thought of Carlo’s extracurriculars, but his appearance downstairs in the next scene kind of deflated the connection for me (I’d forgotten we see him). Maybe it just serves to remind us Carlo exists, so he can be important later. Thus far, he’s made a stink about Vito and killed a guy from NY, but that’s about it for the whole show, and those two things only happened this season.
      Emily VDW’s review of The Second Coming points out the dissonance of having one of the whiniest, most obtuse characters speak truth on social hypocrisies (AJ and Bush’s America). I wonder if K&H is offering us a version of that, too, with Tony trying to get ANYONE to agree “yeah Chris was a junkie loser who would’ve endangered his family’s health and safety had he lived.” On some level, Chrissie’s death, however predicated on his tragic background, is good in that it removes not only a major liability to the Soprano family, but also part of a predatory drain on the microcosm of north Jersey. However, because it’s Tony, and his reasons for doing it are ultimately more selfish, we’re left feeling gross with ourselves for sympathizing with a lack of sympathy. At least, I think that’s prob Chase’s intention. I don’t think he has contempt for his audience, as some have said, but I do think he likes to challenge them.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Speaking of Carlo, was it ever truly established that he flipped ? I need to watch this again, because I rewatched the series recently and I kept thinking that it wasn’t really for sure that he did flip….

        Liked by 1 person

    • Why do you say that about the coco scene? To me it seemed obvious so the fact you think it’s misinterpreted makes me think I completely missed something?

      Like

  12. I was amazed to see that you didnt include one connection about Chris being suffocated by Tony. At Chris’s intervention, when Tony learns that he sat on Adriana’s dog and suffocated it, he tells Chris “I oughta suffocate you, you little prick!”

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Sublime analysis. Excellent.

    This episode had a bigger impact on my in-time viewing, and on my memory and re-viewings of the series, than any other – and by a wide margin. This episode is the turning point. Chris is gotten rid of – though for all the potential reasons he should have been killed off, we’re never really sure exactly what the reason is. My late dad said something like, “About time. Finally.” Which is right, 100%. Chris has been a bag on Tony’s hip since the pilot, and that’s only gotten worse. He’s going to bring down the house if he sticks around. But does the “vicarious patricide” angle make sense? The retribution for having Adrianna killed, in the same middle-of-the-night, riding with Tony, the drugged-up parallel to what starts her down the path to her own death? The harkening back to the wine score in Pennsy (“I love you, man”), which all loses “some of its pop” so quickly?? Absolutely. All of them. In so many ways.

    But the most important thing, to me, is this: Kennedy and Heidi is the episode in which I gave up on Tony. I tried. Christ, I tried so hard – to like him, to admire him, to feel for him, to fear and respect him, to recognize his intellect and sense of humor and recognize how much I’d like to hang out with him. But this episode – it makes him irredeemable. Every goddamn second of it. From the accident and the nose-squeeze (it’s a measure of how much I bought in that I still – STILL – can’t say that Tony actually murdered Chris). To the bullshit charades – on the phone to Carm from the hospital, looking down on the baby being nursed, the dreams about his admissions to Melfi of his killing his family members, his fat face slopping down the shrimp cocktail and steak, blithely banging who I think is the hottest woman in the entirety of the series as though he was rubbing one out, mouthing off to Phil breaking his balls about Chris getting killed, the asbestos thing, the step-in-shit luck at the roulette wheel. And most of all, the “epiphany” in the desert. God, what a great move by Chase. Is Tony still that bright? That juiced in to the universe? That spiritually aware? NO. No, no, no. God, no. He’s a fat f*cking crook from New Jersey. And the joke has been on me.

    Not any more. Not after this episode. I read the Yochelson study three episodes before Melfi did. But, God – was it worth it. I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great take. I’m guessing you mean it metaphorically when you say you read the Yochelson study, that you gave up on Tony 3 episodes before Melfi did, right? I’m asking because I’m curious what people who have read the study think of Melfi’s decision to terminate therapy based on it…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yeah, Chase removed any lingering doubts re: who Tony “really” is during the course of 6B. His business is in turmoil, his “beloved nephew” is dead, his son is a rudderless mess and he’s in Vegas, compensating for not banging Adriana by getting high with and banging Chris’ Vegas girlfriend like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s a sociopath through and through, he has no concern or compassion for anyone and just goes about in pity for himself, always looking for the easiest and most exploitative path.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I always wondered after this episode if he would have killed his own family to escape prison. Remember when he smashed the suv and told aj don’t test me? I always wondered if the writers were telling us he either wanted to kill AJ or would do it if needed?

