Tony and Paulie head to sunny south Florida
when things get too hot for them in New Jersey.
Corrado tries to recapture some of his old glory.
Phil Leotardo makes a power-play in New York.
Episode 80 – Originally aired April 22, 2007
Written by Terence “The Wolf of Wall Street” Winter
Directed by Phil Abraham
When this episode originally aired in April of 2007, there were only six weeks left before The Sopranos would close up shop for good. Many of us were in a nostalgic mood as our favorite series was winding down, so it was kind of fitting that Chase would provide us with an episode about nostalgia. In hindsight, some viewers have tended to lump the relatively understated “Remember When” together with the following episode “Chasing It” (an hour that many found problematic), so that episodes 6.15 and 6.16 together form an exasperating lull (they would argue) in an otherwise exciting and dynamic final season. There may be some validity to this perception, but “Remember When” is nevertheless a solid, clever episode, one that sets up the endgame of The Sopranos while also giving Dominic Chianese a final chance to shine.
The episode begins with Paulie coming over to the Soprano home early one morning. (Note that his first line to Tony is, “Hey, sorry for the ambush”—a sentence that prefigures the later tension between the two men.) Paulie has arrived with disturbing news: Larry Barese (who we saw get arrested last episode at the Cleaver premiere) has been talking to the Feds about Willie Overalls, Tony’s first murder victim. With this plot development, Chase is once again invoking the idea of karmic justice as he has done throughout this season—Tony’s past may finally be catching up to him. After watching investigators dig around the area where Willie’s body is buried, Tony and Paulie decide it would be in their best interests to leave town.
Tony and Paulie’s trip down to Miami give them plenty of time to reminisce. Over dinner, the two men cast their memories back, fondly recollecting Johnny Boy Soprano and the good ol’ days. Tony doesn’t mind a little bit of reminiscing, but he gets annoyed at Paulie’s willingness to share extended stories with anyone who is willing to listen. After Paul gives too many details of their itinerary to a fellow hotel guest, Tony bitches him out for his loose lips. (Ashamed, Paulie instinctively reaches for comfort-food, stocking up on the hotel’s free Danish.) But Paulie Walnuts just can’t stop talking—he yaps too much during dinner with Beansie and some attractive young ladies. After observing Paulie’s non-stop yammering, Tony’s suspicion that it was he who revealed Ralph’s Ginny-joke to Johnny Sac so many years ago gets strengthened. A capo with a big mouth is not what Tony needs in his famiglia. It just might be too much of an occupational hazard to keep Paulie Gaultieri around.
It is fairly routine in the gangster-genre for one character to liquidate another character if that is what it takes to maintain his freedom and/or lifestyle. And this has certainly happened plenty of times on The Sopranos, as the deaths of Big Pussy, Adriana, and Tony Blundetto—to name a few—can attest. But the regularness of life also has much influence on how characters behave in SopranoWorld, and I think at least part of the reason why Tony thinks about getting rid of Paulie is quite mundane: Paulie Walnuts can be so damn annoying. Over the course of their long relationship, Tony has spent a dreadful amount of time feeling irritated and bored by Paulie. (Tony even went into tachycardia during his hospital stay last year while hearing Paulie tell one of his interminable tales.) Most of us have experienced those tiresome moments that inevitably crop up in long-term relationships. Many of us may have even momentarily fantasized, during some tedious moment, about wrapping our hands around the neck of a spouse, friend, parent, boss or coworker. The difference between us and Tony Soprano, however, is that Tony might actually turn to violence to escape the tedium.
Tony gets great news—he is cleared of Willie’s death when Larry Barese pins the murder on Jackie Aprile (who is well beyond the reach of the law). Tony is relieved, but his mood darkens when he spies Paulie in the next room, chortling at an episode of Three’s Company. (I’ve never felt closer to old Paulie Walnuts than at this moment—I can “remember when” Jack Tripper and company were my favorite thing to watch on TV.) Tony seems to reach a breaking point as he listens to Paulie’s annoying laughter.
