Archive for March, 2010

“The Strong, Silent Type”

March 2, 2010


Season 4, Episode 10

Written By: Terrence Winter, Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess

Directed By: Alan Taylor

Synopsis: Christopher, after accidentally killing Adriana’s dog and getting car jacked looking for drugs, must confront his drug addiction.  The family stages an intervention for him after he beats up Adriana to get more drugs.  Tony is still fuming over Ralphie’s killing of his race horse, Pie-O-My, and trying to hide his own part in Ralphie’s death.  Issues over the HUD deal threaten to derail relations with the New York crime family.  Carmela’s pseudo-relationship with Furio has them both miserable.


“Communication is what love is based on.”

Furio utters those words to Carmela in his living room regarding the end of his relationship with “Jessica.” At this point in Season 4, Furio had gone to Italy to grieve for his dying father, but his heart is grieving elsewhere.  He says he and Jessica didn’t just connect like he does with… “some people.”

Why was Carmela in his living room?  Why, she had an idea about the ways in which a “mirrored backsplash” would improve the appearance of his “beautiful” home.  The home, you might notice, doesn’t look especially beautiful – its tiny, unpainted kitchen covered with dishes and littered is like most single men’s apartments.  Carmela brings AJ along with her too, just to up the ante for the “legitimacy” of why she’s visiting, but as she tells Rosalie Aprile later, it’s all bullshit – she’s living for the moments she can see Furio gazing at her.  Furio himself is cries in his car over the thought of Carmela.

Many seized on the difficulty of believing this relationship during season 4, but actually their scene in Furio’s apartment is quite convincing.  Yet what is it saying?  Here we have “The Strong, Silent Type,” one of the season’s most gripping episodes – which is to say, a lot happens.  In it, you have three side romances threatening to complicate the “real” long-term relationships at their periphery.  There’s Furio and Carmela.  There’s also Tony and brittle one-legged Russian nurse Svetlana (Alla Kliouka).  And there’s Christopher and his addiction to heroin, who has become the lover in his life, making him “unable to perform as a man” with Adriana.

“The Strong, Silent Type” is a recurring motif in the show, showing up no sooner than the Pilot episode in which Tony muses to Dr. Melfi, “Whatever happened to Gary Cooper, you know, the strong, silent type?”  Tony laments over everyone seeking therapy, whining about how difficult they have it, unable to function because of their own problems.  “The Strong, Silent Type” shows people who clutch on to those who allow them to express their desires and thoughts because their life is, well, so silent to them.  “Communication is what love is based on” is Carmela’s response, fraught with tension.

What is it at home with Tony that they cannot communicate?  Well, airing these secrets would be rather difficult.  At dinner, Carmela continues to snap at Tony and smell the wine brought by Furio from Italy.  When he calls her on it, Carmela says, it’s “my mother, her skin condition.”  But then, why is Tony so upset too?  For him, there is his murder of Ralphie Cifaretto, who in the previous episode, “Whoever Did This,” he killed, brutally, in the man’s kitchen.  Ralphie had torched the stables featuring Tony’s beloved racehorse Pie-O-My, enraging Tony.  “Whoever Did This” was one of season 4’s most famous episodes, this shock murder happening mid-episode.  Ralphie, played gruesomely by Joe Pantoliano for two years, was always a scumbag and you knew he’d wind up seeing an early grave.  Still, Tony’s furious killing of him shocked everyone.  So did the sight of Joe Pantoliano’s severed head as the episode graphically portrayed Tony and Christopher’s cleanup of the murder.

As I mentioned in discussing “No Show,” Season 4 brought the first bout of Sopranos backlash that the show experienced.  David Chase’s goals were always to push the form of the show, or so I think, so this sort of thing was inevitable and would be repeated with even more vitriol in the first part of Season 6.  Actually, if Season 4 and Season 6 share one thing in common – besides the backlash – it would be a sense separate writers tacking plotlines together in ways that often felt a little superglued.  Here, Winter must have written one half (perhaps the piece on Christopher’s drug addiction) and the superlative team of Green & Burgess the other (perhaps the plots of Carmela and Tony).  In some episodes, you felt as though you sat at the intersection of plotlines waiting to get up the road.

In “The Strong, Silent Type,” however, this intersection provides a lot of crossover.  Christopher’s drug is the lover he’s communicating with, and he violently lashes out at Adriana when she tries to discuss it with him.  He gets car-jacked in Newark then brought home, and hits her trying to get more money – after all, the car-jacking prevented Christopher from scoring the H he needs.  It also features one of the episodes great tragicomic lines.  Christopher’s been brought back from near death by a stranger, who asks for money, and Adriana snaps back, “Who the fuck are you?”  Christopher lives a double life she barely understands.

