Stage 5 (6.14)

Art imitates life imitates art imitates life…

Episode 79 – Originally aired April 15, 2007
Written by Terence Winter
Directed by Alan Taylor


When this season originally aired in 2007, many viewers watched it with a strong sense of self-consciousness—we were very aware that we were watching the final episodes of our beloved TV show. David Chase compounded our self-consciousness by giving us “Stage 5,” the most self-aware, meta-reflexive episode of the entire series. The boundary between the SopranoWorld and the real world is repeatedly breached in this hour, sometimes with subtlety and sometimes overtly. By rupturing this boundary, Chase reminds us that The Sopranos, despite its realism and verisimilitude, is a staged work of art. A fiction. The episode title, “Stage 5,” evokes those numbered studio-stages on which many TV shows and movies are filmed and therefore immediately signals that the “staged” nature of fiction—filmed fiction in particular—is a major concern of this hour.

This hour’s mash-up of fiction and reality begins right from the opening scene: we watch the action taking place in front of us with some bewilderment—are we watching a SopranoLand murder take place, or is something else going on? The cool, color-graded tone of the scene is our first clue that we are watching a fiction within our fiction, because the palette of The Sopranos is normally much warmer than the cool hues presented before us now. It soon dawns on us that we’re watching a scene from Cleaver.

Chris Moltisanti has wanted to produce a movie for a long time, and his dream is finally coming true. As is often the case with freshman efforts, Cleaver seems to be a very autobiographical work, perhaps subconsciously so. Even the movie’s title could be coming from deep within Christopher’s psyche; in the Pilot episode, Chris used a cleaver to divert the attention of his first murder victim Emil Kolar just before killing him:

The cleaver

The fact that Moltisanti’s original title for the movie was Pork Store Killer further suggests that his inaugural killing inside the pork store still weighs heavily in Christopher’s subconscious. The actors—or more precisely, our knowledge of the actors—who appear in Cleaver also reiterates the autobiographical nature of the film:

Baldwin + LaPaglia

We know that in the real world, Daniel Baldwin is the older brother of William and Stephen Baldwin, and we know that Jonathan LaPaglia is the younger brother of Anthony LaPaglia. Our knowledge of them as “the older brother” and “the younger brother” thus strengthens our conception of them as CleaverWorld stand-ins for Tony Soprano and Chris Moltisanti, respectively, who have long had a fraternal, older-brother/younger-brother type of relationship. This parallel may be further strengthened by our knowledge that Jonathan LaPaglia’s older brother Anthony was a a front-runner to play the character of “Tony Soprano” when The Sopranos was still in development, and also by the fact that Jonathan LaPaglia’s character here is named “Michael,” playing on the idea that he is the CleaverWorld equivalent of Michael Imperioli’s character in SopranoWorld.

This is not the first time that Chase has used well-known actors, playing themselves, to pierce the wall between the real world and his fictional world. Those two previous episodes in which Christopher pursued his movie-making goals were also populated by well-known actors:

D-Girl celebs

luxury lounge celebs

Chase loves to use Christopher/Michael Imperioli for his meta-level exercises, going all the way back to episode 1.08 “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” In my write-up for that episode, I noted there is a kind of parallel between the scene in which Chris digs up the corpse of Emil Kolar and the scene from Hamlet in which Hamlet comes across the skull of court-jester Yorick. Now, in “Stage 5,” Chris again seems to be taking a page out of Hamlet’s book:

I’ll have grounds
More relative than this—the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.

As in Hamlet, “Stage 5” contains a “play within a play”—Christopher is using Cleaver, in essence, to catch the conscience of his “king” Tony. Chris obviously still believes that Tony and Adriana were involved in some hanky-panky the night they got into the car accident. The clip from Cleaver ends with “Michael” sinking a cleaver into the head of “Sally Boy,” and then the camera pans to a gobbo and crucifix that hang side-by-side from a rearview mirror. The shot is remembered mainly because it later inspires one of Little Carmine’s greatest malapropisms: “…the sacred and the propane.”

The sacred and the propane

But what I find most interesting about this image is the subtle commentary that it may be adding to Cleaver. Chase’s camera focused on a gobbo back in episode 4.10, and I noted at the time that curved gobbos have long had a symbolic link to the curved cornicello or “little horn”:

from 4.10

Some people connect the “little horn” to the “horned hand,” the hand-gesture used to signify that a man has been cuckolded. Thus, the gobbo that now hangs from the rearview mirror may be underscoring a major plot-point of Cleaver—“Sally Boy” is killed by “Michael” for sleeping with his fiancée. Christopher’s art is imitating his life.

Tony doesn’t pick up on this particular subtext of the film. (Why would he? He knows that nothing actually happened between him and Adriana.) But Carmela, Rosalie and others all believe Cleaver to be pointing to Tony’s guilt on the matter. When Carmela confronts Christopher about this particular plot-point, Chris knows that he has to come up with an explanation before Tony begins to question him. So he asks JT Dolan to come up with a cover story. Well, “asks” might not be the right word; Chris persuades JT with the help of a Humanitas Prize trophy. According to its website, the Humanitas Prize “was created in 1974 to celebrate television programs which affirm human dignity, explore the meaning of life, enlighten the use of human freedom and reveal to each person our common humanity.” Chris takes the Humanitas trophy and smashes it on JT’s head.

Tony grows concerned that the film is based on the old rumors about him and Adriana.  At the Bing, JT tries to ease Tony’s concerns by explaining that he took the story right out of the 1950 film Born Yesterday (which was adapted from Garson Kanin’s 1946 Broadway play of the same name). Tony seems to see through JT’s ruse, especially because JT claims to have come to the strip club to meet Chris—but everyone knows that Chris doesn’t hang out at the Bing anymore. Tony also seems suspicious about the bruise on JT’s head—he probably guesses that it is the result of Christopher’s “persuasion.” Tony becomes even more skeptical after watching Born Yesterday at home, coming to realize that JT was probably feeding him some bullshit:

Born yesterday

Regardless of whether Born Yesterday actually influenced JT’s script or not, the older film plays an important role in this episode. By having JT Dolan root Cleaver‘s storyline in a 1950 film based on a 1946 Kanin stage-play, David Chase is essentially using Kanin’s Born Yesterday as a “play within a play within a play.” Some Sopranos views might be familiar with the 1993 remake of the film, which might add a subsequent layer to the spiraling, self-conscious fictionality of “Stage 5.”

theatre production

HBO also contributed to the meta-level playfulness of this episode by producing a “behind-the-scenes” mockumentary; Making Cleaver was released the week before “Stage 5” originally aired. Several Cleaver players appear in the mock featurette:


By nesting plays within plays and fictions within fictions, HBO and David Chase are highlighting the fictional, staged nature of The Sopranos. In this hour, the real world and fictional SopranoWorld also bang up against each other during a TV program; Geraldo Rivera—playing himself here—hosts a show about the New York power struggle:

Geraldo Rivera - Sopranos

Jerry Capeci (playing himself) is one of Geraldo’s guests. Capeci is a real-life mob expert, author of several books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia, and was a regular contributor to the online Sopranos forum at during Season 5. Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner reprises his role as “Manny Safier”—we had previously seen him in episode 5.01 “Two Tonys”—to play Geraldo’s other guest:

Safier + Cepeci - Sopranos

As we watch the quick exchange between them, we sense that there is some tension between Manny and Jerry. Is it perhaps because they have competing books out? Or perhaps their onscreen tension is a hilarious reference to a real-world competition between them: Capeci had been considered to play the character of “Manny Safier” back in episode 5.01, but the role ended up going to Matt Weiner instead.

