“Unidentified Black Males”

Unidentified Black Males

Season 5, Episode 9

Written by Matthew Weiner & Terrence Winter

Driected by Tim Van Patten


Plot: Meadow (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) and Finn (Will Janowitz) decide to try living in NYC for the summer, causing strain on their relationship when both start confronting what they’d like to do with their lives.  Carmela (Edie Falco) tries to move forward with divorce proceedings after being rebuked by Tony (James Gandolfini), but finds Tony beat him to all the divorce attorneys.  Tensions between New Jersey and New York heat up as rumors about Tony B.’s (Steve Buscemi) involvement with the hit on Joey Peeps hits Johnny Sack (Vincent Curatola).  Tony reveals to Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) where his guilt over Tony B. begins, and how it’s compromising his judgment.



It’s a scene early in the episode that exposes the two Sopranos women – who they are and how they operate.  Meadow and Carmela are shopping when Carmela tells Meadow she’s decided to move ahead with divorce proceedings – “What will you do?” Meadow asks.  Meadow, we realize, has options – a college education, for one.  Carmela does not.  “You have options,” she tells Meadow, “I have a lawyer.”


David Chase has referred to Carmela before as a whore, and in a way that does not reduce her humanity, it is true – she is a prisoner of wealth and material goods, and without Tony, she has nothing to fall back on.  She confronts him in a restaurant, stating she’ll, “Aggressively pursue an equitable distribution of our assets.”  Tony tells her, merely, “You’re entitled to shit.”


What is it in these women and men to operate so consistently with an endgame in mind?  Tony has, on the advice of attorney Alan Sapinsly in season 4’s “Whitecaps,” polluted Carmela’s ability to get an attorney by taking meetings with all of them.  The one that remained felt, probably justifiably, concerned to take on Tony Soprano in divorce court.  Tony has known all along how to keep Carmela in line. 


Meanwhile, Meadow, true to the line of Soprano women, knows how to keep her man around – persistence.  Meadow, in a long fight with Finn, seems only to want to hear that he wants her around, and pushes him towards a 4:30 a.m. marriage proposal.  Meadow had been mostly absent from season 5 (and people thought she was absent in season 4!), and, in great Sopranos way, it is acknowledged – Meadow’s been interning at a law firm, visited Hunter in Montreal, has been making vague and ambitious plans with Finn that will never come through.  She probably won’t be the whore that Carmela is, but you see the glint of Livia and Janice before her in her fights with Finn, and the hints of Carmela as she suffers at his rebuking.  Considering most TV shows seem to have their characters interact with their “family” while seemingly having nothing in common, The Sopranos is unique in showing the way interactions affect individuality, and how parents and children can affect one another.


We’re kept on the outside of much of the New York gang war infighting throughout the season – The Sopranos is the show that creates the notion that we’re only getting a portion of the characters’ lives that we see.  By the time we’re introduced to Lorraine Calluzzo early in season 5, she’s already doomed.  Same with Joey Peeps, Angelo Garepe, and poor Billy Leotardo, who’ll wind up being killed off-screen while Tony sleeps.  It’s an act of bravery to do all of this off screen and through half-conversations and overheard lines because it makes us always wonder what’s true, much as the characters in the show must, and it underscores how quick things move.  As in this season’s great “Irregular Around The Margins” episode, the force of speculation is as powerful as the real thing – even when it hides the real thing.


The unidentified black males of the title are the scapegoats those in Tony’s world use over and over again – and they come up three times.  Finn questions Meadow about Jackie Jr.’s death, and she says, “For your information he was killed by drug dealers.  African Americans.”  A pissed off Eugene Pontecorvo on the construction site hits Little Paulie in the head with a pylon, and Vito mutters, “I just saw a mulignane running that way” as an excuse.  But most notably, we find out Tony’s story of getting jumped by a group of black men on the night Tony B. got arrested was just a cover for a panic attack he had related to his mother, his first. 


In season 5, the therapy scenes seem to matter again, as Tony breaks his long silence over what drives him about Tony B, and the scene is one of Gandolfini’s greatest in a history of great scenes.  Getting through a panic attack in Melfi’s office, he tells her “Sometimes what happens in here is like taking a shit.”


That makes this episode a great episode of blame and manipulation.  Carmela, feeling initially rejected by Tony, finds she can’t really divorce him – as scenes of the bear roaming their gazebo are intercut; Tony truly is patrolling the house like an animal, and in the final scene, appears in the pool splashing himself like the bear he is.  As Meadow and Finn over the phone tell Carmela they’ve gotten engaged, she is crying – crying because she doesn’t know what the future holds for Meadow or for herself, crying because Meadow could be like her and could be so different.  Crying because marriage is a prison of some kind, always being surrounded by that bear, and crying because she doesn’t have any choices now, and not even a lawyer.  That’s why when Carmela cries at the end of the episode, like so many great scenes of The Sopranos, it encompasses so much more than tears, but the choices we make in life.



Great music: “If I Were A Carpenter” by Bobby Darin plays over the credits – a beautiful song, but also deeply symbolic – if Meadow weren’t a Soprano, and – more importantly – weren’t a product of the Soprano personality, would Finn be marrying her anyway?

A great scene you may have missed: At Joey Peeps’s funeral, an uncomfortable Phil Leotardo (Frank Vincent) and Silvio (Steven Van Zandt) try to pass the time waiting for Tony and Johnny Sack to talk.  Phil asks Silvio how his daughter’s doing, and Silvio, in great, uncomfortable Van Zandt form shrugs and slowly says, “good.”  There’s nothing so great as a scene quite as inconsequential as this one – essentially, nothing happens, but the tics and reactions of the characters are so genuine and specific, we smile just because of how well we know the people of this world.


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