The Sopranos head up to the Baccalieri’s lake-house
to celebrate Tony’s birthday.
A Monopoly game turns into a heavyweight bout.
And Bobby “pops his cherry.”
Episode 78 – Originally aired April 8, 2007
Written by Diane Frolov, Andrew Schneider, David Chase and Matthew Weiner
Directed by Tim Van Patten
The great American film director Robert Altman made a career out of subverting and twisting genre expectations. His 1971 film McCabe & Mrs. Miller, which completely subverts and reimagines the tropes of the “American Western,” is probably my favorite movie of all time. Altman himself is one of my favorite directors. Altman passed away in November 2006 but I missed the news of his death, probably because I was busy preparing for my brother’s wedding which took place that same week. I only learned of Altman’s death months later, just before Season 6 Part II of The Sopranos began airing, and that must be why I was thinking of him the first time I saw “Soprano Home Movies.” David Chase had been twisting and subverting our expectations of the gangster genre for six seasons, and he continued to do so in this hour in a way that might have made Robert Altman smile. As we watch the action in this episode move from the usual north Jersey locale to a lakeside property in upstate New York, we may think that we’re in for some peaceful and pastoral leisure and recreation. But that’s not what Chase gives us at all. “Soprano Home Movies” turns into one of the most unexpected and memorable outings of the entire series.
I’m not exactly sure why Season 6 was split into two parts. Perhaps HBO was trying to extend the run of its most successful series while it sought to fill the void left after Six Feet Under had ended. Or perhaps the network wanted to emulate the formula that had worked so well for them earlier with Sex and the City, which had had its sixth and final season split into two irregular parts. I was convinced at the time that HBO was marketing this Sopranos mini-season as “Part II” as opposed to “Season 7” because David Chase was going to pick up right where “Kaisha” had left off. (But that is not the case; we know that eight months have elapsed since the Christmas Eve that closed “Kaisha,” because the birthday that Tony now celebrates takes place in August. [It was in “Another Toothpick” that we learned that Tony’s birthday is August 24th.]) David Chase has explained that HBO labeled this mini-season as “S6 Part II” instead of “S7” simply as a way to avoid giving pay increases to the actors.
I don’t really care what the reasons behind HBO’s naming and scheduling peccadilloes were, I’m just happy that these “bonus episodes” exist. I think that Part II works very nicely…for the most part. I wasn’t thrilled by Chase’s decision to use Phil Leotardo and the NY famiglia to create tension at the end of a season yet again (although I will admit that I did get a little excited, as many viewers did, at the possibility of seeing Tony and the NJ famiglia finally wipe out their rivals from across the river for good).
Season 6 Part II seems fairly distinct to me. For one thing, it often looks different from the other seasons, and this is partly due to the multitude of new shooting locations. New York’s Putnam Valley and Lake Oscawana give a bright, sunlit atmosphere to the current episode. The next episode features a much colder color palette: cool greys and whites at the medical center/penitentiary that houses Johnny Sac and the cool blues and greys of Manhattan where Cleaver is premiered (as well as the chilly color-graded clips of Cleaver itself). A later episode will be colored by the severe desert light of Nevada and the saturated reds and yellows of Las Vegas casinos. This mini-season also has a more loosey-goosey feel to it; a number of new, quick, standalone storylines make the overall structure of the season feel even more freeform and unpredictable than what we’re used to from Chase—one hour is devoted to Johnny Sac’s final days, another to the difficulties of Vito Spatafore Jr, and another to Corrado’s relationship with a young, unbalanced Asian man. S6 Part II is also more self-reflexive than preceding seasons. This is partly because it is very aware of itself of as The Final Season, but also because its Cleaver storyline (along with HBO’s simultaneous release of a “behind-the-scenes of Cleaver” mockumentary) is the most formally “meta” thing the series has ever done. But enough of the fuckin’ preamble, let me get to the write-up…
“Soprano Home Movies” opens to the sound of some dialogue that might sound a little familiar:
Johnny Sac: He’s gonna want $50, $60k—
Tony: All right, let’s not go backwards, huh?
