Season One, Episode Three — “Denial, Anger, Acceptance”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Themes of grief run rampant throughout The Sopranos’ third episode, as Tony struggles to come to terms with the senseless and painful deterioration of Jackie Aprile. Meanwhile Artie begins the long uphill battle with his insurance company over the loss of his restaurant. Denial, anger and acceptance are three of the five stages of grief as postulated by the Kübler-Ross model, though the majority of the action within this episode makes a clear orbit around that second stage.
While acceptance is the furthest thing from Tony’s mind in terms of the lifetime of trauma his mother has inflicted, watching Jackie be eaten away by a force so far outside of his control helps him acknowledge that sometimes terrible, humiliating things happen for no reason. We see him course through denial with Melfi, almost bragging about how his friend is too tough for fate’s wheel to turn him. The anger, as per usual, gets doled out mostly to unsuspecting onlookers. Tony’s real moment of truth lies in the grievously sad one-sided exchange between him and Jackie in the hospital, with Tony giddily relating his bullying of the Teitelmans while slowly coming to the uncomfortable realization that Jackie can’t really hear him over the sound of his own fever-babble.
Of course Tony bottles it up, only to unleash it on poor Artie Bucco, who just wants someone to commiserate with about the loss of his restaurant. In a beautiful scene between two old friends, Artie and Tony, big strong adult men, resort to their elementary school method of settling disputes and engage in a food fight in the Soprano’s kitchen during the silent auction. This brings them both full circle (for the time being), to accepting the absurdity of life, taking time out during a completely inappropriate event to just let it all out — to refresh their lasting bond. Tony’s psychological awakenings are gonna be a real struggle, and it won’t just be Melfi who will be stuck shouldering the weight.
WHAT WORKED: While we’ve mentioned the obvious disparities between the generations that influence the interactions between the characters, we get more of a glimpse of Tony’s arrested development as his anger bubbles closer and closer to the surface. He may think of himself as a sad clown, keeping a brave and happy face while crying on the inside, but we see it’s much more complicated than that. Melfi has the power to tease out the petulant, sulky schoolboy just under Tony’s skin. He’s every bit as spoiled and querulous as his teenage daughter, as he huffs and puffs through through the sessions and stamps his feet at the idea of a shrink telling him how he feels towards his mother. In his paranoid accusations that Melfi’s lobby painting is merely a bit of trickery she must be using to see inside his mind, we meet a Tony that feels the world is out to get him, and indeed we are introduced to another one of the show’s great themes: taking responsibility for your actions, and how ignoring (or shooting) your problems until they go away will only result in one epic disaster after another.
WHAT DIDN’T: It seems like many series that take place in/near NYC run the risk of relying too heavily on pigeonholing the ethnic and religious groups that make the city such a phenomenal place to inhabit. The Sopranos went ahead and took it there with Shlomo lamenting over turning Tony into a Golem as he attempted to pull a total shyster move over on the mob. The melodrama employed in this scene would feel more at home in a Law & Order holding cell than pouring out the mouth of the head of a prominent Hasidic family.
“Take it easy. We’re not making a Western here.” – Junior.
Silvio: “Say ‘bupkis,’ Paulie. That’s how they say ‘nothing.’” Paulie: “Fuck that! This is how I say ‘nothing!’”
Ariel: “You ever heard of the Masada? For two years, 900 Jews held their own against 15 thousand Roman soldiers. They chose death before enslavement. And the Romans, where are they now?” Tony: “You’re lookin’ at ’em, asshole.”
“Hi, Jack. Bye, Jack.” – Mikey, before offing Brendan. That guy’s always a big of a goof, no?
BEST MOMENT: In the closing scene, we are introduced to a recurring technique used throughout the series (and most notably in its heart-stopping final moments) — weaving ostensibly incongruous music between scenes of violence and business. Meadow sings sweetly at her chorus concert, as Tony listens attentively, a proud father who looks to his beautiful little angel for peace and calm. Unbeknownst to him, Chris is receiving the scare of a lifetime and Brendan is being quietly disposed of. Only, nothing is quite as it seems. Junior may have given the orders to the Russian goons himself, but only with Livia’s permission. Chris thinks he’s being punished for selling meth to Meadow and Hunter, when in actuality, it’s for crossing Junior and his truck company. Tony swells with pride as his sweet, above-the-fray girl sings, oblivious to the fact that she’s probably still fairly jacked on the aforementioned meth. You never really know someone, do you?
EPISODE’S MVP: James Gandofini really begins to bring Tony alive in this episode. His lion-like rages at work and grizzly bear charges in Melfi’s office really bring out the basest instincts of a man confused by feelings. But what always grips me the most are the quiet moments in which he allows that vacant, simpleton stare to take over his countenance, as he struggles with contemplation and emotional intelligence. He can be a true mastermind and manipulator on the job, but transforms into such a ding-dong on that couch.
– If Shlomo looks familiar, that’s because he should: Chuck Low played Morris Kessler, the ill-fated wig empresario in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas.
– You may recognize Ariel from countless episodes of Law and Order: SVU, in which he (Ned Eisenberg) plays the often unscrupulous and super recognizable D.A. Roger Kressler.
– Oh, that Silvio. He exists on a completely different plane than everyone else. Offhandedly asking Tony if he wants a snack before taking a bolt cutter to Ariel’s nether region, constantly wandering around quoting the Godfather…there’s almost something “on the spectrum” about that character.
– I had almost forgotten how thick this show could lay on the stereotypes. From last episode’s encounter with the sashaying, techno-blasting homosexuals to this episode’s bout with the Imma-screw-you-outta-some-money Hasidim, we see as many caricatures and characters in The Sopranos.
– Oksana Lada makes her first appearance on The Sopranos this week, as Tony’s comare, Irina, likewise Sharon Angela as Jackie April’s wife, Rosalie.
– Hunter Scangarelo, Meadow’s Finals BFF, is played by Michele De Cesare, none other than David Chase’s own daughter.
– Jukebox Hero: “Tenderly” by Chet Baker, “Happy Feet” by Paolo Conte, “Turn of the Century” by Damon & Naomi.
8 out of 10
Next: “Meadowlands”, soon.
Before: “46 Long”, here.