Chase uses a couple of methods to raise the dramatic tension and get us to believe that the current episode may be Paulie’s last. For example, Chase’s camera clearly lingers on Paulie’s white shoes at one point. (Many viewers came to equate “white shoes” with “death,” particularly after a prolonged shot of white shoes in the previous episode just as Johnny Sac was dying.) As Paulie and Tony board a boat, Paulie flashes back to the time years ago when they killed Big Pussy aboard a similar-looking boat (“Funhouse,” season 2). As they have lunch on the cruiser, Tony—after taking note of an axe hanging on the bulkhead—starts cross-examining Paulie about the Ginny-joke. Old Walnuts senses that he might be in some real trouble now. (The flashback to “Funhouse” may also add to the growing tension because it was in that previous hour that Tony gave some thought—at least subconsciously—to killing Paulie: he shot Gaultieri in one of his dreams in that episode.)
The camerawork and editing of this sequence aboard the boat are noteworthy. Chase utilizes the up-and-down wave action of the water to highlight the up-and-down tension between the two men. We’ve often seen how Chase uses high- or low-camera angles on The Sopranos to either amplify or diminish a character; here, the camera angle remains fairly constant, but the rocking motion of the boat in effect moves the camera into “high” and “low” viewpoints. As each of the men alternate between a higher and lower physical position, it underscores our question: Which one of the men will get the upper hand? Tony seems to be in full control of the situation when he is juxtaposed against the blue sky, but moments later, he is diminished as he falls below the line of the horizon:
Paulie looks quite intimidating when his side of the boat is lifted skyward, but more vulnerable when his starboard side dips down:
The constant shifting of the horizon line, which is rarely at a 90-degree right-angle to the picture frame, destabilizes the composition and adds to the feeling that things just ain’t right. Tony makes his way over to the axe and we really begin to think that it’s Bye Bye Time for Paulie. Tony weighs his options for a moment, and then decides to grab a root beer instead of a weapon. Danger averted.
I suppose there are several reasons why Tony decided not to “lose” his friend at sea, and one may have been the recognition that Paulie’s assets still outweigh his liabilities. Earlier, when they met with some young Miami bad guys at a boatyard, Paulie showed that he’s still got some balls: though the younger men outnumbered him, Paulie didn’t hesitate to get right in their faces. The Cubans, and Tony too, must have been impressed by the old man’s grit.
I find the visuals and staging of this scene in the Miami boatyard to be very interesting. I think that Chase may have used the scene to make a purposeful contrast between the Miami baddies and our New Jersey Mafiosi. The Miami guys look so slick, stepping out of a luxury car in their fine clothes. The characters and location look like something that could have been shot for Miami Vice:
The Miami crew’s leader is named Esteban, perhaps a call-back to “Esteban Calderone,” the primary villain in Season 1 of Miami Vice. Michael Mann’s TV series broke new ground in the 1980s with its stylized visuals and thumping musical scores. It was a very contemporary show but still displayed many of the characteristics of classic film noir: seedy characters, dark themes, damaged heroes, unhappy endings. The style and tragic tone of Miami Vice were clearly a part of Mann’s signature philosophy of creating an on-screen world that is “larger than life.” (Mann doesn’t hesitate to go over-the-top in order to create his dramatic worlds… I mean really, how many Vice cops actually use a convertible Ferrari as their daily driver?) Chase’s TV series is groundbreaking too, but for the opposite reason—it puts an emphasis on “the fuckin’ regularness of life.” The Sopranos doesn’t try to be larger-than-life, it tries to be true-to-life. Tony doesn’t strike a million-dollar cocaine deal with the Miami guys now but a rather more mundane agreement involving pool toys and shampoo. And Tony and Paulie don’t look anything like the always-stylish Crockett and Tubbs here—they could pass for a pair of regular guys out for a night of bowling:
We’re only three episodes into this mini-season, yet Tony has already come close twice to killing members of his inner circle. Of course, Tony has already killed people that were close to him in previous seasons, but their murders were, in a broad sense, “justified” by the seriousness of the circumstances that Tony found himself in. (Again, just look at the deaths of Big Pussy and Adriana and Tony Blundetto.) But in Season 6B, Tony’s hand is not being forced by dire circumstances. He seems to be entertaining these murderous thoughts almost on a lark: two episodes ago, it was Bobby, for out-fighting him during a tussle, and now Paulie, for…well, for nothing in particular. Tony’s humanity is getting stamped out as time passes, he is turning into something truly monstrous. Bobby and Paulie are able to escape Tony’s homicidal impulses, but another member of T’s inner circle will not be so lucky three episodes from now.