I think this scene deserves a nomination for “Funniest Scene of the Series,” not so much because of the thinly veiled tension between Manny Safier and Jerry Capeci but because of how Chase uses his camera to provide a visual punchline. We don’t know at first just whose TV set it is that we’re seeing, but Chase suddenly reverses the camera angle to reveal that it belongs to Eliott Kupferberg, smug as always and far more invested in mob affairs than he has ever been willing to admit to Dr. Melfi:

Kupferberg - reverse angle

This scene is not here just for laughs though; it has an important narrative function. Safier and Capeci’s argument on the television show serves to remind us that it is Faustino “Doc” Santoro and Gerry Torciano who are the key players in the violent “game of thrones” going on in New York.

And this brings me to the most self-conscious moment of the episode: the killing of Gerry “The Hairdo” Torciano. Gerry is gunned down in front of Silvio, who later tells Tony that he “didn’t know what happened until after the shot was fired.” This line, coupled with Bobby’s line from the previous episode—“You probably don’t even hear it when it happens”—becomes the linchpin of the popular argument that the cut-to-black in the Series Finale represents Tony Soprano’s moment of death. Tony (the argument goes) doesn’t “hear it when it happens,” and we viewers, like Silvio, don’t “know what happened until after the shot was fired.” I think this is a valid argument, and can logically lead to the conclusion that Tony is killed at Holsten’s diner. But I don’t think that this is the only conclusion that can be reached, to the exclusion of any other possibility, in part because there is at least one other way that we can interpret the scene in which Gerry Torciano is murdered now.

Right before Gerry is whacked, he and Silvio discuss Phil Leotardo, who fell ill just as the battle for the top position of the New York famiglia was heating up. Gerry tries to explain the symbolic significance of Phil’s heart attack:

Gerry: The man was my mentor. It was right there for the taking.
Silvio: His heart, Gerry. What was he gonna do?
Gerry: That’s my point though, what you just said. Johnny goes away, it’s Phil’s turn in the driver’s seat—and his heart gives out.
Silvio: Right.
Gerry: His heart.
Silvio: I know, so what?
Gerry: It’s a metaphor. He lost is balls is what I’m saying.
Silvio: Just say it then. Walt fuckin’ Whitman over here.

Chase and the writers seem to be ridiculing how Gerry the Hairdo reads too deeply into Phil’s myocardial infarction. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and a heart attack is just a heart attack. Chase often anticipated how viewers would respond to certain events within his show, and he sometimes weaved his own response to them right into the narrative. When Silvio mocks Gerry for finding too much symbolism in a SopranoLand event, Chase (with a wink) may be mocking the way that many viewers would come back to this specific scene and read too much into The Hairdo’s murder after that infamous cut-to-black in the final episode.

(And Chase may signal his viewers to avoid acts of over-interpretation again later in this hour, through one of Dr. Melfi’s lines: “Without invalidating your feelings, is it possible that on some level you’re reading into all this?”)

I may be guilty of reading too damn much into Gerry’s death in the restaurant myself, but my take on it seems to be different from that of most viewers. I interpreted the scene as one more emphatic example of this episode’s self-reflexivity. As Gerry gets hit with the first bullet and his blood sprays on to Silvio’s face, Chase momentarily slows down the footage and warps the sound. Such a manipulation of sound and imagery can only occur on film and video, it does not occur in the real world. We are reminded, yet again, that we are watching a staged production. A fiction. Chase makes us aware that Gerry’s death is not only something that is depicted, but that it is also something constructed. A hallmark of postmodern art is a self-awareness of its own “constructedness,” a self-awareness of the means and methods that went into its construction. The Sopranos (and “Stage 5” in particular) certainly displays this characteristic of postmodernism. I think the self-consciousness of this scene is the most important thing to note about Gerry’s death here in relation to that final scene at Holsten’s diner, which is one of the most self-aware, self-conscious sequences in the history of television. (I’ll explore this idea more in my write-up for the final episode.)


Oh yeah, there’s another major story in this hour: John Sacrimoni has cancer. He is in Stage 4 of his illness, and there is no Stage 5, unless we think of death as Stage 5—in which case the episode title takes on a very morbid meaning. The title “Stage 5” also relates to Johnny Sac’s illness in another way. The fifth stage in psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief” is acceptance, and John does indeed seem to make peace with his inevitable fate by the end of this hour. (We might remember that episode 1.03 was named after three of Kubler-Ross’ five stages: “Denial, Anger, Acceptance.”)

5 Stages-001

Chase uses a famous face to spill the real world into Johnny Sac’s storyline here, just as he used famous faces in the Moltisanti/Cleaver storyline—the orderly that attends to Sacrimoni is played by the most famous guest actor of the hour:

sydney small

Sydney Pollack was a celebrated film director/actor. Our knowledge of who he was in the real world shapes our conception of his character in SopranoWorld: we don’t expect to find an illustrious Hollywood A-Lister like Pollack playing a small role in one episode of a TV show, just as Johnny Sac doesn’t expect to find such an intelligent, knowledgeable man working as an attendant. (John asks him, “So what are you, the world’s smartest orderly?”) Warren Feldman explains that he was a practicing oncologist for 22 years before he killed his wife. And her aunt. And the mailman, because “at that point, I had to fully commit.” (A commenter over at noted that this explains the reason why Feldman would be serving time in a Federal institution—he killed a Federal employee.)

Chase overlays fiction upon fiction in this storyline too, just as he does in his handling of the Cleaver storyline. We might note that it is a copy of Billy Bathgate that Feldman brings to Johnny Sac:

Billy bathgate

E.L. Doctorow’s 1989 novel is a work of fiction that uses real-life New York City historical figures from the 1920s as characters: Jewish-American mobster Dutch Schultz, Jewish hitman Bo Wienberg, mob attorney Dixie Davis, and Federal prosecutor Thomas Dewey, among others. So: the line between fiction and reality is blurred in even the reading material that appears in “Stage 5.”

Warren Feldman initially gives Johnny Sac a hopeful prognosis but later concurs with Dr. Rosen’s more grim estimate. John doesn’t have long to live. Many viewers approached this season with thoughts about karmic justice on their minds—would characters in SopranoWorld get their deserved comeuppance? Chase plays with this question now. Karma seems to be at work here: longtime smoker John Sacrimoni is dying of lung cancer. We remember from episode 5.01 that he couldn’t even take a shit without lighting up:

Smoking in the boys room

John can’t outrun his past—the cigarettes finally catch up to him. He dies at the Federal Medical Center where he has been incarcerated. Mob bosses like John know that men in their position often end up either 1) getting whacked, or 2) locked up in the can. Johnny Sac now gets whacked—by cancer—while locked up in the can.

There is in irony to his early death. John hated the idea of performing the allocution which admitted the existence of la cosa nostra at his sentencing, but it was a required part of the plea bargain that would knock years of his minimum sentence. So he did it, despite his knowledge that doing so would anger and repulse many of his mob colleagues. He may even have hurt his family in the process. (Any discomfort Tony may have felt, for example, about exploiting John’s situation to take his home away from Ginny at a deep discount would surely have vanished after John made the despised confession.) But ultimately, the allocution was for naught; John doesn’t live long enough to get early parole and enjoy his Golden Years with Ginny and their daughters. John Sacrimoni may have escaped having to do a significant amount of hard time in a federal penitentiary, but in the end he could not escape the writers’ sense of irony.


