Season One, Episode Eight — “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti”
By Brandy Dykhuizen. Chrissy’s got his sad pants on. Everyone’s trying to break his balls. Will no one understand the plight of the artist? He reaches out to his girl, and she only berates him for his script’s terrible grammar. He reaches out to Paulie, and he (in a surprisingly paternal and nice way) tells him to take his head out of his ass. He reaches out to Pussy, who misses the boat entirely. And we won’t even get into Tony’s response quite yet. Chris is certain his genius is being overlooked and misunderstood, although at this stage his script only serves to make even Kerouac look like a virtuoso.
And what about this news of indictments? While the rest of the family scrambles to hide their guns and cash from the FBI, wipe their computers and BBQ their books, Chris runs around fuming that his name hasn’t been mentioned even once on the evening news. Too sullen and fractious to realize that actually bodes well for him, seeing his dead friend on the news brings the sting of envy rather than mourning, as his shortsightedness only allows him to whine and seethe that he’s been left out yet again.
Meanwhile, the episode also works hard to present two sides of the Italian American coin, with the Melfi family pontificating how the mob ruins it for the rest of them and the Sopranos lamenting how much American culture was stolen from them (or worse, how some ascribe to WASPier sounding names). Chrissy’s crisis of identity, the need to be the Italian American artist as well as chasing the fictitious power and glory of an Italian American mob boss, provides a working symbol of one of the show’s main themes. That’s illustrated in “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti” moreso than any other episode.
WHAT WORKED: David Chase gets super meta with this episode, particularly when it concerns itself with the Melfi family’s complaints that the majority of what Americans know of Italian American culture they learned from mob movies. It’s a cute joke, as Chase is obviously hugely guilty of perpetuating those stereotypes with this show, and is made even more hilarious by how awful and judgmental the Melfi family is. Do we really want to agree with a family who clings so hard to illusion that they dine together when their child returns from university, even though they are divorced? It’s a clever curveball by Chase, who’s always finding new ways to remind us this ain’t really your typical shakedown show.
WHAT DIDN’T: The Melfi’s dinner conversation, while excellent in theory, was super strained in practice. I suppose it could be intentional, to underscore how outside the action they really are. But when they get together and speak, at the dinner table or at a family therapy session, their delivery contains all the gravitas and exaggerated asides of a junior high production of Arthur Miller.
“I am nobody’s darling.” – Livia Soprano, to a well-meaning wedding guest. Ain’t that the truth.
“I love movies! That smell in Blockbuster? That candy and carpet smell? I get high off of it!” – Christopher.
Bakery Cashier: “You shot my foot!” Chrissy: “It happens.” (Because Goodfellas.)
Chrissy: “You ever feel like nothing good was ever gonna happen to you?” Paulie: “Yeah, and nothing did.”
“You know who had an arc? Noah.” – Big Pussy, grounded in reality.
BEST MOMENT: Tony is able to tease a bit of the inner turmoil out of Chris as they take their drive together. Tony is understandably pissed – every time Chris feels overlooked, he petulantly acts the fool and does something incredibly stupid, prompting him to be once more sent to the back of the line. Tony is getting beyond fed up with this hotheaded cycle until he sees something of himself behind Chris’ actions. Chris keeps pushing back when Tony asks him directly if he is depressed (“I ain’t no mental midget!” he protests), but Tony sees it for what it is. The awkwardness fuels a bit of a breakthrough in their relationship, and gives Tony a perspective he won’t forget when considering Chris’ role in the future.
EPISODE’S MVP: Chris, ol’ Tennessee Moltisanti himself, is indeed pretty legendary in this episode. For a man intent on writing a movie script, he sure misses out on the big picture. His constant flouncing and jittery anxiety were on point as always, and his fuckups were as colossal as ever, but Michael Imperioli’s real shining moment was when he dropped his mom’s call to run out and find his name in the Star-Ledger. Nevermind that the Feds are breathing down everyone’s neck and he’s supposed to lay low – he’ll steal the entire stack, thank you.
– Carmela is getting a little more involved now. She likes to think she completely turns a blind eye, but she knew why she needed to take Livia to brunch.
– This episode really relished in its uncomfortable moments. Having Liv tell Uncle Junior about Tony’s psychiatrist as they were listening to possibly the worst comedian in the world was beautiful. Why were they even there? I can’t fathom her having the patience for that. It was almost Pavlovian, like she is pre-programmed to go somewhere completely innocuous to tell a secret.
– Thousands of miles away from a good sfogliatella, this episode has left me feeling stranded.
– The scenes with Chris were soundtracked perfectly. I have no trouble believing he would sulk in a dark room to Booker T’s “Summertime”, or have Cake’s “Frank Sinatra” running through his head while he’s feeling proud of his “mafia legacy” (while probably having no clue what the song is actually about).
– Jukebox Hero: “Frank Sinatra” by Cake, “Summertime” by Booker T & The MG’s, Welcome (Back) by Land of the Loops, “You” by The Aquatones.
8 out of 10
Next: “Boca”, soon.
Before: “Down Neck”, here.