The Sopranos 3×09: “The Telltale Moozadell”
Some people, when they’re faced with decisions that they know to be bad, so ahead and make them anyway. They’ll purposefully do the wrong thing, taking steps backwards even though they’ve identified what they shouldn’t be doing. It doesn’t make any sense when thought about on a basic level, but, ultimately, there are reasons people would do that. To make the wrong decision, to hang out with the wrong crowd, to fall in love with the wrong person, it’s all a way to keep from doing something difficult. It’s difficult to do the right thing, to make the decision that, in the long run, is going to be better for you. If you make the wrong decision, you can at least say that you made a decision and just leave it there.
“The Telltale Moozadell” is filled to the brim with characters that intentionally make these decisions, even though they understand in the backs of their minds that something has to be wrong. Take one of the more inconsequential storylines of the episode, where A.J. and his friends are responsible for trashing the school swimming pool. It’s a choice that he’s not even really able to speak to; when asked why he participated in it, he just shrugs and says that he doesn’t know. Because to acknowledge what he is doing is to acknowledge the foolishness of his actions, and doing that only reveals how hopeless he truly is as a Soprano. A.J. vandalizes the swimming pool not because he really wanted to, but because he wanted to prove to himself that he was a screw-up. And it’s all so that, when he does screw up, he can blame something other than himself.
Meadow is doing the same thing with Jackie Jr, who is obviously taking advantage of her by doing things like using her for term papers and “attempting” to conduct criminal dealings without her knowledge. We can see that Meadow is completely infatuated with him, but he’s more interested in becoming something without putting in the effort for it. Despite Tony and the other made men being spoiled brats, they put in a lot of time and energy to get to where they are. And it’s not necessarily that Jackie Jr is part of a new generation of lazy kids; he’s simply another lazy kid in a world where kids his age are generally lazy.
The only problem with him being lazy is that he’s lazy in a place where that means being in serious danger. School is too stressful for him because he doesn’t feel that he’s smart enough, so he makes the wrong decision and attempts to work with Matush at Adrianna’s new club. Jackie Jr. is purposefully making these bad decisions because they’re able to distract him from his failures at school; they’re able to numb the pain incurred from failing to meet the expectations of his elders. Adrianna is in somewhat of the same boat, even though she isn’t given much of a storyline in the episode. In taking control of a nightclub through illicit means (we can clearly see that Christopher and Furio have extorted the nightclub’s previous owner), she’s digging herself deeper into the world of the Mafia. The world of organized crime has always been viewed in The Sopranos as toxicity, and we see people like Adrianna and Jackie Jr. being sucked further and further into its grasp.
Lastly, we have Tony, who is in a new relationship with Gloria, the woman that he met at Melfi’s office in “He is Risen”. Gloria isn’t given much of a personality, which is frustrating, but we’ll see in this episode and subsequent episodes how she parallels another character within the series. As of right now, all we see is warning signs. When Tony and Gloria are together, there’s something wrong about it, something that takes Tony aback. Normally, with his girlfriends (like Irina), he’s completely in charge. But here, we can see Gloria making him uncomfortable, bringing up his family or uttering his mother’s favorite phrase: “Poor you.” Ultimately, Tony knows that Gloria isn’t going to be a good person for him. He knows that she is going to make things difficult for him. We can see that in the way she plays with his gun in the hotel room. But Tony would rather pretend that she’s just fine, to ignore the “poor you” in exchange for his own blissful ignorance.
We know what is going to happen to these people. It’s one of television’s greatest tricks, to give you characters and a story that you know is going to end badly, only to have you biting your nails trying to figure out exactly what bad thing is going to happen to what person. But here, there’s no glamour, no fun to it. Chase is holding up a mirror to our own actions, to our own inability to self-improve because of our delusion. It’s a lot easier to be the kind of person who self-sabotages than to be somebody who legitimately challenges themselves in order to become better. Because becoming better takes a ton of hard work, deconstructing who you are to make room for what you hope will be better. Self-sabotage simply takes a person and fills them up with garbage, only to have them shrug and pretend that garbage is somebody else’s fault.
