Season One, Episode Ten — “A Hit is a Hit”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Stereotypes run rampant in The Sopranos, usually to make a point or crack a joke, but in “A Hit is a Hit”, we almost get the feeling the writer’s room tasked an intern with researching “what does a gangsta rapper look like,” and “describe the Italian mafia’s involvement with mid-century black music.” There were a lot of really good messages (and no shortage of funnies) in this episode, I just wish they had been delivered in a way that didn’t make each player seem like an absolute caricature of his or herself. It was no huge surprise that the horrendous lyrics and caterwauling vocals of Visiting Day were executed with pitch-perfect precision, but there’s a certain indignity that comes with watching Bokeem Woodbine’s Massive Genius reduced to a Rolls driving Top 40 gangster in a funny hat. Tony may have felt like the Dancing Bear, but the real exploitative entertainment was coming from elsewhere.
Tony does make some serious connections in this episode, primarily of the sort most of us come to in grade school: that our actions and words do have consequences. He recounts a story to Dr. Melfi about a kid he knew in high school with a cleft palate and a speech impediment, who he would make sing for a laugh. Now, thirty or so years into the future, Tony finds himself grilled by some “white guys” (Wonder Bread Wops, as he so eloquently calls them) about what it’s really like in the mob.
This is an extension of Tony’s issues with empathy – that he is only actually capable of it if he’s experienced the situation for himself – and it leaves him constantly on the edge of some weird chasm within his consciousness, looking into an uncomfortable depth he can neither recognize nor circumvent on his own. So in classic Tony style, he turns the tables and gives the people what they want, but on his terms. In this case, he regales the golfers with an ultimately boring-as-hell story about being outbid on an ice cream truck by John Gotti, and bequeaths the Cusamanos with a mystery box. You want mob stories? He’ll give you mob stories. But you’ll be scratching your head all the way to your next dinner party.
WHAT WORKED: Despite the introduction of the subplots that were suppose to add poignancy and a deeper development of minor characters, the best story in this episode was probably Carmela’s decision to start establishing a nest egg on her own. Up until this point, she’s blindly trusted Tony when he says the family will be “taken care of” if anything should happen. Now she’s tired of his secrecy and is no longer content to leave her kids’ future up to chance. Whether or not it was wise to drop $5,000 into a stock she’s never heard of is beside the point – she’s taking control of what little she can, and got to give her teenage daughter a little lesson on independence in the meantime (to the backdrop of classic Meadow smirks and knowing looks).
WHAT DIDN’T: “A Hit is a Hit” might have tried to pull off a little too much in one episode. It felt like a collage of backstory and forced conflicts to advance character development. Hesh and Adriana deserve more depth, and as interesting as the mob’s involvement in screwing black musicians out of profits can be (or not – see HBO’s most recent trainwreck, Vinyl), the story came just enough out of left field to be clumsy. Especially shown side by side with Tony’s Dancing Bear story, it felt a bit like a square peg being shoved into a round hole.
“Juan Valdez has been separated from his donkey.” – Paulie, after whacking the Latino drug dealer.
“Talk about paisan pride – Bon Jovi!” – Adriana “knows music.”
“But I get to pick out what you wear,” says Chris, the guy in the leopard print bathrobe.
“Richie had 3rd degree burns trying to grill that trout with the downed power lines. The electrocution really turned his life around!” – Adriana.
BEST MOMENT: There’s still a lot of “kid” in Tony, and when it’s not being manifested as a massive temper tantrum, it can be quite cute. Carmela can tell he’s up to something when she sees him tying up a package with an impish smile, and the giddiness with which they decide to fuck with the Cusamanos is adorable. Dr. Cusamano has become a little too comfortable with the Sopranos, and Tony wants to make sure to keep that buffer of mystery intact. Another tiny moment worth mentioning (within the same exchange) was Tony’s all-out, conversation-ending denial that the nickname “Coos” still carried any connotation other than as a shortened form of Cusamano. He’s not going to stop calling him that either way, and he brushed off the conversation with less patience than he would use to swat away a fly.
EPISODE’S MVP: One of the points of this episode is to better acquaint us with Adriana, and she doesn’t disappoint. She is as crass, demanding, enterprising and high-maintenance as you would imagine a Jersey mob girlfriend to be. She really does want to do something on her own merit (paralleling Carmela’s need for independence this episode), but that will prove to be difficult when her financial backing is coming from her control-freak, hot-headed bf. The best parts of Adriana do come shining through, and we start to learn that she’s got a heart of gold and a sincere desire to challenge herself under the utter lack of self awareness, but the maturity to navigate Chris’ nonsense is still a long way off.
– It was only a matter of time before we heard some Bon Jovi in this series. Surprised it took so long.
– Anyone else’s ears bleeding through that whiny, 90s, coffee-shop-open-mic atrocity that is Visiting Day?
– Cute little references there, when Chris mentions that Silvio (Steven Van Zandt, the E Street Band’s guitarist) used to own music clubs down in Asbury.
– People were still going to see Rent when this came out.
– Fargo fans may recognize Massive Genius as Bokeem Woodbine, Season Two’s silver-tongued Mike Milligan. Or from TLC’s “Waterfalls” music video, if that’s more your fancy.
– NY theater and Law & Order fans may recognize Robert LuPone (Bruce Cusamano) from various iterations of each (or as Patti LuPone’s older brother).
– Jukebox Hero: “You Give Love a Bad Name” by Bon Jovi, “A Dreamer’s Holiday” byRay Anthony & His Orchestra, “De Cara A La Pared”, by Lhasha, “Dj Keep Playin’ (Get Your Music On)” by Yvette Michele, “Why” by Annie Lennox.
7 out of 10
Next: “Nobody Knows Anything”, soon.
Before: “Boca”, here.