The joke is that Chase is doing exactly that—going backwards—with this opening scene; just as Tony delivers his line, the opening placard reveals that we are making a visit back to 2004, to a scene that we first saw in episode 5.13 “All Due Respect”:
We all remember the scene from the final minutes of the Season 5 finale “All Due Respect”: Tony is having a wintry-morning meeting with Johnny Sac when the FBI swarm in to arrest Johnny, forcing Tony to abandon his car and hoof it all the way back home. By kicking off this new season now with a scene from the past, Chase is playing to an idea that every Sopranos fan in the world was thinking about at the time—the idea of karmic justice. We all knew that these episodes were the final nine, and we all wondered how it was going to end: was the past finally going to catch up with Tony Soprano? When this scene originally played in “All Due Respect,” there was a moment when Tony got in Johnny Sac’s face and told him “I’ve paid enough, John. I paid a lot.” (Tony was referring to the fact that he had to kill his cousin Blundetto in an effort to appease Phil Leotardo, and therefore was not willing to make any additional cash payment to Phil to keep the peace.) Despite the claim that he had “paid enough,” we wonder now if Tony is going to have to pay even more—will Tony Soprano finally be brought to justice? Chase adds a small but significant beat to the re-purposed scene from 5.13: Tony tosses a gun into the snow, which is noticed by a young man who goes and picks it up. The gun becomes a consequential thing now as Tony is arrested because of the hollow-point bullets it contains. With this opening gambit, Chase immediately suggests that Tony may not be able to run from his past forever.
It had become conventional for a Sopranos season opener to feature a shot of The Star-Ledger in Tony’s driveway. Chase sticks to the convention now, and moreover, he uses the newspaper to transport us back into present day SopranoWorld:
The references to the 2007 budget passing and the Carolina Hurricanes victory confirm that it is 2006 in SopranoWorld (although it was actually 2007 in the real world when this hour originally aired). Another confirmation of the year: Tony celebrates his 47th birthday here, which would have occurred in 2006.
As the authorities bang on the front door of their home, Carmela wonders, “Is this it?” She worries that the long-awaited bill has finally come due. But Tony is arrested only on a (relatively) minor gun charge. Meadow reacts to the arrest with characteristic intelligence and advocacy, demanding to see a warrant. (At this early point in the season, her mother believes that she will go to medical school, but we get the sense here that Meadow is destined to become a lawyer.) AJ behaves as expected too. When we last saw him in “Kaisha” he seemed to be on a path to maturity, but he has gone back to being a whining, hard-hearted jerk.
Tony is released after spending a relatively short amount of time in jail. He and Carmela decide to go to Bacala’s lake house for Tony’s birthday. As they make the drive up, the sweet groove of James Gang’s “Funk #49” can be heard on the car radio, seeming to set the mood for some rollicking good times. (But perhaps the song’s lyric “I think there’s trouble brewin'” is the true omen of what lies ahead.)
As soon as they arrive at the lake house, Carmela says “I’ve had to pee since Glen Falls” and runs off to the bathroom. It is a common thing for characters on The Sopranos to slip away to the restroom; showing the banalities of everyday life is part of the verisimilitude of SopranoWorld, and helps to underscore that these characters are not so different from you and me. Indeed, the Soprano family gathering that takes place in this hour is characterized by many of the traits of a typical American family visit: fishing, eating, drinking, shooting guns, gossiping, bad karaoke, and of course, the presence of long-simmering frustrations that bubble their way up into passive-aggressive criticisms. Family gatherings just like this take place all across America every day. Our own home movies surely have a lot in common with the Soprano’s home movies.