As I mentioned earlier, we can take the episode title to be a punning reference to death, as death is the next “stage” to follow Johnny Sac’s Stage 4 cancer. We can expound upon the significance of this pun a little bit more because in previous episodes, Chase associated the “stage” with issues of meaning and mortality and the question of what may lay beyond death. In episode 4.09, Tony gazed at the empty stage at the Bing, perhaps reflecting upon the troubled life and meaningless death of stripper Tracee. And in episode 6.09, Paulie saw the Virgin Mary on the Bing stage, perhaps a reflection of his deep belief in the Catholic conception of the afterlife.

Two stages II

About 400 years ago, William Shakespeare also used a “stage” as a metaphor to explore concerns about meaning and mortality; not long before he dies, Macbeth compares Life to an actor upon the stage. The King of Scotland’s words may serve as a fitting epilogue to the life of John Sacrimoni, the king of New York:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

The idea that life may signify nothing is terrifying. As he approached death, Johnny Sac wondered what the significance of his life was, even asking his brother-in-law how he would be remembered. Other characters in this hour are also highly concerned with their legacies. At a remembrance for his dead brother, Phil Leotardo grumbles that his family’s proud Italian surname (Leonardo) was changed by a clerk at Ellis Island some generations ago. Phil frets that his own legacy will be one of weakness, both as an Italian-American who meekly accepted a false last name and as a mobster who made too many concessions to enemy factions. (I sympathize with Phil as he shakes his head in disappointment that the kids he is talking to don’t understand the depth of his frustrations.) Tony Soprano also worries about his legacy. Tony complains to his therapist of the way that Christopher has depicted him in Cleaver: “This is the image of me he leaves to the world…some asshole bully.” We know that Tony has convinced himself that he is “a good guy, basically,” but this self-conception is crippled by Chris’ movie. (Tony seethes in anger and pain as he talks to Dr. Melfi about Chris, and perhaps these raw emotions contribute to Tony’s action against his cousin a few episodes from now.)

The most surprising observation about legacy comes from Little Carmine. As they sit down for lunch at a golf club, Lil Carmine explains to Tony—in an unusually coherent bit of dialogue, largely devoid of his typical malapropisms and mixed metaphors—that he is backing out of the competition for the top seat in New York. He is quite content with his life as it is right now. (I think this may very well be the longest bit of uninterrupted dialogue that any character delivers on The Sopranos. If you were not yet sure that David Chase is fully of irony, here is your proof now: it is Lil frickin’ Carmine that gives the longest, most thoughtful monologue of the entire series). Lil Carmine has come to value happiness more than he values the power, riches and legacy that come with being Boss. Lil Carmine seems to have no regret about his decision to step out of contention. Chase makes a very telling cut now to Johnny Sac, laying in bed at the drab and cheerless medical center, all alone. Perhaps if John had found the enlightenment that Lil Carmine seems to have found, he wouldn’t have had to spend his final weeks in such a difficult circumstance. Perhaps he wouldn’t even be dying now.

I think the issue of legacy is such a prominent part of this most “meta” of episodes because David Chase himself must also have been concerned in this final season with how he and his series would ultimately be remembered. It must have been very important to Chase that The Sopranos not be seen as just another work following in the blood-soaked gangster-tradition exemplified by many works (including Cleaver), simply aspiring to have the most broad appeal among the least sophisticated viewers. Sure, there is violence from time to time on Chase’s show, but a mindless spilling of blood is not to be its legacy. Glen Creeber writes in his essay, “Comfortably Numb? The Sopranos, New Brutalism and the Last Temptation of Chris,” that…

…violence on The Sopranos is more than just a stylistic device; it inevitably comes within a context that asks the viewer to think about the moral choices that are at play. It is for this reason that the show portrays violence without simply turning it into a piece of gratuitous entertainment.

Early in this hour, as the goombah investors review the final edit of the movie, Carlo Gervasi makes an argument for why one more violent scene should be added to Cleaver: “These audiences today love blood.” The line may be functioning as Chase’s meta-criticism of many Sopranos viewers. David Chase, unlike Carlo Gervasi, has little interest in playing to the gallery. Creeber continues in his essay:

…the production of Cleaver gives us a parody of the sort of gangster movie that The Sopranos implicitly deconstructs, attempting to create a piece of social realism in which the world of organized crime can still be judged on some sort of moral (rather than simply aesthetic) terms.

The reputation of The Sopranos as one of the most profound and intelligent TV shows of all time had already been cemented before “Stage 5” aired, but the meta-manipulations of this episode helped establish the series as the premier gangster-work within the category of postmodern art. Through the use of “a play within a play” as well as other devices, The Sopranos points to its own contrivance and artificiality. Chase’s meta-methods are fairly subtle, at least compared to some of the ploys that other postmodern works have utilized. For example, The Sopranos never truly breaks the fourth wall like some other TV shows have. There is nothing in this series quite comparable to Bruce Willis smirking into the camera as he did in Moonlighting, or like Garry Shandling giving viewers a recap of the episode’s events as he did in It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. Although no one in SopranoWorld ever looks directly into the camera to speak to the audience, David Chase still manages to remind us that it is all artifice. A lie. Picasso once said that all art is a lie, but it is a lie that tells the truth. The Sopranos uses its artifice and fictionality to get at deeper truths, thematic truths. Of course, what those particular truths might be, and how they are reached are questions that can be endlessly debated and argued. The truth that you find in a work of fiction may not be the truth that I find in that same work. And I believe that that might be the greatest truth to be found in The Sopranos—the idea that the “truth” is often something that is ambiguous and personally constructed.


In the final scene of the hour, Tony stands godfather to Christopher’s daughter during her baptism. It’s almost impossible to watch this scene without thinking of the memorable “baptism scene” from The Godfather:

baptism scene - Sopranos autopsy

A glaring difference between Francis Ford Coppola’s scene and David Chase’s scene, however, is the enormous blood-letting in the former. Coppola cross-cut footage of Michael Corleone at the church with footage of his goons exterminating the Corleone family’s enemies one by one (including Moe Greene, who got a “special” that was later named for him):






Although David Chase’s counterpart scene in “Stage 5” contains no violence, it is nevertheless filled with “blood” of a sort—“Evidently Chickentown,” the song that scores the scene, uses the word “bloody” as a recurring poetic device. David Chase had heard John Cooper Clarke’s song-poem decades earlier and decided that he would one day use it somewhere, and “Stage 5” finally gave Chase the opportunity he was looking for. I think the decision to use the track here is brilliant, in part because it further emphasizes the artificiality and contrivance of The Sopranos. With its bleak lyrics and apocalyptic sonic tone, the track is so incongruous with the baptismal imagery it accompanies that we are reminded, yet again, that this scene is not a depiction of the real world but a scene that has been constructed for a fictional world. I can’t say with any degree of certainty why Chase used this particular song here. Is it because its jarring lyrics and cacophony of sounds expose the serenity of this baptismal gathering to be a sham? Or is the song meant to emphasize the fucking regularness of life? (“Stuck in fuckin Chickentown,” Clarke spits out in frustrated staccato.) Chase could have placed any piece of music he wanted into his fiction here, but he chose this particular track in order to pursue some particular truth in his own particular way.