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Thanks. Yes, most definitely being metaphorical there. But I have read Yochelson and Samenow, subsequent to watching the series. Harshly critical not only of efforts to treat the sociopath and criminal through psychotherapy, but also of the notion that the criminal’s plight is due to anything (upbringing, experiences, etc.) but the criminal’s intrinsic duplicity, chicanery, or… for lack of a better word, innate evil. It’s an in-your-face piece of analysis. Have attached a link to a good synopsis:
    https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1192&context=psychfacpub
    Initially published in 1976. So, yeah, I should have read it before Season 6.2 (am an academic, different field) . But Jen Melfi, with her existential crisis, going on the lam, drinking in between sessions, etc., DEFINITELY should have read it before then, and so too should have Elliott Kupferburg. But at least Elliott’s instincts were right from the very beginning: she needed to drop him, stat.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Great comments dendu_va, & thanks for the link. I’ve watched the series so many times, that I don’t remember what
      point in my first watching I gave up on Tony. It was probably the Marie / Vito Jr. betrayal. But I’ve always wondered why
      it took Melfi so long.

      @Ron, you were curious what people who’d read the study thought about Melfi’s decision to halt treatment? Here goes
      my take…

      I’ve read the list of the Criminal Personality traits from the Yochelson & Samenow study, and while I think it was
      was a factor in turning Melfi, other conditions had to be met first, after all Melfi had known what Tony was for
      a very long time. She frankly diagnosed him to his face in “House Arrest” as an anti-social predator, a shark that
      must keep moving, or else. Melfi indicated in “Blue Comet” that she was familiar with Robert Hare. He co-created
      the psychopathy checklist and wrote the popular book “Without Conscience” which includes Hare’s accounts of being
      manipulated by psychopaths during treatment. So, although it is strange that she had to be pointed at the earlier
      Y&S study, it shouldn’t have given her information she didn’t already know. The problem was that throughout the
      series, Melfi struggled with blind spots, with Tony as an unreliable narrator of his own life, with having much
      less information than we the viewers, and with the general murkiness of SopranoWorld in which ‘knowing’ without truly
      knowing is endemic.
      Melfi tried several times during the series to terminate treatment with Tony, only to be pulled back in for
      various reasons – her empathy, her fear of him, the comforting sheathed knowledge that she could unleash Tony as
      her avenger after being raped in “Employee of the Month”, her dedication to her profession, the appearance
      of flashes of insight with Tony at critical junctures, and just being caught up in Tony’s story.
      Nevertheless, Melfi’s been dropping hints in S6 about moving Tony along, and she’s been drawing boundaries with him.
      In “Cold Stones”, she asks, “Anthony we’ve been dancing around this for years – how you live. What is it you want
      from your life?” Tony, as usual, evades like he always does when Melfi asks this sort of question. These consistent
      evasions should have been sufficient for Melfi without the “…cannot be helped by talk therapy…” clause of the Y&S study.
      It looks like the social embarrassment she suffers at the dinner with her peers is what really sets the conditions
      to jolt Melfi back into knowing what she already knew. Kupferburg basically sprung an intervention on her at that
      dinner, outing Melfi in front of people whose opinion of her she cared about. That primed her to finally read through
      the Y&S study and view Tony without the filter of SopranoWorld goggles. Whatever remaining reasons she had for keeping
      Tony as a client were overwhelmed by her belief that Tony had been using her for years as a de facto member of his crew.
      Melfi’s anger is obvious in their final session with her goggles off, and it’s a testament to Gandolfini’s acting chops that we still
      feel sympathy for Tony even as we know that the knowledge that she had been captured and used must have been extremely
      painful for Melfi. Her experience will leave a scar, but at least she severed her connection to SopranoWorld with her
      life and liberty intact.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the link