The Sopranos 3×10: “…To Save Us All from Satan’s Power”
Some people, during the holiday season, experience a sort of depression. It’s cold outside, lakes are frozen over, snow is falling, and we’re transitioning to a new year. It might be a great time to spend with family, but more than that, it’s a reminder that another year of our lives has passed by us, that someday we’re not going to see the next year. And for those of us who dwell on these existential crises (yes, I am one of those people), the holidays can be awfully horrifying. Existential crises aren’t questions that can be answered or fears that can be quelled by doing any specific thing. They’re always there, waiting, ready to sink their teeth into you when you have a birthday or grow up a little more. And they’re vicious every time they show up.
“…To Save Us All from Satan’s Power” ends with a shot of the ocean, and it’s fitting, considering the intense focus on Big Pussy Bonpensiero and his time working for the FBI. Everybody is obsessed with when he turned, how he turned, where he was wearing a wire. And they’re obsessed with these things because, in the end, they’re going to end up in “the ocean” as well. They’ll either work for the FBI or get shot by a rival or have a heart attack on the toilet. In the end, death is death, and everybody wants to know how to see it coming in order to make it just a little more comfortable. Only there’s really no way to see it coming. It just happens, and that’s it. In the case of Big Pussy, there aren’t really any questions to be answered. Tony considers different scenarios in his head, from a meeting back in ’95 to a year Big Pussy was Santa Claus for Christmas, and none of those memories offer up any sort of definitive proof. Death is still the formless, terrifying concept it was before, but now we see that it is getting closer and closer to Tony.
Tony tries to keep himself busy during the holiday season; he will transfer money around, buy a gift for Carmela, help Janice with a problem, but it’s all just ways to keep busy. Keeping busy is the easiest way to forget how difficult life can be, and when Tony’s list of tasks is over, he’s just back to square one, to remembering that someday, he’s going to be dead as well. And that notion of constantly remembering is omnipresent; even at therapy with Dr. Melfi, he comments on how he feels worse than he did before. Of course, he can’t put his finger on exactly what is bothering him, but it’s there.
Making things even worse is this notion of decay, that the best is over and things are only going to continue getting worse. Big Pussy and Jackie Sr. are both gone, replaced by Jackie Jr. a son figure of Tony’s that just cannot seem to get his head on straight. Jackie Jr, in this episode, is seen by Tony in a strip club, where it’s apparent that he’s being unfaithful to Meadow. Tony, enraged, throws him into the bathroom and beats him for doing that to Meadow. Tony doesn’t really know how to show affection if it isn’t paired with some sort of abuse (physical, mental, emotional), and Jackie Jr doesn’t seem like he’s reformed at the end of the episode. He gives Meadow a piece of jewelry and talks nicely to Tony, but that doesn’t excuse all of the behavior up to that point. In fact, it doesn’t do more than distract from the real problem at hand; Jackie Jr is getting worse and worse, and Tony needs to do something about it. Only there isn’t much to be done. Just like Bobby Bacala being a worse Santa than Big Pussy, times are getting worse. And there’s no a whole lot that Tony can do about it.
But even after what turned out to be a Christmas where Meadow was very forgiving towards him, Tony isn’t able to escape the notion of death. Meadow gives him the singing bass (the same one from “Second Opinion”), and all it does is remind him of Big Pussy. That’s the terrifying thing about death. It is such a massive part of our lives that there is no escaping it, that we’re going to be consumed by it everywhere we go. Without the defense mechanisms that we have already in place, there isn’t one of us who could stave off the immense depression that would ensue. But, no matter how well those defense mechanisms are set up, they can only be set up for so long until they come crashing down and leave us alone with the truth. And the truth is ugly.
So what did everybody think of these episodes? Are you all excited for next week, when I look at the famous “Pine Barrens” and the extremely exciting “Amour Fou”? Let me know in the comments!