Season One, Episode Five — “College”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. This is one of those great episodes in which you recognize from the get-go that everyone is going to get a little more than they bargained for. In a seemingly innocuous story arc, in which Tony takes Meadow all the way up to Maine to visit potential colleges and Carmela is home alone recovering from the flu, we wind up with themes of confession, redemption and misunderstanding throughout.
Meadow digs deep into Tony about being straight with her regarding his affiliation with the mob, which emboldens her to make her own confession about the speed she and Hunter took to “help them study” a couple weeks ago. Tony immediately fumes, but uncharacteristically realizes that he cannot obstruct the two-way street that Meadow just opened up for them (such is the way with fathers and their daughters). Meanwhile, Carmela is pleasantly surprised by Father Phil, who randomly appears for some late-night baked ziti in the middle of a thunderstorm, which leads to a more official confession and even more wine. Somehow, Tony and Carm cannot get it through their skulls that all this openness of communication would best be spent on each other, and they continue to falter over a white lie here and a lack of disclosure there.
Juxtaposing Carmela’s pervasive worry for her children with shots of a flipped mob informant lining up Tony and a drunken Meadow in his silencer’s sights serves to show that at this point, unless Carmela cuts and runs, the damage has long been done and she and her family will always live under the shadow of potential danger. Opening the episode with a somewhat touching scene between Meadow and her father signifying progress on the truth front, and closing with yet another bout of bickering and misunderstanding out of Tony and Carm over perceived indiscretions just goes to show the best you can hope for outta Tony is for a “three steps forward, two steps back” dance of progress.
WHAT WORKED: The perfect flow between Tony’s and Carmela’s scenes not only makes for gorgeous storytelling, but also highlights the ridiculousness of the situation in which Carm has found herself. It’s hard to put a finger on the exact lines and moments that make Carmela and Phil’s plot so hilarious, but the sleazy, sexually frustrated priest who shows up at the door in a thunderstorm, drinks until he has to go hug the toilet, then doesn’t leave until he sleeps off his hangover rivals Chris for Funniest Secondary Character.
WHAT DIDN’T: Really, it’s hard to find anything to complain about in this episode. Did I miss some of the off-screen characters? Yes. Would they have added to the story in any way? Probably not.
“There is no mafia.” – Tony. Nice try.
“Don’t throw up in my face things you buy me… her prosthetic leg fall off in Gap store and he carries her away like a knight in white satin armor.” – Irina. Tony’s Russian side girl laments not being spoiled enough.
“That was Frank, the bust? I always thought it was Shaquille.” – Chris, on Fabian’s sculpting skills.
Tony: “Whaddaya got?” Chrissy: “Wet shoes.” Tony: “Hey, you chose this life. If you don’t wanna work in the rain, try out for the Yankees.”
“Of all the priests in the world, why did I have to get the one who’s straight?” – Carmela, for obvious reasons.
“What did you do for 12 hours? Play ‘Name That Pope?!’” – Tony, baffled by the events of last night.
BEST MOMENT: Tony staring up at a Nathaniel Hawthorne quote outside of Bowdoin College’s admissions office. (“No man can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one may be true.“) Tony ponders the meaning of it as he waits for Meadow to finish her appointment with the advisor. He is a man of multiple faces, a point about which his daughter has been badgering him during the entire trip. How deeply Tony interprets this quote, we’ll never know. In his most contemplative shot, he’s framed by a boldly patterned 19th Century wallpaper, in a print that echoes both Rorschach tests and Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (another foray into madness and perception). Even stepping far outside of his New Jersey boundaries, he’s in it so deep that he has to keep both masks handy.
EPISODE’S MVP: Edie Falco’s performance as the frustrated, confused, angry and repentant Carmela established her as more than just the wife/mom of the show. Temptations born of neglect aside, her moral frustrations and sincere desire to repent and be a good Catholic are real. The range of her emotions and her desperate need to release the bottled-up chaos show us that Tony isn’t the only one struggling with the side effects of two faces. In one moment, we see her sitting on a stool in the kitchen as Father Phil drunkenly throws up in the bathroom – her posture and face clearly say “well I guess I’m right back to where I started,” as the lightning alternately illuminates her and plunges her back into the darkness. Brilliant.
– Tony just can’t get away from those ducks. The plastic garden duck with the whirly wings outside “Fred’s” travel trailer was a nice touch. And of course, after he got rid of Fabian/Fred, he catches a glimpse of a flock migrating above him.
– Do Fig Newtons still exist? Fred certainly had a box in his car.
– Meadow, with the know-it-all teenager looks again. Her response when Tony tries to get off the hook by saying “there is no mafia” is golden. He may as well have tried to tell her she should still believe in Santa Claus.
– There were hints of Vladimir/Estragon in Chris’ rain-drenched payphone vigil. He was an overly antsy perpetual motion machine, hopping around through his angst, always forced to wait just a little bit longer for an order that ultimately would never come. Oh, the futility! “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
– The entire tray of ziti is gone. Who’s the culprit? “Monsignore Jughead.” Tony always had a way with words.
– Jukebox Hero: “Cadence to Arms” by The Dropkick Murphys, “Eye On You” by Rocket From The Crypt.
9 out of 10
Next: “Pax Soprana”, soon.
Before: “Meadowlands”, here.