When Carmela first tries to explain to her husband that Cleaver is a revenge-fantasy, Tony insists that “It’s a movie. It’s fictional.” This line of dialogue reminded me of a very similar line Tony had said in “Johnny Cakes” (6.08); when AJ cited a scene from The Godfather to explain why he tried to attack Corrado with a knife, Tony told him that “It’s a movie.” In some sense, Tony’s repeated insistence that real-life and the movies are completely separate entities marks him as an old-school guy with a traditional mindset. Tony, with his orthodox “in this house, it’s 1954” mentality, can’t really understand or appreciate the interpenetration/intermingling of media with real-life that has become such a strong characteristic of the contemporary world. The line between art and life has become blurred in all our lives now. But the grand irony (Chase is nothing if not ironic) is that although Tony Soprano longs for the simplicity of a bygone era, the character of “Tony Soprano” is one the great manifestations of post-modernism in the contemporary era. (Or, to continue Noah Tannenbaum’s thought from episode 3.02, Cagney was modernity and Tony is post-modernity.) Although Tony would surely dismiss this claim as over-intellectual gibberish, our understanding of “Tony Soprano” is in fact enhanced and influenced by our recognition of the various ways that art, media, SopranoWorld and the real world all interpenetrate one another.

It’s quite obvious that Christopher’s concerns about his personal relationships have penetrated into the screenplay for Cleaver. A little less obvious is how Chase uses the screening of Cleaver to penetrate our thoughts about AJ and Blanca’s personal relationship. A series of quick cuts, from AJ to the action and dialogue coming from the big screen and then to Blanca, plant a suggestion that Blanca is growing dissatisfied with her immature boyfriend:

cleaver cuts

In the scene from “Johnny Cakes” that I mentioned above, where AJ references The Godfather, Tony’s full response to him was “It’s a movie. You gotta grow up. You’re not a kid anymore.” AJ, as Tony’s words attest, is not as mature as we would expect a young man his age to be, and there are bits of evidence throughout the current episode that Blanca is becoming frustrated by it. Poor AJ is unable to fathom that this is what Blanca may be thinking—he only knows that something is not quite right between him and his girlfriend. The growing tensions between them are setting up a major storyline of the season.



  • David Chase was really lucky to get some great single-appearances from well-known guest actors on The Sopranos. Sydney Pollack’s performance here ranks right up there with Polly Bergen and Hal Holbrook’s earlier appearances on the series.
  • JT Dolan doesn’t have much luck with his awards; his Emmy was only worth $15 at the pawn shop three years ago and he now gets beat with his Humanitas.  I’ll Fly Away, an NBC series that David Chase wrote several episodes for, won three Humanitas Prizes during its short run.
  • When Phil goes on his Leotardo/Leonardo rant, one of the children mistakes Leonardo Da Vinci as the author of The Da Vinci Code. Phil’s super-religious wife Patty indignantly corrects the child. Like Patty, many devout Christians at the time considered the book—and the film adaptation which came out about a year before this episode aired—to be blasphemous. (The book, though an entertaining page-turner, deserves much of the negative criticism it received for its poor writing and manipulative plotting… but blasphemy is a ridiculous charge to be making against it.)
  • We learn here that the Eldridge Cleaver Estate apparently is not very happy about the title of Christopher’s movie and is threatening legal action. We might remember that philanthropist Maurice Tiffen mentioned Eldridge Cleaver in 4.07 “Watching Too Much Television” (a mention which activated one of the most clever references of the entire series—the Cleaver Sleeve pants).
  • In previous Terry Winter-scripted episodes, we’ve seen how self-deprecating he can be of himself and of writers in general: in “Kaisha,” a movie that he wrote (Get Rich or Die Tryin) was being given away for free at the car wash; in “In Camelot,” JT’s Emmy was almost worthless at the pawn shop. In the current hour, some of the mob wives are surprised to learn that movies are actually written by writers. And screenwriter JT Dolan gets no appreciation at the Cleaver premiere. (But Chris is quick to acknowledge the writer when Tony gets suspicious about the film’s narrative—he tries to pin the blame on JT.)
  • Chrissie the humanitarian.  Prof. Maurice Yakowar notes that when Chris grabs the Humanitas trophy, he pronounces it as “human-eye-tis,” making it sound like a disease.
  • A gangster to the end.  In a conversation with his brother-in-law, Johnny Sac expresses frustration over the ingratitude and stress he had to endure as Boss of the NY famiglia. “It’s a thankless job,” he growls. Even so close to the end, John feels no contrition or regret about the pain and death he has caused in the world, only anger.
  • Mothers. In the delirium before his death, Sacrimoni seems to have a vision of his mother. We remember that Tony saw a woman who seemed to be Livia when he came close to dying in “Mayham” (6.03).
  • Pee. Before heading out of the house, Kelli Moltisanti tells Chris, “I better pee.” We might remember that in the previous episode, Carmela and Bobby also spoke of urinating. (I don’t think there is any great symbolism or anything to pissing, it just reflects the “regularness of life.”)
  • Another famous face to appear in this hour belongs to Chris McDonald, who appeared in Thelma & Louise and a bunch of other things:


  • FBI Agents Dwight and Ron surprise Tony in front of his house and remind him of something that no American wants to be reminded of: the ever-present threat of terror attacks. In a surly mood, Tony tells Carmela that he will not be walking down the driveway anymore to pick up the newspaper. David Chase is retiring a familiar Sopranos convention as the series comes to a close.
  • This episode generates a neat inversion between the LaPaglia brothers. Jonathan LaPaglia’s presence in Cleaver here counts as an appearance in a “film within a TV show.” His brother Anthony inversely appeared in a “TV show within a film” when he played a TV mobster in the 2002 movie Analyze That.

from analyze that

  • Just before he dies, the camera lingers on the image of Johnny Sac’s white shoes. Over time, some Sopranos viewers came to associate the image of white shoes with death. (Chase seems to make this association again in the next episode, as we will see.)


Chris and kid - prob stage 5-002

95 responses to “Stage 5 (6.14)

  1. Hallucination or not, Johnny seeing his mother is so jarringly tender; he seems almost shocked, like finding out there is an afterlife right before the end. Of course this show would make one of its most painfully realistic deaths unrelated to mafia violence. As you prob remember, Macbeth’s famous quote about the hour on the stage is part of the same blank verse soliloquy as the line “…creeps in this petty pace,” which JSac quotes (he gets the preposition slightly wrong) in Whitecaps. The slow creep of cancer. The fuckin’ regularness of death too. And in the same episode as the ‘cinematic’ end of Gerry? Oh, Chase you rascal.

    You’ll prob touch on this in “Made in America,” but I know a few folks take Carmine’s monologue as the clearest sign that’s he’s actually the most cunning of all the NY mobsters, slowing pitting everyone against each other (as he does in S4). Notice Phil is initially very “nah, I’m over the big seat” before he makes his own move. And Butchie DOES look to Carmine twice in that final sitdown of the show, as if asking permission. Lastly, Joey Peeps hit shows he could indeed be just as ruthless and vengeful as the rest. On the other hand, maybe Lil Carmine is just this universe’s John Gotti, Jr. What do you think, Ron?

    Commendatore, this was brilliant as ever. You’re really gonna fuck us up w/ these last seven analyses aren’t you? The one I’m most looking forward to, with its seeds here, is “Kennedy and Heidi.” I can’t wait.