But there are enormous differences between us and them as well. Most of us have never gone into the woods to trim a tree with an 800 round-per-minute AR-10 assault rifle like the one Bobby gives Tony. And our collection of family anecdotes don’t include the one about Dad shooting a bullet through Mom’s beehive hairdo. (It is such a vivid anecdote, I can see almost exactly how it would look as a grainy Super-8 home movie.) It is during a game of Monopoly that the uniqueness of the Soprano family truly comes to light. Bobby takes exception at a particularly nasty insult directed at Janice. “You Sopranos, you go too far,” he exclaims. When Tony sings a very loose (and dirty) cover of The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk,” all hell breaks loose. Tony and Bobby grapple and swing at each other. Bodies get thrown around the room. Carmela takes a hard fall. Furniture shatters. (It’s a brutal and realistic fight-scene. Steve Schirripa actually did bust Gandolfini’s nose here with a miscalculated head-butt.) While it’s true that many of the scenes that play out in SopranoWorld houses usually have a lot in common with what goes on in our own houses in the real world, rarely do our own houses (or game pieces) get soaked in the same quantity of blood:
Tony can’t stand that he got outmuscled by Bobby. He takes pride in his physical strength—we saw him grin at himself in the mirror after taking down Perry Annunziata (“Muscles Marinara”) last year. Tony is getting older (the plot-point of his birthday celebration emphasizes this point), and with age comes weakness. But this is a difficult thing for him to admit so he tries to convince himself that Bobby didn’t fight fair. And so everyone is left wondering if Tony is going to seek vengeance and what form such vengeance might take.
As Tony and Bobby drive ostensibly to a business meeting, it seems very possible that this might be the end of the road for Bacala. (When Bobby says that he “should’ve taken a leak before we left,” it is more than the typically banal comment of the sort that Carmela had made earlier in the hour—we get the sense that Bobby, anxious about his fate, is trying not to piss his pants.) Chase’s camera captures some images of trees as the two men turn off the main road, perhaps recalling the tree-imagery we saw as Silvio drove Adriana to her ultimate fate in “Long Term Parking.”
But Bobby was worrying prematurely—he arrives at the meeting unharmed. The mafioso meet with two Quebecois to work out a deal on expired Fosamax pills. The delivery schedule hits a snag as one of the Canadians has to take care of a problem with his sister’s ex-husband. Tony, ever the opportunist, figures out a way to get a discount on the pills and wreak vengeance on Bobby simultaneously; Tony decides to have his own brother-in-law whack the Canadian’s brother-in-law. But is Tony actually taking revenge on Bobby here? Or is he just focused on maximizing his profit? I think it’s probably a little of both. Tony has always had a talent for managing his affairs, but rarely has he been able to solve his family- and famiglia-affairs so neatly with just one stroke. As they drive back to the lake house, Tony looks quite contented. He cheerfully waves to a beautiful water-skier who cheerfully waves right back. But Bobby is clearly uncomfortable and apprehensive as he thinks about carrying out his first hit (or having to “pop his cherry,” as Tony had put it earlier).
Regardless of how uncomfortable he is, Bobby is not going to refuse Tony’s wishes. Bobby tracks down his mark and uses a photograph (which, notably, has a small child in it) to confirm that he has the right man. Bobby corners his victim in a laundry room and puts a bullet in his chest. The dying man clenches Bobby’s shirt before getting finished off with a bullet to the head. Bobby flees the laundry room, leaving a big piece of his shirt—and a bigger piece of his soul—behind.
The final two minutes of the hour rank among the most powerful two-minute sequences of the series. Tony sits on his couch at home, watching the old home movies that Janice gave him for his birthday. He has a look of amusement and nostalgia as he watches himself and his sister play in front of their childhood home in Newark. There is something bittersweet about the footage. There is sweetness in seeing little Janice and Tony cavort together just as any small siblings in the world would do, full of innocence and joy and playfulness. The bitterness comes from the knowledge that little Janice and tiny Tony will grow up in an environment of dysfunction, crime and violence that will leave its mark on their entire lives. Chase cuts from this scene to the scene of Bobby returning to his lake house after performing the hit. Little Nica excitedly runs to her father with arms wide open as soon as she sees him. (Prof. Yacowar notes that this imagery perhaps calls back the image of Meadow rushing to her father when he returned home from jail earlier in the hour.) There is bittersweetness here too: sweetness in seeing father and daughter embrace in one of the all-time great embraces of the series, but bitterness in the knowledge that Bobby has crossed a red line—no matter how tightly he clings to his innocent daughter, he will no longer be able to cling to the idea that he had some measure of innocence that the other murderous mobsters had lost long ago. And there is bitterness in the knowledge that Little Nica will now grow up in the home of a murderer. And bitterness in the fact that the child of the man Bobby killed, who we saw in an earlier photo, will never be able to hold his father the way that Nica does her own dad now.
