Season One, Episode Six — “Pax Soprana”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Everybody’s head is somewhere else. Junior wants money, Dr. Melfi wants privacy, Carmela wants a relationship with her husband, Tony wants sex with Dr. Melfi. And Livia wants cookies.
“Pax Soprana” is about peace to a certain extent, but mostly it’s about sources of power. Junior is going in hard as the boss, upsetting the old rules and demanding tributes and payments befitting a Caesar. While everyone concedes that it’s his right as boss to make whatever demands he wants, the capos still address Tony with their concerns, hoping he can convince Junior ease up on the absolute power shtick long enough to make the waves settle. Hard and heavy opening statements are one thing. But when only the leader benefits, seeds of unrest are sown.
Meanwhile, Tony’s impotence at being able to tackle the Family’s problems head-on is translating embarrassingly into his personal life. His sexuality has been interrupted by fantasies of Dr. Melfi, to the extent that he asks Irina (of all people) to try conversation as a form of foreplay. His infatuation with his shrink not only pushes Tony to cross creepy lines into her personal life, but adds more blocks to that mysterious wall between him and his wife.
Culminating in a scene even more awkward and squirm-inducing than anything Father Phil could muster, Tony is struck down and stunned by how unwelcomed his confessions of love were on the psychiatric sofa. He is not a man used to rejection, and his slow retreat from the office in a hazy state of ineffectual bewilderment initiates a long overdue awakening. With this behind him, he is finally able to hand more of himself over to Carmela, relinquishing enough control to allow her into his life as more than just his partner in procreation.
WHAT WORKED: The more you outline and delineate your systems of power, the more subverted and circumvented they become. Throughout the uncertainty and tumult of Jackie Aprile’s slow death, things were, for the most part, still running pretty smoothly. No one knew exactly what was around the corner and there was a little tension amongst the family, but business went on as usual and the gears kept turning towards an uncertain fate. Now that Junior has been named boss, full order, confidence and authority should be restored, but in reality, everything is just a bit more catawampus. No one is directly plunging a knife into anyone else’s back, per se (not yet), but as the FBI’s family tree in the closing scene so aptly points out, heads are replaceable and hierarchies are easily shifted. A family is a family, and if you are at the helm, the more you assert your authority the more it will be questioned.
WHAT DIDN’T: Melfi can be the symbol of control at times, but even she should have been a bit ruffled when Tony dove in for physical contact. She’s been exhibiting more comfort with him, but was clearly agitated when she learned about his involvement with her car. So how could she be so relaxed when his giant frame came swooping in, hand grasping the back of her head? I didn’t buy that one.
“Even the coffee’s old here.” – Junior is not impressed with Livia’s living arrangements.
Tony: “I might as well be a dildo!” Irina: “If you were a dildo, we wouldn’t be fighting.”
“Water, water, water… I’m living next door to Gunga Din.” –Livia, on her neighbor’s noisy pipes. One of my favorite lines of the series. I forgot it was coming and died again.
“This is all a byproduct of progress. Has someone been following me? OK, forget it. I’ll see you next week.” – Melfi’s a bit frustrated, but far too fascinated to stop now.
BEST MOMENT: Livia, in her wretched, all-encompassing misery and self-pity rivals Paulie for this week’s best scene stealer. We almost never see her at a loss for power. Even when she’s begging her own son to shove a knife through her heart, she couldn’t be more vital and in control. She makes a pretty darn big deal about not wanting anything from anyone – no matter how many times Tony offers her comforting relics from home, baked ziti, etc., she swats his olive branches away like a pesky fly. Which is why I found her left-field outburst to “BRING MY COOKIES!” uproariously funny. She nearly mows Tony down at the door as the afterthought enters her head, her desire for them is so strong. Everybody has a weakness.
EPISODE’S MVP: Perhaps I’m just sadly anticipating the inevitable and don’t want to let go, but this week’s award once again goes to Livia. She is a brilliant manipulator, but to what end? At this point, she stands to gain nothing other than the sheer joy that she surely feels fucking up her son’s game. To quote one of my other favorite shows, “It’s like she gets off on being withholding.” (Buster Bluth, in reference to his similarly scheming mother, Lucille Bluth). She may also get a mild ego stroke out of how willingly Junior concedes to her wishes, but ultimately we get the impression that she is calling life-ending shots simply because she’s bored with bridge.
– How does such a street smart, un-academic man launch into such an historically accurate metaphor about Augustus Caesar? I guess he did tell Meadow in the last episode that history was always his favorite subject, so we should just take that with a grain of salt.
– Suddenly Tony is too concerned with what Dr. Melfi thinks of him to tell the truth – he pins his burn mark on Carmela, rather than talking to Melfi about his girl on the side.
– Looked up Hesh in Wikipedia to see what Jerry Adler is doing these days. He’s 87 years old. EIGHTY-SEVEN. And still acting. Amazing.
– Father Phil’s sleaziness is really something. I’m no Cath-o-lic, but I’m pretty sure his assertion that Carmela should share equal blame for Tony’s crimes and dalliances is a sign of a petulant and shitty priest.
– Jukebox Hero: “Paparazzi (Instrumental)” by Xzibit, “When The Boys In Your Arms” by Connie Francis, “Coconut Boogaloo” by Medeski, Martin & Wood.
7.5 out of 10
Next: “Down Neck”, soon.
Before: “College”, here.