    Liked by 3 people

    • lol thanks. I’ve heard the ‘Lil Carmine is a genius’ theory but I think he’s closer to being Brainless the Second.

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      • I think Little Carmine is one of the most captivating characters in the entire series. I agree with you, he is brainless the second in terms of his overall intelligence and lack of communication skills. However, just as you mentioned – isn’t it ironic that the gangster we perceive as the dumbest is actually the most enlightened? Of all the gangsters we come to know over the course of 86 hours, isn’t Little Carmine the only one who truly “gets it”? I believe there was much about life and happiness that Tony Soprano could have learned from LC. LC saw the big picture. Far from genius, but certainly enlightened. I thought Ray Abruzzo killed it as LC!

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        • Abruzzo is great as Lil Carmine, maybe the role was tailored to his specificities

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        • I never took Little Carmine’s retreat as a sign of wisdom or satisfaction. He’s dim-witted, but not entirely unaware of how he’s perceived. He’s a few moves behind the conversation, so blunders like the “your brother Billy…whatever happened there” show that he’s trying to keep pace with what’s going on around him, but he’s woefully inadequate. His story about his grandfather seems to me to be a justification for bowing out and his spin on it rather than having to admit that he just wasn’t capable. I agree that he’s captivating, but for me it’s on the scale of a train wreck. You can see it coming, it won’t be pretty or helpful, but it sure is fun to watch. Little Carmine does to the King’s English what Johnny Boy does to a butcher who owes him money.

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        • Lil Carmine is why Intelligence and Wisdom are separate scores in Dungeons & Dragons. 😛

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      • Dude Manbrough

        Obviously I’m just theorizing here, but IMO it’s pretty safe to assume that Carmine Sr. was wise enough to know that Little Carmine would best serve his needs in Florida as opposed to NYC, otherwise that’s where he no doubt would have been. While he’s definitely no saint, Little Carmine does come across as less bloodthirsty than some of his peers. If my theory is correct it also presents a nice contrast between Carmine Sr, with his son’s best interests in mind, and Johnny Boy, who sent Anthony out to do hits in his early 20s.


    • I can never understand that Carmine theory. It would completely undercut the most interesting thing about his character, that despite being the stupidest mobster on the show, he’s also the wisest because he has enough sense to walk away from the violence of a Mafia lifestyle.


  2. Ron’s the man
    He the man, I the man, who the man?
    Are we not men?
    (now to read the write-up for one of the best episodes…ever)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t know why Chase chose “Evidently Chickentown” but the first time I saw it, it seemed like an excellent way to create tension about the impending war, which fortunately happened. In a single episode, but it happened.

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  4. When it comes to film and tv, I am not articulate enough to propose this idea as intelligently as it should be… but how about the significance of the the cleaver itself?

    As you mentioned, a cleaver was used as a distraction when Emil was hit.

    Cleaver was the tool of choice for Johnny boy when old man satriale had to lose a finger

    I am sure you will touch on this when you write up ‘remember when’ (my personal favorite episode)… but the tool on the boat tony was eyeing as a potential murder weapon sure looked a lot like a cleaver

    Chrissy was wearing his cleaver hat during the upcoming fateful car accident, and the cleaver hat was given prominent placement on top of his body bag…

    I believe the cleaver is a symbol that ignites subliminal rage within tony. I don’t think he realizes it.. but it sure seems to trigger his raging, violent tendencies..

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    • Dude Manbrough

      Oh yeah, the cleaver symbolism is all over season 6B and the rest of the series too, to a degree. Remember “The Test Dream” with his old football coach…”you’ve got to cleave yourself away from these bums”? IMO the cleaver often symbolizes the dysfunctional relationship and memories he had of his father and how his father was responsible for leading him down a path fraught with so much peril, angst and shame. That cleaver his father used on Mr Satriale was the birth of all his anxiety and it continues to mock and haunt him during 6B, with no better example than the unflattering movie his mob “son” made, inspired by his relationship with him.

      In keeping with that theme in this episode we also see AJ unable to “cleave” himself away from the fruits of his father’s lifestyle, much to his girlfriend’s annoyance. Big Sunday dinners, B-movie premiers, suddenly “honest working man” AJ isn’t quite as upstanding when there are freebies to be had.

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  5. Could you elaborate on AJ and Blanca relationship? I think AJs only fault, if we can talk about fault here, is him not being dominant enough for the sort of woman Blanca was.

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    • I don’t know if I’d use the word “dominant” but I know what you mean… he’s just not mature enough


    • Aside from him being immature, I really think the problem is with his family. I don’t think Blanca is comfortable with them. Tony belching at the table etc, even though she’s not rich, I believe she has more class than they do, and I think the whole mob thing doesn’t suit her. She has a child, and AJ is a little too clingy and needy. I admire the way he stepped up though. Shows there is something else in him besides entitlement and spoiled brat stuff. I really believe that if he can get out of the family, and away from his fathers shadow..he would be an OK guy.

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    • Dude Manbrough

      IMO the AJ/Blanca story arc was always somewhat misunderstood. The way I saw it, Blanca represented AJ’s best chance at establishing his own identity apart from his father’s sphere of influence. He eagerly embraced Blanca’s working class lifestyle almost as a form of rebellion against his parents, becoming a sort of anti-Tony, declining to do things the “easy” way, doting on Blanca’s son and so forth. But was the transformation real or was it just another thing AJ decided to dabble in, like football and drums and clubbing? Is he really capable of breaking away from mom and dad and supporting a family on his own?

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      • Totally agree. I also think AJ is someone who routinely takes things for granted, like the idea that his parents will always be there to support him or bail him out of trouble. (Which they have done—he’d possibly be awaiting trial for the attempted murder of Corrado right now if Tony hadn’t pulled some strings for him…) He showed some maturity and independence when he first met Blanca, but he seems to be taking her and their relationship for granted now.


      • Brandis Robinson

        I agree with this…

        Liked by 1 person

    • I remember when I was much younger a friend of mine’s girlfriend told me she thinks he’s great but that the one that that irritates her is that she can’t make him mad. Weird thing to complain about but that’s what she said.
      They would end up engaged, and a few months after that he’d find out she was having an affair. He somehow got the engagement ring from her while she was sleeping and sold it back to the jeweler.
      There’s a scene here where Blanca gets a little testy with AJ at the dinner table and Meadow asks, “are you guys fighting?”.
      AJ: “I don’t know”
      Maybe it was the masculinity thing but AJ’s cluelessness is as much to blame.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I was thinking about the check-up that Johnny Sack was getting in New York. Maybe the doctor gave him a warning of impending illness at that time? Maybe foreshadowing….he did stop smoking in jail and also started getting more healthy habits…maybe there was an inkling? I always thought the check-up was an odd thing. Like Tony’s skin cancer that he had removed…what was the meaning of that? Or did I miss something?

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    • I don’t remember now—did he get a check-up in a previous episode?


      • Yes. He was getting a checkup at a New York hospital. I’m not sure which episode. Maybe right before he was arrested?


        • He’s at the doctor in “All Due Respect,” when he invites Tony over to settle the sitch post-Blundetto wacking. I think he says he’s having his yearly physical.

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          • Maybe they found some issues…?


            • That’s what I’ve always thought. There are few wasted details in The Sopranos. Like before Junior shoots Tony, Carmela handed Tony his new insurance card. The same card that the EMTs found when they did the wallet biopsy. Those little details pull the story together, like here with Johnny’s medical check up.