Chase pipes in The Drifters’ 1960 hit “This Magic Moment” as Bobby looks out at the lake, holding on to his daughter like his life depended on it. It is a beautiful and moving song, but I think there is also something clever in its selection. 1960 was the first year of what was arguably the most tumultuous, transformative decade in American history, and much of the ensuing music of the Sixties reflected this tumult. “This Magic Moment,” however, still has that sweetness and wholesomeness that we associate more with the 1950s. The song, in a sense, reflects that period in American history when we transitioned from the relative “innocence” of the Fifties to the turbulent experience of the Sixties—and thus poignantly underscores the loss of Bobby’s innocence now. (I wonder how many thousands of backseat teenyboppers in the real world must have lost their innocence—or “popped their cherries—to this very song?)
When we first met Bobby Baccalieri in episode 2.02 “Do Not Resuscitate,” he did not command much respect. (Tony threatened to shove his quotations book up his fat fuckin’ ass.) And after hearing his Notre Dame/Nostradamus confusion in 4.01, it might have been insulting to rocks to describe him as “dumb as a rock.” But he has become more of a substantial person over the seasons. Tony even hints to him now that he may replace “someone” in the hierarchy who Tony has been grooming to look after the family and la famiglia should something happen to him. (We know that that “someone” is Christopher. There is obviously some sort of beef between Tony and Chris—Tony disgustedly hangs up when Chris calls to wish him Happy Birthday. Perhaps T is still stewing over Christopher’s relationship with Julianna Skiff.) I think it’s possible that one reason why Tony assigns the whacking in this episode to Bobby is because he wants to give Bobby greater responsibility now that his relationship with Chris is in a chilly spot. I had previously found it a little weird that mild-mannered Bobby would want to marry a woman like Janice (even if he does like “the spitfire type”), but now we really see how advantageous—perhaps even a little cunning—it was for him to marry the Boss’ sister. Bobby Bacala has steadily been making his way up the ladder in SopranoWorld, and will continue do so through Season 6.
You’ve come a long way, Bobby. Just try not to think about the fact that every step you take forward as a mobster means you must take two steps backward as a human being.
One of the most interesting things about S6 Part II is how we as viewers approached it. Some TV shows have the misfortune of ignominiously getting cancelled between seasons, and therefore its viewers were never even aware that they were watching its final season. That is definitely not what happened with The Sopranos—we were all very aware that this was gonna be it. And that is probably why we had such a tendency to read into every little detail in The Final Nine, tried to read into how every little thing might predict the ending. This becomes even truer on re-watch; we tend to endow the events of these final episodes with great prophetic significance.
In this context, there are quite a few things in “Soprano Home Movies” that have taken on stupendous importance within Sopranos fandom. Some viewers found a significant parallel in the fact that Tony now turns 47 years old, the same age that Eugene Pontecorvo was in “Members Only.” [This becomes significant for some viewers because the guy in the series finale who wears a Members Only jacket bears some resemblance to Eugene, and Eugene himself died at age 47.] Many viewers have also retroactively loaded great weight onto Bobby’s speculation about what it might be like to be gunned to death: “You probably don’t even hear it when it happens.” This line, the argument goes, may be commenting on the sudden silence that closes out the series.
There is one quick scene here that seems particularly freighted with significance:
This short clip has an almost mythological heft, it is seemingly filled with all sorts of noteworthy stuff. For starters, there is the water, which is endowed with significance on this series because “water” can be linked to the Soprano swimming pool, Pussy’s final resting place, Vin Makazian’s suicide, etc. Then there is the duck (ducks again!) taking flight behind Tony. There is the appearance of the boat, the same boat that Bobby and Tony sat in as they speculated about death earlier in the hour. There is the sound of a bell, which some viewers have subsequently connected to the bell at Holstens Diner.