      Like

  15. Fantastic write up on one of my favorite episodes! If possible could you give me your opinion on something? I always thought Tony’s trip to Las Vegas was his last fuck you to Chris (Beyond the grave). Tony sleeps with Chris’s Las Vegas Girlfriend which seemed to me to be the main purpose of his trip to Vegas. Tony was deeply hurt by the movie Cleaver, and in that movie it shows the boss seducing Cleaver’s girlfriend, something that Tony surprisingly did not do. I always thought that because of the accusation in the movie, Tony performed a self fulfilling prophecy to get back at Chris after his death. Am I reading too much into this or does it make sense?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Makes a lot of sense, it continues that “life imitates art imitates life” idea from “Stage 5”

      Like

    • IMO there’s definitely a parallel to be drawn there. Tony (like Sally Boy) can’t resist “taking” something from Christopher one last time, using his death to hook up with Chris’ Vegas girlfriend, indulge his hedonism and embark on an ultimately meaningless “spiritual journey”, all the while going about in pity for himself, as usual.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Something that I think The Sopranos does better than any other show is to make the deaths of the important characters feel completely natural even though an episode before does not seem that death will happen. I have not heard anyone say that the deaths of Richie, Ralphie or Christopher were forced or that they were out of character, which only demonstrates the excellent character writing.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I love seeing there’s a new post, and enjoy your analysis immensely. This time it caught me in the hospital sitting watch with my mom after her surgery, so thanks for helping pass the night. One tiny detail, maybe you can make something out of it- Schipol (pronounced the way Tony introduces Julianna to Carmela) is Amsterdam’s international airport. I’ve been trying to find any significant meaning beyond the obvious drug connection (which is pretty thin) and the humor, with little success. I’m sure David Chase knows this, not so sure Tony does…anywho…just a tidbit

    Liked by 1 person

  18. When Tony shouts “I get it!” at the end, the first time I watched it, I thought he said “I did it!” as in, finally being able to admit that he killed Chris. Even though on rewatch, I can tell he did indeed say “get” and not “did”, I think he does feel that same sense of relief either way at the end.
    Also, another point of Chris’ bad luck with cars, when he got jumped in the hood his vehicle was stolen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Emmanual Kreisman

      “He had a heavy foot that kid…always”.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That was so funny! There is such a whimsical, observational, black humor, random musing quality to east coast conversation…a sudden jump from tragic to mundane, with no sense of irony, that you just don’t hear from other regions…the sopranos really nailed that….

        Liked by 1 person

  19. I don’t think Tony was planning on killing Christopher until he heard him say that he would never pass a blood test. It was the last straw. he saw the opportunity to get rid of a potential threat and he took it. We could say that he would die anyway, but nothing is for sure. Chris would have definitely flipped if he got arrested. I was struck when I was watching season 1 again the other day when Christopher was concerned for Tony ‘s well being and actually saved him from the first aborted assassination attempt. You could tell there was real love in him for Tony then. What a difference from the last episodes of the series. I am constantly amazed at the progression of the characters and of these seasons and how they all fit together. Amazing. Only on re-watching do you really see the relationships change. Also, reading these blogs has given us a lot of insight. I look at all series differently now.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. In defense of Chris. To quote Ally Barese “I wouldn’t piss on him if he was on fire”, not after Adriana and JT. But I’m certain he wouldn’t drive with his daughter while being high. Chris despised himself and despised Tony for reasons we know. He viewed Adriana and probably Kelli as means to the end (having children). Based on his rambling in prev. episode and overall I’d say he wouldn’t endanger his child, no matter what.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think you fully grasp the mindset of an addict. To think they can just call time out or decide when to let the addiction effect their judgment is naïve. I don’t say that to be rude. I am just letting you know that someone in that state cannot be trusted to do what they would normally know is right–or, in this case, not do what they normally know is wrong.

      Like

      • Especially heroin. As another poster pointed out, junior was right about Chris. It’s funny how junior was often looked at with pity and ridicule by the others but as time went on, he turned out to have been smarter, shrewder and more suited to leadership than any of the others…

        Like

  21. Good connection with Chris’s hat. It’s true that we first see Tony and Christopher in a car chasing down Mahaffey and last see them together in a car getting into a wreck. Nothing illustrates the morbidity of this show more than tracing the characters to their origins. So much had changed both in real life America and in Sopranos universe from 1999 to 2007.

    And yes…long live Chris’s malapropisms. He and Tony went off that road like a bat on a hill!