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            • Yep..he mentions quickly to Tony on the phone they are looking at some bone density issues..I thought it was an obvious signal
              John’s smoking was always very foregrounded..btw what a brilliant performance right to the end. The death bed scene was extraordinary

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  7. The song at the end was so foreboding….It made me think of the widening wedge between Chris and Tony, and how Christopher is becoming a liability. Very affecting.

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  8. I love this episode because it speaks to where I live. I live in Manchester In great Britain. The song evidently chickentown is about a small city just outside of Manchester called Salford. Many Americans will probably find this hard to believe because media potrayals of the uk just show the upper classes of London and quaint villages but the north west of England. Manchester in particular has suffered with problems with organized crime for years. Evidently chickentown is about how rough and violent Salford is and in a way the relationship between Salford and Manchester mirrors the relationship between new jersey and new york a small lesser known area right next to a larger and much more iconic area David chase is a genius. The look in Christopher eyes when he hugs tony at the end gives me goosebumps just a brilliant episode

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    • It’s incredible how that song completely shapes the dynamic of the scene, but the song also brings such rich subtext as you have elaborated..


      • What do you think is the crux of the disintegrating relationship between Tony and Christopher? Is it the Adriana thing? I always thought Chris was a wild card, and even in the earliest episodes he was not manageable. Tony is an ass, but he’s like that with everyone…what do you think it is? In the Christening scene we can see real anger and resentment in his eyes, even if he has Tony as the Godfather. I’m interested in any opinion.


        • I think part of it is also that Tony is disintegrating spiritually and morally, and the anger and resentment he feels toward himself about that, he’s taking it out on Chrissie. We tend to hurt the ones we love. Although there are others in T’s family that he loves more than Chris, I don’t think there’s anyone in la famiglia that is as close to him as Chris is…

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    • Completely agree with your comment, being from the same area of the UK. Manchester, not just organised crime, but we also suffered the IRA as well during the 90’s. With the bombings and other stuff that saw Salford hit hard. And Chase uses this to underline the context of NY and NJ along witha ll the tensions in the final scene of this episode.


  9. This is a great take. Outstanding. Thanks!


  10. Once again Ron you’ve knocked it out the park. Another wonderful read. I look forward to them but each one brings us just that bit closer to the end. Bittersweet indeed. Stage 5 is probably the episode I watch more than any other. Its nigh on perfect. Next up, Willie Overall.

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  11. I like your take on Little Carmine. I never thought about his speech before in the bigger context of all the characters of the show. But two other things about that scene were interesting to me:

    1) Foods that Little Carmine and Tony order. Carmine has some sort of salad and light nonalcoholic drink. Tony has philly cheesesteak. In masculine context of mob thugs salad might seem too feminine, even a sign of weakness (word “fag” comes to mind). But, it’s also a sign of self-preservation as opposed to self-destruction. Most likely you will live longer and happier if you have salad every day, compared to philly cheesesteak.

    2) What Little Carmine says about his wife. His wife wants him to quit well earning but all so stressful criminal lifestyle for them to be happy. Some people call it downshifting. Cut to Tony, would Carmela say anything like that?

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  12. Have you considered compiling the website into a book? I would certainly buy.


  13. This is another excellent analysis of a excellent episode. That explores so much in the hour it has and sets up so much to come in the final few episodes. The Cleaver premiere is one of my favourite scenes of the series. From the director not being able to get a word in, to the way Daniel Baldwin replicates Tony in the film. Paulie on the phone, the reactions to the not Tony and not Adrianna bit. From Roslie looking at Carmella, to Tony’s interesting reaction of pondering what he is seeing and then smirking just right at the end the camera cuts back to the screen. To Chris lurking on the side giving a very obsessive look to the scene. He truly never did let go of thinking that Tony and Adrianna truly did do something together that night and it ends up sending everything between him and Tony down the path it did with the way both looked during their hug, the bridge between them truly poisoned now and their relationship never the same afterwards.
    This episode was a wonderful send off for Johnny Sacks, it’s amazing to think he only became truly prominent from season 4 after the first three seasons mostly had him turn up once or twice in the first two and the third a few times. Yet for me, Johnny was a real asset to the show, from Vincent’s wonderful performance throughout, to the way we saw as his brother in law put it, his hot headiness crop up more and more as the pressures of being the boss got to him (something Tony will note in the final episode) driving some of the NY conflict. To how we see his relationship with his wife, his family throughout the later seasons and with cancer this episode. His final scene gets me everytime and is one of the standouts of the second part of season six.
    And of course, Paulie has to get one last dig in at the man who played him for a fool by mentioning his own benign cancer scare. These mobsters never change.
    I think one of the problems of AJ is that compared to Meadow, we never really get any real sense of what Tony really wants for his son. Besides not being in the mob and projecting his own american football stuff onto him when it’s clear AJ has no passion for. We never see him or Carmella really let AJ try to find his own path, to give him motivation of not relying on them for everything. Every time a problem comes up with AJ, they either spoil him with stuff like the drum set, let him off like Tony did when he went to NY and came back eyebrow less.
    Or really deal with any of the nihilistic phrases he had in season two (which Livia poured gasoline on) or later this season. It’s something you could say about a few parents of the last 20 years, that helicopter around their kids and don’t push them to develop independence and other skills they will need when they are gone. Something maybe Chase wanted to reflect in how Tony and Carmella raised AJ and showed how a kid, who like a number of his generation were given what on paper a lot of options, a lot of this and that.
    Yet at the same time, not given challenges or experiences that really affect the worldview, the status and privileges AJ grew up in, or any real guidance on what he could do or encouragement. Which moulded AJ into the person he is by season six. It’s certainly frustrating to watch at times and yet, i can’t help but feel for AJ even though I still want to tell him he needs to take charge of his life and not fall back on what he has. Obviously his relationship with Bianca gave him a little spark to go on, but it was never going to carry it enough and AJ simply finds that Bianca didn’t feel comfortable with what their relationship was and it ends up leaving him in a place he doesn’t know how to handle was is a normal thing most people go through at somepoint in their lives. Because he’s never been given the tools to handle it in the way most do. Just my own take on AJ.

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    • I agree with you. We know Carmela is terrified that A.J.will follow in his fathers footsteps, so she pushes education on him even though he’s not academic. Tony doesn’t seem to care what A.J. does as long as he doesn’t embarrass him. Even when he gets in trouble at school he is basically “Boys will be boys’. The difference between them as far as upbringing is the mother. Livia had no problem with Tony following in Johnny’s footsteps and he grew like a weed, wild…but with Carmela she protected him from that lifestyle. Also, it’s the money and privilege. No hard knocks which builds character. Ultimately, I think A.J. will be OK. He will always have the money behind him to drift along. I am amazed when I see kids who resent the parents for worrying and trying to help them. It may be misguided, but Tony never took his son to a kill a Bookie…yet the resentment is so deep, almost as strong as the love.