But are we making too much of all this? In his book The Sopranos, Dana Polan makes note of this scene, but he calls attention to it because it is, in his words, “performing a joke on the viewer’s expectations.” As the dreamy sound of “This Magic Moment” begins to softly swell, we might think that the music is going to guide us into one of Tony’s flashbacks or symbol-laden dreams, but that possibility is quickly cut short when it is revealed that the music is actually coming from a radio that Bobby is fiddling with nearby. Polan cautions us that it may be a fool’s errand to read too much into the series:
The Sopranos flings seeming symbols at the viewer but then disarms the act of interpretation by making the symbols reveal nothing…The Sopranos tantalizes with suggestions of hidden significance, only to show the quest for profound understanding as more than a bit ridiculous and pretentious.
The tail end of the video clip I posted above illustrates just how ridiculous the quest for hidden significance can be, when Janice reads way too much into the way that Tony is sitting on the dock:
Janice: Fuckin’ look at him out there.
Janice: I’ve seen that ‘sitting in the chair’ thing.
Bobby: Come on, people sit in chairs.
Janice probably isn’t lying when she says she has seen that ‘sitting in the chair’ thing—she has likely seen Tony stew in anger while sitting in a chair before. (I know that we viewers have seen it before.) Janice is attempting to make meaning in the same way that we all make meaning: by making connections. She connects her previous experience to what she sees in front of her now as she tries to figure out what Tony’s intentions regarding her husband are. In a similar way, viewers began scouring previous episodes after the supremely ambiguous Series Finale, seeking connections and links that might help us to make meaning of that cut-to-black. It’s only natural for us to do so. “Soprano Home Movies” seems to provide some very key links and connections in this regard, but we would be wise—as Polan suggests—to be skeptical of how reliable and meaningful these links actually are.
In addition to the possible foreshadowing connections to the Series Finale that I outlined above, “Soprano Home Movies” also makes links to other episodes. And it does so in abundance. The opening scene is closely connected to episode 5.13, even using footage from that earlier hour. The dead “boyfriend” that Janice alludes to here must be Richie Aprile, who she shot in episode 2.12. The “gardener” that Janice mentions may be Sal Vitro. Janice tells an anecdote concering Tippy, the family dog first mentioned in 5.07. Tony brings up the secret tape recording that Janice made of him when they were kids, a story we remember Tony telling Melfi about in 6.10. The “summer place” that Carmela brings up must be Whitecaps. (I think Tony quickly changes the topic because he doesn’t want to go down that particular memory lane: it was just as they were trying to buy Whitecaps that goomar Irina made the vengeful phone call that directly led to Tony and Carmela’s separation.)
Additionally, the dirty lyric that Tony baits his sister with here (“Under the boardwalk / With a schlong in Jan’s mouth”) connects to previous blowjob-references: it was at the dinner table in 2.02 “Do Not Resuscitate” that Tony made a sly joke about Janice’s propensity for giving oral sex; and it was in 5.03 “Where’s Johnny?” that Tony mentioned her blowing roadies. (“Roadies?!” Bobby exclaimed with surprise.)
I think another noteworthy connection may be found here in Carmela’s story about their pharmacist Pradeep, whose little boy suffered brain damage after almost drowning in a swimming pool. The swimming pool has an almost mythic status on this series, it has been a site of several significant moments since the Pilot (see my 5.09 entry for a partial rundown). Carmela’s story about the fate of her pharmacist’s son in the swimming pool seems to portend an event that will befall her own son in their own backyard pool in an upcoming episode.