Actually, the episode begins with one of The Sopranos great bits of tragicomedy.  Christopher is watching TV while shooting heroin (a gorilla tellingly emerges from the woods).  In a haze, he sits on the couch crushing Adriana’s tiny dog Cosette to death.  Later, of course, there is an intervention, and it doesn’t quite go well.  Christopher calls his mother a cunt, prompting Paulie to smack him in the face and Benny Fazione to kick him in the rib cage.  Not exactly the first step many would envision on the path to recovery, but the scene is, uncomfortably, quite funny.

Yet the human touches surround the episode.  Director John Taylor frames the shot in which Tony and Carmela learn the extent of Christopher’s addiction brilliantly, watching Tony walk down the stairs, we see his expression go from annoyance at being woken up, to alarm at recognizing the bruises on Adriana’s face.  In fact, we see this for a few seconds before seeing Adriana.  Drea de Mateo would, in the show’s 5th season, win an Emmy for her work on Adriana, but actually, she began proving her capability in Season 4.  Here, her love of Christopher overpowers anything in her life.  Michael Imperioli, on the other hand, was always extraordinary as Christopher, but it was Season 4 that showed his inability to control the monster within wildly outpacing his humanity.  In a scene in the hospital later, Tony makes it clear to him that the only reason he even got an intervention rather than an “intervention right through the back of the skull” was because of Tony’s love for him.  Christopher breaks down in shame, unaware of how he’d gotten to this place. 

Many TV shows have attempted drug-addiction plotlines, but rarely did they take them here.  Just look at Michael Imperioli in this episode.  His arms are bruised and ugly.  He looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks.  Even earlier in the episode, when coming into the Bing to play pool, he looks like he’s barely alive, yet enough so that no one would really bother to investigate.  As we know from finishing the series too, as much as he tries, Christopher never gets on top of his addictions.

Meanwhile Tony’s lovers appear to be a horse and a one-legged nurse.  In one jolting cut, we’re taken from an angry Tony telling Furio to quit crying about his dead father, to him crying in Dr. Melfi’s office over Pie-O-My’s death.  Another source of Season 4 criticism was Tony’s love of this horse, that does seem to be a tad overkill – as Dr. Melfi tells him, “The death of this horse is sad, but it is a horse.”  She points out Tony had only cried one other time in her office – about the ducks who fled his pond in the Pilot episode.  She reminds him of the familial worldview the ducks embodied, to which he respond, “Can’t I just be sad for a horse without some Freudian, touchy-feely shit explaining it?”

Probably not in Sopranos world.  I had a theory on Pie-O-My.  In the episode the horse is introduced, “Pie-O-My,” Tony is asked why he never got a race horse before.  There have been other offers, other horses.  “Well you know, it’s a horse, it’s a commitment.”  Tony sees something different in this horse that goes further than the rest.  Is it too much of a leap to say that in this season, in which Tony’s marriage is the focus, this horse represents the other “commitment” in his life, to the one woman who went further than the others?  In the season’s first episode, Carmela tells him, “Everything ends Tony.  Everything.”  Pie-O-My is sick by the end of “Pie-O-My,” significantly after a fight with Carmela.  At the end of the season, his marriage to Carmela may be over.  Perhaps his feelings are a projection.

This is so crucial because truly, this episode speaks to the ways we don’t speak what is true to those that are closest to us, perhaps because of the suspicion that we may be voicing our concerns too publicly, or that our concerns aren’t valid.  When Tony has sex in the episode with Svetlana, the one-legged nurse, he seems attracted to her dignity in suffering.  She tells him that Americans never think they’ll be unhappy, so they’re unprepared, while the rest of the world thinks the exact opposite.  Afterwards, she tellingly rejects him for being too troubled.  As Furio and Tony each eat their dinner in cross-cut solitude, we see a vision of all of us, continuing forward suffering in much more silence than we were even aware could exist.

Scenes you may have forgotten:

Ah, the personal Sopranos touches reminding you that each character is, forever, locked in his and her own brain.  As Tony storms out of the Bada Bing in a rage from seeing Pie-O-My’s picture, he leaves a pool game mid-game.  Paulie’s classic response?  “That’s a forfeit, that’s our money.”  As Tony discusses Christopher’s predicament with Uncle Junior over a glass of Furio’s old-country wine, Junior first responds to the wine: “This reminds me of feet.”  As Dr. Melfi wants to get back to the overriding topic of her and Tony’s therapy, she says to him, “You’ve caused much suffering yourself.”  Tony stops, raises his eyebrow for a second.  Then he gets back to talking about horses.