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  14. “Ride the painted pony, let the spinning wheel glide”
    I’m guessing it’s a Paulism that he got the lyric wrong?
    And it was Blood, Sweat and Tears tickets that Sil tried to use to get Marie to reveal where Vito was.
    Other than that, I have nothing more of interest to add. You covered it pretty well, Ron.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Speaking of metaphors, Gerry Torciano, Phil may have lost his heart but in a moment you’re about to lose your heart, shoulder, left lung, right lung, left arm, hip, neck…
    Feldman thought John’s cancer was ‘pragmatic’, but it turned out to be more aggressive than we thought…

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  16. What are we to make of the film Cleaver – I mean, how good is it?
    I have just watched Stage 5 for the first time, so I am in the same position as the television audience in April 2007.
    I have never seen a slasher film, but I’ll try to judge it. The plot is ridiculous, probably even by the standards of that genre. The brief scenes we saw were, for me, dull, both dialogue and mood lacking verve. I can also see that the drama of The Sopranos requires the film to be unsuccessful. On the other hand, the audience at the premiere seemed to enjoy it, and the man’s head being split with a cleaver was, I suppose, not a bad moment of horror.
    What did you think of Cleaver at this point, Ron, when you were watching The Sopranos for the first time?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Also on the “life’s a stage” theme: “Doc” Faustino brings to mind Marlowe’s play, the “Tragical History of Dr. Faustus” (and, of course, Goethe’s play, Faust).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting point. Also, Santoro’s nickname ‘Doc’ seems to break the boundary between the real world and SopranoWorld—actor Dan Conte is a physician in real life…


  18. Ron, I’m on my first watch through of the Sopranos and It is the greatest show I have ever watched. A good part of my enjoyment, however, has come from reading your autopsy’s after every episode, (being careful to read slow to avoid some spoilers lol). I just got to season 6 episode 15 and realized we were at the end of the line. I was wondering if you were planning on finishing out the series at some point, I feel lost without them. Thanks for your research and analysis it has enhanced my experience viewing this classic.


  19. one Moe Greene special coming up! (in the next episode)

    Liked by 1 person

  20. What happened to Terry Winter?
    Nothing since Vinyl. That was very good but three years ago.


  21. I still don’t understandd what Noah meant when he made that comment about Modernity…maybe I’m just thick.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think he meant that Cagney was very much a part of the Modernist movement/philosophy that swept through all of the arts—painting, literature, sculpture, music, architecture and of course film—during that particular period of the 20th century. But I also think Noah was just being a pompous ass.

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  22. Ron’s back!!! I haven’t checked in for awhile now and I’m so happy to see wrapping the last season up!

    A few observations:

    -This episode is definitely a stand-out. It’s filled with exposition in addition to being meta. Phil’s speech to the children for Billy’s 40th birthday does get him thinking legacy and not-so-subtly serves as the tipping point for Phil. He’s decided. He’s going to make a splash, be the savior of traditional mob values, and cement his name in history. It’s brilliantly written and performed, even relative to the rest of the series.

    – It’s fascinating to learn that Furio’s gift to AJ (brought back from Italy) in 4.10 is none other than that small, familiar figurine. GABBO IS COMING! The Gobbo statuette connects the emotional cuckolding of Tony to the near-miss cuckolding of Christopher (“I was able to control myself. But you only get one of those!”).

    -Gandolfini’s acting brilliance is on full display with one shot: the expression on his face during his embrace with Christopher at Caitlyn’s christening. Another commenter brought this up, but focused on Michael Imperioli’s look of hatred (not to be reductive (there’s a lot to unpack there), but I’ll say: hatred swirled with a son’s love). Gandolfini (I think) portrays Tony as feeling intense grief at his realization that Christopher hates him on some level and certainly thinks he had sex with Adriana (which Tony would’ve if he had gotten the chance; it wasn’t for lack of trying). Gandolfini could communicate such sadness with his eyes, and in this scene he mixes a little rage in. Furthermore, in terms of directing, it’s a pretty effective use of the over-the-shoulder shot/reverse shot conversation between two characters, no? No dialogue necessary! Again, thanks for all of your analyses, Ron! The internets are in your debt.

    PS Has anyone watched the new-ish HBO series “Succession”? It’s the only show on television in which the writing, the character interaction, and the performances are all on par with Sopranos (that’s a bold statement, I know), and it’s the first show I obsess about as much as I obsess about “The Sopranos”. I looked for Sopranos-Succession connections on imdb, but found none. However, there are a number of phrases in Succession’s dialogue that borrow/are-ripped-from The Sopranos that seem a little too specific to be coincidences. It could be a case of “I wish”, or there is (hopefully!) some sort of writer/director connection between the two shows. In any case, “Succession” IS the successor to “The Sopranos” in terms of being must-watch-over-and-over-again TV. It’s “Sopranos” in a media conglomerate’s board room, with more than a few Shakespearean themes regarding royal families and their relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jonathan. I missed Succession but I might watch it if I find the time. I think Brian Cox is one of the most versatile actors around.


    • I’ve watched Succession, though wasn’t as high on it as you are. Thought it was good, but not great. Though I don’t think any current shows come close to the Sopranos, I really like Billions and Better Call Saul. Billions, especially, feels like a mash-up of Sopranos and Mad Men, though certainly the lesser of both. Better Call Saul has a lot of what made Breaking Bad great, but also less action focused, thus allowing Saul’s ingenious schemes time to breathe.

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      • Speaking of Billions, its last season had an episode titled “Chickentown.” It bore no resemblance to anything here, but I couldn’t help but think it was an homage to The Sopranos, or a meta-homage to the song perhaps. It was a great episode. Billions is ridiculous, but it knows its ridiculous and it’s funny, especially all of the obscure pop culture reference made by the characters, which by now is a running joke on the series. I usually count at least one “Godfather” riff per episode, sometimes two or three. I feel like Billions is de Palma with a teaspoon of Zucker/Zucker/Abrahams.

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  23. Thank you again, Ron, for a wonderful analysis. The more I watch the series, the more I notice the many subtle and not-so-subtle references about how Tony’s father, and many of his father figures, failed him in his life (in a lot of ways, more than his mother did). Johnny Boy et al never protected Tony from the life that would ultimately consume him; rather, they ushered him into it. I thought it was interesting here that during the monologue, Lil Frickin’ Carmine’s talks about how Carmine Sr. came to him in a dream to guide him away from the mafia. Tony also had a dream about Carmine Sr., in which he, at the very least, gently urged Tony along his destructive course: “Answer the fuckin’ thing!” Even Tony’s ghost/dream/hallucination/subconscious fathers led him towards his own downfall.

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    • good observation


    • Yeah, it’s interesting. For all of Tony’s faults, he is a better father to his children than Johnny Boy was to him, especially in terms of keeping them away from his business. We saw him do the same thing with Jackie Jr, as a father-figure, back in Season 3.

      The exception is Christopher, who Tony is a father-figure to, but didn’t keep out of the game. Christopher even brings up that very point when Tony scolds him for including Jackie Jr in a robbery back in Season 3, with Tony deflecting it by telling Chris that Jackie ‘isn’t like you – like us,’ in a way that deftly protects his feelings. And in the end, working together basically ruins their relationship. I think Tony truly loved Chris, but he didn’t give him the same mellifluous box he did his other children, for whatever reason.

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      • Mellifluous box!!! Great observation, really

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      • Dude Manbrough

        IMO Tony WANTS to be a better father than Johnny Boy was, very much so, but he doesn’t really know how. Example: I forget which episode it is but Meadow is very upset about Finn and turns to Tony, who uncomfortably tells her to go talk to her mother (or mudder, as the case may be). Later she ends up with Patsy’s son. Also later, AJ decides to enlist in the army and Tony dissuades him by getting him a cake job working for Little Carmine AND a new car. By the end of the series both of his kids are ensconced in the mob life to one degree or another.
        Tony did indeed go out of his way to do what he could to keep Jackie Jr. out of the business and there’s no doubt the way it ended pained him greatly. But on the other hand, he was well aware that Ralph was dangling “the life” in front of Jackie, but because Ralph represented a potential threat to his power that was his chief concern. He never actually ORDERED Ralph to knock it off, like he did with Christopher. Tony may have genuinely wanted to be a good father figure but the nature of his lifestyle made that impossible. His attempts to be the father figure he wished he’d had all failed miserably.