RX FOR SUCCESS
Even though viewers are meeting the Quebecois for the first time, we learn here that the Canadians had previously supplied the NJ mob with the anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor (is Chase taking a dig at the stereotypical “fat American” with this particular medication?), and now they will supply the mobsters with expired Fosamax pills. The mob is branching their business out into the very lucrative pharmaceuticals market. There is some irony in the fact that Tony had earlier barred Corrado and Richie Aprile from dealing cocaine on their garbage routes (because it was too risky despite the profits, the same reason Vito Corleone resisted trafficking hard drugs in The Godfather) but he now jumps at the opportunity to sell FDA-approved, legal drugs manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry. During the decade in which The Sopranos first aired, there were beginning to be contentious debates and concerns about Big Pharma’s lobbying power, pricing strategies, marketing practices, and influence over doctors and healthcare professionals. In general, I applaud the industry (particularly the folks in research & development) for reducing the amount of death and disease and pain we must suffer. At the same time, I am made uncomfortable by Big Pharma’s role in a massive insurance/industrial/healthcare complex that often seems to prioritize profit over public health. This particular type of complex is pretty unique to the United States, it doesn’t exist anywhere else on quite the same scale.
It is fitting that the Soprano’s pharmacist is named “Pradeep,” as this particular profession has gained immense popularity among Indian-Americans. I would need about 7 hands if I were to try to count on my fingers the number of Indian-American friends and family I have that work as pharmaceutical professionals in one capacity or another. One of my relatives who makes his living as a pharmaceutical sales rep likes to joke that he is a “legal drug dealer.” Tony Soprano, unlike my relative, cannot call himself a legal drug dealer—even though the products T is trafficking were in fact lawfully manufactured. Chase seems to be showing us, yet again, that Tony and the mob have a talent for setting up moneymaking schemes in the margins of very lucrative American industries. There is something almost prescient here in the Fosamax storyline; in the coming years, legally produced drugs would become as much a part of the American drug crisis as illicit drugs have been historically. I won’t dwell any more on the issue of Big Pharma’s power and influence because it is coming out of such a relatively small plot-point, but I think it may be fair to say that the Fosamax storyline here could be part of Chase’s continuing effort in Season 6 to wade into social issues and couch The Sopranos within its American milieu.
Another cultural issue that Chase puts his spotlight on in a much greater and more obvious way is the issue of terrorism…
THE WAR ON TERROR
Terrorism and its related matters have been recurring subjects in Season 6, and Chase brings them more to the foreground in the Final Nine. Just in this episode:
- Paulie compares Tony returning home from jail to the return of soldiers fighting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan
- Bobby wants to see our national borders more secured (even though his father was able to get into the U.S. only because the northern border is so porous)
- Reports of recent Iraqi and American deaths in Baghdad are heard over a radio broadcast
Chase uses the threat of terrorism as a way to build more tension into these last episodes, but I think Chase’s larger objective is to show that life goes on in SopranoWorld, lavish and luxurious as always, despite the threat and our ongoing efforts to defend ourselves. SopranoWorld characters may make comments about terrorism here and there, but there is a notable lack of any meaningful political or civic engagement by them. They’re not alone in their apathy—the War on Terror was raging at the time this series originally aired, but many Americans, including myself, largely detached ourselves from it. (I can tell you off the top of my head roughly how many American soldiers died in the Civil War, WWII and Vietnam, but I can’t tell you how many died in Iraq or Afghanistan without turning to Google.) SopranoWorld characters may not be all that different from the rest of us in how they pushed the threat of terrorism to the periphery of their thoughts while they continued to grab with both hands at all the various luxuries and goodies before them. “Gimme Gimme Gimme” remains the prevailing mantra of American life even at a time when American life is existentially jeopardized by terrorism.
This episode earned an ‘Outstanding Drama’ Emmy for the series in 2007. “Soprano Home Movies” was also nominated for ‘Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series’ but failed to win. Despite the loss, the episode is an outstanding piece of film-art. Shooting for the episode was a bit complicated, as cinematographer Phil Abraham explains at Kodak.com:
The lake house was a location that we tried to exploit by blending interior and exterior scenes as much as we could. The biggest challenge was the endless Monopoly game that unfolds in one boozy night of family fun. Not only was it a challenge to light and stage this scene in a small practical location but due to Jim Gandolfini’s then recent knee surgery, it became clear that he could not give it his convincing-all during the drunken brawl with his brother-in-law. The solution was to match and build the location on a stage six months later. By the time the first punch is thrown, we cut to the stage work where the rest of the fight unfolds. Bob Shaw, our production designer, did an amazing job of recreating the environment. I am particularly happy with the seamless integration of the two.