“Remember When” functions as a final chance for Dominic Chianese to showcase his talent, and he makes the most of the opportunity. While Paulie Gaultieri keeps reminiscing about the “good ol’ days,” Corrado actually tries to recapture them now. Although old age and dementia are catching up to Corrado during his incarceration, some of the impulses and characteristics that propelled him to the top of the New Jersey famiglia are still strong within him. He still has a thirst for power, intimidating other inmates and taking a leadership role among them. He has figured out which wheels he needs to grease in order to operate various unsanctioned activities at the institution. He has got a couple of different money-making schemes going on. He’s got a level of spunk and spitfire that we haven’t seen in him in a long time. There’s a gleam in his eye as he talks shit to one of the orderlies: “I saw your girl earlier today at pet therapy. How does she keep her coat so shiny?” Things are going so well for Corrado that when Pat Blundetto calls to hatch an escape plan, he quickly nixes the idea. (He hangs up on Pat and goes back to watching an infomercial, which—perhaps notably—ends with a man saying “I decided I wanted something where I was my own boss.”) Corrado is enjoying his current life which has a bit of a resemblance to his old life as the NJ Boss. Of course, it’s a bit sad that the “executive” poker game he now runs is populated by mental patients rather than celebrities and high rollers. (One of the players, suffering from Alzheimer’s, doesn’t even know what hand he’s holding—but ends up winning the pot anyway.) And it’s a bit sad that Corrado is transacting his affairs with Kit Kat bars and big red buttons instead of stacks of $100 bills as he once did. Nevertheless, it is quite impressive that Corrado still has the strength of personality to shape his environment as he wants, despite the dementia encroaching upon him.
“Boss” Corrado is able to play out his scaled-back mob-land fantasies inside the institution only because he has the help of a young Asian-American man named Carter (who, in analogous terms, is operating as his capo). But Carter is a volcano ready to erupt, and Chase seems to give us a hint of this in an early scene: Carter walks into Corrado’s room just after a TV reporter for the Weather Channel says “They can be unexpected, frightening events, but here at Crater Lake National Park, they’re just part of the scenery.” The reporter is talking about some type of extreme weather event, like a tornado, at Crater Lake but his words seem to foreshadow Carter’s violent outburst later in the hour. (And “Crater” even manages to function as an anagram of “Carter.”)
Critic Matt Zoller Seitz notes this episode has a strong “mirroring” between its two major storylines much like those acclaimed episodes “College” and “University” previously had. In one storyline here, Chase explores Tony and Paulie’s father-son type relationship. (Tony’s lady-friend even says she thought at first that Paulie was Tony’s dad, to which Tony replies, “There was a time when I wished he was.”) Congruently, Corrado and Carter have developed something of a father-son type of relationship.
Strengthening the congruence: neither Paulie nor Corrado ever had kids of their own. The closest thing Corrado had to a son was his nephew Tony, and so it is not very surprising that he refers to his pseudo-son Carter as “Anthony” at one point. For his part, Carter equates Corrado with his father—but this is not exactly a good thing for Corrado because the young man clearly has some pent-up daddy issues. Carter has an alarming fit while recounting his father’s disappointment at his 96% score on a spelling test. (I’m guessing that this character was written as an Asian-American in order to play into the intense pressure that many Asian-American youth are under in real life, to always excel and out-perform and live up to the so-called “model minority” label. Carter’s mother here even seems a bit like one of those tiger-moms that Amy Chua has written about.)
