Season One, Episode Thirteen — “I Dream of Jeannie Cusamano”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. As far as season finales go, you could hardly hope for a better one. It’s all in there – drama, suspense, uncertainty, hints of character growth and even a spattering of humor. The Feds may have locked down Junior and about a dozen other key players in the crime family, but Tony and his closest cohorts manage to stay clear of the current round of indictments. We see that Agent Harris, et al. have approached Tony (and we should probably assume they’ve talked to several others at this point as well), who handles the meeting with his classic deflection and smart-assery. But rules are rules, even to the criminally bent, and neither Tony nor Uncle Jun will give each other up, or accept witness protection. What the Feds are able to give Tony, however, is unmistakable proof that his own mother and uncle tried to kill him once, and will likely do so again.
Aside from the highly intense scenes between Tony and his mom, Tony and Dr. Melfi and Tony and Artie Bucco (the type of scenes that make you blurt out a wide-eyed, staccato, Paulie Walnuts-style “OHhh!”), we are blessed with a deeper introduction to the brass-tacks side of Carmela Soprano. This is a woman who is tired. She has reached and breached her maximum tolerance for other people’s bullshit (Tony’s, Livia’s, Father Phil’s, her terrible children’s) and is more comfortable laying down the law. She’s never been a shy one, per se, but her speech to Father Phil about his manipulative, subtly sexualized interaction with parishoners’ wives ushers in the Carmela that we will see more of soon.
Wrapping up with a storm that forces Tony and his immediate family into Artie’s restaurant was a cute and clever way to set the tone for Season Two. “Family first,” Tony toasts over dinner, as Paulie (covered in calamine lotion) and Silvio dine happily on the periphery, Adriana and Christopher huddle together at the bar, backs towards everyone else, and Artie slips his rose-colored lenses back on to cater comfortably to Tony under the curtain of plausible deniability. Everyone who matters is there, positioned symbolically according to their roles, and as long as they play the game by Tony’s rules, they can continue to enjoy a certain amount of calm through the storms.
WHAT WORKED: This was an episode of reckoning. Characters are being exposed for who they really are, and having to pay the price in terms of their relationships. Aside from the obvious conflict between Tony and his mother, we see Artie forced to decide whether or not to acknowledge the truth about Tony’s role in the fate of his restaurant. Carmela drops some serious truth bombs on Father Phil regarding his serial spiritual manipulation of lonely women (tied up with his gluttony). Junior is backed into a corner of Federal prison and even Dr. Melfi needs to make some serious decisions about her future. A wrong move by any of these players would have the potential to bring everyone around them down.
WHAT DIDN’T: Tony’s tantrums directed at Melfi are getting too predictable and ridiculous. I’m glad she’ll be taking a little vacay.
Tony: “We got bigger things to talk about than Jeannie Cusamano’s ass.” Dr. Melfi: “Like feelings of worthlessness sparked by your mother’s plot to have you killed?” Melfi is finished with games.
“Cunnilingus and psychiatry brought us to this!” – Tony, lamenting the chain of events to Carmela (and maybe trying to make her shoulder some of the blame).
“Oh, lucky him!” – Tony can’t contain his amusement when the news states Mikey Palmice is thought to have fled NJ.
“He’s a sinner, Father. And you come up here and eat his steaks.” – Carmela, calling out Father Phil.
Tony: “Why’d I buy a goddamned off-road vehicle?!” AJ: “Because you wanted to waste valuable petrochemical resources?”
BEST MOMENT: Livia’s sadistic smile as she’s being rolled on the gurney into the critical care unit (or wherever). The woman is pure evil. The original Cersei Lannister, minus the affection for her children. Matricide is a touchy subject, but we pretty much cheer for Tony when he grabs that pillow on his way to see her, even if smothering that woman would be too good a death for her. Nancy Marchand grinning through that breathing tube as Tony unleashes all his vitriol and threats shows us that Livia’s job is complete – Tony might have thwarted the assassination attempt, but at least she’s created a true monster. It’s a chilling, jaw-dropping scene.
EPISODE’S MVP: Nancy Marchand kills it. Livia doesn’t do anything half-assed, including playing the pitiable Alzheimer’s patient. Of course it’s just conjecture at this point that she’s only pretending to lose her mind, but no one would have a hard time believing in her devotion to her own twisted cause. If nothing else, her wanderings get her out of the nursing home and give her quite the entertaining game to play.
– Chris it still more or less an emotional infant, storming out of the meeting when both Tony and Paulie fess up to their time spent with therapists. Even judgier and funnier than that is Paulie’s later reaction – he doesn’t fault Tony for seeking psychiatric assistance, but he does question why in the world he would leave that job to a woman.
– Going after the person you think might be the one to try and whack you next might be coldly ambiguous and leaving a lot up to chance, but if you’re going to do it, by God, meet the man at his boat and pull a gun out of a giant fish to shoot him point blank. Beautiful.
– This week’s 90’s gems: AJ humming the Jeopardy theme song in response to Liv asking “Who is Artie Bucco?”, the return of Meadow’s garishly colored butterfly hair clips, Father Phil bringing over the One True Thing DVD, Tony’s reference to ER when he yells “Shut up, George Clooney” to one of the nurses.
– The episode opened with a little Steve Van Zandt (“Inside of Me”) and closed with The Boss himself (“State Trooper”). Other non-New Jersey hits included Saint Etienne’s “Woodcabin” as Jimmy Altieri’s brain gets splattered across a lamp, “It’s Bad You Know Me” by R.L. Burnside after Tony kills Chucky in his own boat and Buddy Holly’s “Rave On!” to highlight Tony’s exceedingly good mood immediately before Paulie and Chris take out Mikey Palmice.
– Tony Sirico has me dying pretty much any time he makes an appearance. The permanently offended smirk on that potato face is enough, but add some truly concerned flailing through a patch of poison ivy hot on the tail of Mikey Palmice, and you have pure comic gold.
– Jukebox Hero: “Groove Me” by Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, “I’ll Remember April” by Bobby Darin, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” by Frankie Valli, “Inside of Me” by Little Steven, “Rave On” by Buddy Holly, “Woodcabin” by Saint Etienne.
9.5 out of 10
Season One Score: 8 out of 10
Before: “Isabella”, here.