An episode from Rome won the Cinematography Emmy that year. I haven’t really watched much of Rome but it’s hard for me to imagine that any episode of that series could be more memorable or gorgeous than this hour of The Sopranos. (I take some comfort in the fact that that winning episode of Rome was shot by Sopranos-regular Alik Sakharov.) “Soprano Home Movies” is an all-around extraordinary episode and it gets Season 6B up-and-running with a bang.
- Real-life prosecutor Dan Castleman reprises his role as “District Attorney Castleman” here. (We saw him in about 8 episodes prior to this one. Dan also worked as technical/legal advisor to David Chase in previous seasons.)
- Back in “Boca” (1.09), we learned that Tony gives Carmela head exactly once a year; I’m guessing it would be on her birthday. In the current episode, we see Carm return the favor on Tony’s birthday. (The scene is constructed similarly to the BJ scene in “Cold Stones” (6.11), in that we think at first that Tony is having another one of his panic attacks, but then realize he is just convulsing with pleasure.)
- The fuckin regularness of life…in jail: When a man pulls his pants down and squats behind him, Tony is made to remember that when you have to take a shit in the cell, you have to take a shit in plain sight of everyone in the cell with you.
- Monopoly as real-life #1: During the game, Carm groans, “Aw fuck! Income tax!” (Their whole life is spent in avoidance of reporting income tax.)
- Monopoly as real-life #2: According to Soprano family rules, money that should go into the Community Chest is instead put into the middle of the board where one lucky player can win it. We’ve actually seen Soprano family members raid community dollars in their real lives, with Medicare insurance scams, a HUD housing scam, Janice scamming welfare checks…
- Take 5: Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” is fittingly playing on the sound-system when Tony sneaks $500 from the bank during the Monopoly game.
- Clever sound editing: As Bobby enters the apartment complex where his victim lives, we hear a kind of repetitive thumping. We assume its coming from a drum set, because it was mentioned earlier that Bobby’s mark is a drummer. But the sound turns out to be coming from the tumbling of some sneakers inside a clothes dryer. One of Bobby’s bullets goes into the dryer, leaving some viewers to wonder if a forensic investigation will eventually lead to Bacala’s downfall.
- Most viewers also wonder, on their first viewing, if the scrap of shirt that Bobby leaves behind in his victim’s hand is going to lead to him getting busted (especially because some dialogue earlier in the hour had Bobby mentioning something about “DNA evidence.”) But Chase is not interested in turning his series into a procedural—there are already enough Law & Order spinoffs out there.
- Steve Schirripa does a DVD commentary track for this episode. Just as his character delivers the line that prompted so much discussion after the Series Finale—“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens”—Schirripa mentions that Chase and the writers pay great attention to details and nuances, which further seems to bolster the importance of this bit of dialogue. But then on the other hand: in a February 2015 interview, Schirripa told Scott Shannon on WCBS 101.1 that “My opinion of the ending was that Tony Soprano was alive… I think life went on. What you saw is what you got, and that was it. Life goes on, he’s back with his family and just keeps movin’ on.”
- My header pic is a detail from a Robert Rohrich painting of Lake Oscawana, the actual lake that was used in the filming of this episode.
- Coming back to Robert Altman for a second… I think Altman would have been happy to see how David Chase partnered with HBO to produce a series that completely stretches our understanding of what the gangster-genre can do. It was with HBO that Altman produced Tanner ’88, a show that practically created an entirely new genre: the TV serial-mockumentary. Chase and HBO produced a short mockumentary of their own, Making Cleaver, which (if I remember correctly) aired in conjunction with the upcoming episode, “Stage 5.”