Corrado’s fantasy of being back in the mob goes to his head and he beats the crap out of a Rutgers professor whom he has a beef with. The facility administrators, who have the full weight of the State behind them, press Corrado to submit to their rules and regimen. So he submits—and seriously disappoints Carter in the process. During a “Country Roads” sing-along, Corrado makes a reprimanding gesture at Carter’s bad behavior. Angry, frustrated and totally unable to cope, Carter rushes his father-figure and unleashes a furious attack. In the aftermath, Corrado’s eyeglasses—which we’ve come to associate with him like a totem—lay broken on the institution floor.
In the final shot of the episode, we see a bruised Corrado—iconic glasses held together with tape—sitting outside, taking part in a pet therapy class. Earlier in the hour, Corrado had flung an insult at one of the orderlies which both zinged the man’s girlfriend and mocked the pet therapy class. Now, all his pluck and spunk gone, he is participating in pet therapy himself alongside the rest of the “drooling chadrools.” The increased medication dosages, the attack by his surrogate son, the snowballing dementia, and the simple passing into old age—they have all severely diminished Corrado. As we watch the image slowly fade out, we sense that Corrado will fade out of the remainder of the Sopranos narrative just as he is fading away from being the man and Boss he once was.
I think this final shot of the hour may be one of the most incredible shots of the entire series because it might be evoking both the opening shot of The Godfather Part I and the closing shot of The Godfather Part II. In the first scene of The Godfather Pt. I, Vito Corleone stroked his cat much like Corrado strokes a cat now:
In the closing shot of The Godfather Pt. II, Michael Corleone sat outdoors and reflected upon those long gone days when his family was all together and everything was good, just as Corrado seems to be doing now:
Francis Ford Coppola’s G1 and G2 taken together are considered by many to be the greatest achievement in American film history. The opening and closing scenes that bracket Coppola’s awesome achievement are perhaps being referenced by Chase’s final shot of this hour. The Godfather films are the chronicle of a proud and powerful mobster family. “Remember When” is Chase’s final chronicle of the once proud and powerful Corrado Soprano.
This episode is something of a stand-alone hour; Tony and Paulie’s visit to Miami and our visit to Corrado’s detention center aren’t very connected to the overall arc of Season 6B. In a sense, though, there hasn’t been much of an overall arc to the season so far. Of course, there is a power struggle going on in New York, one which is starting to give some general shape and thrust to the season. But that storyline almost seems like a minor affair. (Todd VanDerWerff admires how Chase doesn’t shine a spotlight on the game of thrones going on in NY: “Can I say how much I love the way the show plays out its major, series-ending story arc in the background of all of these weird little short stories about Tony and his guys?”) Though it occurs a little bit in the background, I need to get some of the goings-on in New York on the record because they do become consequential over time. After Phil Leotardo gives Doc Santoro his “taste” (i.e. money) at a restaurant, Doc helps himself to a taste literally—he forks a morsel out of Leotardo’s plate. This cannot abide, it will not do. Doc Santoro later gets whacked by Leotardo’s men as he walks out of a massage parlor. The road is now clear for Phil Leotardo to assume the crown in New York.
The title of the episode is an immediate giveaway that this hour is about the past, and that is a troublesome thing for Sopranos’ characters because their pasts are so full of evil. The notion of karma, or at least a sort of karmic justice for past misdeeds, was on the minds of many viewers in 2007 as the series was coming to a close. “Remember When” completely plays into this concern. William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We clearly see in this hour that Tony’s past is still with him, as he essentially has to go on the lam for a murder he committed many years ago. He tells Carmela that he is facing some minor gambling charge rather than tell her the truth about the potential murder rap, but she still worries that they can’t outrun their past: “This is what life is still like? At our age??” With her typical self-blindness, Carmela doesn’t realize that the reason why their lives haven’t changed is because they haven’t changed. Matt Zoller Seitz writes that this episode shows us that “the consequences of a past bad choice wouldn’t be so bad if they caught up to a changed person.” The troubling thing about people, though, is that they don’t usually change very much. This is mostly true in the real world, and it’s almost absolutely true in SopranoWorld.
