Monday, March 27, 2006

"Here I am, half a wiseguy"

Any discussion of this week’s “The Sopranos” has to begin with Paulie. This episode was chock full of reminders of why we love this character. As one critic has noted, Paulie is the Joe Pesci-type psychopath, the kind of guy that every mob story has to have. But on “The Sopranos” this archetype is richly textured. Paulie loves being a gangster, but more than anyone else on the show, he’s a regular schlub. The scene in which he is clipping coupons at his kitchen table—all the while sitting on one of the biggest scores of his life—is as typical of Paulie as is the scene in season four in which he robs and murders one of his mother’s elderly friends. (That was a classic “Sopranos” moment. It’s faintly chilling when the woman says “I know you” and a great nod to Paulie’s Oedipus complex that she seals her doom by threatening to call his mother, as opposed to the police.) I’ve always loved when, in season two (after another dream/not-a-dream sequence) Tony expresses his annoyance to Dr. Melfi with Paulie’s annual Christmas letters. Who doesn’t know someone who sends out those interminable holiday missives?

Paulie has increasingly been a source of agitation to Tony, so it was no surprise that Paulie’s chatter to his comatose boss should send Tony’s heart rate through the roof. The parallel in Tony’s alternate reality was hilarious: Tony banging on his hotel room wall, yelling at his neighbor to keep down the noise. And of course Paulie, along with Vito, reminded Carmella that it is fear, not respect, that binds him and the others to Tony. The minute Tony improves, they agree, finally, to share their cut of the score with her. The look of withering contempt she gives them, after they have handed her the money and are behind the closed elevator doors, is priceless. Carmella is yet again faced with the fact that without Tony, she is on her own, and one imagines that she will chafe anew at the gilded yoke that Tony has placed upon her. It is one of the many portents to come out of last night’s episode.

What are some of the others? Well, of course, there was the continuation of Tony’s “dream”, in which he almost literally walked through death’s door. To say that Steve Buscemi was creepy is to be redundant, but there was something particularly sinister in the glad tidings with which he greeted Tony, and the calm yet persistent manner in which he attempted to pry Tony’s suitcase from his hands. Buscemi not only represents the family members who have preceeded Tony in death—clearly, the woman standing in the doorway was meant to be Livia—but also a reminder of Tony’s sin. What does Tony insist on holding onto? And which of his two families drew him back to the land of the living? I suspect that Tony will find himself standing outside the doorway yet again before the show reaches its finale. Tony says to Carmella, “I’m dead, right?” For all of us, it’s only a matter of time, but perhaps for Tony, as with his Alzheimer’s-stricken doppelganger, the end will come sooner, not later.

In the meantime, Tony will recover to find both families in increasing disarray. A.J. seemed resentful that Tony was out of his coma, and once again the center of the family’s universe. Whatever attention he could siphon for himself will surely dissipate, except to be the focus of people’s disappointment. As for Silvio, who knows what becomes of him, now that he has failed, miserably, to live up to his—and his wife’s—expectations. Even the usually reliable Bobby is going to be a headache for Tony, now that he’s lost his role as Junior’s caretaker and has his own Lady MacBeth—Janice—whispering in his ear.

And Paulie? We know from the previews that Paulie’s mother figures in the next episode. An online rumor has it that he will find out he is adopted. Who knows how he would deal with that. As it was, there seemed to be numerous references to his mother last night, even more than usual. If Paulie should meet an untimely end, rest assured it will be bloody—and wickedly funny.

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Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Finally, someone literally broke Paulie's balls. And what a show that was last night. A classic. And I think my theory of Tony's limbo was right on. He's back, baby. He's back. And the previews look as though he's getting back in the game pretty fast.

3:40 PM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

I've mentioned this before...I watch every episode at least twice. At least. And most episodes get better with repeat viewings. Here are two reasons why.

Towards the end of last Sunday's show, Tony faces crossing the threshold of death. And at one point he seems ready to go "home," until Meadow's voice pulls him back. Maybe Tony is glad to be alive. But as the end song — Over the Rainbow — plays, he might be wondering why he can't fly over the rainbow too. (But then there's the other side of the Oz theme, with Dorothy's dream of escaping Kansas only to realize that there's no place like home.)

Okay, and another great Carmela moment. When Vito and Paulie "caringly and willingly" hand her a package of money near the end of the show, they smile as though it's an unselfish act of concern. But she catches their forlorn look on the elevator and knows their true feelings. A few seconds later in the hospital room, as she put the envelope of loot on the beside table, she says to Tony, "I don't know how you do it." At first, she seems to be saying I don't know how you instill the respect/fear in these people." But honestly, she seems to be also saying "I don't know how you put up with these hypocritical bastards."

It's a rich show. And damn, even though I hate the whole bunch of them, I was glad that Tony decided not to take that big step up to the family reserve. At least not yet.

8:42 AM

Blogger Sean McDaniel said...

Again, the repeat viewings reveal many details, significant and funny. In a scene where AJ and Meadow are eating pizza, the background music is "The First Cut is the Deepest."

In another hospital room scene, Carmela is reading a Sue Grafton novel. The title? "C" is for Corpse, the story of a an attempted murder where the intended victim can't remember who or why someone tried to kill him.

10:47 AM


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