“The Knight In White Satin Armor”

“The Knight In White Satin Armor”

Season 2, Episode 12

Written by Mitch Burgess & Robin Green

Directed by Allen Coulter

 

Plot: Tony’s Russian mistress, Irina, tries to commit suicide when Tony tries to end things.  Tony and Richie, fed up with each other, start making plans that don’t go quite as expected.  Janice and Richie head towards wedding plans, but things get very complicated when Richie and Janice start fighting.  Carmela’s frustration and sadness deepens as she observes Janice and Richie around her – and as she learns the nature of why Vic Musto rejected her.

 

Analysis:

“Those who want respect give respect,” says Tony to Richie Aprile (David Proval) in a rain-soaked meeting about garbage routes.  Richie finds out this is true – and that’s not even because his own crew is moving against him.  Richie’s just in the wrong era – he wants to rule by force, wants his women to not speak up to him, wants his son to be a goonish college dropout like his nephew (Jason Cerbone as Jackie, Jr., in his first appearance) rather than the ballroom-dancing son he has.  He also wants everyone to be as fed up with Tony as he is, and this year, that’s just not the case – everyone has their own issues to deal with, but Tony’s the one person they can count on.

 

Each year in The Sopranos, the penultimate episode of the season is where the biggest action of the year occurs, and though each episode of those is extraordinary, “Knight” remains the one that captivated and shocked me the most.  It’s a spot in the season in which the Big Deaths of the year often occur – such as in Adriana’s shock murder in “Long Term Parking” in season 5, or Bobby Baccala’s symbol-heavy tumble into a pile of trains in the second-to-last episode of the series, “The Blue Comet.”  It’s when Tony vows revenge against Junior and his mother punctuated to the opening guitar of Cream’s “I Feel Free” during season 1’s “Isabella.”  It’s when Carmela truly begins to believe her marriage is over in season 4’s “Eloise.”

 

But this is the real shocker.  Throughout The Sopranos run, the show would prove its bravery and unpredictability by knocking off characters you knew would probably bite it eventually – but never in the way you expected.  When Ad dies in the woods at Sylvio’s hand, the shock is visceral, as it was when Ralphie Cifarretto (Joe Pantoliano) suddenly and brutally gets beaten to death in his kitchen during “Whoever Did This,” and when Christopher suffocates on his own blood in the opening minutes of “Kennedy and Heidi” – even when you see it coming, you don’t see it coming.  This is where that tradition began – as Richie punches a defiant Janice, Janice shows her true stripes and kills him, suddenly solving Tony’s problems by accident.  In the director’s commentary, Allen Coulter said that to preserve the shock even longer, he attached a special set of legs to Richie’s chair that made his tumble to the ground last longer.

 

The titular knight in this episode is, of course, Tony himself, flawed as he is, because he simply is the best game in town – something it may have benefited Richie to realize, because everyone else seems to figure out they’re best off with Tony.  Janice, in her own desire for power, spurs Richie on to move against him by informing Richie that Tony wants AJ to never spend any time with him, yet in the end she finds herself begging Tony not to leave her alone as Richie reveals his true colors.  We know certainly that Livia has her own hatred towards Tony to deal with, but she too winds up crying that she gave her life to Tony, and here he is leaving her, and here she is begging him not to.  Uncle Junior is just a year past himself ordering Tony killed, realizing that he’s just a better bet than Richie, missing coke routes or no.  And of course Irina, Tony’s sad Russian mistress, tries to kill herself when she realizes her alternatives – strip clubs?  Prostitution?  Her abusive uncle in Kazakhstan?  She’d rather have a loveless affair with a man that belittles her than that.

 

Janice herself is a literal revelation here – she reveals the Soprano within.  Wildly selfish, foolish (she says of finding love in Richie, “I don’t know why I thought I’d find someone decent in some Ashrang in Pradesh”), manipulative, power-crazed, and unstable, she is her mother’s daughter through and through – just witness the way both collapse on Tony even though both have spurred weaker men to take him out.  Junior sorta gets it when he warns Richie Aprile against her earlier in season 2, and, later, Bobby Baccala, but he’s too selfish, foolish, and power-crazed himself to do much about it.  Here, she shows that her desire for the top is matched by a temper and a rage – and a shock at what that temper entails.  In season 5’s “Cold Cuts,” Dr. Melfi will point out that her rage and Tony’s depression are connected – that depression, after all, is “rage turned inward.”

 

This, to me, is the definition of fearlessness, both in the performance by Aida Turturro, and in the way Janice is always written.  Janice came in during season 2 to the annoyance of everyone, but it’s Janice as a long-term character that’s so interesting – considering we see her kill, manipulate, say embarrassing things, and frustrate many, she should be a villain or a caricature, but she’s not.  She’s crazy enough to make us uncomfortable and human enough to make us not quite know why.  Actresses get called fearless often for playing drug addicts or prostitutes or “ugly” people, but in a way, what Turturro does is much braver – she plays an unsympathetic character with enough recognizable characteristics that we’re not entirely certain Turturro isn’t the one with which we’re uncomfortable.  For her, she’ll likely never get to play a “likeable” roll for the rest of her career, she’s simply too convincing here.  Tony points out she came by this naturally – he yells at his mother, “What kind of chance did she have, with you always nagging her about her weight?  After every date she’d come home, you’d call her a whore.”  Might we not turn out just as crazy?  Perhaps many of us have.

 

We also get to see the toll of the crazy on the stable.  Carmela, fed up with Tony’s crazy women gets her reward.  First, as Tony tells her of Irina’s suicide attempt, she screams at him, “You’re putting me in a position where I’m feeling sorry for a whore who fucks you!”  She’s been rejected by housepainter Vic Musto, and though she doesn’t get the same revelation that she’s better off with Tony, she does realize she’s stuck with him, and can at least play on her stability for some material good.  Her final line to Tony is an all-time great – she’s decided to take a 3-week trip to Rome with Rosalie Aprile, and tells Tony he’ll have to take care of AJ and Meadow himself.  She says with little inflection, “You’ll have to find a tennis clinic for Meadow to join, because if I have to do it Tony, I just might commit suicide.”

 

It’s the perfect punctuation on the perfect type of episodes fans love best – fast-moving, exciting, unpredictable, funny, shocking, violent, and sly.  To that, I’d add also that it is in these high-action episodes that The Sopranos plots are most moved by the core instability of its characters – instead of just getting violent clashes, we get action instigated by people who are, at their core, limited to who they are, much like all of us are.

 

You may not have noticed… the editing in this episode, which Coulter seems to speed up to punctuate the sense of fast-moving suspense.  In the opening scene, ironically set to ballroom music, Tony and Janice fight in extreme close-up with the cuts between each of their face happening more and more rapidly.  Later, Pussy will open a car door and it will suddenly segue to Carmela smelling Tony’s laundry as she opens the door of her washing machine – the two doors create one fluid, fast movement.  Most dramatically of all, as Albert Barese rebukes Richie’s attempt to take Tony out, we hear, suddenly, a sound of gunshots – only to reveal itself as a paint can being shaken at Vic Musto’s shop as Carmela wanders to find her would-be lover.  There won’t be love to be found there, just as Richie won’t find himself in charge – each is a fast-moving illusion mucked up by imaginary gunshots. 

 

 

 

 

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