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  24. Aspiring Casserole

    They way Chris pronounces JT’s Humanitas award as “Human-itis” sounds as if it’s a disease of having humanity, which Chris and the other mobsters lack for the most part.

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  25. On-screen, non-violent deaths in the entire series include Johnny Sac’s, Ray’s (heart attack), and Bobby’s dad (car crash). Ray’s and Bobby, Sr.’s deaths were non-violent, but on the heels of shady dealings. Ray was sneaking around as an informant, which would heighten his stress level, and Bobby, Sr. had just killed his godson, Mustang Sally. So, in a sense, Johnny Sac’s was the only peaceful passing, surrounded by his family.

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  26. I find Silvio not getting Gerry’s oddly literal, but simple metaphor until it’s explained with another metaphor to be one of my favorite jokes of the entire series.
    It’s up there with Silvio having read ‘Passages’ and ‘How to Clean Practically Anything’.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Ron,
    I love your analysis of the meta elements of this episode. I believe there might be another meta game going on. The scene of Kupferberg watching a show about the Mafia power struggles as well as the scene where the prisoners listen to Johnny Sac recount some of Carmine’s exploits gives us two instances of an audience watching/listening to a more traditional, hits and tits, iteration of a Mafia story. But in this episode, The Sopranos presents us a fairly realistic depiction of a man dying from cancer, and the story of the subtle psychological tug of war between Tony and Chris. In other words, The Sopranos has little to no interest in telling a straightforward mob story, even if it’s aware it’s what the audience wants. Instead, true to form, it focuses on the regular ness of life and human psychology.
    On another note, just wanted to say that your website is invaluable. I think it was already clear that this show was in an absolute class of itself, but your analysis shows just how deep the well goes. I now recommend your write ups to anyone I know who has watched the show.

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  28. Is it really ridiculous to charge Dan Brown with blasphemy? The Da Vinci Code makes the case that Jesus Christ was a man who procreated with Mary of Magdalene and that their ancestors are alive today. This is a blasphemous claim, that Jesus Christ is not the immortal son of God but only a man. Of course Dan Brown doesn’t say that, he just writes it into a fictional story, something that is made up, not real. But if Picasso is right (and something tells me jin some cases he is) Dan Browns “lie” is really a truth that either he believes or one that speaks to some people, even if they don’t want to hear it. So, I submit to you, Phil’s wife may be correct in a way that The Da Vinci Code is a blasphemous novel but the fact that some might consider it a work of pure fiction makes it seem non-blasphemous which FURTHER ads a level of “meta” or at least perspective on art and reminder of artifice to this already meta-heavy artfully done episode.
    Chase put the bit about the Da Vinci Code in their for either a laugh or a sad commentary on dogma, but maybe he intended a little more.
    Great write up, very thought provoking, that’s why I thought it appropriate to make my syllogistic comment. I think this is my favorite episode of the series, or at least the episode that solidifies Season 6 as my favorite season, If I had to choose between 6 I or 6II I would choose II because of this episode, Home Movies and Tony’s trip to Vegas.
    And…I always thought that Evidentially Chickentown was the best use of music in this show, or perhaps any show or even any media. That was just based on the music and tone of the song and the way it comes in as the tense baptism scene closes with Chris and Tony’s full but strained hug. Now that you have pointed out the significance of the bloody lyrics, it’s an even better use of music.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “This is a blasphemous claim, that Jesus Christ is not the immortal son of God but only a man.”
      If you believe that claims made in the bible are blasphemous, then not stoning homosexuals to death and not knowing how to treat our slaves is blasphemous too right?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I either heard or read an interview with David Chase (concerning the final episode, I believe) protesting, “This isn’t the DaVinci code.”
      It’s just a remark that stayed with me and that I keep in mind when watching all the “symbolism” in the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  29. Another bit of potential meta was how the cancer story itself was treated. We suddenly see Johnny get told he has a short prognosis, and I imagine a lot of viewers’ minds immediately wandered onto what happened with Paulie’s cancer diagnosis. Instead, the episode spends a significant amount of time focussing on Johnny’s cancer situation, and we only hear about Paulie’s cancer when he very casually mentions how he survived it. The writers hint at what the viewers wanted and expected whilst dismissing it as not important.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I am nearly certain I saw Adriana wearing a cornicello necklace. I’ve flicked back through several episodes but have had no luck finding it. Somewhere in Season 4 or 5. If anyone is watching through again, keep a look out for it!

    This show man… the connectivity.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Could it be possible in any sense that people would think that the actors make up the lines and that there are no writers?? David Chase or one of the writers had to have had this experience. The wives making that comment is outrageous. It has to have happened in real life. Isn’t there another reference like this at the poker table when the men are asking JT about who writes the stories for TV? It’s too stupid for words.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Your “autopsy” is excellent as always and you beat me to the punch with the Hamlet quote!
    The “Cleaver” storyline is as funny as Hell (or so the saying goes); I was laughing until my stomach hurt.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. I laughed a lot at Chris smacking JT Dolan with the “human-it is” award, guess Chase wasn’t looking to get one of those any time soon! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Its interesting that you mention how no character looks and talks into the camera because I was going to comment that I noticed John looks directly into the camera when he’s told he doesn’t have much longer to live. I had to rewind and pause it to be sure. I’ve never noticed this before & I think we can be sure that this is most likely the only time it has happened in this series.. But I think its relevant since it is such a self aware episode as you talked about.

    We know the similarities that the series shares with Sein but I feel its worth mentioning a couple more here.
    The ‘show within a show’/’movie within a show’ is one that sticks out. We even get a mock documentary of the making of Cleaver.. If only there was some kind of Seinfeldish dilemma that Christopher had to deal with… “I know you took those raisins, cocksucker!”

    A couple others that don’t directly relate to this episode: Georges idea of “worlds colliding” is exactly what Tony worries about in the first season. & I suppose we could also look at “coma Tony”/Kevin Finnerty as Bizarro Tony.

    Also, Jens brought up Carmine ordering a salad versus a cheesesteak like Tony. I wonder what Carmines opinion is on mutton?

    Liked by 1 person

  35. It’s shocking to me anyone could watch this series and understand it and think Tony lives and the cut to black is just nothing and means nothing. I think it’s pretty clear and honestly so well executed. Tony doesn’t leave holstens.

    I still wanna know who is most likely to have ordered it.
    I still wanna know if Paulie double crossed him.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. There’s a lot of ways to define “living.”

    Liked by 1 person

  37. The Johnny Sac line about it being a ‘thankless job’ is inspired by real life mob boss Al Capone saying “Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I’m sick of the job-it’s a thankless one and full of grief. I’ve been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.”
    In my interpretation, it was included to show how dysfunctional these people are – Johnny/Al making out like they carried out their role as some sort of benevolent force rather than motivated by selfishness, greed, egotism and lack of humanity…and all the while, going about in pity for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Torciano is whacked at Italian landmark Bamonte’s on Withers Street in Brooklyn. Famous for its classic dishes and kitchen visible through windows in dining room.

    Liked by 1 person

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