    Lastly, Walden was named after Mr. Bobby Darrin. Robert Walden Cosotto.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. You got a mention in The Ringer article about SopranoCon! Wish I could have gone, how was it?

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Like Orangeannie said above, these deep analyses do carry over to watching other TV series.
    It’s hard to get deeply into other TV series after The Sopranos though. Even when they are interesting plot-wise, I find few that are
    worthy of a re-watch – the connectivity, layering and multiple interpretations that support re-watching is a rare gift. One thing I always
    notice is whenever an actor who played in the Sopranos shows up in another series. I was watching the “Sneaky Pete” series and
    noticed the actor Michael Drayer who played “Jason Parisi” was playing a character by the name of “Eddie”. In a case of
    art imitating art, “Eddie” succumbs to violent, anthopogenic loss a toe in one of the episodes.
    I guess you could call that karma. The writers and the actor must have been laughing their heads off!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I received the Sopranos boxset 2 and a half years ago and have been slowly working my way through it.
    I also found your website a few episodes in and didn’t realise that I’ve been following at a similar pace as you’ve been updating (I assumed that everything here was from several years ago. It was only when I caught up with you at the start of season 6 that I realised this was ‘live’).
    Anyway I wanted to say your writing has fed into my understanding of the show and has given layers to just about the most multilayered show in TV history.
    On top of that I now reach the end at the same time as you will finish your guide and coincidentally as Scorcese releases The Irishman. A movie which openly feeds back into The Sopranos as The Sopranos fed from Scorcese. Perhaps a distraction from your blog but I’d be interested in your view on The Irishman. I watched this feeling like this was a movie about how in the end the regularness of life catches up on us all. Personally I could not imagine a more apt way to head into the final episode however it may end..

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good way of describing The Irishman. I spent the first two hours of the movie pretty unimpressed, it has a lot of the usual excess you find in a lot of Scorcese’s work, but the last 30 minutes was so good, it saved the whole movie for me.

      Like

  25. After the episode was over, I (like most viewers) spent a fair bit of time thinking about what Tony “gets.”
    I realize there’s no one-sized-fits-all answer here (which is one of the reasons why I think that the Sopranos is up there with some of the greater works of fiction; each episode leaves the audience with plenty to parse through and debate over), but one of my theories is that Tony “gets” why someone would want to kill their own son…
    It’s no secret that Tony’s troubled relationship with his mother is critical in his development as a human, and I would argue that this mother-son relationship drastically distorted his understanding of what it means to be a loving parent. I think Tony spent much of the series wrestling with this idea, and I further argue that Tony would have killed Christopher much earlier on in if not for his internal struggle. But he didn’t. Christopher nearly sticks around to the bitter end despite all of the bullshit because Tony puts up with it… because, unlike his mother, Tony could be a loving parent if he really tries.
    But this empathy and generally vulnerable disposition is unsustainable for Tony. It’s too boring. It’s a lot of work. It’s a liability. And the jig is up when he kills Christopher. He’s tired of being a loving parent. It turns out that it’s a lot of work. And for Tony, that hard work is a huge drain.
    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is one of the major episodes that puts the nail in the coffin for a lot of viewers’ moral expectations of Tony. Most viewers gave up at this point. I know I did. We see Tony revert to his most basic self, ultimately confirming that the version of Tony Soprano as a loving, empathetic human being is just an illusion. For Tony, it’s all a royal pain in the ass. And so he kills Christopher because it’s the convenient thing for him to do. And when the fallout of the situation is too cumbersome, too heavy for Tony, he heads to Vegas and has a blast.
    “I get it!” Tony exclaims, and I think Livia Soprano is nodding somewhere far off in agreement.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Emmanual Kreisman

      Good comment. I made a comment in the For all debts public and private ( Season 4 ep 1 ) that it was actually in that episode where Tony makes the ultimately damning ( and devilish ) decision vis a vis Chris’s life and soul. In that episode, he ( most likely ) invents a backstory for Dickie Moltisanti with a rando Cop as his killer and then winds Chris up and has him commit a cop-kill. It’s every bit as morally evil and calculated as what Tony does in Kennedy and Heidi and boy is he proud of it. He can’t even refrain from proudly telling Melfi about his scheme.

      Liked by 1 person

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