Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Manly solutions

This week's powerful episode of The Sopranos, once again deals with father-son relationships, with the main stories involving both Tony's sons - biological (AJ) and mafia (Christopher.) Tony approaches both their problems like his old man would've, telling them to "be a man" - which echoes his and Phil's half-hearted talk with Vito Jr in last week's episode. But, as creator David Chase has shown us this season, this conception of manhood is inherently flawed.

It all starts, oddly enough, with Tony singing Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" as he approaches his recently dumped son parked on the sofa after numbing himself in front of the TV all night, his own way of dealing with Blanca's rejection. "When I was a child I had a fever, my hands felt just like two balloons," Tony sings unconsciously, and the scene before him begs the final refrain of "the child is grown, the dream is gone." Later, Tony gets a call at The Bing asking him to come home quick, and the song that's playing is Hot Chocolate's "Emma," which is a story of a would-be starlet who commits suicide, setting off alarms with to those familiar with the song's subject manner (Urge Overkill recorded an excellent cover of the song, naming it "Emmaline" back in 1991.)

A couple other songs reflect AJ's post-breakup state of mind, the first being Dido's "White Flag," which is about a scorned lover who won't give up the fight, and Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole," which has similar subject matter, only presented in a way that's more... well... manly - so strippers can dance to it, you know? (And the line "and how long before you tell the truth" might just speak to my inkling that Blanca's pregnant with AJ's child.)

It's at this time that Tony figures on a way for AJ to snap out of his depression - go out drinking at The Bing with his old friends the Jasons (who are now in college "majoring in cash, and minoring in ass.") As Tony informs AJ that he'll be taking this route of action, they're watching the John Wayne macho movie Hellfighters, which is based on renowned oil field firefighter Red Adair. His basic principle of putting out an oil well fire: starve it of oxygen and it'll go out - which appears to be Tony's way of thinking as well. Earlier, AJ and Tony shared another TV moment as metaphor, when they briefly watched the manly film Annapolis. In the scene we catch, the main character (played by James Franco,) is lulled out of his moping by a sparring match with his mentor (played by Donnie Wahlberg.) Sounds kind of familiar.

This 'suffocation' as flawed as it is, seems to snap AJ out of his funk. But instead of heading down his own road away from 'the family business,' this path follows neatly in Tony's footsteps, as we see the excitement in his face helping the Jasons drop sulfuric acid on a gambling debtor who can't pay. Tony says he doesn't want this life for his son, but he seems proud to see him on the path he's pushed him to. Meanwhile, he's similarly pushing his other son.

Christopher been clean and sober for awhile now, and has a wife, child, and a potential career outside being capo, with the success of Cleaver. Tony appreciates that Christopher is acting more responsible and wants to move up in the business, but can't understand the alcoholism part. Why can't he respect The Bing with his presence? And, the biggest insult, why can't he drink a real beer while manning the BBQ, the manly metaphor for moving up in 'the family' (see Tony's BBQ work in season 1.) Both he and Paulie push him back to drinking, and it takes a misguided manly act to seemingly snap him out of his 'funk.' After feeling humiliated at The Bing, Christopher runs to AA friend (Cleaver screenwriter,) JT Dolan. When Dolan won't hear his plea for help, instead spouting back the 12-steps, Chrissy falls further into hysteria. Dolan then says something that shakes both Christopher and the fabric of the whole series. He says "YOU'RE. IN. THE. MAFIA!" suspending the spell we've been under, where no one calls the business what it is. Christopher, reminded as such, pulls out his gun and shoots him in the head, a shocking, but strangely appropriate, reply.

So both sons are jarred back into Tony's world of masculinity, and the ending is oddly calming for both, given their night of terror. AJ ends up with the whole family at the dinner table (first time in a long time,) sharing a joke and some food (and reminding us that there are women in the episode who aren't strippers.) Meanwhile Christopher calmly walks up his driveway and replants an uprooted tree in his front yard. This was appropriately backed by the Los Lobos song "The Valley," which sounds almost like a prayer that follows an itinerant farm laborer and his dream of home. It was an amazing episode, one that sets a pretty high bar for the final four to come.

Playlist: The Sopranos - Ep617

1. "Comfortably Numb" - Pink Floyd - Tony sings this coming down to find AJ zoning out watching TV
2. "Lady Tangerine" - Crazy Penis (Video) - Paulie and Chris talk at the Bing loft
3. "Emma" - Hot Chocolate - Tony flirts with a dancer
4. "White Flag" - Dido - AJ watches a couple canoodle at the pizzeria
5. "Walk On By" - El Michels Affair - Patsy and Tony talk in The Bing's VIP lounge
6. "Body Burn (D-Code Club Mix)" - Cubanese - Tony talks to The Jasons at the Bing
7. "Supermassive Black Hole" - Muse - The Jasons watch a stripper dance
8. "Y.U.H.2.B.M.2" - Whitey - AJ hangs out with The Jasons and some dancers at The Bing
9. "Salt Shaker" - Ying Yang Twins - The Jasons talk to Victor at a frat party
10. "Hand On The Pump" - Cypress Hill - The Jasons and AJ abduct Victor from a house party
11. "Tom Sawyer" - Rush - Tony pulls in his driveway
12. "The Valley" - Los Lobos - Chris returns home

More: JT Dolan was working on a Law & Order script when Christopher (Michael Imperioli) comes in, which is a fun reference to the fact that Imperioli has a recurring role on the series as detective Nick Falco.

Previously: A pebble in a lake (Episode 616)

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