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 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:
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:
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.”
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”:
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:
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.”
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:
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 Slate.com 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:
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:
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.
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.”)
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 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 AVclub.com 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:
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:
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.
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
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 to whom he is speaking 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 (typified by 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.
THE BLOODY BABIES BLOODY CRY / THE BLOODY FLOWERS BLOODY DIE
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:
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.
“IT’S A MOVIE. IT’S FICTIONAL.”
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:
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.
- 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.)