The episode title most obviously comes from Tony’s memorable and quotable line: “‘Remember When’ is the lowest form of conversation.” He is right, of course—one doesn’t need to be a very skilled or knowledgeable conversationalist to reminisce about the past. But I want to take a moment to defend reminiscing. Some of the warmest, most cheerful conversations that we ever have are the ones with our friends and family where we recall some past event or shared memory. Reminiscing is an important way of connecting with each other and with our collective past. I understand that Tony dismisses reminiscing as “the lowest form of conversation” mainly because he is trying to get Paulie to shut the hell up, stop sharing so many details with so many people. But I wonder if there is more to Tony’s statement…
Tony is not a very nostalgic man by nature. True, he does hark back upon his life sometimes in Dr. Melfi’s office—but usually only at her prodding. In general, he situates his thoughts in the present moment and not in the past. We might even note that Tony’s first words of Season 6B were “Alright, let’s not go backwards, huh?” (He was speaking to Johnny Sac, who is more of a sentimental and emotional man, often finding it difficult to get past his various grudges.) We might also remember that Tony hated Feech LaManna’s nostalgic trips down memory lane so much that they seemed to have factored into his decision to have Feech sent back to the slammer. Tony has always been vulnerable to the philosophy of disconnection and isolation that was practiced by his mother. If reminiscing is a way of reiterating bonds and connections as I’m suggesting it is, then Tony’s disgust at such retrospection is something that could be isolating him even further. Tony’s bonds with others certainly seem to be fraying in this final season, and more reminiscing might have been a way of repairing those relationships. But I guess if your memories are as treacherous as Tony’s are, you probably wouldn’t want to look back either. Who would want to think back upon the time their father asked them to commit their first murder while their wife was at home pregnant with their first child?
I think one more point to make about the episode title is that there is something wistful, almost tragic, in how it relates to Corrado’s storyline here. Corrado is falling into dementia and losing his memory, so he is losing his ability to reminisce and do the whole “remember when” thing. Corrado’s mental decline has been the source of some humor over the last few seasons, but Chase closes this episode with an ultimately poignant approach to the man’s slow and agonizing descent into old age. Of all the various aspects to “the fuckin’ regularness of life,” there is perhaps nothing more wistful and heartbreaking than the fucking regularness of getting old.
(Ironically, there may be a benefit to Corrado’s growing senility in that it could spare him from the kind of karmic justice that we expect for an aging Mafioso: he most probably will never get whacked and he will not be sentenced to hard time in a maximum-security prison. There is, nevertheless, a kind of karmic retribution in the savage beating he gets from Carter, especially when we consider that Carter functions as a sort of surrogate for Tony Soprano. It’s almost as if this Tony-surrogate is getting vengeance on Corrado for trying to kill Tony in Season 1 and then shooting Tony in Season 6.)
It is very important within the value-system of these mobsters to be “stand-up guys.” During dinner together, Paulie shows his respect for Beanie by calling him “a stand-up guy” (before immediately realizing he made a faux pas toward his wheelchair-bound friend). Beansie has a mutual respect for Paulie. But Tony has suspicions about their silver-winged colleague:
Beansie: All I know is Paulie Gaultieri is a stand-up guy.
Tony: Has he ever really been put to the test?
Paulie himself seems not to be so sure how he would perform if he were put to that test. During a dream, he asks Pussy Bonpensiero, “When my time comes, tell me, will I stand up?” Big Pussy may have been a stand-up guy at one time, but he wasn’t towards the end of his life, and this was underscored in his last scene—Pussy’s final words were: “I gotta sit down. I feel like I can’t stand. Is that ok, Tony? That I sit?”
