Season One, Episode Seven — “Down Neck”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Boys will be boys. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be consequenced for their transgressions, but we are all a cocktail of genes and nutty environs, and disciplinarians need proceed accordingly. The problem, for now, is that Tony isn’t sure of if/when/how to proceed with how little AJ should be punished.
In his sessions with Dr. Melfi, we see more and more of the weight of his past crushing down on his shoulders and paralyzing his forward momentum. Can’t things just be easy for him for once? Would it be the end of the world if he just ignored his problems until they went away? As much as he would love to escape for a while and return to a magically fixed family and job with all his ducks in a row, Tony’s head shrinking sessions are actually getting somewhere in spite of his various sabotages. In short, Tony is exhibiting evidences of change.
The blusters and tantrums against Dr. Melfi (the ones that echo his mother’s fits towards his father) have subsided to a dull roar, and he’s taken to thinking before speaking. A man so deeply conflicted between pride and shame has been forced to take a few steps back and evaluate how his actions are affecting his children. They’re no dummies (well, at least one of them isn’t), and as much as Tony likes to blow hot air about how great his own parents were, it’s clear that he looks to them more as a pair red flags twisting and flapping through his subconscious than as role models or positive parenting influences.
WHAT WORKED: In “Down Neck,” we get our introduction to the separate components that combine to create Tony Soprano. We’ve already guessed that, while his dad was a mob captain who had an innate talent for organized crime, his mother was the one who truly supplied his demons. And that seems to hold true. Tony witnesses his father beating up debtors and getting arrested at the fun fair, but it’s his mother’s threats of violence and affected instability that strike terror into Tony’s 8-year-old heart. As Tony ages, his mother’s powers of manipulation and his father’s gregarious nature will manifest in him, with a smattering of Johnny Boy’s hilariously misheard metaphors thrown in for good measure.
WHAT DIDN’T: Overall, “Down Neck” can feel decidely device-driven. Flashbacks don’t so much punctuate as permeate the action here. And Lorraine Bracco can be a total superstar in this show, but for much of this episode she was written into the classic shrink-in-TV corner – relegated to teasing out Tony’s psychological building blocks rather than participating in multi-purpose scenes that keep the plot trotting along. All this backdrop made for some halting action and scattered subplots in between. Scenes in which characters outside the immediate family were shown, such as when the guys were playing pool at the Bing and when Tony and Chris cockblocked a construction site’s operation, seemed random and a bit imposing within the confines of the episode.
Carmela: “Every day you are going to ride your bike over to Green Grove Retirement Home and visit grandma.” Livia: “Oh that’ll be nice.”
“A psychiatrist?! But that’s nonsense! That’s nothing but a racket for the Jews!” – Spittin’ Liv, to AJ.
“Fuckin’ albacore around my neck!” – Johnny Boy Soprano, mixing metaphors like a boss.
BEST MOMENT: Carmela, tallying up various punishments for AJ, lobs a real cherry on top of that shit sundae when she tells him he will be visiting Grandma every day. Without missing a beat and seemingly without giving a rat’s ass that a visit with her was just designated as a punishment by her son’s wife, Liv retorts “Oh, that’ll be nice,” in a tone that indicates the whole lot of them could up and die at any moment for all she cares. AJ, kid… you’d better bring the cookies.
EPISODE’S MVP: Tony’s gears are working so hard you can practically see the smoke coming out his ears. He’s trying, bless his heart. The way James Gandolfini has slowly developed his portrayal of Tony over these 7 episodes, with mere shifts in eyelid flutters and postures, is truly masterful. The increments have been small, but the growth towards something approaching mindfulness is undeniably present. Let’s see how well he can keep it together once Liv spills those beans she’s sitting on regarding Tony’s psychiatric treatment.
– ’90s Love: Carmela’s formal shorts, a shout-out to Cartman getting abducted by aliens on South Park and the resurgence of Chris’s purple and white track suit.
– AJ wears a Spawn t-shirt on a visit to his grandmother, which is patently tacky enough but still a wry piece of cross-promotion: Spawn was an HBO animated series from 1997 to 1999, ending right around the time The Sopranos was catching on.
– Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” is used as a segue between Tony popping pills down his gullet and the moment when he and AJ shove sundaes down their necks. A drug is a drug is a drug.
– Speaking of Down Neck, it’s a working class neighborhood in Newark, in case ya didn’t know.
– Tony’s family told him that his dad was “in Montana being a cowboy” when he was in jail. Sometimes you just have to laugh and cry at the same time, you know?
– Jukebox Hero: “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, “Carrie-Anne” by Hollies, “Don’t Bring Me Down” by The Animals, “Lonely Too Long” by The Rascals.
7.5 out of 10
Next: “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”, soon.
Before: “Pax Soprana”, here.