(Tony answered by firing a bullet into Pussy’s chest.) Paulie is startled out of his dream. He grabs some dumbbells and furiously starts doing curls. He has always been proud of his biceps, which figured so prominently in one of Beansie’s old photographs:
Paulie can remember when being a stand-up guy came so naturally and easily for him, back when he was a young man. He tries desperately now to recapture that time and that mindset. But doubts about his own loyalty weigh heavily upon him—they even plague his sleep. And no amount of weight-lifting may be able to lift that burden.
There were references to peeing in the two previous episodes of this season (Carm and Bobby Bacala each had to take a piss in the season opener and Kelli Moltisanti needed to go in the last episode). Chase’s urinary interest continues here, as Beansie excuses himself to go empty his colostomy bag and also as Corrado pisses his pants at the detention center. I think all the pee references are part of Chase’s commitment to portraying “the regularness of life.” In the case of Corrado now, it may also play into the idea of karmic justice: here is a formerly strong and violent mafia don who once controlled all of north Jersey, but now is so weak and compromised that he can’t even control his own bladder.
The reference here to Dick Cheney accidently shooting an acquaintance in the face provides some comedy, but it may also be another example of Chase’s increased criticism of the Administration that was in power at the time. The accidental shooting was great fodder for comedians and late-night shows, but more seriously, the accident seemed to be an almost perfect symbol of the bloody and bungled messes that often resulted from the Administration’s heedless, gun-happy policies. Chase sharpens his criticism later in the hour when Corrado says that it may be easier to reach Cheney “at his outfit” Halliburton. (The Vice President’s “outfit” should be the Federal Government of the United States, not a multinational corporation.) Somewhat strangely, Carter responds to this statement by saying that his father owned Grumman stock. Carter’s response almost sounds like a non-sequitur, but I think there may be a logical reason why David Chase put the line in there. By including a reference to the prominent oil services company (Halliburton) and then immediately a reference to the prominent weapons/aerospace company (Grumman) in this conversation about Cheney, Chase could have been suggesting that oil and war were among the defining priorities of the Bush Administration.
- This is the only Sopranos episode that Phil Abraham directed. He worked on the series for six years, first as a camera operator and then as cinematographer. I think his cinematographer’s eye is apparent throughout the hour, particularly the scenes on the boat and in the boatyard. Abraham went on to direct episodes of other premium TV shows including Mad Men.
- A Godfather reference? Tony mentions that his backyard tomato crop is coming in. We all remember, of course, that Vito Corleone died among the pomodoro in his backyard. Is Chase hinting that Tony’s end is coming soon?
- Corrado mistakenly keeps referring to Jameel, the rogue orderly that he has made certain arrangements with, as “Hormel.” I think this error is a sign of his callousness and racism more than it is of his mental deterioration.
- It looks like Beansie is thriving down in south Florida. It’s great to see that the vicious attack by Richie which left him disabled didn’t turn him into an angry and bitter man. (A lot of the credit for that probably belongs to his wife.)
- At one point, Beansie mentions that the Cubans in Miami jacked an American Standard truck that was filled with plumbing and bathroom fixtures. American Standard is a real-world plumbing manufacturer, and the reference to it here seems to be part of a Sopranos tradition of using companies with the word “American” in their names. (American Biotics and American Express were previous examples. There is another example coming up in a later episode, and it’s a doozy…)
- (Soon-to-be) Famous Face: Tony and Paulie search for the Havenaire Hotel during their road-trip but find a generic chain hotel in its place, with Lin-Manuel Miranda playing one of its bellboys.
- Actor Ken Leung (‘Carter’) would later gain much recognition playing ‘Miles’ on Lost.
- Six days before this episode originally aired, a Korean-American man went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech in what became the deadliest campus shooting in American history. Many Sopranos fans at the time couldn’t help but see some parallel between the school-shooter and Carter in this hour.
- Tony asks his friend Hesh for a $200,000 loan in this hour which helps set up the storyline of the next episode, “Chasing It,” an episode that many viewers (including myself) found faulty, but one that does improve with a closer look.